So I’m all dressed up, I go out and there’s Schwartz and Flick and Brunner playing ball. I go down the street and Schwartz yells, “Hey, here comes Shep. Let’s choose up a game.”
I say, “No, I can’t play.”
“Whatda ya mean you can’t play?”
“No, I can’t play. I have important business.”
“Whatda ya mean important business? Forget the seeds today. Come on, let’s go!”
“I am not going to sell seeds. I have important business.” Well, you know. Love. First awakening and all that stuff you cannot turn aside.
I go down the street. I figure I’d better be careful. If I walk down the street to Patty’s house, that is really giving them my secret. So I go around the block, turn left, go down the block, go down the alley, and I’m faking it. I go down around back of the school and back of the Sherwin Williams Paint sign. I cut through a couple of vacant lots.
I’m trying to wait until it is time to go in and see her. I’ve got this Mickey Mouse watch which tells this great time with these two big hands with yellow gloves. But you had to play it like a golf slice. The trouble was that the minute hand was loose. If you giggled it a little bit it would spin around about nine times. You never really knew what time it was. So I would always judge it by the hour hand. It’s pointing halfway between four and five so it’s now four-thirty.
I go sneaking back down Cleveland Street and I see the ballgame is over and nobody’s playing. I figure they’ve gone down to Ashenslogger’s Store to get some root beer barrels or something. So I go sneaking along the street and man, the excitement! Fantastic excitement! Patty Remaley is gonna make fudge! At her house!
I’d never been to her house. It was kind of aloof, just because it was her house. It was a girl’s house. A Patty Remaley house. I’d walked past it practically every day of my life and I’d think, “Patty Remaley lives in there! Patty Remaley eats supper in that house! She walks around in there.
MORE APRIL FOOLED TO COME
Graphic Novels Part 2
Graphic novelists, some of them, don’t last long for some reason—there’s not the money maybe, or who knows why. Some have succeeded in graphic work for newspapers, magazines, and other publications. Some of my favorite graphic novelists are:
Will Eisner. Credited with inventing the term “graphic novel” for his work, A Contract with God. Frequently his page layouts, instead of a series of lined-up rectangles, integrates the images with flowing art. He usually worked in monochrome (except for the earlier The Spirit comic book series), but for me, one of his most dramatically visual books is Signals from Space (The color version seems not to have been done by Eisner).
Bill Sienkiewicz. I originally discovered graphic novels one day while browsing a comic book rack and finding the first comic-book issue in a short series called Stray Toasters. I realized that Archie and Betty was not the only kind of visual thing out there!
The first three from Stray Toasters.
On lower right, page+ from his illustrated “comic book” version of Moby Dick.
David Sim, who, with Gerhard, created an extraordinary visual, black and white, three-hundred-issue monthly comic-book in a series of “novels” starring Cerebus,—are you ready for this?—an aardvark who lives in our human world. As someone described it, “By the time the 6000-page work was completed in March 2004, Sim had delved into politics, theology, metaphysics, and a controversial examination of feminism and gender issues.” I’ve never seen such unendingly fascinating graphic manipulations, nearly page by page for many hundred pages! One volume focused on the final years of Oscar Wilde and another depicted Hemingway. A character in one novel looked exactly like Groucho Marx. The original pen drawing Sim and Gerhard did for me as I watched them draw it, is one of scores they did at incredible speed at a New York comic book store during a tour.
Part of a double page and an original drawing by Sim and Gerhard.
Two double-page spreads in sequence.
(One signed by Sim and Gerhard).
Dave McKean does extraordinary art in graphic novels, sometimes with his own story, sometimes written by others. Below are two of his covers. (He tends to prefer sepia and golden color schemes.)
I remember vividly this day. This tremendous girl is in love with me now. Not only in love with me, but she says the right things. The best thing I owned at that time was this red corduroy cap. It was a great cap. She noticed that. You could tell this was real love. And I was a second baseman and I did like to play second base. She noticed the way I laid the tag on Schwartz and Flick when they come sliding in there. I’d get Schwartz right in the eye once in a while, lay one in Flick’s teeth. She noticed these things! That’s the right thing for a girl to say to a guy, you know? And the fact that she could not stand any longer us being apart! Well, only one thing to do.
So I’m sitting there in the back, and, by George, by about three o’clock in the afternoon, about an hour before school is out, another note is handed to me by Helen Weathers. Helen Weathers has got this mad look on her. She always wore her hair like Prince Valiant, she always looked like she was wearing a football helmet, and now she’s sweating and she looks mad: “Here’s another note.”
I look at it. This one says,
Would you please come to my house tonight? And I will make fudge. I must see you after school tonight. Would you please come to my house about four-thirty. I must see you. Please. Do not disappoint me.
Your one and only true love. You are fantastic and I like the way you wear that red hat. Please come to my house at four-thirty. My mother will not be there, and we will make fudge.
Patty Remaley! My Patty Remaley! Holy smokes! And she’s sitting up there, and doesn’t look back. Nothing. Of course you would expect this of a sophisticated girl of the world. She’s not gonna look back and wave at me when we’re in geography class. So I’m sitting all the way through the next class, and now school is over.
I had planned to sell seeds this afternoon over on Cleveland Street, because every year, from early April through about the middle, we in the Warren G. Harding School had a custom of selling seeds. We were supposed to get an encyclopedia for the school library, which we never got. But all I know is I spent every afternoon during those days going up and down walks and porches and knocking on doors, asking people if they wanted to grow nasturtiums. But today, I thought, the heck with seeds.
I rushed home and combed my hair. I was going through my J. C. Penny checkered-Western-shirt phase. Those red and black and yellow checkered lumberjack shirts. They were really great. They were flannel. Hotter’n hell. I figured it made a statement so I put mine on. I figured, if she liked my red corduroy cap, I’d better wear that.
Graphic Novels Part 1
I’ve been an enthusiast of graphic novels for decades. I believe the enthusiasm stems from a combination of my lifelong interest in both reading and the visual arts. (It fuses them, just as my ability in exhibit design did.) Most people misunderstand the term, thinking that it’s merely an artsy fartsy way of describing traditional comics that have been gathered into the book format. NOT TRUE! “Mickey Mouse,” “Nancy,” and their ilk could never be graphic novels, and are basically meant for kids, as are most of the shoot-‘em-up, soft core stuff directed toward teenage boys. Yet, most writers/reviewers who, in recent years have been asked to discuss them, write about the storys’ texts and only slightly and ignorantly mention the visual, not caring that a good graphic novel synthesizes word and image into a single artistic whole.
Seeking the answer to “what is a graphic novel” in my recent experience is not helped by googling the term. One encounters mostly a lot of adolescent superhero, violent-type crap. It’s interesting that some public libraries now display and loan out a bookcase-full of “graphic novels.” (Unfortunately, a glance through those available are inferior—they use the comic-book format to simply illustrate the material without creating graphically interesting/creative visuals.) Ironically, one of the finest, the “comic book” Cerebus, started out as a parody of super hero stuff, but evolved into a literate, visually extraordinary, comic book monthly, a 300-issue work subsequently bound into novel-length volumes. Despite the fact that Cerebus contains, in its 300 individual issues, hundreds of visually stunning pages, in googling images of Cerebus, I found not one page worthy of illustrating. So I illustrate from my own collection here and subsequently:
Just the covers of two monthly issues.
When’s the last time you saw a “comic book” with such a cover?
(The group of issues titled “Melmoth” depicts the final days of Oscar Wilde)
[More Cerebus to come]
That the kid stuff represents 99% of what can usually be found in most comic book outlets is sad. The best store I’m aware of is Jim Henley’s Universe, near Fifth Avenue on the side street alongside of the Empire State Building (32 E 32nd St—apparently relocated and renamed recently to “JHU Comic Books”). Even there one has to search through lots of dross to find their large selection of good stuff.
In recent years there has been some more intelligent interest in this media, including occasional references and reviews in The New York Times. The lack of proper thinking remains–almost all reviews deal with the text and ignore the way a good graphic novel uses the visual as an important part of the whole creation. Surprisingly, just after I wrote the preceding, I read the Times Book Review of 12/6/2015, a full-page article by A. O. Scott, chief film critic for the paper, describing the graphic novel Killing and Dying by Adrian Tomine. He begins with:
“Graphic Novel” is a perfectly serviceable phrase, but it expresses an unmistakable and unfortunate bias, emphasizing the literary identity of a given book at the expense of its visual essence. Pictures are more than prose carried out by other means.
Scott proceeds to describe the stories, noting that the visual contributes to the whole.
The only way to get the nature of graphic novels across properly would be to refer to some of the intelligent books that now discuss and describe comics and graphic novels. However, even here one can be inundated with info focusing on superhero dross for adolescents. Among literate graphic novels, one frequently encounters rather uninteresting visuals doing not much more that illustrating the text. I must admit that I’m especially attracted to striking visual material, and I thus expect the overall text/visual to be an intelligent synthesis. Sometimes I don’t spend sufficient time with the text.
One can also look at some examples of the art, but these can’t really make it clear without perusing quite a few examples of the monthly issues in their entirety. See:
Understanding Comics—The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud—this is the first and most basic of McCloud’s trilogy, which describes—in graphic novel form–what the word-and-image nature of comics and graphic novels is. Here’s a page ↓
Comics and Sequential Art by Will Eisner, explaining the nature of what he created and has continued, initiated by him.
Graphic Novels—Stories to Change Your Life by Paul Gravett gives short descriptions and a few illustrations of dozens of graphic novels.
The Comics Journal—This periodical discusses graphic novels and comics in general with extended essays written at the same serious and intelligent level as do critical books on good literature.
Graphic Novels are Artists’ Books
(Lots More to Come.)
Erotic desires consisted mainly of looking at magazines in George’s Bowling Alley where they had the magazine rack, and once in a while George would belt you on the back of the neck: “You are not supposed to be looking at Spicy Detective.” That’s about all it was. Not much more than that.
But Patty represented the unattainable. She represented, among other things, the outside world. What was the outside world? It was the world where people went on sleighing parties. We heard rumors that Patty went on sleighing parties. Or Patty Remaley spent the summer at a place called “The Lake.” We spent the summer in the alley back of Schwartz’s house. She was always going to a place called “The Camp.” And we would hear that Patty Remaley would spend two weeks in a place called “Maine.” So this was another scene entirely from out daily, grubby life.
And to get a note from Patty Remaley saying that Patty Remaley can’t stand the fantastic pangs of love because of how you wear your red corduroy cap. Man! At first I didn’t believe it. Aw, come on! Oh, gee! But such is the drive of desire, such is the ability of mankind to rationalize the obvious, ridiculous plight that he’s in, my first impression of “That’s ridiculous” ceases. Then I say, “Why not? Maybe it’s true!” And I’m breaking out in a cold sweat right in the middle of arithmetic class.
Patty is sitting up there, a nimbus of hair drifting, and that beautiful sunlight coming in through the venetian blinds. And my thoughts, of course, ran to this kind of thing: “Oh, Patty, why didn’t you tell me? Why have we kept this a secret so long? Why have you allowed me to play footsy and hanky panky with Esther Jane Albery for so long? Me and Esther Jane—there’s nothing between us. Nothing really except once in a while we throw rocks at each other and that’s about all! Why have you allowed this charade to go on, Patty Remaley, when true love could have been consummated, or at least something? We could have, you know—we could have made Flick mad by walking home together. Or something.”
I didn’t know exactly, you know—what love means. It’s a thing kids write on notes and stuff like that. But I can tell you this—that was the first time that I spontaneously broke into a multi-faceted sweat.
FLUX PAPER EVENTS
by George Maciunas
I’ve hesitated to display this book because, after all the wonderful artists’ books I own, have shown, and am aware of, this work, in its absurd simplicity, is the most difficult one to suggest as an object of serious attention. Yet, do I dare suggest, its reason for being is to promote both a Zen-like response and deep thought? It is, I believe, an “event” for contemplation. In the wide and multifaceted world of art, it is an adjunct that usually aggravates me: it is “conceptual art.”
More than meets the eye.
All that meets the eye.
It annoys, it tickles, it is a mind game: it is Fluxus.
George Maciunas was one of the founding members of the Fluxus movement (considered the most important member), which included luminaries such as Yoko Ono and others of high regard among the rarified conceptual, artsy worlds of “happenings” and related matters. I know virtually nothing about the movement, other than: having attended in SOHO, New York, one of its happenings; traveled to a Long Island estate for a major happening; and bought, for a couple of dollars, a minor multiple-work by one of its major proponents in the 1960s. Out of pure, adulterated curiosity, I saw the 1988 Museum of Modern Art’s Fluxus exhibit and even bought the catalog, which begins:
Fluxus has been described as “the most radical and experimental art movement of the sixties” (Harry Ruhe), and at the same time as “a wildgoose chase into the zone of everything ephemeral” (Henry Martin).
Johanna Drucker, a highly regarded professional theorist in the artists’ book field, whose writings are complex and usually, for me, largely inscrutable, is quoted as stating about Fluxus works: “making the audience member a performer through the structure of the piece. One does not ‘read’ this work, but enacts it.” That seems a good starting point, as is a diagram by Fluxus, of its field and inhabitants:
CLICK ON ME, I IMPLORE YOU!
When I picked up this Flux Paper Events, a 16-page stapled thing in an artists’ book store decades ago, seeing it as being about (almost) nothing, I think I got some clue regarding it almost immediately—so I bought it, for what I remember as $1.50. I think it is an intellectual exercise in bringing us book-people back to the essence of first things. Superficial blankness as a lesson in one-ness, at making us really explore that which we take for granted. Delving deeply into some of what and how we make use of paper by exploring some of what can be done with it besides printing ink on it.
Every page is different.
Making manifest the simplest things.
OF MY COPY
All pages have the clipped corner and small, round, punched hole below. Among other pages: folded; wrinkled; two pages glued together so that the reverse side with its glue stains through them as an object for thought (Thought those pages were blank and opaque, didn’t you?); a page with a vertical row of tiny pinholes; three pages stapled together so we are aware of staple-fronts, staple-backs, staple rust, and indentations impressed on adjacent and otherwise innocent pages.
Unfortunately (not adequately scan-able), pages such as that with
the pinholes, don’t accommodate reproduction.
No words, no colors.
Only thought and wit.
CRUMPLED PAGE….TORN PAGES………………………GLUE-STAINED PAGE ↑
(The varied colors of “white” above are caused by the images
having been drawn from different Internet sources.)
I smile and I think.
What more is there to show
LAST PAGE & INSIDE OF BACK COVER
How come I didn’t get a valentine from Patty Remaley? The only one I got was from Helen Weathers and she’d said, “Before I give you this valentine, you have to promise to give me one.” So we exchanged valentines. The only girl who gave me a valentine. I was the only boy who gave Helen Weathers a valentine, too. So we weren’t shut out—skunked-out—entirely.
I’m sitting way back there in the alphabetical ghetto of the classroom where the Schwartzs and the Shepherds are, and I am about to be euchred. I remember to this day, it said, “Dear Jean. Holy smokes, am I in love with you! You are an incredible, fantastic human being. And the way you make that slide into third is incredible.” Signed, “Patty Remaley.”
Here’s what kind of symbol Patty Remaley was. First of all, Patty Remaley was rich. Patty Remale didn’t have an ordinary walking-around family. Patty Remaley only came to the Warren G. Harding School because her parents felt that she should know something about the hoi polloi. And we were the hoi polloi. She was studying us like bugs. And she did not take part in our little bug-like games under any circumstances.
She was so remote that, as far as my knowledge is concerned, Patty Remaley never attended any kid parties. We had these parties where me and Schwartz and Helen Weathers and Esther Jane Albery played spin the bottle. Whoever it pointed to they had to kiss. That was the whole point. It was awful being kissed by Schwartz. You just can’t trust a Borden milk bottle. Patty Remaley would never get stuck in a spin-the-bottle game with me and Schwartz and Flick. She never even said anything to us, not even “hello.” Patty never said things like “Get out of my way.” She just walked through the halls, this magnificent blonde image. This glorious nymph, deep in the heart of a forest of erotic desires such as we knew her at the time.
END OF PART 3
A current master of the pop-up form is Robert Sabuda, who has designed and published dozens of pop-up books. He is constantly complex, clever, and elegant. Possibly his best-known single image is at the end of his Alice in Wonderland, in which the deck of cards flies through the air.
Sabuda’a Alice above. Dinosaurs below
showing 4 side flaps, which reveal more pop-ups.
One of my great favorites is Michael Foreman’s Ben’s Box, a seemingly minor, fairly small and slim volume. I especially admire it because of its self-reference-to-its-medium, contrasting its flat pages with dimensional ones–it uses the contrast between the mother’s prosaic real life (flat pages), with the boy’s fantasy (pop-up movement, dimension, and even sound.) The mother gets a washing machine in a big cardboard box. Mother is involved with the work-a-day machine and Ben creates his imaginary world with the box. The illustrations on the mother’s page-openings are flat. Ben’s imaginary world of the box is pop-up-dimensional and full of movement—and, in its exuberance, beyond adequately depicting here. I show the bland, flat image of the machine’s arrival.
Almost all pop-up books illustrate real objects or ideas, but David Carter’s pop-ups are pure abstraction. He artfully plays with the medium. Taking the medium and expressing the pure joy of its seemingly magical explosions into three dimensions.
I could go on for hours, just illustrating the variety of ideas and paper-engineering techniques—including even paper-created sounds made from the opening of the pages. For example, in a book on desert creatures, upon opening the page showing a rattlesnake, one hears the rattling—created by hidden paper in zig-zag cut, a separate stiff paper with its edge moving over the zigs, creating the sound.
I have dozens, and I’m constantly amazed that such complex dimensional figures, when slowly collapsed, enfold back into each other and close into a (usually bulging) flat book.
Some simple, older pop-ups are found in a few books
hundreds of years old,
simple shapes rising up, showing some scientific principle.
All good pop-ups are adventures–into the book-world
of paper engineering–into joyous wonders.
This day, April first, late in the second ice age, it is springtime and I’d never heard of T. S. Eliot: “April is the cruelest month” and all that jazz. All April meant to me is you play ball again and you could hear the peepers out in the swamp. You could feel the sun coming down on the top of your head. I’m sitting in class, Miss Harris is up there working away with the chalk and Helen Weathers, who is sitting right next to me off to my right, gets a note handed to her from the kid in front of her. It’s all folded up, and she looks at it, and I’m just sitting there. I never get notes unless they’re bad news once in a while from the office: “Take this home to your mother!” So this April first I’m sitting there, paying no attention to anything, chewing on an eraser.
The sun is coming down and Patty Remaley’s nimbus of blond hair is catching the glint of the April day several rows ahead of me. Completely untouchable. After a while, if you’re in the same class with somebody like Vanessa Redgrave, you don’t look at her anymore. She’s just there. If a guy’s got an apartment right next to the Statue of Liberty, after a while he‘s just used to it. Unattainable. You just live with it.
Helen Weathers turns to me and says, “Here’s this note.”
I look at it. It says “Shepherd.” It is a note to me. I take it and open it up, and it says:
Dear Jean, I am madly in love with you. I can hardly bear not seeing you all the time, every hour of the day and night. You are fantastic. The way you wear that red corduroy cap is incredible. What a fantastic red corduroy cap. Boy, do you play second base great. I am in love with you.
My eyeballs pop out. This is an incredible revelation. I had heard of things like this. I had heard of secret loves. We had read Ivanhoe, for example. I know, theoretically, that these fantastic loves exist, but Patty Remaley in love with me and I’ve got this note! And it is written in this girlish hand with the little circles dotting the eyes the way girls do. It says, “I am madly in love with you!” Wow! Patty Remaley! I stick the note in my pocket and I sit there. She doesn’t look around or anything. The sun is coming down, catching those blond curls. Boy, I think, she’s probably bashful about it. I wonder how come she didn’t say anything about this before.
MORE APRIL FOOL TO COME
Pop-up books are not kids’ stuff.
One may remember the cheap-type pop-up in which, upon opening a page, a couple of flat across-the-page silhouette images come boringly upright. Forget it. In recent decades, marvelous—magical—things have popped up out of books, and I have collected dozens, mostly large format, some rather small and seemingly not worthy of attention. But even some of these were made with a sneaky ingenuity that grabbed me and thus entered my collection.
Major ones captivate with their exuberant display of three-dimension, and many delight the mind with their expert display of what, in the field, is referred to as “paper engineering.” Some pop-up books have so much to show that, besides the large, main, central image, they have little doors on the sides that one opens to reveal smaller pop-ups. Some pop-ups demand to be referred to as art.
Subject matter is far-ranging. Of course there are the cartoon characters and the so-called kids’ books such as Alice in Wonderland. There are subjects like famous movies such as Star Wars, and celebrities, and well-known books of fiction. (There’s even a “Royal Family” pop-up.) There are books on complex subjects such as anatomy and various technologies. You name it, it’ll pop up.
One of the sneakiest and most delightful uses of pop-up techniques is when, even in a seemingly minor book, the act of opening the page creates a movement of the subject, such as in Keith Moseley’s Hiawatha, in which one sees in real movement: the Indian drawing his bow and arrow; actually paddling his canoe; etc. In a scene at water’s edge, opening the page, rising up in actual motion from behind foliage is an elegant heron.
A major creator (now apparently concentrating on flat children’s books) is Jan Pienkowski whose ROBOT is a witty concoction that also displays page-opening motions as pieces of the action, as when the page opens, a robot raises a dumbbell as his pants fall down. On a page showing a robot woman making-up, one pulls out a tab, one sees: the comb combing her hair; both the spray can and the hair dryer moving; we see her face in the foil mirror as we watch her apply lipstick; lower left, a baby robot pops out swiping lipstick all over its face. The Internet provides a view of the robot woman and two views from his HAUNTED HOUSE.]
MORE PAPER-ENGINEERED DELIGHTS TO COME
I was a kid in Miss Harris’ sixth grade class. I was sitting in the back of the room minding my own business, and there was this girl who everybody in class was madly in love with. Every class has this type of girl, and she was untouchable. Absolutely. Her name was Patty Remaley.
She was blonde, a real cheer-leader-type. She was a little precocious, let us say, for sixth grade. Her glands were working. Everything was working. The only way the glands of the rest of us were working was in making pimples.
Patty would sit there and she would sort of float through the world that we lived in. Untouched by it. She was always going out with elderly men—guys from eighth grade. Schwartz was obsessed by her but the trouble was that Schwartz was four-feet ten and Patty was five-feet six. She never, absolutely never, had anything to do with anybody in our class. The only guy who ever came close to actually getting her to say hello was Jack Robinson, who was about six-feet three. He weighed about seventy pounds and most of his six-feet three was kind of pimply. He actually got her going for a little bit for a little while, but she drifted on and became part of that great, glamorous world of kids who were in eighth grade—all top-flight kids.
She was always on top of everything. Guys have the impression, secretly, that most women were born knowing about everything—I mean the real stuff, so Patty would look at the rest of us with those mysterious eyes and Schwartz would break out in a sweat.
I lived at the end of the street that was about a block-and-a-half from school, and we guys would go past Patty’s house all the time, and every time we did there’d be this little excitement—“Is Patty coming out?” “Is Patty watching me hit this ball?” “Is Patty watching me?” She never was. She didn’t know we were alive. And, of course, like everybody else in class, I was bewitched by Patty Remaley.
In my opinion, this is one of the most significant kid stories Shep ever told.
At least in part because he re-used it as his symbolic parting shot, April 1, 1977,
when he ended his WOR program career.
(His comment at the end of the story tells it all.)
MANY MORE PARTS BEFORE THE END OF THE STORY–
ART OR MERE CRAFT?
Sometimes I wonder if, as I’ve been told, “Gene, you’re a snob!” Maybe I do have too strict an attitude as to what “art” is, and what is merely “craft.” I admire fine craft, but it doesn’t excite me. There are innumerable works of craft that are elegant, finely designed and made, but do they rise to my definition of art, which for me, must express at least a somewhat new–yet universal–view/understanding/interpretation/insight regarding our world that can be understood/appreciated by the intelligent/perceptive person.
But what of artists trapped, or at minimum, confined/limited, in need-to-make-a-living jobs, or even in lesser creative mediums that seem too confining for their sensibilities?
I’ve encountered creative works that make me stop and reconsider what the hell I’m talking about. A new vista dawned when my wife brought home a “place mat” that visually stunned me, and the other day an illustrated article in the New York Times about a studio artist for Disney and Warner Bros. startled me by the artistry of his work. He’d just died at age 106. I’d never heard of him. The article was in the Arts section of the Times, though I’m well aware that the newspaper wedges crafts into that part of their publication—the list of categories can’t be infinitely extended and must sometimes be accommodating. But this creator of much of the 1942 movie Bambi scenic effects argues against such quibbles. It looks like “art” to me.
Illustrator, Kite Designer,
Hollywood Studio Artist, and Artist
My understanding is that prior to Bambi, and for much subsequent work, subtle and elegant art of Wong’s kind was not the way animated movies got made—flat areas of color were and are the norm. For me, what this Chinese American artist produced went beyond any dabbler’s borrowing of artistic techniques.
My understanding gets fuzzy here. As a tiny child, I had to be taken out of a showing of Bambi when I cried at the scary devastation of the forest fire—now I will, at a new viewing, simply glory in the crescendos of background color and effects. So I say no more, but just show:
Cloth Worker and Artist
Maurizia Hulse, of New Jersey, sells her art in craft and gift shoppes. Be aware that I base my entire enthusiasm on only one major item and two lesser—first, a place mat-like cloth, 12” X 21”—second, for its 6.5” diameter and shape, what might be a large coaster, and third, a good-size Christmas stocking without any bright red, green, or white. She doesn’t use strikingly contrasty primary and secondary colors (now pardon the mixed metaphor), she weaves gentle chamber music combinations of subtle sonatas of unexpected contrasts and rhymes into elegantly muted chords. (More suited to a clavichord than anything approaching a piano. And the tones reproduced here in electronic bits are much less than the elegant subtlety of the original dusky hues.) The results elicit from me sighs of esthetic-fulfillment, especially in her place mat cloth with an autumn theme.
Recognizing a gigantic contrast between Van Gogh’s and Hulse’s ways of seeing reality, I can serenely revel in the diminuendo, the gentle and miniscule yet expansive world view she sews into small pieces of cloth.
For many years, from the perspective of my good fortune in life and career, I’ve believed that one of the problems of our modern, technological age is that, with the large number of people capable of higher thoughts and actions, combined with their education and view of possible professions out there in the world, there are not enough openings for such lives and jobs, and not enough audience for the products of those who could produce them if given the opportunity. No wonder so many are frustrated in their lives. What can anyone do about it? Spreading the word is such an inadequate response!
“Where did you get them?”
“Aaaa, aaaa…well, me and Schwartz and Flick and Bruner,… walking back of the…” I’m trying my cute face. Every one of us in our life has a cute face, the lovable face that elicits the sympathetic, “Oh, it’s alright, Jeanie.”
“You got these out of the alley?”
“From the back of Dr. Goodman’s office?” Dr. Goodman is the dentist who has this collection of teeth, and every day, he throws it out in the back. And we four are the first to bring his evil home to roost.
My mother picks up the phone and gets his number from information and dials it. “Dr. Goodman, come over here and get your teeth. My son has boxes with two-pounds of your teeth here. He says he got them back of your place. Will you come and get them? They belong to you and I don’t want them in the house.”
Fifteen minutes later a man with a white coat comes up the walk and knocks on the door. My mother opens up and says, “Take your teeth. My son brought them home. You should have a better place to put your teeth.”
“Thank you, ma’m.”
She says, “By the way, call at Mrs. Schwartz, two doors down.”
Twenty minutes later me and Schwartz and Flick and Bruner are standing under a streetlight. Schwartz turns to me and says, “Did you tell her?”
“No, she found them.”
Flick says, “Now where are we gonna get more?”
END OF TOOTH STORY!
In the Ethnic and Tourist Arts book of 1976, the article by Mari Lyn Salvador begins, “Molas .…are the appliqued front or back panels of a blouse that is part of the traditional dress worn by Cuna women. The art of mola making has developed within the last hundred years, combining the creative utilization of new materials and processes (cloth, scissors, needles) with the traditional art form of body painting.” [I understand that the Western missionaries had discouraged the women from exposing their naked, painted breasts, leading, happily, to a new art form.]
In a small, government-run indigenous-art store in downtown Bogota, I encountered a large pile of molas. I liked them, and noted that they seemed “authentic,” in that they appeared to have been cut out of what I assumed were the blouses of which they had been a part. (They were not made for tourists and boutique habitues.) The edges were frayed, unfinished, unlike what they would have been if they’d been made and bound neatly for commercial sale. Then I noted something else: the main, background cloth color, often red or black, was somewhat faded, while the edges (that would have been covered by the main parts of the blouse) were considerably darker. Of course, the exposed parts had faded over time by being exposed to the sun! This is especially noticeable along the top edge of the turtle piece. These molas hadn’t been manufactured in a factory, they had been made for personal use and worn long enough to have naturally faded.
These were the real thing. I would buy several.
Most were about 15” X 17.” But a larger one stuck out.
I found that it was 17” X 25.”
I pulled the large one out of the pile and noted that it was far more subtle in its colors. It was gentle and not contrasty in effect. Compared to all the rest, it seemed much older, much more faded. It was more elegant and I immediately liked it a lot. Only much later, back home in New York, did something else strike me. Was it simply that the maker was a far more subtle craftswoman in her color selection? I also noted that on one of the four sides, one side was even more faded than the others. Why? How could one part of the same cloth be lighter? It took some time, but then, all of a sudden, I put all two puzzlements together in one grand assumption that I have the pleasure of seeing on a wall back of several pre-Columbian pots on a shelf!
Looking especially along the far right and bottom edges
of the main, faded background cloth
(pale gray, previously much darker or even black),
one can see darker parts of the cloth
that had been protected from the sun.
This mola is much bigger because, I’m sure, it had been made and worm by a much larger woman. She would have been broad and large-breasted. And the half that was more faded had been on top where, more directly exposed to the sun than the lower that was a bit more covered by the shading protuberance of her breasts. How elegant the effect and how elegant (in its minor art-world way) the solution–some of the subtlety and elegance was not planned but was a natural, utilitarian happenstance.
Not on a level with discovering a previously unknown Rembrandt,
but still a bit ARTSY-worthy.
The next day me and Schwartz, Flick, and Bruner make a B-line to the alley. There’s a whole new bunch of teeth. This goes on for about three weeks. I’m collecting some of the greatest teeth you ever saw in your life. I’m hiding them every night under the bed.
One night I reach under my bed and the teeth are gone! My mother has cleaned out all the dirt and all the little grubbles that’s under the bed. All the footballs and all the shoes and junk are all neatened up now, but my cans of teeth are gone! My mother has been out shopping and I hear her coming up the back steps. Oh my god! I try to make it out the front.
“Stop!” she says.
“What do you want, ma?”
She says, “Whose teeth are these? Look at this!” She has the cans. Where did you get these?”
“Where did you get these teeth? I’m giving them back to whoever they belong to.”
“Aaaa…we were…me and Schwartz and Flick and Bruner…aaaa”
“You and Schwartz and Flick and Bruner too?”
“Yea, we were coming home from school, aaaa…”
“Just a minute.” She gets the phone and dials and I hear her talking. “Mrs. Schwartz, will you please look under your boy’s bed.”
Then you hear out of the phone, “Arrrrrgh!”
She says, “I have cans here, too. I’ll call Flick’s mother. Yes. No, I’ll find out. You stay there. Alright.”
She dials the phone. I’m a fink. I can just see poor Flick walking around innocently when the phone rings. My mother says, “Mrs. Flickinger, will you please look under Flick’s bed. “ Pause. “Just look.”
I hear “Arrrrrgh!” They live only four houses down and I can hear it from the phone and also from down the block, like stereo. There’s a pause and then I hear Flick, “Waaaaaaaa!” The long arm of retribution.
My mother turns to me and says, “Alright now. Where did you get these? You can’t lie to me! Don’t lie!” How many times have you been told that as a kid? And how many times did you lie last week alone? Every time I hear the word “lie,” I taste my mother’s universal panacea for lying, a brand new bar of Lifeboy Soap, right in the mouth.
There is that pause. “Where did you get them?”
“Well…we…me and Schwartz and Flick and Bruner…” I’m wildly grasping. She never really knew that me and Schwartz and Flick and Bruner spent almost our entire kid world looking for stuff in the garbage. I remember coming home from kindergarten and finding stuff that was far more educational than blocks.
MORE TEETH TO COME.
WE BEGIN TO UNCOVER TEETH
So here we are, me, Flick, Schwartz, and Bruner, walking down this alley and we discover stuff in the trash. At first it’s discarded movie film that gets us. Flick says, “My god, look at this film!” Schwartz says, “Look at the film! Oh boy! Wow!” Here’s this big pile of stuff. And then we begin to uncover teeth.
Have you ever seen the magnificent things that are pulled out of the human cranium? I’ll tell you! We start grabbing these teeth. Schwartz says, “Look at this one! Wow!” It has nine roots. “Look at that! Wow!” He sticks it in his pocket.
The four of us are frantic. For about a half-hour we’re collecting teeth. Decayed teeth. Big cavities in ‘em. I’ve got a whole pocket-full of them. Boy, great teeth!
We’re always vying with each other—the sporting instinct in man is very strong and he’ll bet on anything. We compete with each other to find the worst tooth.
When we depleted the supply, we took our teeth and went home. I had mine stuck in my corduroy knickers. I had these corduroy knickers that were so ripe they were like a compost heap. They were three years old and you could hear the twigs sprouting in them and see moss growing on the side. After I eat a salami sandwich in the kitchen I go into my bedroom with this pocket full of decadence, of decay. I take them out and look at them. I have about fifty of them.
Okay, there was some little obscure idea in my mind that told me that something’s not right! I think we have an inbuilt morality. We know when we’re doing something we shouldn’t, we don’t need any rules. This isn’t right—okay, but I hide them under my bed in Prince Albert cans and go out and play ball.
STAY TUNED FOR MORE DECAYED TEETH
TOURIST ART, AIRPORT ART, ETHNO-KITCH
I very much like some ethnic and primitive art. Undoubtedly I am influenced by the esthetic milieu brought about by the early twentieth-century avant garde creators and critics. The problem for me is that most of the authentic, high-quality stuff is way beyond the reach of my (and most peoples’} financial ability to possess. And “possess” is what I desire regarding my enthusiasm for all the arts. At times over the decades, I’ve been lucky to acquire a few good minor specimens.
There’s been plenty of thought given the problem. The division between authentic and commercially manufactured bastardized forms for sale to the esthetically unsophisticated (at airports to departing tourists, and at local boutiques) is sometimes an uncertain sliding scale one has trouble comprehending and dealing with. It’s not always easy to get it right. But, of course, everyone (myself included) knows what they like.
In the 1976 book, Ethnic and Tourist Arts, Cultural Expressions From the Fourth World, the negative end of the divide is succinctly put: “When the profit motive or the economic competition of poverty override esthetic standards, satisfying the consumer becomes more important than pleasing the artist.”
What am I to make of it all? Is it “primitive”? Is it authentic? Am I being bamboozled?
Two divergent comments on such subjects that come to my mind:
1. I read that those colorful “mola” blouses of Indian women on the San Blas Islands off Panama and Columbia came about through imported, Western textiles, needles, and scissors. Thus, the entire “art form” is not an originally developed expression of the indigenous people, but was, at the very leased, influenced by introduced technology;
2. When I first met Anthropologist Margaret Mead to discuss designing her permanent exhibit Hall of Pacific Peoples (which includes much ethnic material we would call primitive art), I asked her if she disliked the term “primitive art.” She immediately and authoritatively replied, “Not at all!”
“The Art of Being Huichol” was the name of a 1979 temporary exhibition I designed at the Museum of Natural History. It displayed dozens of intensely colored objects made by the western Mexican Indian tribe, the Huichol.
The New York Times description of the exhibit begins:
Leaving behind food and water, the Huichol Indians of Mexico once a year journey from the Sierra Madre Mountains through the San Louis Potosi desert in search of the peyote cactus and the enlightenment they say it brings….
When the exhibit material suggests it to me,
I try to provide the entire environment of the exhibit space
with some feeling for the subject matter.
My colored pencil elevation-drawing represents one of the walls of the exhibit,
about 70 feet long by almost 10 feet high, intended to suggest,
left to right, the journey of the Huichol toward the drug that brings intense visions.
Some of the most striking Huichol artworks I displayed near the bright,
all-yellow wall at the far end (not shown).
Among the many mass-produced, intensely colored objects such as pocketbook covers, belts, shoulder bags, coasters, etc. that some Huichol make, the best known—and most creative– are the “yarn paintings.” These are flat pictures created by gluing onto plywood panels, colored yarn arranged into psychedelic-like representations of visions presumably seen by the artists when under the influence. While I was designing the exhibit, a representative of the Huichol culture discussed the “paintings,” with me and I bought from him, the 2’ X 2’ picture shown below, by Jose Benitez Sanchez, the major artist of the genre. At home we display it prominently in our stairwell .
Huichol Shamen Walk the Bright Path Into Enlightenment.
[More CLOTH IMAGES to come]
PERU TRIP A LA LUDEN’S
After the following dramatic, and even soul-searching trip to the Amazon, Shepherd explained to his radio listeners what he was about to convey to them in a series of broadcasts:
“I was there. I am a trained reporter.
“I’m not going to appear, incidentally, as an anthropologist
on any of these shows—an expert.
I’m appearing as an artist who has seen something
and would like to transmit his impressions to you.”
Jean Shepherd’s friend and fellow-broadcaster at WOR Radio, Barry Farber, won a prize at a Luden’s Cough Drop Company promotional event. Farber told them where he wanted the donated prize delivered, but didn’t want to deliver it himself, though he figured that his friend Jean, who loved to travel, would want to go. Jean, not realizing where he’d go and what he was getting into, said he’d do it.
Then Shepherd found out where he was going—with a Luden’s representative and a photographer, and there would be a translator. He was going to Amazonian headhunter country to deliver to the recently converted and now former headhunters, 500 pounds of Luden’s candy and cough drops. In little boxes. Free. To headhunters.
As for headhunters, New York’s American Museum of Natural History has a couple of shrunken heads on exhibit along with a detailed text describing how to shrink a head. See small foreground case here. It’s part of the large, permanent Hall of South American Peoples that I designed over a period of years in the 1980s. This exhibit is in the Amazon half of the hall, which was curated by Dr. Robert Carneiro, a Jean Shepherd listener back in the 1960s.
By the way, speaking of myths, I received a letter from one of the museums locally and the writer happens to be an expert on South American matters, both flora and fauna, and he sent me a long note telling me about various myths. He says, you know, one of the best things he ever found in the jungle was to walk around in street shoes. He says street shoes in the jungle, and he says when he was walking across streams he wore tennis shoes.
He said, don’t worry, Shepherd, about the electric eels and the piranhas. He says, don’t worry about the crocodiles. They’ve got them down there, but don’t worry about them….
[Regarding the letter which Shepherd received from the expert at “one of the museums locally,” the present author worked with that expert for years designing and overseeing the Hall of South American Peoples, the far half of which is about peoples of the Amazonian jungle. Years before I designed that hall, in a small, temporary exhibit based on one of Dr. Carneiro’s research trips to the Amazon, he and I installed the hammock he had used there, still stained with his own dried blood, extracted by vampire bats while he slept.]
Dr. Robert Carneiro.
A Jean Shepherd listener and an ethnologist of Amazonian cultures,
he sent me a copy of the letter he wrote to Shepherd fifty years before.
With his permission I reproduce part of it here:
Before you buy your ticket for the Peruvian Jungle, I suggest you forget all about boa constrictors, piranhas, and electric eels. If I were you, I’d start worrying about the amoebae you’ll meet in your palm hearts salad at the Gran Hotel Mercedes in Pucallpa. The world’s record for bowel movements in one day is 28, and you’ll get your chance to break it….
You can leave your heavy leather boots home, too. In the jungle I found street shoes most convenient except when I had to wade across streams. Then I switched to tennis shoes.
If you don’t chicken out, and prefer not to carry a headful of myths with you into the jungle, come on up one of these days.
An old friend of mine who does travel pieces for Playboy—Shel Silverstein—really travels around—and I mean there’s a difference between traveling and tourist things. Usually a traveler is a lonesome, solitary figure….
A lonesome, solitary figure.
(Self portrait of Shep’s best friend, Shel.)
Whereas the tourist remains part of the thing that he was that he’d left at home. He really remains a Texan or a guy from White Plains. Because he usually travels with a lot of other guys from White Plains and Texas. They travel like a little knot of migratory birds moving across the landscape.
Jean Shepherd, after his Peru experience, may never before have been in such an extraordinarily excited state on the air. Giving listeners his authentic Peru tales within a mere few hours after his return, he is in a heated rush. Wordsworth described poetry as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.” Shepherd’s overflow in extemporaneous prose does not here have the necessary time for recollection in tranquility. Listeners and readers are caught up in the unstoppable flow of spoken words as he describes this unique adventure for us and we exult with him.
• • • • • • • • • • • •
Back from the Amazon:
“I guess I came back changed.”
Indicative of the profound experience Jean Shepherd has had in the Amazon, his preconceptions and change of mind—and admitting to them on the air—are nearly unprecedented. His ways of thinking: about the delights and dangers of the Amazon; the particular nature of primitive peoples and how they live; and even the work and nature of at least some missionaries, will never be the same.
“One of the Truly Great Experiences of My Life”
Wow, I’m back! This is Jean Shepherd, and I can say it will take me at least a week and a half or maybe even a month to begin to sort out all the strange, exhilarating, exciting—perhaps in some cases frightening— impressions that I’ve had. I’m going to tell you this as a man who has been in several places in the world and who has involved himself in several things. Adventure is always something that can’t truly be described. I’m talking about genuine adventures, not necessarily to go on a safari in Africa that is organized by a safari company. Or even the Hemingway kind of organized adventure.
This sort of adventure that I’ve just come through is a total adventure in the sense that you’re not going to kill an animal, you’re not going to a place where other people have gone to do a thing that other people do. This is something else again, and it’s almost impossible to tell you or describe to anyone else just what it was like.
Peru as a country is one of the most exciting, unusual, eerie, spooky, beautiful countries in the world. After trips, I constantly get heckled by people who say, “You go there and you come back an expert.” I’m not trying to say that at all. I’m not going to be an expert. I went to the headwaters of the Amazon. I was there. I am a trained reporter. My life has been devoted to absorbing sights and sounds and listening.
And I am going to try to give you my impressions
of what I consider probably the high point of my life
as far as adventures and experience is concerned.
I had no idea it would be like this when I left and I might point out that it was not a lark. It started out a little bit that way, but by the time we arrived in Lima and had begun to go over the Andes, we realized this was a very serious thing and not only was it serious, there were certain elements of danger in it and I don’t wish to even dwell on that. It had nothing to do with the headhunters by the way—the people we visited are ex-headhunters.
This has been a great experience for me and again I would like to thank all the people who made it possible. The Luden’s Company. They sent us there—to give five-hundred pounds of candy to the natives, who went out of their skull—you should have seen them. There were guys running around throwing “5th Avenue” candy bars in the air yelling and hollering….It was not done as a promotion or gimmick for Luden’s. It really wasn’t. It was one of those strange, believe-it-or-not stories. Luden’s had no idea there were even such people called the Shapras, so they weren’t down there promoting Luden’s Cough Drops with the headhunters—who don’t have much need.
When I left to go visit these people, I had the usual hip, urban attitude towards the “native,” and particularly what we call the “unspoiled” savage. That anyone who went and tried to bring any kind of help to them was, quote, destroying them. You know the feeling. And I’d like to say that, after having been out there and having been around these natives and listened to them talk and watch what was happening, and heard things about the other tribes in the area, I came away with a totally different concept.
Primarily because it is an inevitable problem that civilization will creep in and is creeping in on these Indians because there are great oil deposits in the jungle. Great mineral deposits—gold is found there and there is gold mined and gold is panned in the rivers. Prospectors are there and if these people have no language, have no written way to understand the complexities of the world that’s coming in on them—know how to read and write—they will be totally destroyed, just like we destroyed many, many tribes as we moved West.
And these missionaries are trying to prevent that by giving them a language that can be preserved, so that a thousand years from now somebody will be writing in Shapra, and their literature can be preserved and they will have a way of dealing with civilization when it comes in on them. Of course, not only that, they take to the Indians something which is of inestimable value and that’s medical aid.
I guess I came back changed, no question about it. We walk around town, we walk around our world, and it’s unbelievable how much we take for total granted. One thing I learned out of this experience—which was a tremendously moving one to me—was how resilient and how tough and how un-killable, in a genuine sense, mankind is, and even you and I. I wasn’t in this camp twenty-four hours and found myself drinking the river water without question about it, eating the roots and the vines and one thing and another they dug up and gave us for food, and I realized very quickly that if need be, we can survive. We really can. And not only that, it’s a pleasant survival. It’s hard but it can be done and it is done.
You eat their food—if you don’t eat their food, it’s not really an insult, it’s a slight. Can you imagine somebody arriving at your house and they bring their own lunch? And they say, “You know, we don’t trust your food, so we’re bringing a lunch.” So we ate their food. They have a kind of yam they boil that tastes very much like roasted chestnuts. They also have a kind of banana that’s not quite like ours. They throw them in the fire to roast. You split the skin after it’s been burning and it’s fantastically hot and succulent and absolutely delicious.
So we had eaten and they were burning a monkey for us. Here’s the recipe for cooking monkey. You get a spider monkey or a rough monkey or a howler. You just throw the monkey, fur, insides and all, onto the fire. That’s the recipe. An hour later you drag it out and call the gang.
• • • • • • •
[Tariri is the native chief, Dori is the missionary/translator.]
I want to tell you this little story. This is one of the truly great experiences of my life and I want you to accept it as that. I’m just telling you what happened. After supper I went over to my bag and I took out my jews harp, and they were all looking, smiling. And two little girls about two or three years old had attached themselves to me and they were holding my arm and sort of petting it. Just beautiful. I’d look at them and they’d giggle, and they loved my beard—they’d reach up and pull it. They loved to feel it, and they were laughing about it. It turned out that the reason that they loved me was that Indians are beardless—no beards at all but their ancestor had beards. Tariri said that the children laughed whenever I said anything because they said that “He is the first big monkey who talks.” I was like a big monkey to them.
I said, “Dori, call them all around,” and they stood there. They didn’t know what was going to happen. I said, “Tell them I will play for them. This is an American folk instrument. This is what the natives of America play. I’m a native of America. I’m not going to play a violin or an organ or sing a hymn, I’m going to play what the natives just like you play. I’m also a native.”
I took the jews harp and I sat up on the table and I began to perform. And there was a moment—the kids giggled and Tariri looked, and Arushpa looked. I played You Are My Sunshine, and I finished it and they were astounded! And I said, “Now I will sing the song for you.” They were so enraptured by that, their eyes were shining. And then I took my kazoo. I said, “Now I will play another native American instrument.” You couldn’t believe it, they loved it so! And then I took out my nose flute and that threw them, because they play flutes. The kids died—they were rolling on the floor and Tariri was yelling. I played You Are My Sunshine, and Red River Valley.
Shepherd holding jews harp, tape player in front.
Luden’s Lee Chamberlain holding microphone,
Sol Potempkin must have taken the photo.
I played about five songs and then Tariri says, “We want to sing,” and they all sang for me. Arushpa came creeping out with his long bamboo flute and he played the very intricate music they play, and the other boy brought his out and they both played. And I said, “Now I will play with you. Let’s all sit in together on a session.” Probably for the first time in the history of music there was a headhunter/Madison Avenue, flute-and-jews harp duet and we really swung. I caught the beat of what he was doing—their music is pentatonic—a five-note scale, a very minor-sounding scale. Well, they led and I followed with my jews harp and my nose flute and the three of us played and the crowd went out of its mind!
We stayed till three and four o’clock in the morning playing and singing and the translator had faded off into the darkness. They’d never had anything like this in their lives before.
Many white men come to them and give them medicine, white men come and preach to them, white men come and study them. But no white men ever came to entertain them. And be part of them.