shepquest

MY BOOKS ABOUT JEAN SHEPHERD

SHEP'S ARMY: BUMMERS, BLISTERS, AND BOONDOGGLES, Opus Books. Nearly three dozen of Shepherd's army stories never before in print introduced and transcribed. Foreword by Keith Olbermann. (published August 2013)

EXCELSIOR, YOU FATHEAD! THE ART AND ENIGMA OF JEAN SHEPHERD, Applause Books (published March, 2005)

Archives by Subject

JEAN SHEPHERD Old man’s car again again

He yells, “It’s coming out of the carburetor!  Wait a minute.  Hold it.”  He’s looking.  “It’s coming out of the bottom of the carburetor!

I say, “Gee, that’s funny, dad.  It is.”

He’s peering at it.  “What the hell’s wrong with this thing?  Gas coming out from under the carburetor?  There, look at it!”

I say, “Sure is, dad.”

He grabs ahold of the carburetor and it’s loose!  He says, “The carburetor’s loose!  What happened?  Gimme them wrenches, quick.  It musta jarred loose driving home from work.  Gimme them wrenches.”

He doesn’t know I’d done any of it.  He takes the wrench and he starts to tighten it—the one that I had tightened first.  It’s going eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.  He stops and he looks and he says, “What the hell’s the matter with this thing, it’s stripped!  This is stripped!  How did this bolt get stripped sittin’ out here in the backyard?!”

I say, “Gee, dad, that’s funny—look at all those little shavings of metal down there.”

He looks up.  Have you ever seen a look of almost total disbelief, and a strange fear and total anger?  Everything is mingled in his face.  He says, “Who’s been messin’ with the car?!  Who stripped them nuts on the carburetor?!  Gimme that wrench.  I’ll try another.”

He tightens another nut, eeeeeeeeeeeee.  And then he sees.  “One of them nuts is gone!”

I’m standing there trying to play it as cool as I can, see.  There’s something about men.  They understand each other.  Even when one is a kid and one ain’t.  He turns to me and he says, “What were you doin’ this afternoon?”

I’ve got my baseball glove as evidence.  I say, “Aaaaaaa…”

“Where am I gonna get one of them nuts?”

“Gee, dad, I don’t know.”

“Don’t lie to me!”

How many times have you been told, don’t lie to me?

“Don’t lie to me!”

Well, now, you get your choice.  Come clean—which is suicide—or play it all the way in the hope that he’ll get hit by lightning.  So I look him right in the eye.  I say, “”I’ve been playin’ ball.”

He yells, “Where’s Randy?!”  My kid brother!  Randy has no more interest in cars than he had….

“Where’s Randy?”

“I don’t know.  I think he’s over at Jack Martin’s house.”

“Go get im!”

I say, “Yeah, dad.”  So I go about three doors down the street and I stand out in front of Jack Martin’s house and I holler, “Randy.  Hey, Randy, you better get home.  Dad wants ya.”

Last part comin’ up!

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JEAN SHEPHERD Old man’s car again

I say, “Hi, ma, hey, I’m home.  How about giving me something to eat.  Suppertime.  I want to go down the bowling alley with Flick.”

No answer.

I say, “What’s the matter, ma?”

She finally turns.  She says, “Something’s wrong with the car.  Your father’s really mad.  Something happened to the car.”

I say, “What?!”  Oh my god, it happened!  I say, “What?”

She says, “I don’t know.  He’s out in the back.”

So, very, very carefully, I walk out on the back porch, and I’m trying to play it cool.  And I see the old man.  His face is purple!  It’s really purple, and he’s got stuff all over the driveway.  He’s got everything out, tools, all kinds of stuff.  And he’s really purple.

I walk over to him, still trying to play it cool, and I say, “Dad, what’s up?”

He growls.  He says, “I don’t know.  Someday I just—sometime I’m just going to step back and I’m gonna take a can of gasoline and throw it over this damn car and burn it up!  Oh, this thing!”  He says, “Me and Gertz and Zudak, the whole crowd—we were goin’ out tonight—and look at this—I can’t get this damn thing runnin’.  It won’t even start!”  He rushes into the front seat and turns the key and it goes grrrrrrrrrrrrrrr, grrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

I notice gasoline is dripping out of the bottom of the car so I didn’t know what to say.  I say, “Hey, dad, you notice there’s gas dripping out of the bottom of the car?”

He yells, “Where?  Where?”  He jumps out.  “Where, where, where?”

I say, “Well, there.”

“Where’s it comin’ from?”

“I don’t know.”

“You get in the car and turn it over, and I’ll watch!”  He’s got this kind of screaming voice.

I get in the car.  Now I’m scared.  I’d better play it real cool—I don’t know nothin’.  I put the key in and turn it.  It goes grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.  I see him run around the front, he’s looking under the hood, he’s looking under the car!

He yells, “Stop it!  It’s gonna blow up.  Stop it!”

I get out of the car and he’s standing there and he’s tasting gas, he’s smelling it.  “There’s gas comin’ out of it!  Where the hell’s the gas comin’ from?!”

“Gee, I don’t know, dad.”

“I thought it was the battery or somethin’.  I thought it was the coil!  There’s gas comin’ out!”

I say, “Yeah, I see it dad.”

“Turn it on again!”

Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr, grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

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JEAN SHEPHERD Kid Stories, Old Man’s Car & (132) ARTSY Misc

I’m playing ball, having a great time.  Well, you know, three o’clock, four o’clock, five o’clock, ballgame starts to peter out, guys are drifting away and it’s getting to be around suppertime.  And I go drifting on back home.  Now it is almost forgotten.  But yet, it remains.  If it sounds like a paradox, it’s true.

So I’m drifting on back with Flick and I’m walking along, I come up to the house, I say, “Hey, I’ll see you guys after supper.”

Flick says, “Yeah, let’s go down the bowling alley.”

I say, “Okay, let’s go down the bowling alley.  I’ll be out about six-thirty, something like that.”

We always ate early on Saturday.  The old man didn’t have to go to work so he didn’t have to worry about coming home for supper.  He always ate all the time on Saturday.

So I drift up to the front of the house and all the while I’ve almost completely forgotten what had happened.  I walk through the dining room and I go into the kitchen, and my mother’s hanging over the sink!

And I say, “Hi, ma.”

No answer.

More to come

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Among my assorted artsy pieces, there are several that don’t easily fit into fartsy groupings, so I’ve put some of these into this miscellany. They range from Picasso and Henry Moore to Japanese, African, Pierre Alechinsky, and a musical instrument made with an armadillo shell. Some are originals, some are reproductions of one sort or another. (I give a bit of background and some personal association that might make the object come alive—at least for me.)

This realistically rendered animal skull was created by hand, by a contemporary artist, whose name I’m embarrassed to admit, I’ve forgotten. With its strange non-anatomical parts, it seems as though it might belong to some other-worldly cult, created for a shaman—one doesn’t know, but for me, this uncertainty is part of its fascination.

•      •      •      •

I acquired this African doll during a lunch hour at an antique-type shop near the American Museum of Natural History. It’s fashioned from a black gourd consisting of three roundish globules, with trade beads and cloth bits (one eye missing). I think it probably has some mystical significance.

•      •      •      •

I bought this Japanese tobacco container and its attached Japanese pipe holder at a small curio shop in a small New England town on the way to somewhere. I thought it was a one-eye-inlay-lost, one-of-a-kind idea of a Daruma (patron of Zen Buddhism). I like the pose of the hands appropriately holding the string connected to the pipe-holder carved as a long-limbed man. This grouping is worn from the sash as would a netsuke and its medicine box or other hanging object. When the cord is loosened, the unattached face is pulled forward to access the hollow body holding the tobacco. I bought the pipe separately on ebay—it has the typically very small chamber for holding the tobacco! It fits perfectly into the holder.

Years later I found that this form, (probably mid-to-late 19th Century) is rather common—a kind of folk style of many similar varieties. One can see a number of them by googling “daruma tobacco container.” I’ve wondered if such tobacco boxes were mass-produced by side-by-side carvers, factory-style.

•      •      •      •

This instrument, a charango, is usually found in a Peruvian folk-music group—guitar, flute, a drum–or box played like a drum—and charango, its six sets of double strings, usually played as a rhythm instrument.  I had this one made for me by a musical instrument maker in Cuzco when I was visiting Peru in 1980.

The charango comes in three styles: least interesting with a bottom side like a very small guitar; with a bottom side of wood carved like a simply shaped armadillo shell; and, most authentic, the bottom made from the actual back and head of an armadillo—such as is mine.

•      •      •      •

These pieces are: a casting from an original Henry Moore clay piece (A company selling museum replicas made this cheap, bronze-painted plaster cast); A white plate with bird from a Picasso-based pottery shop in Vallauris, France that makes duplicates of Picasso originals such as this; a bronze-painted plaster of a Picasso owl from some company that makes good replicas.

The framed picture is a Picasso cut from a book that includes three original, black line drawing lithographs plus this multi-colored one. The story is that the publisher, seeing the three black line drawings, asked if the fourth one could be made with some color—Picasso obliged by making this over-the-top, many-colored drawing.

•      •      •      •

This large plate (about 13”D.) is also from the Vallauris pottery shop. The individual examples, made by artisans copying the original Picasso, can have a variety of color schemes. Only recently did I encounter that it has two left hands! (For convenience, this image comes from an exact one like mine, grabbed by googling the title.)  

•      •      •      •

I was fascinated by the bordering, movie-still-like drawings of this piece on the wall of a friend’s apartment. She’d bought it from the gallery where she’d worked.  We agreed that she would trade it to me for some traditional weavings I’d buy in Peru–the signed print has now graced my walls for over three decades. (For convenience, this image comes from an exact one like mine grabbed by googling the title.)

Only after I’d possessed it did I learn that the artist, Pierre Alechinsky, is a highly regarded fine artist and that the piece is titled Droit de Regard (“Right to Look”) It’s about 19” X 26.” The center image might be a kind of squatting, winged elephant. Yet, possibly it’s a sphinx, as the figure in the lower left might be a camel, and several of the other surrounding images seem to be, from different viewpoints, Egyptian pyramids.

I met Alechinsky for a moment at a special MOMA opening of an exhibit of his work, where I showed him a Polaroid of my piece. He said it was a rare one. (Mine is from the standard edition of 65.) This was a special evening for me for another reason—I noted a little, folded-up paper on the floor of one of the exhibit rooms. It was a hundred dollar bill—I waited around to see if a worried person would come looking for it, but no such luck (for that person). I spent it on two of the best orchestra seats in the house for me and my then-significant other—we much enjoyed the one-woman Broadway show by Lena Horne.

“Right to Look”

The right to look at what?

To look at all that’s artsy!

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JEAN SHEPHERD Kid Stories Old man’s car continued even more

Well, to make a long story even more sickening, you know what man generally does—when he has totally loused up?  He fakes it.  I cannot find that bolt.  And I think to myself for one wild moment—where could it have gone—did Mr. Bruner take it when he walked past?  It didn’t seem sane that Mr. Bruner would take one bolt from the carburetor, staggering his way down to the Bluebird Tavern.

It’s gone!  I lost it!  It’s gone!  I can’t find the bolt!  It’s the old man’s beautiful car!

So I take the wrench and I figure it doesn’t really matter if there’s three bolts on that are really tight—the fourth one won’t matter.  So I carefully tighten the other three, eeeeeeeee, eeeee.  As tight as I can, eeeeeeeee, eeeee.

I put the hood back down on the car, rush into the garage, put the tools back by the pile of used tires the old man has, walk around the side of the house, into the front of the house, into my bedroom, walking as cool and as quiet as I can walk, pick up my glove, go back through the dining room.  I can see the old man sitting there.  He’s got a piece of coffee cake, it’s breakfast time for him—two-thirty—eating the coffee cake and drinking his ninth cup of coffee, and he’s got his fourth Lucky Strike going full blast.  He’s just sitting there digging Saturday.  My old lady—she’s hanging over the sink with the Brillo pad—and I’m sneaking out the front.  Down the steps I go and five minutes later I’m playing second base.  “Come on, Bruner, lay it in there!”

All the while there is this little sick feeling going on inside me.  No matter how much you play and sing and laugh, you know when you’re cheating, you know when you done somethin’ rotten, stinkin’!  Oh, if man was never born with a conscience, wouldn’t it be a great world?  Wouldn’t it be a simple thing—life?  If you didn’t have your conscience?

More to come.

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JEAN SHEPHERD Kid Stories Old man’s car continued

Is the old man gonna be surprised when he finds he’s getting twenty-five miles to a gallon of gas, the car’s got fifty percent more pickup, it goes like mad!  And I won’t tell him about it, and one day when he says, “The car’s working good,” I’ll say, “Hey, dad, you notice how great it’s working?  Well, guess what happened.  I….”  This is dreams of glory.  So I’m dipping the carburetor in the gasoline, I see crud falling off of it.  Very carefully I have got myself some tissues and I’m cleaning it out.  Carefully cleaning as all that crud is coming off.

It is now about two o’clock.  It’s getting hot out.  Real hot.  I can hear the old man in the house banging around.  He’s up now and he’s having breakfast.  In my mind I can see him sitting at the kitchen table with his BVDs on reading the paper and drinking his morning coffee, smoking his cigarettes, and he’s got a growth of beard.  It’s Saturday.  He’s ready for a big night and he’s just slowly coming to life.

I’m gonna get the carburetor back and I’m gonna surprise him.  I take the carburetor and I douse it up and down three or four times.  I’ve got it in my left hand, I’m about to put it back on that block.  I look around.  Where’s the gasket?  Oh, there it is, the wind blew it over on the dirt.  I pick it up in my right hand and I see there’s all kinds of dirt and crud hanging onto it.  So I carefully put the carburetor back down on the hood of the car and take the gasket and dip it in the gasoline and the crud comes off.

Notice that trouble is slowly beginning to enter this story, right?  Then I carefully position the gasket over the four upright bolts, lower it down, and it fits perfectly.  Now I’m all set.  I carefully put the carburetor back on.  Adjust carefully.  Now, let’s see.  Alright, I reach down.  I had put the four bolts on the newspaper.  I take one and put it on with fingers first, breaking a fingernail.  Sun is hot.  I push the gasket down harder.  Now I have the socket wrench and fit it on the nut and eeeeeeeee, eeeeeeeee, eeeeee.  Oh man, this thing is going on hard.  Eeeeee, eeeeee, eeeeeeeee.  It’s barely going on.  Came off a lot easier than it’s going on.  So I take another breath and go eeeeeeeee.  Maybe if I get the other three on, this one will set better.  So I take another bolt and I put it on.  And start screwing it with my fingers.  It goes on pretty good.  I use the wrench eeeeeeeee, eeeeeeeee.  This one’s going pretty good.  At least it looks tight, anyway.  So I put one on the other side.  Put it on, start screwing it eeeeeeeee.  Now I got three of them on.

I reach down for the fourth.  Where is it?  Where is it?  Is it under the paper?  Couldn’t have blown away, it’s a bolt!  So I get down on my hands and knees and I pick up the paper—nothing!  Maybe it rolled under the toolbox, so I carefully pick the toolbox up.  Nothing!  This is the essence of true lost things.  There’s a total mystery about them.  You can’t explain how you lose them!  There’s no reason for it!

All of a sudden I feel such a fear.  Oh my god, I lost one of the bolts!  What am I gonna do?  So I’m going up and down the driveway on my hands and knees.  I’m looking in the weeds.  I’m up and down and back of the car and all around.  Everything’s sitting right in the driveway—where could it go?  Where did it go?!  I hear inside the house, the old man singing, “Cheda, cheda chedaaa!”  He’s singing great, because this afternoon he’s got the world by the—you know, the—he’s getting ready to go out and I can’t find the bolt.  I’m scared.  Really scared.

More to come

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JEAN SHEPHERD Kid Stories–old man’s car

It sits on top of the motor block.  Sitting right on top in the middle, and it is the standard Oldsmobile-type carburetor, with an air filter on the top, held with this clamp.  So I take the air filter off and I set it down on the ground very carefully.  Now I am really working on the car, see.  I look in and I can see a little oil and gunk at the edges of this carburetor.

The carburetor on the block sits on a flange with four bolts that go right through.  So, no problem taking it off.  I fit the socket wrench down arrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr, arrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr, creeeeeeeeee, the first nut started to move eeeeeeeee.  I get it loose.  The next one is really tight, so I take the old man’s mallet and hit the handle of the wrench and there it goes, eeeeeeeeee.  Fifteen minutes later I have removed the four key bolts which hold the carburetor down to the block of the Oldsmobile!

All the while the old man is in his bedroom snoozing away.  He’s got the world by the you-know-what.  He’s sleeping, it’s Saturday.  He does not realize that his world is crumbling around him.

So I lift the carburetor off.  Then I see it’s got a gasket that sits down over the four bolts, so I think, I’d better take the gasket off because I’m going to clean that now.

You see, when man perpetrates a total fiasco, he does it logarithmically.  In other words, if you’re gonna louse up, you will really louse up.  You don’t louse up a little bit, you go all the way.

So I peal this cork gasket off and put it next to the carburetor, which is now on a piece of newspaper on the driveway next to the car.  Now I’m really going to go to work.

I take a rag and I take a can of gasoline out of the garage and I start taking the carburetor apart very carefully.  I can see the needle valve in there and all that stuff, and I douse it with gasoline and I’m running it through and sloshing it around.  And crud is coming out!  I’m feeling really great—Shepherd is really doing it!

More car story comin’ up.

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JEAN SHEPHERD –Kid Stories–even more of the Old Man’s Car

And Bruner goes down the driveway and there I am alone.  Sun beaming down.  I decide to work on the car.  What do you do when you work on the car?  The first thing you do is decide what’s wrong with the car.  Right?  Well, there is nothing wrong with the car.  But I want to work on the car.

This car is so shiny—the old man had it Simonized—he must have nine coats of Simonize on this thing.  The chrome polish is so spotless that you can see reflections within reflections within reflections.  And I don’t feel like polishing it.  I feel like working at it.  It’s different.

So I go into the garage and there’s the old man’s big wooden toolbox, the open kind with a big handle on the top.  He has all kinds of tools like screwdrivers and wrenches and rags and shims and stuff.  So I think that what I’m gonna do—I’m gonna tighten the nuts on the car.  The head-bolts.  There’s a thing you could do.  I take the toolbox out of the garage.  And there is that magnificent, big, six-cylinder Oldsmobile engine with all the ignition wires and the generator.  You can feel the heat rising out of it.  It’s an exciting feeling—this is a living creature.  This isn’t just a car—it’s our car, a living creature.

So I start doing these little things like opening the radiator and looking in at the rusty water right to the top.  I put the cap back on.  I take out my old man’s set of socket wrenches, the kind where every wrench clips onto the same handle.  I test the wrenches and find the one that fits on the generator nuts.  So I start tightening them.  Mr. Bruner next door comes out and walks past.  “Oh, working on the car, eh?”  I tighten all the generator bolts.

Well, now, there are very few parts on a car that are more exciting to a real car cuckoo than the carburetor.  The carburetor to a car is like the heart to the human anatomy.  And it’s roughly that sneaky to work on.  It’s got valves in it, it’s got almost everything like the heart and does almost the same thing!

So, sitting on top of this block is this beautiful carburetor and the old man is always talking about adjusting it.  Well, I knew a little about adjusting it so I decide I am going to take the carburetor off and I am going to clean it for the old man.  What a fantastic mistake!

Wait for more car story.

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JEAN SHEPHERD –Kid Stories–more of the Old Man’s Car

So I put it in first and I drive it forward.  Uh huh. Now I’m going back and forth.  Then I decide, well, you know what I think I’ll do, the back end is facing the street, so I’ll help the old man.  I’ll turn the car around so when he comes out he just gets in the car and it’s facing down the driveway, so he won’t have to back out and turn around.  I’ll do that for him.  So I back it up, she eases around, I slip it into first and I spin the wheel with the skull-and-crossbones spinner with the eyes that are two fake emeralds that glow.  I love to grab that spinner.  I finally get the car turned around.  I back it almost all the way into the yard and now it‘s facing the street.  Just sitting there.  This big, glowing, machine-monster.

I’m sitting in the front seat of the old man’s car and I can smell the gas, and that’s exciting to a male.  I don’t know whether girls ever have that kind of feeling about cars, but men do.  No two ways about it.  After a bit, the car’s warmed up now.  You can see the temperature gauge is up to normal.  Gee, she is running great.  So I turn it off, get out of the car, and I go into the house.

I can’t get that damned car out of my mind.  The sun is shining and it’s a beautiful day and the yeast is rising deep inside my veins.  I can feel it.  The life, the sap flowing through.

Well, along comes Bruner, my buddy.  Bruner comes wandering along and he hollers.  Remember when guys used to come to your house and holler for you?  “Hey, George!”  I don’t know whether kids still do holler for each other like that.  Holler out the back—“Hey, George!”  “Hey, Shepherd!”  And it’s Bruner.  You don’t go out to talk to him, you holler from inside the house.

“Whata you want?”

“Come out!”

“What for?”

“We’ll go down and play ball!”

“Okay, after I finish my samich!”

So he just waits out there.  I’m eating this salami samich and knocking down the soup and the old man’s still asleep.

I walk out onto the back porch finally.  Bruner’s sitting on the back steps and he’s got his baseball glove.  So it hits me—I don’t feel like playing ball today.  Because—that car!  Bruner is outlined against the car.  That car is drawing me on like some kind of fantastic mechanical magnet.  I can’t get away from it!

Bruner picks up his glove and says, “Come on, let’s go.”

I say, “Wait a minute, Bruner, I think I left the rag in the front seat of the car.”

He says, “Oh, you’ve been drivin’ the car?”

“Yeah, you know.”  I’ve driven the car back and forth three feet.  I tell Bruner this because he is one year younger than I am and doesn’t have a license.  “Yeah, driving the car.  I’ve been driving the car all weekend, ha ha.  Just come back.”

“Oh.”

So I say, “I’m going to get the rag,” and I get in and sit in the front seat.  I’m not looking for any rag, I just want to sit in the seat.  Finally it hits me—I don’t want to go.

I get out and say, “Look, Bruner, I don’t want to play.  I gotta work on the car.”

“What are you doin’?”

“I’ve got some work to do on the car.”

More car story to come.

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JEAN SHEPHERD Kid Story–Old Man’s Car & (131) ARTSY Variations

He used to sit there, but I’m sitting in the front seat now, working the keys.  I’ll turn it over and warm it up for the old man. Arummmm, arummmm, rummmgudagudagudagudaguda.  I love to look at the dials.  I see it’s got three-quarters of a tank of gas, which is at least two quarters more than the old man usually had.  He’s got a big weekend.  The needle flicks over toward the C so it’s charging. Gudagudagudagudagudagudagudagudagudarummmm!  I put my foot on the gas Rummmummmummmmmm!  I feel that little vibration.

So what is the next step?  Ah huh.  I ease in the clutch.  I think I’ll back it up just a little bit to get it out of the sun, get it in the shade of the house.  I put it in reverse and I roll it back about, maybe, five feet.  It feels good to ease the clutch out.  I put the brake on, put it back into neutral.  Rummmummmummm.  Little do I realize I am approaching a disaster that would forever be part of the folklore of the Shepherd clan.  When it is mentioned there would be a dead silence.

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VARIATIONS & PRIMITIVE ART

I like various types of “primitive art,” yet many individual examples I don’t much care for. While working on the Museum’s Peoples of the Pacific Hall with anthropologist and social thinker Margaret Mead, I asked her a question that related to works of various indigenous cultures of the Pacific region. It involves political correctness in the world of art. The term “primitive” has negative connotations.

In a 1961 Chicago Natural History Museum scientific publication, Phillip H. Lewis, Curator, wrote:

The utility, or function, of art is part of the European concept of art and leads to ethnocentric bias when Europeans consider non-European art….

It is clear that most, if not all, objects of primitive art, suffer diminution of art value if the criterion of creation for art’s sake alone is involved….

Erwin Panofsky (1955, p. 11) says: “It is possible to experience every object, natural or man-made, aesthetically. We do this…when we just look at it…without relating it, intellectually or emotionally, to anything outside of itself.”…

The characteristic of an artifact which makes it recognizable as art is the aesthetic organization of its visible form. Both Panofsky and Forster emphasize the intention of the artist to make artifacts that will be aesthetically important….

It is possible to distinguish art from non-art on two levels. First, by looking to form alone and with no specific knowledge of the life of the people, we may seek evidence of design and composition for visual appeal. At a second and deeper level, we seek to know the artist’s intent, function and meaning, using knowledge of the culture and the society,…

Primitive art is defined as the art of societies that can be regarded as primitive by virtue of type of social organization. The term “primitive,” although it carries certain invidious connotations and has some confusing aspects, is appropriate, if used to refer to an ideal type of early society and then extended to later societies of that type.

.

I asked Dr. Mead: “Do you find the term ‘primitive art’ offensive?”

Without hesitation, she strongly responded: “No!”

I’ve acquired my modest collection of different pieces of art under many different circumstances, and I’m a total amateur regarding their significance. I have only a couple of objects from New Guinea and environs. They mostly have some variation on curved, concentric patterns that I recognize (however rightly or wrongly) as being produced by the same or related cultures of New Guinea.

One is a small coconut with abstract surface carving. It has a long carved piece that fits inside the hole in the top. It’s my understanding that the coconut is a container for indulging in betel nut use. The long piece would be used to extract the ground up nut, which is chewed alone or with the addition of lime powder—so maybe the coconut held the lime.

The other two objects I believe are from the Trobriands (now called Kiriwina Islands), a small island group just to the east of New Guinea. The art from the Trobriands, for me, seems rather more carefully conceived and formalized (what I’d say, somewhat less “primitive”) than that of other New Guinea forms. The thicker piece I believe, is a pestle used to grind something like lime or betel nut, in a mortar. The long, thin piece, with its tweezer-like end, I’m told, is like a fork, for eating—possibly for consuming human flesh.

Although not involved in designing a temporary exhibit of art of New Guinea at our museum, I stopped into the exhibit-in-progress to see what kind of material they were installing. I found that the organizers were two Caucasian fellows, who were contracted to collect the material for the New Guinea government’s exhibit, then distribute some of the artifacts to other museums, and sell-off much of the remaining material instead of paying for return shipment to New Guinea. (Selling exhibited material is a practice usually frowned upon in the museum world, so the potential sale was kept rather secret–only a few of our museum people and maybe a few others, were aware of it.) I noted a yam mask from near the island’s north coast, and also a drum I was interested in.

My Yam Mask.

Fortunately for me, the drum involved would have required an elaborate support that preparators had no time to make, so it was hidden in a small tent in the exhibit–no one else had a chance to see it or thus, choose it for purchase. (After buying it, I designed and made the plexiglas support.)

Drums are an important part of social life in New Guinea. I find that mine is more elegant in overall shape–though less elaborate in its carved features–than any others I’ve seen, even in museums. The double-pointed bottom, called “fish muzzle” or “crocodile muzzle,” seems to locate this style in the large, southern, Papuan Gulf region. My understanding is that the drum head–on such as mine where it’s still intact–is snake skin.

Some Examples I Found on the Internet.

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My New Guinea Drum.

(The recessed parts of the carving seem

to have been filled with white paint.)

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JEAN SHEPHERD Kid Story–The Old Man’s Car

Fixing the Old Man’s Car

All car cuckoos know what I’m saying.  I got really involved.  I was about sixteen years old and I just got my driver’s license.  For any male-type—he knows you get the car-cuckoo thing going, man.  You think, eat, sleep, dream—you can’t get cars out of your head.  I’d sit in school and I’d draw cars, I would sit and watch them go by and think about them, I’d think about the parts in them.  At one point I even thought about the number of electric motors that are in a car.  There are a lot of electric motors.

Of course the next step was to get involved in working on them.  I loved to work on cars.  Any time anybody would say, “Shep, here, hold the wrench,” man, I was right there.  I’d go to Paswinski’s Garage.  Frank Paswinski was always grinding the valves on somebody’s Chevy.  I’d stand around and watch these guys.  These guys would get the head off and were working away there, and I picked up all the nomenclature. Once in a while, on a Saturday afternoon, he paid me a dollar-forty an hour and I actually began to work on things, like grinding valves.  I loved it.  Every busted fingernail I had was precious.

You got the scene?  Well, we had a car in our family.  The old man’s car.  If I loved cars, the old man loved cars fifty times more.  We had this Oldsmobile he’d keep so shiny, man, I’ll tell ya, you could feel the glow from this car just seeping through the garage at midnight.  You’d just see it gleaming in there.  Of course at least nineteen guys had owned it before we got it, but the old man loved it!  He’d take spots off the seats with spot remover, get out there with a rag and clean the windows off every afternoon.  It was his car, his life, he loved this car.

Well, one Saturday afternoon, no school, it’s fall, I am out there, I’m sixteen, and I’ve got a brand new, fresh new driving license.

Now, the old man had one rule in the house over the weekend.  And that was, don’t wake him up before noon.  The one day of the week he could sleep.  And, man, if you made any noise in the house, he’d kill ya.

So, the old man is asleep in the sack, it’s about noon, and I’m getting the itch.  I see a car out there sitting in the driveway with the sun gleaming down on it.  And there on the dining room table are the keys.  Now, this car is the car that formed the vortex, the core, the apple core of the old man’s life.  I went out and sat down in the front seat.  I played with the steering wheel a little bit, worked the gear shift lever.

By the way, he was the kind of guy who was always buying accessories for the car.  For example, attached to the steering wheel he had a spinner-knob with a skull-and-crossbones on it.  That was the artistic taste of the old man.  And for his gear-shift knob he had a big, black die with a seven on the side.  And more than that, he had a rubber monkey hanging in the back window, that, with every movement of the car, up and down it bounced.  He loved this kind of stuff.  But it was his car.

Much more Shep-and-car to come.

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