Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Alphabet Man

Little is known about The Alphabet Man, but he is seen here proudly posing with one of his rustic twig alphabets somewhere in Southern Kentucky in the 1940s. Perhaps his name was just Mr. X. Below is another original twig work he assembled and mounted on a painted white board. All letters are original except the "H" which is a contemporary replacement. The board is 46 x 16".
:: @ Cottage + Camp via this 
American Folk Art dealer

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Lasting Impressions of Antonio Frasconi

January has been a cruel month thus far. This past weekend I learned about the great loss of legendary artist, Antonio Frasconi, who died January 8th at the age of 93 at his home in Norwalk, Connecticut. Frasconi had a long and prestigious career as one of the America's greatest printmakers. Working primarily in wood, he illustrated over 100 books, album covers, Christmas cards, magazine illustrations and even a US postage stamp. Largely self-taught, he found inspiration in comic books as well as the works of German Expressionist artists, Jose Posada and Japanese artists such as Katsushika Hokusai and Kitagawa Utamaro. According to Douglas Martin who wrote his obituary in The New York Times, "he decried art education, saying the average student does not learn the pertinent questions, much less the answers. He abhorred art that dwelt on aesthetics at the expense of social problems. He repeatedly addressed war, racism and poverty, and devoted a decade to completing a series of woodcut portraits of people who were tortured and killed under a rightest military dictatorship in his home country, Uruguay, from 1973 to 1985."
     Frasconi was born in 1919 in Argentina to Italian immigrant parents, raised in Uruguay, and moved to New York to study at the Art Students' League in 1945. He loved to draw and paint, but often complained it took too long for the colors to dry. Over the course of the next sixty years he became a master woodcut artist and 
developed a keen sensitivity to the slightest variations in the grain of the wood. He preferred to print his work by hand, using a spoon and a baren, as he felt a machine was no match for the sensitivity of the hand and the intricacies of the ink and paper.
Catalog cover for a 1967 exhibit at Galería Colibrí in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The image at top of post is from a collection of 316 silkscreened posters of well-respected Puerto Rican artists whose work represented significant cultural, social and political events that occurred on the island from 1952 to 1985. Frasconi designed many posters for his own exhibits alongside the master Puerto Rican artist Lorenzo Homar.  

A beautiful woodcut print, titled The Bird in Art, a common theme of Frasconi's. This signed 18x24" poster is currently for sale on eBay. Below is a copy of Frasconi's accordion book, Kaleidoscope featuring his printed works up to 1968. Published by Harcourt, Brace & World in order to celebrate Frasconi's selection by Uruguay to represent them in the 34th Biennale in Venice in 1968. Originally posted on eBay, but has since sold. 

Frasconi's cover illustration for the 1962 edition of Graphis magazine, celebrating the 100th issue. Also currently on eBay

The three Frasconi woodcut works above are the cover, an interior spread, and title page of Bestiary/Bestiario, a poem by Pablo Neruda. This particular copy from Joshua Heller Rare Books, Inc. was from an edition of 300 printed at The Spiral Press in 1965 under the supervision of Joseph Blumenthal and signed by each. It has previously sold. A larger 1965 edition of 3500 copies printed by The Spiral Press was published simultaneously by Harcourt, Brace & World. These copies are less scarce. 
     Frasconi had a deep love for the book and the printed page, but he was equally devoted to lettering. Many of his woodcuts invariably incorporate hand-lettered text in some fashion. This image from one of my earlier posts is one extreme. 
     Some of Frasconi's commercially produced childrens' books published by Harcourt, Brace and World, can still be found in used bookstores occasionally. Despite the printing quality, they are exquisite examples of his artistry. Below are two favorite examples from my own collection, The Snow and the Sun, a graphic interpretation of a popular South American folktale published in 1961, and See Again, Say Again, published in 1964 as a companion to his earlier work, See and Say. Antonio Frasconi had a very illustrative career, and we are fortunate he has left us with so many lasting impressions. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Polish Packaging Paper

Vintage packaging paper from various book, jewelery, and folk art chain stores in Poland. These and more provided by Mononukleoza's Flickrstream.

Building Letters

From Ombu Architecture via Open CultureReminds me vaguely of a wonderful architectural alphabet designed by my former student, Shinya Iwaki back in 2009 for an experimental typography class. Except his alphabet was based upon actual buildings which resemble the actual letters from A to Z. Worth a revisit!

Shin researched and illustrated each building based upon the original architectural designs, and drew them all to scale. He arranged them in alphabetical order and created a poster with credits for each building. He also letterpress printed his Cityscape alphabet in an edition of 100 as a set of 26 individual cards. Wishing now he would release a second edition...


Monday, January 21, 2013

The Belle of the Ball

I found this sweet photo of the 2009 Inaugural Ball as I was going through my mother's things last week. She died recently of complications of Multiple Sclerosis just short of 86 years, and her bravery, resilience and grace on this battlefield was legendary. Her name was Gladiola Flowers and she brightened every room she entered. She loved the Obama's and I know she would have been celebrating and watching the Inaugural activities all day long today. This photo was taken from her bed in the nursing home where she carved out a rich, full life living in just a half a room for the past 16 years.
     On the right in this same photo, are some of Gladiola's macro pastel illustrations of flowers which were larger than life, just like herself. She also left a series of 32 pastel and charcoal drawings of her childhood days during the Great Depression. They are quite endearing in the tradition of true American folk art. Most every image lacks true perspective and includes text and expressive line work which fills the entire page. Her motivation for making these artworks was wed to her survival skills which helped her cope with her illness. They illustrate a happy period in the early 1930s when her family lived in a small cabin my grandfather built on the bay near Tacoma, WA. They had no electricity or indoor plumbing and got their water from a nearby artesian spring, yet they lacked for nothing. Below is one drawing from the series which illustrates the big table on their front porch where her family would gather with friends and neighbors to share in the bounty of fresh fish and garden vegetables every Sunday. She's the devil child in the middle, who blossomed into a real flower.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Seasonal Almanacs from Czechoslovakia

Spring, Summer and Winter almanacs from Czechoslovakia. 64 pages, and designed by Vaclav Blaha, 1961. Can be yours!
:: Find at 108 Buddhas

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Woodblock Calendars and Fairy Tales

This 1910 Japanese crepe paper (chirimen bon) souvenir calendar printed with woodblocks by Takejiro Hasegawa (1853-1938) is a real standout. It measures about 3 x 4.25 inches and originally had a traditional Japanese stabbed binding, however the ties are now missing. It was recently sold on eBay for nearly $400.
     Hasegawa was widely recognized as an innovative publisher of Japanese fairy tale books printed all by hand with woodblocks. These, just like the calendars, were all printed on crepe paper, as this was considered to be the most durable. They were all largely produced for the Western market and sold as souvenirs, and printed in very small editions, often of no more than 400 each. Many of the calendars can be seen at Baxley Stamps along with a nice selection of his fairy tale books. Just below is a cover of one which you can view in it's entirety here.