Thursday, May 31, 2012


You know, there's more than one Petrified Forest in this great country of ours—possibly a whole bunch, but I'm only aware of two and I've been to one of them. This sack of what looks like poop comes from the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona via an estate sale in San Antonio, where it was purchased to appease a pair of shrill children. That's the more famous Petrified Forest, which is also the setting for the claustrophobic hostage noir of the same name, starring a lovely Bette D., a scary Humphrey Bogart and a milquetoasty Leslie Howard, who never did a damn thing for me (and that's coming from a major anglophile).

I went to the less famous Petrified Forest, in Calistoga, California, on the same wedding trip ten years ago that I mentioned yesterday. (I also went to the less famous geyser named Old Faithful while there.) Funny how a whole passel of memories can be wrapped up in an object. I can't look at the alligator plate or this sack of petrified wood without thinking back on that most excellent moment in time: We were two years married, housed in our first house, gainfully employed, well-dressed and poised on the precipice—within the year, I'd be pregnant and things would change in ways both expected and unexpected. As for the wedding, the happy couple didn't stay married; other wedding guests, who were together but not married, are no longer together. Still others, single and on the prowl, are married with children. Jobs have changed, relationships changed but I think I'm still friends with everybody (at least on Facebook!). Sometimes it takes a sack of millennia-old wood to be reminded that everything is moving, changing, even when time often feels like it's at a standstill.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Later, gator

I bought this little plate at a flea market in Healdsburg, California, ten Memorial Day weekends ago. I was in Sonoma for a fabulous and incredibly fun destination wedding. The marriage that resulted has long since unraveled (for the better for all involved—or at least for the groom, which I say as a Friend of the Groom), but I still have the plate, along with a bunch of other stuff I bought at that market, which was surprisingly awesome considering the fancy-shmancieness of Sonoma and all the well-heeled winos who vacation there.

I've mentioned my affection for anthropomorphized houses; well, anthropomorphized animals give me a similar fuzzy feeling—when they're done well. There's a lot of sheep wearing hats and owls wearing glasses out in the world; one must be picky. This totally chill alligator (or is it a crocodile? I've never gotten the difference straight and there never seems to be a small child around to answer the question when it needs answering) spoke to me. It said "Yep." Seriously, the use of speech bubbles in pottery—how often do you see that motif? This Adair person, presumably an amateur potter potting in the 1940s, rocked. And not that I had any doubt that I'd be buying this $5 plate as soon as I laid eyes on it, but when I turned it over, the name sealed the deal. Adair happens to be Lindsay's middle name, as well as a family name. He lobbied hard to pass it on to one of our daughters, but I refused on the grounds that they were already getting his last name and how much of a tool of the patriarchy did he take me for?

Still, it's a cool name, and gave me that happy kismet feeling you get now and then at a flea market—there's nothing like feeling doubly justified in buying something. I've since searched the internets high and low for evidence of this Adair person but no luck. You can't think this was the only object he/she made, right?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Poetry in costume

The school year is winding to its inevitable close and every day I'm inundated anew with art and science projects, half-used workbooks and stubby pencils. I imagine my kids' teachers in a spring-cleaning fervor, gleefully denuding bulletin boards and cubbies and sending students home with backpacks stuffed with paper, some of it precious, some of it semiprecious, some of it not even close. The challenge: where to store this stuff, and how to get rid of some of it without enraging my pack-rat children.

It's hard to edit. I find myself doing preliminary culling, then stuffing everything marginal into a box that I hope I'll be able to return to at a later date with more clarity and objectivity. So far that's worked: I've had a good laugh over the way I saved my elder daughter's every scribble on every scrap of butcher paper—before double-bagging it and putting it in the outdoor trash can under cover of darkness. But I know this is a task that will probably dog me for the rest of my life.

Being thrust back in this familiar situation reminds me of Poetry in Costume, a school project created by some precocious young miss back in May of 1945, which I bought at an estate sale a number of years ago when my elder daughter was still in preschool and my younger was too young to put crayon to paper. I wrote about this book in O Magazine, because it's so lovely (I'm only showing about half of the illustrations and I didn't even include the pages of poetry that fall between each costume, like intertitles in a silent movie) and because it was pretty hard to get around the irony of the lovingly preserved note written by this girl's teacher: "This is a beautiful book...and I am sure will be something to cherish and pass on to your children." I took her children—or whatever surviving family remained some 60 years later—to task for heartlessly selling this family treasure at her estate sale. How could they?!

How could they indeed. I was newer to the estate sale circuit then, and a little more judgmental. I mean, I don't know how something as nice as Poetry in Costume ends up in the "to sell" pile but I've got a lot more dioramas and sculptures and shoebox floats in closets than when I wrote that little piece—and a lot more sympathy with the seller than I did then. What to save, what to let go—these are the questions.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The birthday party fun never stops!

Well, it turns out I didn't need to bust out any of my spiral pads of party fun last night or this morning. Nine-year-olds, it seems, are more into busting moves to Katy Perry in the pool and dumping the contents of my pantry into a single large bowl and eating (some of) it than they are with playing the "Merry Maze Game" or "Animal Round-up." Ah, kids—how quickly they grow.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Ample material for fun and frolic

Someone at my house is turning 9 this weekend and is hosting her first-ever slumber party. Actually, they call them sleepovers now but I'm going to persist with my hoary old term, cuz that's what they were called when I started attending them—the seances! the ghost stories! the fingertips in warm water prank that never worked!—in 5th grade. Yes, everything happens sooner now and we can't just blame it on the hormones in milk, can we?

I doubt this will be an occasion when I'll be called upon to bust out my vintage birthday party-planning materials, but just in case interest in the swimming pool, the wii, the DVDs, the various glowsticks and the copious amounts of junk food I sanctioned for THIS ONE NIGHT ONLY should flag, I'm sure everyone will enjoy a few rounds of Kids' Keen Time Games.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Margie the Majorette, you scare me

In fact, you remind me of the scariest Marge of all time...LARGE MARGE!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Home scrap home

I picked up this scrapbook because of the slightly surreal landscape on the cover—those cute little bobwhites or quails or whatever they are, looking like an old couple vacationing in Yosemite, deeply engaged in conversation about the scenery—well, wouldn't you pick it up?

I thought it was unused, but I was wrong. When I opened it, the contents spilled out. And what lovely contents they were!

Turned out that it was a time capsule of suburban home and garden decorating ideas, circa the 1970s. I, too, put together a book like this when we moved into our house back in 2005. I still have it—it's stuffed with pages from Dwell, Cookie, ELLE Decor, FLOR and Room & Board and is every bit a relic of a certain age as this scrapbook. If I manage to hang on to it for a lifetime, as this person did, I'm sure it will be a source of mirth for a customer at my future estate sale.

But now that everyone with clipping proclivities is on Pinterest, does anyone still collect their home-decorating ideas in a humble scrapbook?

For whatever reason, this brings me to a snarky-but-not-inaccurate article in the New York Times Home section last week. It's about how the popularity of design blogs and Pinterest has led to the rampant over-propping of homes with the same vintage typewriters and color-coordinated stacks of books and darling succulents in mason jars. I don't think this is anything new; it's just that the compulsion of the house proud to document a particularly cunning windowsill vignette on a blog or Instagram (guilty as charged) makes the design cliches seem more pernicious and widespread than they probably are. There's something to be said for keeping our ideas to ourselves in scrapbooks, I suppose, if you can live without the instantly gratifying reassurance of likes, hearts and repins.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

I spy, with my little eye...

Memories II, 1976

When my five-year-old saw these images on my computer, she flew at the screen like a magpie, squawking "What is that?! What is that, Mommy?" I think part of the attraction is that Marie Cosindas's tableaux are kinda reminiscent of Walter Wick's I Spy books. That's a terrible thing to say about fine art, right? The other reason is that artful(ish) piles of clutter are a specialty in these parts, and my daughter is an extra-special fan (no one loves sorting the old tackle box more). There was a brief moment when I actually thought about drawing from our own abundant tchotchke resources and shooting my own I Spy photographs and then turning them into books on Shutterfly and then I thought if I really had time to do that sort of project hadn't I ought to start looking for a paying job?

According to Tom Wolfe's introductory essay to Marie Cosindas: Color Photographs, Cosindas was also something of a young magpie:

Rich, congested, and yet delicate and orderly arrangements were the sort Maria Cosindas delighted in. It was a look that resonated with memories of her childhood. In the apartment that she and her nine brothers and sisters grew up in, there was a corner with a little built-in cupboard that became her private preserve. She used to spend entire afternoons arranging every toy, knickknack, doll, and souvenir she possessed upon the shelves. The motif turns up in both of her pictures called Memories.

How great is that? Of course she had her own Cabinet of Curiosities, a la Pippi Longstocking. No wonder I love these photos, even though they are all creepy and Havishamy and I can feel the dust gathering in my nostrils just looking at them. It's a familiar feeling.

Christmas Tree, 1967

Christmas Still Life, 1970

Roses, Mexico, 1966

Masks, 1966

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Cosindas: portraits of the artists

The Grande Dames of Couture: Madame Gres, 1969

There are so many great pictures in this Marie Cosindas: Color Photographs book; my choices are feeling a little random and as usual, my pitiful picture-taking ways do them no great justice. Still, you get the idea. I don't know a lot about this lady. I think she's still living. She's Greek-American, from the Boston area, went to art school and to fashion school in Boston. According to Tom Wolfe's introductory essay (he sat for her once), she walked out on her last fashion job, which involved designing children's slippers with animal faces to match hand puppets, and decided to devote herself to photography. She studied alongside Ansel Adams and Minor White. She worked in black and white because all fine art photographers did; photographers who worked in color were considered commercial or journalistic. Wolfe does a funny riff on the "fine artist's Reverence for the Outmoded":

Artists like to be regarded as visionaries, but I can't think of a group of people who resist change more fiercely and bitterly. Most of the artist's visionary acuity is over his shoulder. As the art historian Alan Gowans has demonstrated, artists did not regard the woodcut, the steel engraving, and the lithograph as "artistic" media until they had been rendered obsolete by the photogravure. The more self-consciously artistic movie directors clung to the black-and-white film for years because Technicolor had superseded it with mass audiences.

That's not how it turned out for color-mad Cosindas. In 1962, Polaroid approached about a dozen photographers, including Cosindas, with an offer: take a large quantity of their new color film, Polacolor, which was going on the market the following year, and just experiment with it. The only one who had any success was Cosindas. Her photographs are dark, lush, rich, painterly—like late Renaissance paintings. Her technique was exacting; her process incredibly time-consuming and apparently pretty tedious for the subject (unless the subject was a flower or pile of objects—will share her awesome still lifes tomorrow).

My copy of her book has an inscription on its inside flap to the original owner: "To Bob Saunders, From Polaroid." (Thinking Bob must've been a local camera store owner or something along those lines; doesn't look like he cracked the book but once.) Which brings me back to Wolfe and the Reverence for the Outmoded: Who loves Polaroids—and the Polaroid effects rendered so easily by the touch of finger to screen via Instagram, Hipstamatic, etc—more than my generation, the retro nostalgists who thrill to images that remind us of our 60s/70s childhoods? Track down this out-of-print book and be reminded of what separates the fine artists from the fine Instagrammers—and imagine a generation hence when the backward-looking fine artists might well be Instagrammers.

The Grande Dames of Couture: Madame Vionnet, 1969

The Dandies: Andy Warhol, 1966

Truman Capote, 1969

Ezra Pound, 1967

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Marie Cosindas, where have you been all my life?

How do we educate ourselves when we're no longer in school? Grad school is my road not taken. I did Stanley Kaplan, took the GREs, applied and got in, but I never ended up going. I don't regret that choice but often wish I were in grad school right now, pursuing that PhD in 19th-century medievalism with the stipend and TA job I was promised back when I was in my early twenties and all that stuff was fresh in my brain. Oh well, perhaps one day I will be the sort of senior citizen who audits classes at the local university (cuz there is no way I could get a vaguely respectable score on the math GRE today—I barely squeaked by the first time around). Till then, I have estate and library sales doing the work of furthering my education, and I don't have to take out any loans to make it happen (at least, it hasn't come to that—yet). For example, I can credit an estate sale with introducing me to the work of Marie Cosindas, yet another photographer I've never heard of but whose work I now totally dig. I'll be featuring photographs from Marie Cosindas Color Photographs (New York Graphic Society, 1978) all week as I regroup after my discombobulating long weekend in NYC. As most excellent poet Sara Teasdale wrote:
I shall gather myself into myself again,
I shall take my scattered selves and make them one.
I shall fuse them into a polished crystal ball
Where I can see the moon and the flashing sun.
Julie and John, 1976

Barbara and Fred, 1976

Faye and Peter, 1976 (Yes, as in Faye Dunaway and Peter Wolf—wowsie wow wow)

Stephanie, Elaine and Tony, 1976

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Just like I pictured it

This Big Time Operator—and here I always thought BTO stood for Bachman Turner Overdrive—is headed off to the big city at the crack of dawn tomorrow morning for a whirlwind wedding weekend. Woo-hoo—look at me, such the big time operator! You ain't seen nothing yet! As Bachman Turner Overdrive would say. All blogging activity will likely be suspended, unless New York City has suddenly become very boring and attending the nuptials of my only brother to one of my BFFs turns out to be a snorefest.

(Two great things about vintage postcards: learning new slang, and marveling that there was ever a time when you could just write a person's name and citystate and the postcard would arrive at its intended destination. Odessa's population hovers around 100,000-don't think Mrs. W.M. Brady would've gotten this card had it been sent today.)

Oh, and speaking of cards, did everyone catch Cindy Sherman's freaky-cool find in the Times Styles section a week or two ago? Check it out.
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