Friday, July 27, 2012
When people learn that I'm 51% Finnish, they often ask if I speak the language. It's a crazy question. Who speaks Finnish, apart from the five million or so multilingual Finns? Finnish is one of the hardest, most obscure languages you can learn; it's in the Fenno-Ugric group and thus counts Estonian, Hungarian and a handful of minor languages spoken in Russia as its nearest cousins. Don't think, however, that the idea of learning Finnish never crossed my mind; I attended one of the few (I'm assuming) universities that offer Finnish and I'm sure I dog-eared that page in the course catalog. But, you know, it was just a whole bunch of credits and a whole bunch of work and most inconveniently held what seemed like all day on FRIDAY, when I purposely confined my classes to Monday through Thursday, so to my everlasting shame as a 51% Finn, I stuck with Latin, a language spoken by even fewer people.
But! I know a couple of important words. Kiitos is thank you. Hei is Hi. Spider is hamahakki (mentally put umlauts over all those a's because I don't know how). And bunny, as in this adorable fellow that I bought at a flea market in Helsinki: pupujussi.
Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Well, in theory Tuesday is Thrift Day: I'm going back to the Jersey homestead today, returning to the thrifting grounds of my youth. I probably won't be able to get any action in as my flight is scheduled to arrive at around 7:30—I'll be lucky if I can convince my parents to stop at a diner with a liquor license on the hour-long drive home.
But Wednesday will most definitely be Thrift Day. Catch you later!
Monday, July 23, 2012
I've found that Instagram is very helpful in keeping me from buying things I don't need/can't afford/etc. If I capture an object with my iphone and make it look all retro-adorable with just the right filter, it's like I've captured the object's soul. Okay, objects don't have souls. Its essence? Anyway, I've documented its existence, it lives on in my phone and I no longer feel compelled to possess it. In short, this is a good thing, so I'll be featuring my non-buys here regularly. Bear with me, it's therapy.
Friday, July 20, 2012
What—this doesn't look delicious to you? Then you must not be Finnish (or even 51% Finnish) because this, my friends, is a Karelian Rice Pie (a.k.a., Rice Pasty) and there ain't nothing finer smeared with a little egg butter (that would be hard-boiled egg smushed up with butter—YUM). And here you thought Finnish cuisine was all vodka and blackest licorice!
I used to get a fairly steady, or at least semiannual, supply of Karelian Rice Pies from my parents, whenever they hit the Scandinavian Festival circuit. But at some point several years ago, the ScanFest stopped coming to town, and I moved away, so in lieu of delectable hearty rice pies, all I have now is this sculpture of a rice pie. Not quite the same. There are myriad rice pie recipes on the internets, but, I dunno, it seems kinda hard.
Thursday, July 19, 2012
So as I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted by quotidian demands, I went to Wisconsin, land of ugly fish and beautiful flea markets, and all I got were these lousy coloring books.
Well, they're not lousy. They're pretty great, actually, I say as a person who hoards vintage coloring books. The first thing you do when evaluating whether a coloring book is worth 25¢ is flip through the pages to see if they've been used up. If they have, screw it—unless the cover is frame-worthy and you're the sort of shopper who has her shit together enough to frame vintage coloring book covers and sell them on etsy to hipsters decorating nurseries on the cheap. If the coloring books are hardly used or not at all used, like these, then buy them and give them to your kids who so don't need another coloring book added to the pile but who can say no to an armload like this (I only scanned a few) that a lovely Wisconsin woman sold to me for just $4?
These are all 1950s Color by Numbers coloring books, which take the whole soul-killing stay-within-the-lines enterprise that is coloring one step further by not even leaving it up to the kids to create their own wacky palette, giving Cinderella a cornflower face and burnt sienna dress should they feel so inspired.
But one of these things is not like the others and that's Ziggy and his Colors, a children's book about coloring that's illustrated by Frans Van Lamsweerde and written by Michael Dolan, which for some reason people on Amazon are selling for like $50. Van Lamsweerde was a Dutch artist/illustrator/cartoonist/greeting card designer who emigrated to the States in 1950. He worked for Disney and Hanna-Barbera, as well as illustrating for Golden Books and Whitman Books. As "Frans Van," he illustrated calendars and playing cards, mostly technicolor romantic landscapes that are not at all to my taste. Nevertheless, it would appear that I have stumbled upon something new to collect and maybe sell, should I ever get around to selling anything. Oh, goodie!
Friday, July 13, 2012
Thursday, July 12, 2012
As you already know, I've got a pretty vast collection of Walter T. Foster art-instruction books. The first was one of those pernicious nostalgia purchases: I learned how to draw horses when I was a kid with the aid of a Walter T. Foster book so naturally when I saw the same book at an estate sale, I pounced. That was a few years ago, before I knew that the generation of middle-class suburbanites whose estates are currently up for grabs here in San Antonio were a bunch of devoted amateur artists who looked to Walter T. Foster's big floppy instruction manuals for direction. Now when I see them, which is frequently, I can't resist buying them. Luckily, they're very skinny, so they don't take up too much room.
I'd say about half of the books in my collection have bylines apart from Foster's signature/brand and almost all of them seem to be men (e.g., Fritz Willis, pin-up girl artist extraordinaire, and Leon Franks, master portraitist of sad clowns) or else their names are gender-neutral initials. So my curiosity was piqued when I saw the marquee byline one Violet Parkhurst merited for manual #101, Painting Sunsets.
Sunset paintings are not especially my thing, but I have to share some nuggets from Violet's CV: Born in Vermont in 1921 and educated in Boston and Waco, she indulged a passion for travel, tooling around Canada and Mexico before landing in Natal, Brazil, where she was a foreign correspondent for movie magazines (here you can see photos of her with Clark Gable, Maureen O'Hara and more). A total dame! She gave up writing for her first love, painting, because, according to the Walter T. Foster bio, "From her French mother, she inherited a temperament which could best be expressed by oils and brushes." Hmmm... insert Bob Hope tomcat yowl here?
Parkhurst ultimately put down roots in Cali; first Malibu and then San Pedro, where she cruised on her 35-foot boat The Hustler (sunset cruises, mostly, I'm guessing). She died in 2008, but in L.A., Violet Parkhurst day is celebrated on November 3.
The Walter T. Foster bio presents her as some crazy feminist trailblazer—and hell, maybe she was:
This internationally known and acclaimed woman artist is no mild illustrator, nor does she dabble in prosaic landscapes. Instead, she specializes in three areas where most women painters have rarely ventured, certainly not with the force, action and vibrancy that she brings to her work. She paints seascapes, life-like studies of the bubbling, foam-flinging seas of the world which thunder on the shores in their wild rush for the beach... She paints both the male and the female nude, displaying unashamedly their God-given charms and attributes. Horses, cats and all animals are an invitation to capture their innocent charms on canvas... For her successful invasion of these customarily male domains...Violet Parkhurst has won scholarships, trophies over thirty blue ribbons, accolades, critical acclaims and an international reputation.
Methinks someone deserves at least 30 blue ribbons for that purple prose.
Anyway, stumbling across this little-known feminist heroine reminds me of an assignment I did for an 18th-century literature class in college, in which the professor had us dig deep in the stacks at Butler Library to locate and write about an obscure work by an obscure female poet of the time. Superfun stuff—shining a light, however small, on these forgotten, overlooked rule-breakers. So if Violet indeed broke down barriers for future chick painters, then my beret's off to her! I will raise a glass in her honor at the next technicolor sunset.
Tuesday, July 10, 2012
The drive from our cabin in northern Wisconsin to Minneapolis on Saturday was five hours, and I withstood a great deal of temptation along the way. I'm not talking about the temptation to scarf entire bags of Combos chased with big bottles of Diet Coke (which I don't even drink in real life!) at every gas station rest stop I rolled into. I'm talking about the temptation to hit the brakes for every yard sale, flea market, junk shoppe and consignment store scattered along our incredibly scenic route. The only thing Wisconsin seems to have more of than dairy farms, cornfields and taverns is thrifting opportunities. God bless America and all of her glorious bounty!
Sadly it was not for me. I wasn't traveling alone and not one of my travel companions shared my junking obsession, especially those companions under the age of 10. They were definitely not interested in stopping anywhere unless it involved copious amounts of ice cream and even that was no guarantee. I had to be satisfied with the memory of the one flea market I managed to hit in Wisconsin (held every Tuesday at the Lions Club in Boulder Junction, should you ever find yourself in that beauteous corner of the Cheese Curd State—it's totally worth it!).
But the disappointment in not being able to spend money on random old stuff that probably wouldn't have fit in my suitcase was forgotten when I found out we'd be able to stop at Fred Smith's Wisconsin Concrete Park.
I've known about Fred's garden of whimsical-sublime statuary since my days of buying Ripley's Believe it or Nots (and Ripley rip-offs) from the Scholastic Bookmobile. His life follows the classic outsider-artist trajectory: Born in 1886, he worked in the Wisconsin woods as a lumberjack, never learning to read or write. At the age of 63, pretty much out of nowhere, he started making art. Don't you love those late-bloomer stories? It gives me hope that one day I'll be overcome by some vision that will inspire me to assemble all my estate-sale finds into art, tapping creative gifts I never knew were at my disposal. Smith's folksy, unhelpful explanation for his sudden and uncanny ability: "It's gotta be in ya to do it!"
I've always been into outsider art and certainly the artist's personal narrative is a big part of the appeal. I've seen exhibits of some of the great—Henry Darger, A.G. Rizzoli—at museums and it's definitely a very different deal to see the art in its native environment; in Smith's case, in the green piney lakey fishy flat north woods of Wisconsin. The garden is located right next to the highway in what used to be the yard surrounding his home and his Rock Garden Tavern, which he built with the help of local stonemasons, in 1936. Sadly the tavern no longer stands on the property but based on the description and photos in the monograph we bought at the gift shop, The Art of Fred Smith by Lisa Stone and Jim Zanzi, it was likely the Greatest Bar of All Time.
The Wisconsin Concrete Park feels like a lot of things, none of which are a museum. Maybe it was just the mossy green carpet, the shade trees, the breezy blue-sky day but it felt like a cemetery. The beautiful kind of cemetery, like I've seen in Helsinki and Rome. The statues, many of them clad in identical hats, staring sentry-like, reminded me of that terracotta army in China, not that I've seen them in person, only in Ripley's (are they in a museum?). It's also like one of those roadside outdoor furniture/garden statuary emporiums (Fountains of Wayne?). Mostly, it's like, wow.
I wish I'd had all day to study the garden, to unravel all the allusions. Seriously, if this place were a poem, it would have more footnotes than "The Wasteland." To commune with Smith's sculptures of Abe and Mary Todd Lincoln, the Budweiser Clydesdales, the Lone Ranger's horse Silver, the Statue of Liberty, Iwo Jima, Paul Bunyan and all the anonymous deer, moose, not mention the mythic muskie dragged by a team of horses. To ponder the cryptic stories he'd dictated to a typist, which you can now read on aluminum plaques alongside some of the sculptures (I've included one below).
But the kids, you know—the kids. They were into it but they have limits. After storming the gift shop and availing themselves of the restrooms, they were ready to motor. I was pleased that my older daughter read the monograph for the next half hour of the journey, before getting sucked back into the Sound of Music DVD playing on the laptop. I think it's time I dust off my collection of Ripley Believe It or Nots—someone is definitely ready.