Thursday, December 26, 2013

Freshman year: PRATT INSTITUTE

I was talking with some friends today about my freshman year at Pratt Institute.

For reasons I cannot explain, I chose to commute to Pratt instead of living in the dorm there, and that cost me many stuggles wih time and energy. I rose every morning at 7:00, feeling groggy, and went to the Long Island Rail Road station in Merrick, going to the Atlantic Avenue station in Brooklyn, and from there by subway to Pratt.

I realized later that my fellow students could not only have had a more leisurely morning of breakfast and preparing for the day, but could, the previous night, have eaten dinner at the same time I was sitting on the LIRR train, attempting to either 1) do some homework, or, more likely, 2) sleep, until arriving at Merrick Station. On the class schedule that first year, Art History was taught on Monday nights in Memorial Hall , a darkened auditorium which, when the lights were out and slides were being shown, induced one to want to sleep. This class did not end at 4 PM the way many other classes did, but went on till 5 PM (or maybe even later.) I then had to get on back to Atlantic Avenue station and make my way home to Merrick, there to have dinner and go back down into my "studio" (a former coal storage room in our cellar, where during the 1940s, the coal was deposited via a chute that poured it from a truck down through a small cellar window.) My father had outfitted the room for me with a long work table and a desk that had belonged to someone in the family. I was quite happy with it. But the problem was the lack of sleep and the fear that I couldn't measure up to many of the demands of the art school and its high standards (which I should have--and probably do--appreciate, but the stresses made life really difficult.) And during that first year, I willingly stayed up all night, every single Thursday night, in order to try to pull all efforts together in order not to flunk the class that happened Friday mornings.

More about Pratt that first year: "discouraging remarks by teachers" and "encouraging remarks by teachers."  I suppose in the adult phase of life one must supply both of these for oneself but for me at that time the olive branch of the second category was what I needed. One day a teacher actually said to me, "It's always darkest before the dawn"...a really kind person was she. But I would like to offer here the two most outstanding of the discouraging and the encouraging sorts: the first by a well-regarded figure-drawing teacher who, after looking over my shoulder at the charcoal drawing on newsprint (the standard medium in the Pratt classes) leaned over and said , "You can't draw."   Then at the end of that freshman year, we had to show our portfolio of work to the Chairman of Graphic Arts & Illustration, who was the artist Fritz Eichenberg. And when I showed him  my work, telling him the "I can't draw" comment and that I was worried,  he said, so very nicely, "But your work has the illusion of life", putting me back on the road ahead, with optimism.

Here is something about Eichenberg from Sacred Art Pilgrim, John A. Kohan

Fritz Eichenberg

Fritz Eichenberg liked to point out that his German last name meant “oak mountain,” as if this, somehow, explained his extraordinary mastery of the medium of wood engraving. In a creative lifetime dedicated to graphics, Eichenberg occasionally experimented with lithographs and linocuts but always felt most inspired with a graver in hand, creating meticulous white-line prints from wooden panels, preferably, made from endgrain boxwood.
He was a visual artist whose work was inextricably bound up with words in hundreds of illustrations for books and periodicals. In a 1976 self-portrait titled Dream of Reason, the artist sleeps over an open volume, engraving tool in hand, while the ghosts of all the authors whose writings he illustrated--Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Desiderius Erasmus, Charlotte Bronte, Edgar Allen Poe, Leo Tolstoy, Ivan Turgenev--peer expectantly over his shoulder.

As a student of Russian Literature, I came to know Eichenberg’s art long before I knew anything about the artist, discovering his marvelous prints in the pages of classic 19th Century Russian novels like Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov or Tolstoy’s Resurrection. Eichenberg had this uncanny ability to pin down the elusive Russian soul in a pictorial style best described as expressionistic realism. The backgrounds in Eichenberg's illustrations were always full of persuasive period details, yet the figures seemed wonderfully theatrical and dramatically highlighted. I loved the faces most of all. They had the ascetic beauty of icons.

And the following about Eichenberg is from the blog, Victorian Gothic: 

"In the introduction to Eichenberg’s retrospective, The Wood and the Graver, Alan Fern wrote:
'It is given to only a few illustrators to create images that so exactly suit the text with which they are working that their pictures fuse with the author’s words. Tenniel’s Alice in Wonderland is one of these rare cases. Eichenberg’s Wuthering Heights may possibly be another. Having seen his Heathcliff, I, at least, cannot imagine him any other way.' " 

Wuthering Heights, cover illustration:

And again from Alan Fern: "Eichenberg was able to achieve this effect, in no small part, because he clearly took the time to understand and appreciate the literature he was illustrating. His images do not merely portray the events of the story; they capture its spirit."

Jane Eyre, cover illustration:

I am so glad to have both of these books: Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre and Emily Bronte's  Wuthering Heights, with wonderful illustrations by Fritz Eichenberg.. The books belonged to my mother, and were published by Random House in 1943. The covers pictured above are Eichenberg's wood engravings, which are also found plentifully throughout each of the two books.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

AUNTS & A Great-Grandmother

I have fragments of information in my memory, many residing in the names of various aunts.  Not necessarily mine, but those of other members of the family. One was Aunt Annie, another was Aunt Lizzie, and then the several sisters who were my father's aunts: Hattie, Ella and Sadie. But way back before all of them was Sally Ann (Losee) Moore, born in 1810, my grandmother Nana's great-grandmother. This I know because of a spoon Nana gave me when I got married, with its nice little note, and some things I wrote on the envelope, clarifying who Sally Ann was, and that her husband, Hugh, Nana's great-grandfather, was from Ireland. (I wanted to put all these ladies all together in this post because I also remember Nana mentioned an "Aunt Losee"...and hope someday will find mention in a letter in my files about that aunt as well.)

Here is the spoon in question, and below that, the card that came with it in Nana's distinctive handwriting:

The spoon and its card reminded me of the earlier post about the booties Nana crocheted for me a couple of years before she died (I had not yet had children and she had wanted to make some for the children to come.) Here's something (paraphrased a bit) from that earlier post (The Shoe, Part 2, April 3, 2013) with the two pictures:

When I was a freshman in high school, my grandmother had recently come to live with us in Merrick, Long Island, since my grandfather had died and she would have been alone in their house. My high school involved both a longish walk and a bus from Merrick to Bellmore, and as I was getting dressed one morning, I tried on a couple of shoes, and it so happened that one was black suede and one was brown leather. Something must have distracted me because I ended up walking about a quarter mile to the bus stop still wearing the two different shoes. I was waiting with the other kids for the bus and a girl tapped me on the shoulder and said: do you know you have two different shoes on?  I blushed with shame and then thought gratefully of my gym locker where my sneakers were waiting. We had gym at my high school every day. (Sports were very important in that school, that was probably very good for us all, though sometimes annoying, but certainly this time, they were a saving grace.) I rushed there and put the offending pair in the locker to take home later and spent the day in the sneakers (and I should mention to any who might not know this, that no-one wore sneakers during the day at school in those years.) So I got through the day and went home and my grandmother was there (my parents both still at work), so I told her of my embarrassment and the solution to the problem, and she loved it. When I was a little girl, I had loved dolls a lot, and during the WWII era, there weren't all the American Girl Dolls and their clothing and accoutrements, and one Christmas Nana crocheted clothes for a small doll of mine. And whenever anyone had a baby, Nana would crochet booties for the baby, blue or pink accordingly. When I got married, Nana was in her mid 80s. And when several years went by but still no baby, Nana decided to crochet me a pair of booties. She made one in pink yarn and one in blue, and put them  in a little Lord &Taylor pink metallic box, with tissue surrounding them, and a card that said: "I tried to cater to your unusual love of variety - particularly in footwear!" Nana died in 1970 at age 90. and only after that came baby Liana in 1972, and baby Daria in 1974. Nana would have loved them very much.

I wrote more in that earlier post about not always getting along with Nana when I was young, but this changed gradually over trme. During the years I was commuting to and from Pratt in Brooklyn and she was in her little room upstairs at night, I saw one night that her light was on very late, perhaps 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning when I was coming upstairs after a night's struggle with my art homework. I went in to say hello and sat down in her armchair and we talked for awhile. I saw that she was uncomfortable (a stomach-ache) but also maybe a little lonely (even though my parents were right there in the other room sleeping.) I think she was missing my grandfather. And this was a moment I still remember as charting a different course in our rapport.

So Sally Ann, Nana's great-grandmother, gave the spoon to Nana,  a spoon of such thin-ness that her initials were almost worn away on the handle. Nana said in her little note to me: "This little gift is an antique - not new - for newly weds - with all the love and good wishes I can think great grandmother Moore whose maiden name was Sally Ann Losee, used it for years but gave to me when I was fourteen." Nana's name was Florence, my grandfather, Papa, always calling her "Flo". She had a wonderful cousin, Bonnie Moore, who used to visit Nana and Papa there in Freeport, a very buoyant person. Hugh Moore of County Down, Ireland, married Mary Ann Losee, and their daughter Maria was Nana's grandmother. (I want to know more about all, but am grazing on small bits of information, as only a few other people in the family wrote things down for the millennium, the way Nana did.)

As to two others of the aunts mentioned above: Lizzie was my father's great-aunt, second youngest of a family of eight siblings. And Annie was my mother's aunt, her father's one sister in a family of four sons. From things I occasionally heard said, I think they both might have been a little difficult in some ways, but I will be looking for photos and have some interesting things about each of them to report up ahead.

Aunt Sadie, Aunt Hattie and Aunt Ella were my father's three aunts (their names actually were Sarah, Harriet and Eleanor Rutan.)  I think Sadie was a teacher, I had a fascinating photo of her that's momentarily lost in my archives, hoping to find it soon. My cousin, James J. Keegan (Jim), is Aunt Hattie's grandson. Jim has published books on the genealogy of the Rutan family in America and its origins in Europe, so I want to add more information about his findings. Jim and I became acquainted only a short number of years ago (though our grandmothers were sisters) and that was through my cousin Nick Roach, who lived for many years in Kansas. Nick has sadly passed away this last year, but he and Jim, having found one another through, went on to share many interesting bits of information and photos with one another, and then with me as well.

Jim has produced three books of genealogical research: A Rutan Family Index, A Second Rutan Family Index, and the most recent: A Third Rutan Family Index, published in 2002, by Heritage Books (ISBN 0-7884-2113-1)

And here is an interesting paragraph or two from Jim's introduction to the book, telling how he first began to do this research:

I want to tell more about the communication between Jim, Nick and myself. Irene Rutan Kittle, my grandmother and Nick's, died very young at age 43 of a kidney ailment.  Jim said his grandmother (Dad's Aunt Hattie) was such a very loving person in his life. I wish I had known Irene (Renie to her friends and family) so here's a photo of her standing at left, with sister Hattie at right, near a canoe in which my grandfather is sitting...

The three sisters, once married, all lived near one another in Brooklyn in those years, and then went in the summers with their kids to a bungalow in the Rockaways for relief from the hot summers in Brooklyn. Here is a sweet picture of my father and his little sisters sitting on those bungalow steps...

And here are a bunch of the cousins standing on the beach one day, looking very much like kids now...

The one on the left is my father, the young lady standing next to him is his cousin, Virginia Skinner, Jim Keegan's mother, and the others are also cousins, all there on the Rockaway beach.

There was a film about the Rockaway bungalows that aired on PBS a few years ago:"The Bungalows of Rockaway, An Independent Documentary" which had  footage and photos from many years back, and revealed the fact that there are a group of people living there now in the relatively small number of  bungalows that remain. They have successfully fought to maintain them as worthy of preservation.

To view the trailer for the documentary, see this link:

Monday, December 2, 2013

EVERYTHING...and its Opposite

"Everything and their opposite" is a phrase found in a letter from my uncle, Louis Kamp (Louie.)

 It was something his wife, my aunt Renie (my father's sister, Irene Kittle Kamp) used to frequently refer to...this I discovered in that letter from Louie, Louie himself having depths of interest in science and other adventurous speculations, of which I have many examples noted in letters over the years. Louie was also a very funny guy and an artist. At one time, when I was a still pretty young, Renie was Editor of Seventeen Magazine, something I thought quite glamorous. During this time they lived in an apartment in New York City but had a summer place in Hampton Bays out in Long Island. My parents and my sister and I would sometimes drive out from where we lived in Merrick to visit them there, and it was on one of those visits, probably one August, when we were all sitting outside under a fabulous array of stars. And Louie said at one point, "One of those stars might be an atom in Bobo's leg" (Bobo being my cousin, who was a couple of years younger than me.) I was very struck by this comment, something that still seems fascinating, and especially, I liked hearing this in a setting that included me, as a child. This was around early 1950s. Many years later,  when Louie was nearing age 90, he sent me a wonderful book, The Holographic Universe, by Michael Talbot, which seemed then and seems now linked in its essence with Louie's years-back comment. I am going to add Louie's letter to this post, will photograph it and then post it. It's quite nice to read, and is interesting visually too....meanwhile, more about Louie and Renie and their interesting house and point of view:

As an artist back then, Louis fashioned small "constructions" out of discarded bits of wood into sailboats that he roughly nailed together, painted in a monochromed color, and affixed over the doorways here and there. These I liked very much. He and Renie also had pages from The Old Man and The Sea, some particular bit of text they must have loved, which he had photostatted, enlarged and made into wallpaper in one of the rooms: white letters on dark blue background.

Renie and Louie were unique in our family...they were both writers, had been writing partners during the 1940s and 50s, doing short stories for the Saturday Evening Post, and later writing screenplays together (The Sandpiper and The Lion among others.) They both also wrote plays. Renie's play, The Great Indoors, "had a brief Broadway run in 1966", as noted in her obituary.

As with many writers, their letters are full of interest, kind of like a flowing autobiography. They moved many years back to Los Angeles so we didn't see them that often, but kept in touch via letters and occasional phone calls.

Here is a photo from the day they were married, in 1945:

I am going to include shortly some excerpts of letters they'd sent over the years, and more photos, but first would like to tell about a couple of my favorite fairy tales, because each is a case where opposites somehow conspire to make something happen.

Here's a synopsis of each:

1. The Soup Stone (a Grimm's Fairy Tale)

Basically, this is a tale of a resourceful fellow, without appreciable means in life, who cleverly, as he walks along the road from one town to another, picks up a particularly smooth and rounded stone and puts it in his pocket. He approaches a village (one such as appears in many a fairy tale, set in the unspecified past.) He goes into a tavern across from the village green and has himself a nice beer or cider and gets to talking to the habitues there and gradually gets around to telling them of a magic stone he has in his pocket that is able to make soup! They are intrigued and yet doubtful and jesting about it, and he ends up challenging them to a testing of the soup stone's powers. They agree. He tells them all is needed is a fire built opposite the tavern in a clear place on the green, and a large caldron. This is done, and the water soon is boiling in the caldron. He suggests they amuse themselves with telling stories while the soup magic happens. And then he says, does anyone have an onion by chance?  And the tavern owner's wife says yes, here's an onion...and then someone else who has her shopping basket with her offers a potato or two, and someone else has a few herbs handy...and then another person says, well, here's a hambone I just picked up at the market...and as they were all drinking the beer and the cider, merriment prevailed and the smell of the onions and herbs and ham were most was soup!  And all partook of it and raved about it...and said to the guy, where on earth did you get this magic stone...and he said oh, it's so wonderful, I'm so lucky to have it...and they began to try to persuade him to part with it, eventually, offering him money for it.  and eventually, he agreed, acting as though he regretted it, but they were so persuasive, etc. They all gave him a cheer when he went to leave, and as he walked down the road, with a full stomach, he noted a nice looking stone by the side of the road, picked it up, dusted it off, and put it in his pocket as he wended his way to the next little village, with a few coins jingling in his pocket for perhaps an overnight stay in a nice little inn.

To summarize: First there is nothing. Then something materializes.

A cover of one of the Grimm's Fairy Tales editions:

grimms fairy tales

This next one was written by Oscar Wilde...

2. The Happy Prince

This story is set in a European city of great beauty, wherein a lovely gold statue of a prince graces the public square, a young man whose eyes are gemstones...and of which the townspeople and the mayor are inordinately proud. A sweet-natured bird, a swallow, comes often to sit with the statue, sheltering in its nooks and crannies against the wind sometimes, and she comes to know and talk with the prince. She tells him stories of the town, some of them sad, people who are hungry, a poet writing in a little garret, things like that. And he feels similarly as she, that something should be done for these people. Suddenly he gets the idea that she can take some of the gold leaf from his garments and bring them to the unfortunate people she has noticed. She does so, and comes back and exclaims at how happy, how relieved the people were in every case at the unexpected bounty. Finally, the gold is all gone from his being, and only the lead remains. There are still the gemstones in his eyes, and these too he persuades her to carry off to those in need. Finally, all is dark and she still sits with him...and the mayor comes forth and sees the dreariness of the statue, and says to his retinue to go and carry the now undistinguished statue to the smelter to be melted down (and probably to be replaced with another resplendent figure.) And as they carry the prince away, the swallow goes with him...and when all is melted, there is something unmeltable left in the ashes...a heart.

I just love this story...this above is my own recollection of it, there may be some details I have not remembered correctly, but the essence is there.

 Here's an illustration from the book:

Illustration for the first edition by Walter Crane

Here again: a "something", which due to a wonderful kind of goodness, became nothing, and then morphed into a much bigger something.

Awhile ago I heard about a book which sounded intriguing and ordered it from Amazon: Moby-Duck: The True Story of 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea and of the Beachcombers, Oceanographers, Environmentalists, and Fools, Including the Author, Who Went in Search of Them, written by Donovan Hohn. It is a case where the rubber ducks were set loose from a container ship (not on purpose) and as they were fellow creatures of a common design, they grouped together inexorably and formed a giant phalanx of sweetness and unexpected majesty and traveled resolutely around the world's seas. I had also  heard of a similar floating mass of garbage (or for a nicer term, flotsam and jetsam), much of it composed also of plastics, which was abroad on the ocean and traveling day and night with no particular destination. Its formal name is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Each bit of the garbage not much by itself, but together it was/is massive and very much itself.

A last bit of detail from my own world-view: I have noticed when doing laundry that garments of a similar fabric sometimes gather together in the dryer, as though old friends refound...sox in particular seem to like to do this.

Some excerpts of letters from Renie and Louie will be added here soon...

Friday, October 18, 2013


SLEEPY HOLLOW is always associated with my grammar school days, in Long Island...

I love the 40s...I like the music (especially the jazz of those days, the kind of jazz I still like, even though I was a mere sprig in those days!)  I heard the music and I saw the movies, because my parents took my sister Cynthy and me many a time to local theatres, first to what was an old former vaudeville house in Freeport, Long Island (a town next to our town, Merrick) which had now morphed into a movie theatre. (My mother saw Sophie Tucker and Eddie Cantor at various times in that same theatre during the vaudeville years.)  Later on, in the 1950s, we went to a wonderful art movie house in Malverne, another Nassau County town, where we saw early Alec Guinness films (Kind Hearts and Coronets) and Somerset Maugham short stories made into films, such as Quartet. I remember that when we were in Freeport, we often went and had dinner in a little restaurant near the theatre, Bouloukos, where my sister always ordered the egg salad sandwich and chocolate ice cream (I can't remember what I liked.)  In Malverne, there was a local tavern which had a marvelous hamburger and french fried onions where we went before or after the movie, food linked with a movie always a good idea.

Will digress once again...when in grammar school but just old enough to go on a Saturday jaunt by myself with my friends, we, my girlfriends and I, would take a bus down Merrick Avenue to the Long Island Railroad Station, and go one stop to Freeport, where the matinee ticket was $.25.and the transportation costs minimal compared to today!...all this I can well remember, as it kind of fit with the informal sort of allowance I had in those days. Not only was it "affordable" by myself and my friends, but we were allowed by the management of the movie theatre to stay and watch the whole movie (often a double feature which they had in those days) for a second time, turning the whole day into a many-hours event. My girlfriends and I went to view one particular movie, "Milllion Dollar Mermaid" several times one particular Saturday, a movie starring  Esther Williams about the life of Vaudeville star,  Annette Kellerman, a champion swimmer who appeared in a giant "fishtank" on stage.)

From Wikipedia about Annette Kellerman:

"Kellerman was famous for advocating the right of women to wear a one-piece bathing suit, which was controversial at the time. According to an Australian magazine, ‘In the early 1900s, women were expected to wear cumbersome dress and pantaloon combinations when swimming.’ In 1907, at the height of her popularity, Kellerman was arrested on Revere Beach, Massachusetts, for indecency - she was wearing one of her fitted one-piece costumes."

So at the end of the movie, Kellerman was swimming in the tank and the glass broke and all hell broke loose as we, my friends and I, burst into tears. When the same happened again the second time we saw the movie that day, we totally enjoyed the subsequent outburst of tears, finding it a most satisfying day!

And back to SLEEPY HOLLOW...

In school, same years, same friends, we had a principal, Mr. Zachary, who took a very formal approach to our weekly assemblies: he would wait till we were all assembled in our seats (glad for the respite from classroom struggles) and he would enter the gym with a swift walk through the assembled seats up to the stage where he would lead the Pledge of Allegience, followed by a reading from the Bible (as it was the 1940s, this was normal procedure in schools.) When he finished these, the "entertainment" of whatever sort, would ensue. Sometimes a school play. Sometimes something like a documentary, one of which was titled "America's Garbage"...we saw this movie a number of times whenever no other movie was available. Huge pictures of dump trucks heaping loads of stuff into other vehicles...and a stentorian voice hailing "America's garbage" as if it were a national product. Still, we were glad to be there watching something, anything other than being back in the classroom! But the one thing, one and all, every one of us, hailed with pleasure, was when they brought out from the mothballs the great black and white cartoon of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

I can remember it very well (and wish I could view it now!):  Ichabod Crane and a bunch of people all in a barn somewhere, dancing, and the floorboards bouncing up and down quite jauntily as they danced. Then, the scary scene outdoors, the dark of night, as the gangly and vulnerable-looking Ichabod was going home on his horse and saw a terrifying figure coming towards him, the headless horseman. This black and white cartoon so very dramatic, full of wonderful graphic imagery, the figures dancing in the barn so rounded and cheery, then the scene outside, in the night...

So back again to SLEEPY HOLLOW...

This is a new television series this fall. Because of my memory of the cartoon, I felt intrigued to watch the first episode and found it quite wonderful. Without going on at too great length, there is a blending of past and present in Sleepy Hollow, so much of it filmed at night and so beautifully. Here is a quote from the NY Times review of the show:

From Neil Genzlingers’s review in the New York Times, September 15, 2013
“An Ichabod Crane With Backbone (but Can He Use an iPad?)”

“... Fox’s “Sleepy Hollow” gets the new television season off to an outlandish and rather entertaining start on Monday night as Ichabod Crane and the headless horseman of Washington Irving’s 193-year-old short story turn up in the 21st century. “

I include several photos here which relate to all the above:

  1. In the Metropolitan Museum’s Medieval galleries is a limestone figure “carved and painted about 1225-75”. Titled  “Saint Firmin Holding His Head”, St. Firmin was the fourth century missionary who became the first bishop of Amiens (France) and the patron saint of that city. “Here the saint is shown as if living while holding his decapitated head. This statue is said to have come from the destroyed bishop’s palace at Amiens.”
  1. A photo of one of the Metro North trains I take in to New York, often finding odd and interesting names painted on the side of the various cars of the train. This particular car was the Ichabod Crane, and I was happy to nab a photo of it. (On another occasion, one of the cars was the Eleanor Roosevelt.)

  1. This last picture here is something I found right here in Branford. Along a curving road, I several times have noticed an odd sight: a house with a front door that faces the road, and a second, identical, door, on the side of the house, visible from the street, this door looking ordinary in every way except that it hovers over a drop of about 10 feet, no steps down to the ground below. I post the picture here, but now think that this little building is a garage. It does have another "front door" to the right of the garage doors, but this door to nowhere looks so forlorn. (Note that of necessity I have to take the picture while driving, so can't fuss much with getting best shot.) I do like that it, like the headless figure, defies logic.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

LOOSE ENDS...Lucia and Nya Nya

It's come to my attention that there are two names that are a bit mystifying to people who've come upon them: 1) My Name is Nya Nya (the name of this blog), and 2) Studio Lucia, the online store on Etsy.
These are both newly-minted enterprises for me, as well as the new and only website:

So it seemed there should be some explanation of Nya Nya and Lucia. This blog came to be called My Name is Nya Nya because of a funny comment by my granddaughter, Maren, when we were all sitting at the dinner table. She long back had decided to call me Nya Nya. First it was to be Granny Sandy...then it transformed to Nya Nya. Maren had been given a book by her aunt, my daughter Daria, a book about a little dog that looked like an invention by a toy company. The book was Boo, the Life of the World's Cutest Dog, and the dog was endlessly photogenic, its life fairly nice, being cared for with lots of oomph and photographed in similar fashion. The first line of the book goes: "My name is Boo.This is My Life". When I said something indicating my own approach to various facets of life,  my granddaughter remembered the book and said: "My name is Nya Nya, and this is my life".  Then she said: "Nya Nya likes paper towels and hot water."  Very true: I have the habit of drinking a glass of hot water before going to bed at night, and use an inordinate lot of paper towels when visiting them, as well as here at home. I chastise myself for doing so, yet find nothing to substitute for their readiness and comparative pristine nature. I have to admit I like them.

So here is a picture of one of the very same dogs as Boo in the book, but this one I photographed in my local laundromat, where its human guardian brings the little guy in with her when she does her laundry. Here he sits perched in one of the laundry carts, cozily ensconced in a dog bed atop the folded laundry:

Now to Lucia, of Studio Lucia...

My cat Luchy, as I called her, was a very sensitive creature, not an extrovert...but possessive of a subtlety and gentleness and vulnerability that I quite loved. Thinking of her brings to mind a wonderful children's book, Millions of Cats, by Wanda Gag, one of my favorites. Here's a picture of the cover of the book and the title page, which indicates a publication date of 1928:

And here is Luchy, who was a Cornish Rex. She's sniffing some African daisies which were her favorite flowers, in that she attempted to eat the petals if allowed.

More to come soon of cats, dogs, kits, cats, sacks, wives...and how many were going to St. Ives...

Friday, September 13, 2013

Many Threads to Consider...

Some of the threads: my parents and my grandmother, Nana

One of the pictures of my mother that I love is herself at the wheel of a Ford car (not sure Model A or Model T, but an early-days Ford.) She learned to drive at age 15, and later drove herself to work from Long Island to the elementary school in Queens where she taught at the very same school for 46 years. In 1927, she and Dad were engaged but not yet married, having to wait till they could afford to get married, as was the case for many during those years. They were to make a trip somewhere together, with Nana as chaperone, or something like that...I may remember this wrong, maybe not as chaperone, maybe they were just going somewhere on a trip and were bringing her there as well??  My grandfather, Papa, was a commercial artist and one of his yearly gigs was that he would once a year do the menu covers and brochures for Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz. He would be invited to come and stay and make photographs for reference in order to do the paintings and fine lettering when he got back to his home studio. I had for many years his drawing board of ancient vintage, which had a pattern of holes all over it, like a field of stars created by innumerable pins holding down drawing paper. I used it when I was at Pratt and now one of my daughters has it in her home, where it is now a veritable antique.  But back to the trip: I heard this story many a time, but most importantly, it had to do with the friendship (the cementing of) between Nana and Dad: the son in law of the future. Where exactly they were driving does not stay fixed in my mind, but the road they traveled on was the Pulaski Skyway.

Hearing these words, seeing them on the page conjures up a sense of danger to concept of something called a Skyway sounds like an elaborate structure curving up into the heavens, something upon which you would not like to be driving an old Ford or other car. I plan on looking at a map and seeing if possibly Mohonk was where they could have been headed on this trip. I believe it was at night, am pretty sure of that, because Dad told me (or us, I should say, around the dinner table) that he, with difficulty in the dark of night, discovered there was a leak in the gas tank...and expressed the worry that there was no way to fix it unless there was something to plug the leak, and what possibly could any of them have with them that would do it. And Nana, in the back seat, proclaimed that she did have something. In those years, apparently Listerine came in little bottles with corks in the top, not like the newfangled caps on things we have today. And the great news was the little cork saved the day, or the night, and on they went on the Pulaski Skyway, all greatly pleased!

Here are some photos...the first is one of the brochure-covers Papa did for Mohonk in 1925. The second: is Dad and Mom in a canoe on the lake; notice the characteristic little roofed look-out sheds that Mohonk had all over the trails leading up to the mountaintop. The third picture is one Papa had taken of the whole of Mohonk from a distance away, all the buildings which abutted the lake and fit into the landscape.

Another family thread, first mentioned in an earlier post, was that of Russell & Volkening, the literary agents my Aunt Connie worked for, for 30 years (see the Post: My Aunt Connie and Adventure Magazine, May 25, 2013)

I have Connie's copy of the book called Author and Agent: Eudora Welty and Diarmuid Russell, right here on my bookshelf, and think the review below says a lot about how important and wonderful a good agent (or a good anything) becomes for us, who find the most hope and encouragement in our lives via the specially good human beings we've been lucky enough to meet.

Here's the review, written by Christopher Carduff in The New Criterion, Volume 80.

Author and Agent: Eudora Welty and Diarmuid Russell
Michael Kreyling
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 216 pages, $21.95

"In May 1940, when she received her first letter from Diarmuid Russell, Eudora Welty was thirty-one years old and the author of a dozen short stories that had appeared, usually without payment, in little magazines and campus quarterlies. Russell, then thirty-seven, was a former editor at Putnam's, fired for protesting a contract that exploited a young author's ignorance. His letter to Welty was one of the first he had written as a partner in Russell & Volkening, the literary agency he had founded that spring at the urging of Maxwell Perkins. "Dear Miss Welty," he began, "I write to you to see if you might need the services of an agent. I suppose you know the parasitic way an agent works taking 10% of the author's takings. He is rather a benevolent parasite because authors as a rule make more when they have an agent than they do without one."
"Yes," replied Welty, "be my agent. Just as [your] letter was given to me, I finished a story, and holding one in each hand, it seemed inevitable." What did not seem inevitable, and what indeed remains extraordinary, is the long association that was to follow. It was a shrewdly-run business venture, it was a candid critical dialogue, but it was also something more: a loyal, long-distance friendship that spanned thirty-three years —some thick, many thin—ending only with Russell's death in 1973. That this alliance between artist and agent was the great treasure of both their working lives is evident from their correspondence, which Michael Kreyling, a professor of English at Vanderbilt University, has fashioned into an appealing book. The letters tell, always with a touch of humor, the story of both the difficult rise of a dedicated, unprolific, tough-to-market writer and the degeneration of the publishing profession into the contemporary "book biz." "If Welty has survived against the odds of literary America," writes Kreyling, "Russell deserves much of the credit." It was he who first placed her in national magazines, who saw the novel in the story that became Delta Wedding, who squeezed every cent out of anthologists, adapters, and paperback re-printers in the fallow years between The Bride of the Innisfallen (1955) and Losing Battles (1970). "His terms were not uncertain," remembers Welty; "you knew how well he liked something and how well he didn't. I just can't tell you what it meant to me to have him there. His integrity, his understanding, his instincts—everything was something I trusted."
In this age of publishing by conglomerate, in which the role of the editor is an ever diminishing thing, the writer's closest ally has become his agent. Diarmuid Russell in his letters shows the best that an agent can be. One hopes that the model he provides in this book will draw to his profession a few young people whose taste for literature is matched by real business savvy. The survival of the serious writer in America—of today's young Eudora Weltys—may well depend on them."

Sunday, July 28, 2013

FAMILY HISTORY (but via digressions)

I want very much to tell the blog more about my cousins Nick and Jim and will do so soon, and also, more about my Aunt Connie and her life in New York, much of it working for literary agents, Russell & Volkening. But first, I thought of something funny this morning and wanted to put it down on paper, or the illuminated world of the computer monitor.

My local supermarket has had a promotion going on for several months: one accumulates points by buying groceries, then you're allowed to choose from a variety of chef's knives and other implements. As I had arrived at the suitable number of points, I selected what looked exactly like one of the fine culinary instruments seen on the Food Network. Have had it for a month now but have not taken it out of its sheath. I seem to feel it is hazardous to use, however ridiculous this seems. And so several other things came to mind:

One is my favorite radio person of all time: Jean Shepherd. To go back to the Pratt Institute years, I'd been made to know about Shepherd by the abovementioned Aunt Connie, a person often awake late at night (and enjoying same), and I, a freshman student who commuted daily, Long Island to Brooklyn, also awake into the night, grappling with sophisticated art assignments and trying to fend off the dreaded spectre of flunking out. (There are/were several fellow students from that freshman year that I still remember as intelligent and nice people who were suddenly gone, and I determined, fiercely, to stay, hanging on by my fingernails.) In line with this, Bob and Ray on their radio program used to end each show by saying: "Write if you get work, and hang by your thumbs". So I am appending here a picture of me in those years which I'd sent to Connie, with the notation, "Hanging by my thumbs!"

Digression itself was Jean Shepherd's trademark mode, a fact to which he referred frequently. I remember hearing the following story on his late-night radio program on WOR. It ran overnight in those years, he would often tell of driving in from New Jersey to do the show and going home in the morning. This particular story was about the "depression glass" given out in movie theatres in the 1930s, the weekly gift bringing out  bunches of appreciative movie-goers. Shepherd explained that every week, another piece of a large glassware set would be the featured item. After several weeks, a gravy boat was the gift. But the next week, again it was a gravy boat...and the week after that, again a gravy boat. The audience became furious and the management advised them that the following week, if they would just bring in all the excess gravy boats, they would be replaced with suitable items. When the next week came and the disappointing words were said, that there were no replacement items, a slew of gravy boats (in the transparent glass known as "depression glass", now prized by collectors) came hurtling at the screen. Shepherd called it a triumph of collective action and theatricality.

There are books of Shepherd's collected short stories:  A Fistful of Fig Newtons;  In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash;  Wanda Hickey's Night of Golden Memories and Other Disasters; and The Ferrari in the Bedroom, all published by Broadway Books. Reading them brings back details I still remember hearing on the radio back then, such as the 4th of July that his father's silk pongee shirt had an altercation with fireworks! I like the following quote in the front of the Fig Newtons book: "Only the centipede recognizes the five thousand footsteps of his grandfather..." - Banacek

There are also audio books, the actual radio programs, many of which I must have heard in those anxiety-ridden days striving to keep afloat at Pratt. Shepherd's audio books are produced by "Radio Again" and can be found at:

To go back to the the chef's knives, they reminded me of the depression glass giveaway, but now a further analogy: a story of James Thurber's which appeared in the book, My Life and Hard Times.

A quote from the book:

"My mother, for instance, thought - or, rather knew - that it was dangerous to drive an automobile without gasoline: it fried the valves, or something. 'Now don't you dare drive all over town without gasoline!' she would say to us when we started off. Gasoline, oil and water were much the same to her, a fact that made her life both confusing and perilous."

My hesitation about the the undoubtedly excellent chef's knife may make me a kindred spirit with Mrs. Thurber.

You can read the wonderful My Life and Hard Times via this link:

Sunday, June 23, 2013


I have been working on a project for quite a few years, which is to clarify, codify and give homage to many small bits of paper (including photographs and letters) which bear witness to the lives of various members of my family, stretching back in time.

 To start with, I'll illustrate this process with two photos of boxes assembled to do this organizing:

The painting over the plastic boxes in this picture is one I had done years ago in Nantucket. It's fitting that it's there because it represents my other enjoyable preoccupations: drawing in ink, painting with watercolors and chalk, and taking photos. The doing of this blog is very much in accord with these: an attempt to get closer to nature and its mysteries, including those of human nature.

Here is another photo of the boxes, which also include cardboard file boxes...I will add some photos of them too, not as decorative as these plastic boxes with their neat labels, but labeled they are with various couples' names and eras.

Since writing this above, I am very sorry to say that my cousin, Nick Roach, has passed away. It was Nick and another cousin, Jim Keegan, who initiated me into this wonderful process of stepping back, bit by bit, into the past to revisit and connect with each our branches of the family. They had begun the process by both researching things on and then I was fortunate enough to be included in this backing and forthing of found photos and letters which we each had discovered and then shared...

So more, then, about Nick and Jim in the next post...

Saturday, June 8, 2013

William Wegman

I just reread a wonderful article found in my favorite publication in the world: The New York Times. Written by Roberta Smith, it appeared on Friday, August 17, 2012 in the New York edition of the Times, and was about artist William Wegman. Titled: "Postcards in an Artist's Journey", it was a review of his show, "William Wegman: Hello Nature" at Bowdoin College Museum of Art in Brunswick, Maine. I so wish I had seen the show...

First I have to confess to having an extraordinary lot of clippings saved over time for which am always trying to establish some filing system that will let me find a particular thing again. And this particular one (see photo below, page C25):

is missing its first page (probably C1) but nonetheless holds the genes of what so interested me. It was buried amongst a whole bunch of intriguing things, and always when I pick one up from the pile, I have the vain hope of possibly throwing something away, and then find that rather than heading for demise in the wastebasket, the item in hand instead expands and fills the exact same vessel of time and attention as the original moment of first contact...the special rapport I feel with many of these clippings reminds me of shells picked up on the water's edge, where their nature, their geometry, perfect or jagged, modest or spectacular, bespeaks of larger matters (like fractals, for example.)

The "Postcards" article was enhanced by the kind of videos which often accompany New York Times articles online. One particular one that seems the absolute essence of what it is to be an artist: click on the photo of the sleeping dog, "William Wegman's Wilderness". I love it so much and love everything about this article. Am liking William Wegman very much, so very enjoyable to watch him opening windows in his Maine cabin, and starting to work on a picture.

Here's the link to the article:

And more about fractals in a future post...

Saturday, May 25, 2013

My Aunt Connie & Adventure Magazine

Connie, around the time she first worked at Adventure, with a 1920s bob.

My mother Dorothy and my aunt Connie in their back yard, young ladies with spring dresses and sandals.

Constance Fleming was a young woman first going to work in New York City at age 20. In writing the previous post, From the Train, Part 2, about Irish writer George William Russell, I was inspired to think of Connie, because she worked for almost three decades for the literary agency, Russell and Volkening.. One of the two partners there was Diarmuid Russell, the son of the abovementioned George Russell, the other partner being Henry Volkening. For many of those years, Connie was their sole employee.  More about Russell & Volkening in another post, but for now: Adventure Magazine.

Connie, my mother's younger sister, was born in 1910, and after high school, during the Depression, went to a business school rather than college, and then on to work at her first job at a pulp magazine called Adventure.

"The term pulp derives from the cheap wood pulp paper on which the magazines were printed. Magazines printed on higher quality paper were called "glossies" or "slicks". In their first decades, pulps were most often priced at ten cents per magazine, while competing slicks were 25 cents apiece. Pulps were the successor to the penny dreadfuls, dime novels, and short fiction magazines of the 19th century. Although many respected writers wrote for pulps, the magazines are best remembered for their lurid and exploitative stories and sensational cover art. Modern superhero comic books are sometimes considered descendants of "hero pulps"; pulp magazines often featured illustrated novel-length stories of heroic characters, such as The Shadow, Doc Savage and The Plantom Detective."

Wikipedia excerpt:

"Butterick Publishing Company was founded by Ebenezer Butterick to distribute the first graded sewing patterns. By 1867, it had released its first magazine, Ladies Quarterly of Broadway Fashions, followed by The Metropolitan in 1868. These magazines contained patterns and fashion news. In1873, Butterick created The Delineator magazine. By 1876, E. Butterick & Co. had become a worldwide enterprise selling patterns as far away as Paris, London, Vienna and Berlin, with 100 branch offices and 1,000 agencies throughout the United States and Canada. One of Butterick's subsidiary companies was the Ridgway Company, which published the pulp magazines, Everybody's Magazine and Adventure."

Excerpted from the Wikipedia article:

I have a lots of information about Adventure, or at least Connie's experiences there, because she was a wonderful archivist of memorabilia, such as letters she wrote and those written to her. I always liked her way of crafting letters and here are photos of some intriguing items from her time at Adventure.

Mrs. Frank C. Lewis (aka Sandra Alexander) was disturbed when, hearing no response to having sent in a story for submission to Romance Magazine (another magazine published by Ridgway Publishing), she wrote to "Dear Miss Fleming" as follows: " I recently sent you a story entitled 'An Interest in Life'. It was returned to me from your Editorial Department without comment or acknowledgement and furthermore my letter to you was still attached to the Manuscript.  I am at a loss to know just what is meant by this. I have been writing fiction for ten or more years and have had stories accepted by all of our foremost magazines: Harpers, Century, the Ladies Home Journal, The London Mercury, Collier's etc - and likewise rejections! The rejections however have always been accompanied by a letter from the Editors. Even now I cannot but believe that this was an oversight upon the part of some member of the staff of Romance; I am even wondering if the new story reached your desk."

#1 Connie's brief but nicely put response to the writer:

When submissions came in to Adventure from aspiring writers, and the Editor had to let someone down, someone whose manuscript would not be accepted, Connie wrote regretful letters accompanying the manuscript return. She worked for several Editors there, first Anthony M. Rud, Editor from 1927 to 1930, and then Albert A. Proctor, from 1930 to 1934. I always liked her letter-writing style. I know she was given guidelines for writing such letters, yet she still seemed to have her own "voice", young as she was.

I notice that during the 1930s, people wrote letters with greater frequency than now. I found one note from Connie to my mother (Connie living in the West Village, New York City, and my parents in Long Island) saying "We'll be coming out on the Long Island Railroad Saturday as planned" or something like that...not a phone call but a quick letter, mailed with a 2 cent stamp! I have lots of similar notes/letters in my mother's memorabilia, and love reading things like: "Dot, can I borrow your brown skirt and yellow blouse next week", this from a friend living in Greenwich Village, she and her husband being one of a crowd of friends of my parents and Connie and her husband. Again, the Depression and money scarce, etc., but lots of amusing notes, an intelligent and funny bunch! And I deduce that many times people must have driven back and forth between NY and Long Island on lesser roads than the highways we have now, or perhaps just took the train...but no-one to ask about this!

A nicely typed note to Connie and one of her confreres at Adventure, suggesting that they should endeavor to be on time at 9:00 in the morning...there seems a slightly humorous tone about it, or do I just think of it that way? Connie had saved it, along with other interesting items.

According to a flyer found among Connie's papers, Anthony Rud contributed fiction and articles to Saturday Evening Post, Red Book, Munsey's, Popular, Black Mask, Blue Book, Complete Story Magazine, wrote novels, movies, edited other magazines, and lectured at The Writers' Colony on "The Distinctive Story." His story, "Ooze", appeared in the magazine, Weird Tales, in 1923.
"Ooze," the cover story for the very first issue of Weird Tales (March 1923), was the work of Anthony M. Rud and a possible inspiration for H.P. Lovecraft's "Call of Cthulhu." The cover art is by Richard R. Epperly. The octopoid body is misleading: in actuality, Rud's monster is more like a giant amoeba. It's worth noting, however, that the head of Cthulhu resembles the creature depicted here.
Text and captions copyright 2011 Terence E. Hanley

Above, from the blog called Tellers of Weird Tales:

Also among Connie's clippings, a New York Times obituary of Arthur Hoffman, former head of Adventure, who died in 1966. From the obituary:

"Mr. Hoffman was most widely known as the editor of Adventure magazine from 1911 to 1927...the Oct. 21, 1935 issue of Time magazine described Adventure as the 'No. 1 Pulp' "
Time also noted Hoffman's stress on action as evolving from character. Sinclair Lewis, the author, served as Hoffman's editorial assistant on Adventure, and contributors included George Jean Nathan and Albert Payson Terhune.

There is yet another and very interesting connection with Adventure: one of their cover artists for many years was Earl Mayan, father of my good friend, Cathy Hammerquist. I worked for Cathy and Bob Hammerquist some years ago at their Hammerquist Gallery in New York City, and we've been friends ever since. Earl did covers for Adventure as well as the Saturday Evening Post. (In the case of Adventure, he did those covers after Connie had gone on to another job in the later 1930s, or they might have met.)

Here's an excerpt from the article Cathy Hammerquist prepared for Wikipedia about Earl Mayan...

Earl Mayan (1916 – December 12, 2009) was an American illustrator whose early career spanned the era of pulp magazines to the post WWII years alongside Norman Rockwell at The Saturday Evening Post. From 1954 to 1961, he painted ten Saturday Evening Post covers and illustrated many of the stories that appeared inside the magazine.  Dr.Chris Mullen, former professor of art at the University of Brighton, England, wrote of Mayan's art, "He managed great visual invention, possessed excellent powers of drawing, and entertained his readers with an inventive set of references within the images...Mayan also worked for Grosset & Dunlap, Argosy, Bantam Books and Random House. A portrait of Cesar Chavez by Earl Mayan is in the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. From 1962 to 1995, Mayan taught drawing and illustration at the Art Student's League in New York City. Earl Mayan died in Huntington, Long Island, New York on December 12, 2009."

The link to the full Wikipedia article:

And here is the link to the Earl Mayan web site, overseen by Cathy's sister, Susan Klavir, where not only his artwork but his writing can be found:

There is also the E. Mayan Studio, Inc., Fine Art and Framing, at 520 Second Avenue (between 29th and 30th streets in Manhattan.)
Bob Hammerquist masterminds the conservation framing and archival mats, and has amassed an exceptional inventory of vintage mouldings. They also are the exclusive outlet for the work of Earl Mayan.  (212) 889-8173

Connie's long-standing job came later on, when she went to work at the literary agency, Russell & Volkening for partners Diarmuid Russell and Henry Volkening. Some of their clients were Eudora Welty, Joseph Campbell, Bernard Malamud, Saul Bellow, and Joseph Heller...more will be told about Russell & Volkening in a subsequent post.

She was Connie Cunningham by then, having married Larry in 1940. Their apartment on West 11th Street was on the ground floor with bars on the windows but no screens, and it happened that they began being visited by a vagabond cat who walked from time to time through the apartment to the kitchen window at the back to get to a little garden area which the cat was interested in visiting and viewing birds, etc. And one day they found a surprising bunch of baby kittens in one of their closets. Connie said the mother had carried each by the scruff of the neck from wherever they had been born, through the window bars and into the gigantic walk-in closet the cat had specially chosen for a nursery for her little ones. She already knew Connie and Larry were nice people! A small preview here...