Friday, December 9, 2011

Send in the clown paintings...

What do we talk about when we talk about clowns? Where to begin. Clowns are scary/sad/dark. Clowns are sinister/creepy/wrong. Shakes the Clown. Krusty the Clown. John Wayne Gacy. Clown paintings are trite; good-for-a-laff thrift shop art collected by kitsch-loving young hipsters before they move on to better things, like Howard Finster or Henry Darger. Unless you're Diane Keaton, who is a serious collector of clown paintings and even produced an odd coffee table book devoted to them back in 2002. (I know because I own it—it was sent to me by an eternally optimistic publicist back when I was editing the book page of a teen fashion magazine.)

I don't have a whole lot to add to the clown discourse; I did have a love-loathe relationship with a clown doll when I was a small child but I haven't let that poison my feelings toward clowns in general. I picked up this Walter T. Foster volume devoted to Clowns and Characters because, as previously noted, I'm a total sucker for these art-instruction manuals. And what I find especially compelling about this book are the "characters" who get lumped in with the clowns. Basically, a character is a person who isn't white. You'll have to take my word for it because I didn't scan the pictures that best illustrate this point—the colors weren't as vivid—but there's a portrait of a handsome young black guy with an intense gaze, a young black woman called "Cuban Girl" and another called "Woman of Morocco." Below, you have this ginger-haired gentleman tricked out five different ways—a pirate, a clown, a Mexican, an extra from Lawrence of Arabia, a Sikh...such crazy characters!

When dealing with a run-of-the-mill white person, like the middle-aged woman below, it is advisable that the artist accessorize:

Dress up the model in costume, using accessories from the attic trunk. The costume will take the model out of the ordinary class of portraits. Express a few important folds or creases with conviction. This will get you by. (More artists have committed suicide over drapery than anything else.) Paint the drapery in one shot, or keep it tentative until sure. Play it cool. Save all your emotions and passions for the wind-up.

Yikes, in addition to being racist, folks were pretty flippant about suicide back in the 50s/60s, or whenever this was published (it's not dated but it's obviously midcentury). Alas, the Walter T. Foster company no longer publishes the time capsule that is Clowns and Characters; it's been replaced by more timely subject matter like Manja and NASCAR.

Gracing the back cover of the book is the lovely young woman below. I thought for sure she was going to be called "Gypsy Girl" but it turns out she is "Italian girl" (the lack of big gold hoop earrings and a do-rag should've indicated that she wasn't part of a caravan). On the preceding page is a black-and-white portrait of a pensive blonde, her hands folded demurely on her lap. That portrait is called "Beverly"—and she's the only "character" with a name.

Monday, December 5, 2011


Like many children of the ’70s who enjoyed the richly varied curriculum of a public middle school, come 7th grade my elective choices were two: Home Economics or Shop. I don't think anyone dared to cross the gender divide, myself included, so I never got the chance to make a cheese board in the shape of a mouse. Instead I got to make English muffin pizzas under the tutelage of a woman whose black beehive 'do topped the black polyester vest-and-pants ensembles she made herself. She also taught me how to sew on an actual sewing machine. I made a wraparound skirt with a red floral print, and a navy blue polo shirt with a white collar that I thought was pretty freaking stylish.

Despite that promising beginning—they were both dimly recognizable as clothing—I never touched a sewing machine again. But I can reasonably manage the basics of hand-stitching—you know, sewing a button that's destined to fall off; mending a small hole in a seam that will reopen soon after. So it's possible—possible—that I might one day sew the patches I invariably pick up at thrift stores and estate sales onto my clothes or my kids' clothes. If my kids would let me. Both of them have an aversion to denim (too hot!) or "dungarees" as I still like to call them, so it's more likely I could sew the patches onto the old blanket-lined denim jacket that I've held on to since childhood and have previously celebrated in print here. I rarely wear it on account of it not being terribly flattering (some things just don't hang the same as they did back when I was 13) but maybe a few more patches would do the trick. (Here is my exact jacket; apparently it is "rare.") This jacket belonged to my brother before me, and he covered it with his own patches (I distinctly remember one in the shape of a leaf that said "Leaf me alone"). The jacket was came to him via the five brothers of the Taylor family who lived across the street. Each wearer embellished the jacket to his own taste, and ripped off the patches before handing it down.

When I got the jacket, I sewed a Rolling Stones tongue on the back and covered the rest of it with my button collection. Which makes me wonder what the hell happened to my button collection?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Hometown heroine: Carol Burnett

Was Carol Burnett funny? I'm not being snide; it's just that I'm old enough to remember when she was a TV star but young enough not to have gotten her shtick. I think her sidekick Tim Conway made a bigger impression. He was the guy who shuffled around on his knees pretending to be a dwarf, wearing a toga and playing a golf, right? Am I making that up? If I am, don't disabuse me—I like to think there was a guy in a toga shuffling around on his knees playing golf.

Anyway, the reason I bring up Carol Burnett is not to evaluate the quality of her comedy (didn't Chris Hitchens already more or less settle the question by decreeing that women aren't funny?) but to highlight yet another aspect of San Antonio's adorable small-town nature. Despite being the seventh largest city in the U.S. (no one back east ever believes it when I trot out this stat), San Antonio has but a scant few home-grown celebs to call its own. I get it—San Antonio is not NYC, replete with famous and soon-to-be-famous folks, or L.A., where you can be idling at a red light, and glance over at the car beside you and see Tom Cruise at the wheel—yes, that happened to me). It's not Chicago, with its Obama and Al Capone, or Boston with its Marky Mark...

No, it's San Antonio, with its Eva Longoria (but she's really from Corpus Christi), its Tommy Lee Jones (who's been overheard loudly kvetching at restaurants about how gossipy and provincial San Antonians can be), its Jackie Earle Haley (think he just moved here because his wife is a native), syndicated newspaper columnist Heloise (can't quibble with that), and Carol Burnett, who resided here for a very brief spell in the early 1930s. Carol lived with her grandma in an adorable Victorian cottage downtown but moved to Hollywood when she was seven. The house is a tourist attraction—one that was almost razed by a local BBQ chain to make room for a parking lot a few years ago. Caving to public outcry, the BBQ chain donated the house to a nonprofit run by Henry Cisnernos (okay—he's a San Antonio celebrity of sorts as well); they chopped it up and moved it a few blocks away and now run a Head Start program out of it.

All this being a very long wind-up to my saying that it wasn't a big surprise to see Carol Burnett: What I Want to Be When I Grow up at a local library sale, to know that at some point back in the 70s, someone from San Antonio bought this book for their kid because Carol is one of our few hometown heroines. The book itself is very much in the spirit of the year it was published, 1975—it reminds me of the Harry Belafonte and Marlo Thomas duet in Free to Be You and Me... ("Mommies are people, people with children..."). As the bookjacket states:

Sexist stereotypes are ignored—indeed anyone can be anything at all, from pizza maker to astronaut, from karate instructor to accountant, as these warm and lighthearted photographs of Carol prove.

Carol wears a peculiar unitard in all of the pictures, which, discordantly, brings to mind an image of another ’70s comic—Woody Allen, as an anxious sperm in Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex. In 1975, I was 7 years old, ostensibly the target audience for Carol's book. I don't think I would have found it too entertaining, though. Maybe if Tim Conway had done it...

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Shall we play a game?

I never had Merlin. I never had Simon. I never had Blip. And Blip was the one I wanted most of all and I totally remember seeing it at the store right before Christmas and it was only $9.95—why didn't my parents get it for me?!

We also never had Atari or Intellivision or any game system except for this really bare-bones one that my brother had hooked up to his tiny black-and-white Panasonic TV. It had just three games: tennis, hockey and breakout. Breakout was the best. Next to Blip.

Anyway, now I have Merlin and it doesn't work so it's like I still don't have Merlin. I see I can get Blip on etsy for just $10—the price unchanged since 1977! Hmm. But I definitely don't remember it being this loud:

Monday, November 28, 2011


This guy. Right? He was totally awesome! At least I know I thought so when I was seven years old and wore a blue and white polyester baseball shirt emblazoned with a photo of an exultant Jimmie J.J. Walker shouting "Dy-no-mite!" every single day. But that gets me to thinking about Dynamite magazine and which came first. I mean, who is responsible for making "dynamite" the "awesome" of the ’70s? And that just gets me to thinking about what a great freaking magazine Dynamite was and why don't I ever see it at any estate sales because I would totally totally snap that shit up... Okay, I just looked on ebay and it turns out I could buy a stack of Dynamites for like ten bucks but I am NOT going to do that. No, sir.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Sascha Brastoff, or the story behind an ashtray

One Friday morning, I go to an estate sale in a promising neighborhood, all high hopes and great expectations (Jewish doctor, 1950s subdivision of 5-to-10 acre lots), and everything is crap. Hate that. Finally, after fruitless poking through all these sad rooms, an ashtray catches my eye and I pick it up despite myself. I haven't smoked in more than eight years, since finding out I was pregnant the first time, and ashtrays, no matter how cute, are just unhelpful reminders of a past life that's very much past. I turn it over and find that it's "marked." If I've learned anything from my childhood on the antique show circuit, it's that a mark is always better than no mark (unless that mark is Made in China). A mark indicates a collectible, and a collectible is always special even if it's not exactly to your taste (you can alway sell it!).

So this ashtray is marked Sascha Brastoff California, which doesn't mean anything to me but I like the design and I'm otherwise empty-handed so I buy it for four bucks. I mean, ashtrays are excellent receptacles for coins, paper clips, hair bands and acorns, right? As soon as I'm back at my post (a.k.a., the laptop on the kitchen counter), I google this Brastoff fellow and what an awesome character he turns out to be: A scholarship student at the Cleveland Institute of Art back in the 1930s, he also danced with the Cleveland Ballet. He eventually moves to NYC, where he's a sculptor and a window-dresser at Macy's. In 1942, he enlists in the Air Force and ends up designing costumes and scenery for the USO. He also invents a character called GI Carmen Miranda and becomes very popular with the troops—cut to he ends up doing his drag act in 1944 movie Winged Victory, directed by George Cukor and starring none other than the real Carmen Miranda. He lands a contract with 20th Century Fox as a costume designer; he eventually gets out of his contract so he can start his own ceramics biz in L.A. with the backing of Winthorpe Rockefeller. Business takes off and he's a bit of a society darling; by the early ’50s he has his own factory and counts the likes of Joan Crawford and Zsa Zsa Gabor among his clients.

Seems like a he was a bit of a Jonathan Adler type (or rather Jonathan Adler is a Sascha Brastoff type)—if Sascha had lived to see the age of reality of TV (he died in 1993), he'd probably be a judge on one of those design contest shows uttering memorable catchphrases like "See ya later, decorator!" His career definitely had highs and lows (the carousel he did with the Franklin Mint is apparently very collectible but...yikes) but if you google images for him you will be treated to a parade of midcentury eye candy. Read more about him on this lady's blog.

Anyway, the point is that sometimes you learn a lot when you buy an ashtray.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Modern Librarian

I love Modern Library books and actively started collecting them a few years ago when I'd managed to snag several with intact dust jackets at a few of the better library sales (a tip for the library sale naif: the best source for books of literary consequence is your local JCC). I have a vague intention of collecting all of the volumes in the Modern Library one day—I don't know how many there are and I prefer to remain ignorant for now—and then admiring them grouped together in all their glory. I remember a piece in Martha Stewart Living from maybe a dozen years ago featuring the interior of a home belonging to Martha's irascible daughter Alexis. She had a collection of Modern Library books on display—but maybe she had the jackets removed? For the sake of color uniformity? I would never do that. Regardless, it made an impression. Of course she probably bought them all in one lot, which really sucks the fun out of it, in my humble opinion.

I got these editions of Jane Eyre and David Copperfield at one estate sale—an amateur deal where all the moldy books were strewn willy-nilly across the moldering carpet and the safest way to browse was to just kind of gingerly push stuff around with your foot. What are the chances of finding your two favorite novels of all time at one sale? When all the other books were of a religious or self-helpy nature? That doesn't happen often, people.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Postcards from the edge

I live in what I consider to be a prime estate sale neighborhood: mostly ranch houses built in the 1950s and ’60s, lots of retired military folks (military = well-traveled = interesting estate sale fodder) and doctors (already discussed what makes their sales generally worth hitting). If I didn't live here already, I would totally stalk my own hood. So when a sale crops up, I tend to get irrationally territorial—like, who do you people think you are coming to my turf, trying to buy my neighbors' stuff? I haven't called the cops on the estate salers who park in the street (you are so busted! no one is allowed to park in the street here!) but I've been sorely tempted.

Like at this sale, at a ranch house set way back from the road, tantalizingly obscured by a grove of oaks—how many times have I jogged past it, biked past it, walked the dog past it and wondered what treasure lies within?

Well, I got a pretty good haul, including a box of San Antonio postcards. Oversized and rounded at the edges, with saturated colors and brightly colored borders, they were printed in McAllen, TX, by James Hanshaw Postcards. Not sure when but I'm going to guess the ’70s. (I might just be saying that because this image of La Villita is reminding me of the famous chase scene in The French Connection.) James would have benefited from the services of a proofreader but doesn't that just make the idea of San Antonio—7th largest city in the U.S., number one tourist destination in TX, simultaneously disrespected and embraced for its core lameness—as the city that "spans the centurys [sic]" all the more endearing?

I don't know what I'm going to do with all these cards exactly (a feeling I often experience post-sale); if you'd like me to mail you one while we still have a postal service, lemme know.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The fun city girls

You know, I used to be a fun city girl, whistling for taxis, dancing on bars, throwing my hat triumphantly in the air in the middle of busy intersections. But just judging this book by its cover—and how can you do otherwise?—I might as well have been the pitiful hausfrau I am now compared to these chicks:

Stephanie had been the Mayor's wife, until she cut out to start the most fanatical of all Women's Lib groups—B.I.T.C.H.
Sabrina had been his mistress, until certain ground rules of politics made him ditch her.
Michele's latest heart-throb was a black militant who taught her that all was fair in love and class war.
Irene had an overwhelming passion to be "in" where the red-hot action was.
When this quartet of crazy ladies ganged up on one poor man, there was going to be a bang heard 'round the world!
*This novel is rated "R"—for riotous, ribald and deliciously readable every scandalous page of the way.
I made a valiant effort to read this book, but the staccato prose and groovy slang defeated me. What I took away from a quick skim is that the titular Fun City Girls are reminiscent of Mary McCarthy's The Group or of the book-publishing chippies in Rona Jaffe's The Best of Everything. Full of old-is-new fashion references (Cacharel, Sonia Rykiel) and amylnitrate-fueled sex this book is. "Deliciously readable" it is not:

They were Man and Woman, stripped naked of phony cultural restrictions and creepy inhibitions. They were free. Adam and Eve in the primeval state.

Set in the magazine industry in the early 70s, The Fun City Girls is dedicated to erstwhile NYC mayor John Lindsay, and rated a blurb from longtime New York magazine food critic Gael Green ("Delcious!" she pithily, allegedly proclaimed.) Since "the poor man" these fun city girls gang up on happens to be the mayor of New York, I'm trying to imagine a similarly tawdry roman a clef inspired by Bloomberg and I'm coming up empty...(how about you?). This book has left few traces on the internets that I could find—a flickr set here, a $5 copy on ebay there—so I don't think it made a big splash back in the day. Too bad. I really wanted it to be better, especially given the magazine angle that's so dear to my heart. Striving freelancer Irene wants to transform Modern Woman from "a manual of sewing hints and casserole recipes...into an exciting, informed magazine for today's exciting, informed modern woman."

!!!The editor of Modern Woman. The youngest editor of a major magazine in the United States. Maybe the world. No more the uncertainties of free-lance assignments. No more tedious rewrites. No more fights about having her more controversial articles printed by chicken editors. She'd be the editor! She'd have the power! She could finally do what she always wanted: change the world!!!

Aww, once upon a time a magazine editor wasn't just a romantic-comedy excuse for Jennifer Garner or Kate Hudson to wear Manolos and bark orders—it held the promise of changing the world. And well, before I get too jaded about that notion, let's consider Gloria Steinem and all the radical womyn behind the founding of Ms. magazine, the subject of an entertaining oral history in New York magazine. Ms. was launched in 1971, the year before The Fun City Girls was published—taken in that context, I should probably cut it a little more slack.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The moon belongs to the man in the moon

Globes are, like, totally hot now, right? I've seen artful clusterings of them in shelter mag layouts and on the finer design blogs and I'm down with it, although one day having a bunch of globes in your fireplace is going to look as dated and goofy as...what? Avocado-colored kitchen appliances? Macrame plant holders? I'm reaching here; everything old is new again and therefore we should throw nothing out. Everyone knows that. Anyhoo, just to be contrary, I'm going to focus on collecting moon globes. So far I have two.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Origin stories

This one goes out to Dallas, TX—to Baby A (5.5 lbs) and Baby B (3.5 lbs), who arrived unfashionably early to the party today. The first first cousins, first nieces, to this first-time aunt and uncle and two eager-beaver cousins. Wonderful, indeed.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Empire state of mind

Eighteen years I lived in New York City and what manner of Big Apple souvenir did I ever own? A few cool old books about the city maybe. A framed needlepoint tapestry of the skyline. Umm... not much else. I had a lot of Texas stuff, mostly things my mother would find and give to Lindsay for Christmas because he was a Texan living in New York City and surely a few Texas tchotchkes would mitigate the homesickness he must be feeling?

Fast-forward to now, seven years into our Texas residency and we've shed the majority of our Lone Star knickknacks—and I'm finding myself buying collector plates celebrating the Empire State Building. Oy. I'm trying to restrain myself. A few vintage postcards here, a framed photo of the WTC in all its nighttime glory there... Actually, I can't look at that WTC picture, currently residing in the garage until Lindsay takes it to his office. It bums me out for all the obvious reasons; I remember proclaiming, not long after 9/11, that I would never leave NYC because then the terrorists would have won. So much for that. But I also can't look at this picture without thinking of the two pairs of old-school Spot-bilt sneaker-skates that were at the same yard sale for like five bucks and we didn't buy them! Who cares that they didn't fit? They were so cool! New in box!

Anyway, one shouldn't look at the WTC and think of sneaker-skates. Lindsay has got to take that thing to his office.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Lands of the midnight sun

I scored this trio of Scandinavian travel books from one of the best sales I've been to in San Antonio. A doctor's estate in one of my favorite midcentury hoods, Castle Hills. I was hugely pregnant at the time, which made me more shameless, aggression-wise (this is Texas, where pregnant ladies get their very own special parking spots at the grocery store; not NYC, where you could be dilated 9 cm and no one would dream of offering you a seat on the subway). Doctor estate sales are generally pretty good, but you can't count on it—sometimes you just find more expensive versions of the same old crap everyone else has plus a lot of medical reference books.

But these folks were obviously a cultured, intellectually curious pair—the study was wall-to-wall books, tons of first editions being picked over by the serious antiquarian book dealers (think: leonine hair, interesting glasses, the scent of nicotine and mold). I don't even try to compete with those fellas (and they are always fellas from what I've seen), though I seriously regret not picking up a couple of classics published by the Limited Edition Club in NY. I scored a few vintage interior design books and I got my dance critic pal back in New York two scrapbooks full of ballet clippings mostly from the ’70s—Time magazine, New Yorker articles, local newspapers—incredible stuff. Obviously the doctor's wife was a balletomane, which is not a passion you can indulge very easily in San Antonio. I feel for her!

I also paid 50 bucks for an Eames-style leather swivel chair that is the beloved go-to swivel spot in my family room. Like I said, an all-round excellent sale, but I think my favorite purchase was this set of travel guides published by Vista Books. I am in love with the covers—how gorgeous are these girls? Apparently these books were originally published in France and then translated and revised by Viking in the early 60s. The covers are frame-worthy and the writing is off the hook. Not in Let's Go or Frommer's will you find such cheeky, opinionated, discursive surveys of the history, culture and um, physical attributes of the people. Exhibit A is a passage from the Norway guide. The writer, Silvian Pivot (his real name?), rhapsodizes about some 18-year-old students he encounters on his travels:
What a delicious surprise indeed, for the pupils turned out to be three young beauties who introduced themselves in halting English punctuated by devastating smiles. There was Kari, the fairest one with a pearl-coloured skin, who was wearing a fisherman's oilskin covered with the signatures of her admirers. Berit of the huge, gentle eyes, and Grethe, whose freckles immediately enslaved me.

Whoever thought of having their oilskin signed as if it were a cast or an autograph book? Kari, you must've been some kind of genius! Anyway, Vista travel guides seem to be pretty hard to find. I know I googled them immediately after buying this set and turned up a Belgium guide on Amazon for six bucks—the cover was Audrey Hepburn! Ack, why didn't I buy it? Still kicking myself over that one. The back of the Denmark book lists 28 guides, including Finland. I would definitely pay more than $6 for Finland.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

When Ben met Susan

I'm not a big doll person, never have been. As a kid, I had my obligatory Barbie phase but I was really more about Barbie's flocked palomino Nugget than anything else. Of course, as the mother of two young girls, I keep my eye out for wicked-cool mod retro Barbie stuff and I've made some excellent scores (Barbie's ’70s inflatable furniture? YES!) but frankly, I'm skeeved out by most of the dolls I see on my estate sale adventures. You know that totally-sinister-but-ultimately-just-misunderstood baby-doll villain in Toy Story 3? I see a lot of those guys.

That's one end of the old-doll spectrum; the other end is the limited-edition, new-in-box, never-been-played-with-and-never-will-be collector dolls. Those are even more depressing, somehow, when you contemplate how much money the deceased owner spent in pursuit of these Madame Alexander dolls/Precious Moments figurines/Hummels/Beanie Babies and here they are, getting pawed over by a bunch of bargain-hunting bottom-feeders with price guides sticking out of their pocketbooks, for probably a fraction of what she paid for them.

Right, so what am I doing buying a Susan B. Anthony Collectible Doll from the 1979 Hallmark "Famous Americans" series if I'm so damned judgey about other people's dusty boxed-doll collections? Sigh. It's another one of those nostalgia-driven purchases. See, I've had this Ben Franklin doll since, well, 1979. My mother gave it to me for what must have been my eleventh birthday. I don't recall having any special affinity for Ben but I know I played with this humble Hallmark cloth doll—and that I didn't even bother to save the original box. I'm pretty sure this doll accompanied me to college, along with my Edward Gorey stuffed bat. How I managed to make friends in college, I don't know.

Enter Ms. Susan B. Anthony. I was at an estate sale in San Antonio (with my mother who just happened to be visiting from NJ and has absolutely no memory of giving me the Ben Franklin doll) when I spied the suffragist on a coffee table—right alongside her mint-condition historically accurate townhouse-style box. Two bucks. Was I going to pass that up? Reader, I was not.

Is this the start of yet another collection? Hopefully not, though on ebay you can find the whole pantheon of Famous Americans, so anointed by the 70s-era bigwigs at Hallmark: Annie Oakley, Amelia Earhart, Chief Joseph (whodat?), Mark Twain, Babe Ruth, George Washington Carver, Clara Barton, P.T. Barnum, Martha Washington and the always-mysterious Molly Pitcher. I've never been clear on the origin of Molly's fame though there is a rest stop on the Jersey turnpike named for her so she must have done something awesome.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

How to draw the well-accessorized nude

One of the things I've learned about San Antonio since I started rifling through the things its dead have left behind (morbid but accurate) is that this town is (or was) chock full of Sunday painters. Seriously. Maybe it's not the town so much as the midcentury era when folks would take up art as a hobby. Or do people still do that? I mean, apart from Adam Gopnik, of course. (I enjoyed his New Yorker piece but it only confirmed what I already knew—drawing is motherfreaking hard.) So it's no surprise that I come across a lot of Walter T. Foster's big floppy art-instruction manuals and that I tend to snap them up because I find the colors, the type, the (false) promise of being able to render a sad clown or adorable kitten portrait as adroitly as the one on the cover just so...irresistible.

I also had a small collection as a kid—all on the subject of horses, perhaps not coincidentally the only thing I can draw with any confidence now—which makes this another one of my nostalagia-fueled pursuits, for the most part. I mean, they're also total eye candy, right? Walter died back in 1981, but the company continues to publish new manuals in his name as well as reprint some of the old ones in a Walter T. Foster Collectible Series. I was bummed to find that the company is not immune to merchandising tie-ins; most of the offerings for kids instruct them on the finer points of drawing characters from Disney, Pixar, Nickelodeon et al. Bleh. They may no longer publish a book devoted to painting clown portraits but they do have a manual devoted to drawing zombies. Never thought of looking to old Walt for the zeitgeist but there ya go.

One of the volumes in the Collectibles series is How to Draw Pin-ups and Glamour Girls; back in the day, there were several devoted to sad-eyed babes striking awkward poses in their boudoirs, including this one, The Nude by Fritz Willis. I love the models' supercomplicated hairdos, and the props. Half-drunk Chianti bottles are a recurring theme...

And there's nothing quite like an artfully placed Spanish guitar to preserve a girl's modesty, but you knew that already.

The best thing is finding old sketches stuck between the pages of these manuals. A total estate-sale bonus that sets one's mind a-wandering... Who was this amateur Vargas living in a ’60s tract house in a drab, colorless San Antonio subdivision? We'll never know.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The lure of lore

I'm not nearly as outdoorsy as I aspire to be because (a) it's really hot here in San Antonio and (b) when it's not hot, the air is just thick with allergens and quarry dust. Oh, and (c) the chiggers. Did I mention the chiggers? Nevertheless, I find this little tome, which turns up at a lot of book sales and estate sales (right alongside those Reader's Digest Condensed sets), super-appealing. I bought my first copy of the Complete Book of Outdoor Lore at a library sale in Boerne, TX, and the nice Friends of the Library volunteer exclaimed "Oooh... I would've gotten this one if I'd seen it. I love any title with the word lore in it, don't you?"

Why, yes, my fellow kindred spirit senior citizen library volunteer lady. And thank you for confirming that I should really volunteer at library sales so I can get first crack at all the books with lore in the title!
Seriously—try it. Everything sounds better with a little lore chaser:

tax lore
math lore
kettlebell lore
microwave oven lore

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Hickory dickory

Having a child in elementary school has a way of jogging memories—of the heady scent of ditto machines and brand-new Buster Browns, of academic triumphs and trials. Though they mostly came later (algebra was my undoing), I tend to dwell on the trials. One was tying shoes. With the help of my saintly kindergarten teacher, I managed to finally nail that one by year's end. The other was telling time. I completely sucked at it and I always blamed my parents. They took me out of second grade for three weeks to go on a family trip to Finland—just as the unit on telling time was getting underway. It's funny how I've held that against them for all these decades—but they recently informed me that I only missed one week of school because we went over winter break (if you have a penchant for total darkness and arctic temperatures, might I suggest spending the holidays in Finland?).

Anyway, when I saw this box of teaching clocks at Bussey's flea market, naturally the first thing that flashed through my mind was an image of Mrs. Voget holding a similar teaching aid in the front of the class and calling on me to tell the time while I sat, slackjawed and clueless, when I usually had an answer for everything. Time stood still, as it were. So why would I instantly fork over six bucks for something with such unpleasant associations? Well, look at Mrs. Higgenbotham's clocks—they're so ding-dang cute! And this is at least one grudge my kids won't be able to nurse through their adult life cuz I'm totally facilitating their time-telling skills by prominently displaying these on the windowsill in my dining room.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Ch-ch-ch cherry bomb!!

Seriously, of all the occupations you could come up with—rodeo clown, cruise director, food stylist—doesn't Dude Ranch Nurse seem the most awesome? Colton sprained his wrist again? Colby's got whiplash? Clint got second-degree burns in a branding-iron accident? I wanna piece of that action, Cherry!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

How now?

This is exactly the sort of thing I try to avoid when I go to sales—knickknacks, tchotchkes, bric-a-brac—pick your favorite synonym for dust-catching figurines that clutter all surfaces until you have to start branching out and covering your walls with special knickknack shelves and glass showcases. It's a slippery slope. But at one particularly great sale, when I was already laden down with books and board games and kitschy message centers because it was the kind of sale where they don't trust you to bring in your own shopping bag and you don't trust them to watch your pile in the "reserved" section, I kept circling back to this $1 cow.

I think she—oh god, I'm anthropomorphizing a knickknack!—reminds of Ferdinand, titular character of one of my favorite children's books of all time. But Ferdinand was a bull—a benign bull—and this is clearly a cow, but Ferdinand did have a mother, a very awesome mother, described in a classic backhandedly complimentary way by Munro Leaf: "His mother saw that he was not lonesome, and because she was an understanding mother, even though she was just a cow, she let him just sit there and be happy." Just a cow? Come on.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The holy grail of paperback cover art

I've loved Edward Gorey for a long time, since the first PBS Mystery! with his animated opening aired back in 1980s. But it wasn't until I wrote this review of a Gorey show at the local art museum that I discovered he designed a series of classic paperbacks for Anchor Doubleday from 1953 to 1960. Apparently there are about 200; he actually illustrated and hand-lettered about a quarter of them (some of the others were illo'd by such luminaries as Andy Warhol and Milton Glaser but he was the art director). Read all about it here. Now I have...four of them. So I've got to find about 46 more in order to satisfy the crazy completist in me. Yes, I could start targeting them on ebay, alibris, etc but that would drain all the fun from this endeavor, wouldn't it?

I already had Troilus and Cressida on my shelf (Chaucer's version was the topic of my senior thesis) and am ashamed to say that I'd never even noticed it was the hand of Gorey. They're not signed or anything but I mean, duh, I should recognize that quaking line anywhere! The other three volumes I recently plucked from the chaotic bookshelves at my favorite Goodwill. They were scattered amid all the cheeseball romances, smarmy self-help books, hardcover Nora Roberts, and grotesquely stained children's books but obviously they all came from the same place/donor. That naturally sent my mind lurching down the usual course: Who was this learned San Antonian? And shouldn't we have been friends?

Friday, May 20, 2011

Kid cardsharps

One day I hope to find a book that finally teaches kids how to fix a proper cocktail but this is a good place to start honing their midcentury skill sets.
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