Monday, September 22, 2008

The Novel Without Words - Lynd Ward

It's been a busy last few days at the gallery. The Calgary Artwalk was having it's 25th year of inviting people out for a stroll through participating galleries over the weekend. The fall weather was fabulous and the gallery (Arts on Atlantic) hosted two artist demonstrations, so I have been very busy.

The novel without words or so called graphic novel came of age with the telling of stories through the use of image only, no text. What we know today as a 'graphic novel' refers to comic style, novel length stories told with accompanying balloon text. In essence the story can be relayed through the use of the pictures and the text and in many cases the story line can be gleaned by perusing the pictures without the text.
Some early proponents of the wordless novel include Lawrence Hyde, Otto Nuckel, Frans Masreel and Lynd Ward. All of these artists used the traditional relief printmaking techniques of wood engraving or woodcut as their medium of choice. This was laborious work as each image was to be cut on a block. In many cases the final books (Novels) were printed from the blocks themselves. The wood engraving or woodblock in black and white makes a strong image and is a very good medium to convey a story line.
These novels were in many cases politically or morally motivated and were used to convey a message to the masses. American artist Lynd Ward brpought the idea of the graphic novel to the US. Lynd Ward decided to be an artist when at an early age he realized that his last name spelt backwards is "Draw". He studied in Germany under Hans Alexander Mueller a noted wood engraver. There he was exposed to the works of Belgian, Frans Masreel, and the German, Otto Nuckel. His ideas for a graphic novel were forming.
Soon after returning to the US his first graphic novel Gods' Man was released. Interestingly enough it was published and released the week of the big stock market crash of 1929 and the beginning of the Great Depression. It was so successful it was into it's third printing by January of 1930. There were 139 wood engraved images printed on one side of the page only. It explores the life of an artist and price of artist fame. Here are the first few images.

Dover Publications recently published the full unabridged replications of Gods'Man and Ward's second work , Madmans Drum. Tommorow more on Lynd Ward.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Wordless Book

Been chasing rainbows again! That's my fishing buddy and we are working our way up the Oldman River in Southern Alberta, a slice of paradise and a wonderful wilderness area. That's a healthy rainbow getting ready to go back home.

Flyfishing in the wilderness is an invigorating experience and one just leaves time behind and can experience the Zen of Flyfishing.
Chasing Rainbows
Are we not all in search of rainbows
Is it the pot of gold we are searching out,
or the brilliant colours themselves?
We search in vain, hill and dale
stumbling, sliding, aspiring.
What is the sound of a rainbow?
Could it be that the rainbow connection
is with us..... always. SM

Wilderness; The absence of so much, yet so full. Being in the wilderness got me thinking about wordless novels, the precursors of the graphic novel. An absence of words but a richness in image and a certain silence. There have been a number of artists who have experimented with this medium. Some I know of include Lynd Ward, Frans Masereel, Lawrence Hyde & Otto Nuckel.
Tommorow the graphic novels of Lynd Ward.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Beatrix - Entrepreneur

Peter Rabbit Race Game

Beatrix was not only a great artist, writer, conservationist, scientist and farmer. She was an astute business woman & entrepreneur.
Of course when no one would publish her Tales of Peter Rabbit she privately printed herself along with some other titles.
It wasn't long before Beatrix had ideas about games and toys and all manner of things related to her stories. She created a board game surrounding Peter Rabbit only to have it shelved by Warne & Co. Oddly enough when the going got tough at Warne (And it got seriously tough) the board game was brought back to light and ended up becoming a company saving item.
Beatrix created a Peter Rabbit doll. As Warne & Co had not copyrighted Peter Rabbit in the US, cheap knock off dolls were being created. She made a superior design and received a patent for it. She prodded Warne but ended up finding a manufacturer herself and then took control of the derivatives or in her words, "side shows", that included items like painting books, dolls, games & wallpaper. Today upwards of 2000 products a year bear the likeness of Peter Rabbit.
The books continued and in all some 23 were published over her lifetime. Peter Rabbit alone has sold an astonishing 40 million copies printed since 1902

The Folio Society has a lovely duo boxed set (11& 12) of the tales, lovingly recreated. A link to an interesting audio interview with Judy Taylor (Author and Beatrix Potter collector) by Don Swaim of CBS about Beatrix Potter

Let's rest Miss Potter and go onto something else unless you want more.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Beatrix Potter, Conservationist & Farmer

Hilltop House

We have been looking at the writings of Beatrix and their origins. I thought we could divert to her incredible contribution to conservation and a British way of the life, the small hill farm. With the family trips to the lake country as a child and in later life, Beatrix formed a bond with the Lakes District country side. Many of the inspirations for animals and characters came from her country visits.
Beatrix was an astute business woman and on viewing Hilltop farm she decided she had found her oasis and decided to by it with the royalties from her first few books. Hilltop was to be her home until she purchased Castle Cottage which she would then make her homebase and many of the books that were to come were penned in that haven and the village of Near Sawrey. She married William Heelis from the lakes district in 1913, when she was 47, and they lived their life in Castle Cottage for some years . She spent many an hour restoring the buildings but more than that she made a commitment to keep the farm, a working farm. The surrounding Cumbria district would be come prime sketching material.
It was the concept of the traditional hill or fell farming that fascinated her. She immersed herself in the culture of fell farming and of keeping the unique sheep breeds most suited that style of farming. Not only did she acquire farmland as she expanded her holdings she acquired expertise in the farm hands, who she many times kept on. She was instrumental in preserving a way of life. In 1923 she bought Troutbeck farm.With the aid of a shepherd, George Walker, who was the brother-in-law of Tom Storey who ran Hill Top Farm in Sawrey she became an expert in breeding Herdwick sheep, winning many prizes at country shows with them. They built up a celebrated flock of Herdwick Sheep, a breed of small hardy sheep with course dark wool which is indigenous to the Lake District. Even in the 1920's they were a breed under threat as more and more farmers bred other breads of sheep with softer fleeces and more productive lambs.
TroutBeck Farm

Beatrix continued to buy property, and in 1930 bought the Monk Coniston Estate - 4000 acres from Little Langdale to Coniston - which contained Tarn Hows. This large sheep farm of 1900 acres was spectacularly sited on the lower slopes of Kirkstone Pass. It was under threat of development and Beatrix Potter was keen to keep the farm together as working unit, so she bought it. Beatrix Potter used the farm as a setting for the Fairy Caravan stories, and several other pieces. Some of her writing was done in a little study she had at the farm.
She was a scientist, farmer, a conservationist, an accomplished artist and writer all in one. She as an entrepreneur too which we will discuss later. I imagine her strolling the town setting of and sketching away at what ever caught her eye. I can see her wandering the borders of the lakes and tarns stopping to sketch what caught her eye. And Beatrix needed to draw, it was in her blood and a good dose of drawing would do her good so to speak.
Her land holdings portion of her estate were to be administered by the National Trust and she was adamant that the farms be kept working farms with minimal rent, on her passing. She formed a good bond with National Trust while alive and passed on certain lands while alive with the rest transferring with her estate. When she died on 22 December 1943, Beatrix Potter left fourteen farms and 4000 acres of land to the National Trust, together with her flocks of Herdwick sheep. She stipulated in her will that the farms she left to the Trust should be let at a moderate rent, and that the landlord's flocks of sheep on the fell farms should be pure Herdwick in breed. Beatrix was the first woman to be elected president-designate of the Herdwick Sheep Breeders' Association, which continues to flourish.
So because of Beatrix you may travel to the lakes district to Sawrey and see Hilltop, Troutbeck Farm much in they may they have always been and marvel in the intact woodlands, stone fences and quaint cottages and farming buildings in the district.

Beatrix Potter, a true renaissance woman. Tommorow, back to the picture letters and the evolution of Beatrix, the entrepreneur.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Mukkaering or to Mukka

Back from chasing fishies down in the beautiful land of the lotus. Notice the lovely fall colours! This fat cutthroat took a Gulper special . She lives to fight another day!
Mukkaering is an ancient, acquired skill requiring not only a steady hand but an acute awareness of atmospheric conditions, altitude adjustment scales and heat sensitivity awareness. One must also know the rites of the PGE (not a subset of the PRB). The PGE, Properly Ground Expresso, is an essential element in the rites of Mukkadom. In other words if you don't grind the coffee espresso, you may bugger up the machine.
Anyway, some helpful hints from the PMB (Post Mukka Brotherhoood);For Margaret
Please put water in the bottom chamber or you may blow a gasket!
PGE is placed in the middle chamber
2% milk creates lovely rich foam when placed in the upper chamber
Preheat element on the stove (works better this way)
Place Mukka on stove top, push button on top down for a cappuccino
Now wait for the soothing mukkaering sounds (Pop, that's the button popping, gurggle, gurggle, shissst, shisssssssst and then the tranquility of silenco)
Remove from heat source (or you burn the milk darlings)
Pour coffee into Mukka cups (essential) and then pour or spoon the foam.
Rinse the Mukka and leave a little water in (easy clean up later)
Take a sip and enter the divine state of Mukkadom.
You have now joined the PMB not to be confused with the pMB (pre Mukka Brotherhood)
Kick back with your favorite movie, book... oh what the hell break out the scrabble board.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Quirky City Here

I got tagged in the most gentle way by dear Willow so here are my quirks. Thank for including me Willow and the link on your blog!!

1. I luv my Mukka coffee maker and make a wonderful cappuccino with it every morning. ( Makes 2) It is simply the best thing since sliced bread.
2. I am a living hot water bottle; I run about 2-3 degrees internally hotter than the average person . You guessed it I am the guy turning down the thermostat and opening windows in winter!
3. I can get fascinated by the must ordinary things such as a leaf on the ground and will stop and observe it.
4. I pick up stuff and bring it home. I have a lot of stuff. Did I say I have a lot of stuff. Good for collages and mixed media. I mean you never know when you are going to need the "Stuff"
5. I don't wear a watch and haven't for 15 years.
6. I'm an Australian... I don't like the sun much...go figure.

The Italian Letters ll

Well it was a long shot but Google got me an answer and was a convoluted process. I really could not find much on Risser. I could find references to James Risser but that was about it. It was by was by way of other people associated with the name that I was able to track down Lise the writer of the letters. At first I was off to Mucduff Everton (a fabulous photographer) and then to his wife Mary Heeber, an artist whose name had been associated with Risser.
She is an artist & a writer and had written about visiting her daughters Godmother, Lise Apatoff in Italy. When I saw the name Lise I almost fell off the chair. Is it possible? I emailed Mary and she replied back that indeed she knew of Mr Risser but he had had a very difficult life and passed away early in life. He had known Lise as a student in Santa Barbara and then Lise went to Italy to study art and the correspondence took place. They had an affection for each other and it shows in the one letter that was in the envelopes. Mary seemed to feel it would be OK to contact Lise and gave me her email. Well I was pretty excited and then all hell broke loose in my life and the project went by the wayside. I lost all my contact informations. That was as far as I got.
Doing these posts has inspired me to take up where I left off and try and trace down Lise in Italy and make contact with her and let her know about the letters. I'm hoping there is fodder for a book perhaps. A quick search tells me she has now co-authored a book on what Italians do best.
I'll let you know if I make any progress. Any way it just goes to show how the world is rapidly shrinking. Tommorow back to Beatrix.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Italian Letters

First Day Cover - An artists' book by me, Open 18' x 12"
Hi Willow this post is dedicated to you. In 1982 I was rummaging through some first day covers at a local stamp shop. I kept noticing the same name recurring James, Jimmy, Jake & JK Risser. I looked closer and noticed that they all seem to have been written by the one person a Lise in Firenze, Italy. I spent the next hour combing through the box and discovered about 28 envelopes with Risser as the person that had been written to and most were signed with Lise. There were some with some form of mail art on them. I decided I had to have them and bought the lot. They sat in a box for about 3 years. My question was what do I do with these? I decided I wanted to share them and went about creating a book structure that would display them for viewing and would house them. It is an accordion structure, using acrylic for the pages.
The response to the piece in a show I did was astounding. Everyone was trying to figure out what the story was about. Who were these people and why the art element? What were the seemingly cryptic messages in the art? In all the envelopes there was but one letter but what a sweet one it was. Here are some images for you. To me they are a work of art in themselves
Soon after I went searching for the story behind them. I googled and got nowhere. About 5 years later I googled again using only the two names I had, Risser and Lise (no surname). It seems the Internet had expanded!!
Tomorrow; How I located the writer & the story of Lise & Jim.

Monday, September 8, 2008

The BP Picture Letters lll

The Pre-Raphaelite connection...well it's a bit of a stretch Margaret, but when Beatrix had completed the privately printed Tailor Of Gloucester she sent copies off to friends and acquaintances including the grandchildren of some of the Pre-Raphaelite painters. Margaret thank you for your kind note in your last blog. I am having so much fun doing this.
Back to the picture letters. As more children came to Annie Moore so there were more picture letters to write. Many of the children received letters but once the the letters had become the source of material for the books Beatrix came up with a new idea...Miniature letters. Here is a sample

Mrs McGregor, Gardeners Cottage.
Dear Sir,

I write to ask whether yur spring cabbages are ready? Kindly reply by return & oblige.

Yrs. truly,

Peter Rabbit

Master P Rabbit, Under Fir Tree.


I rite by desir of my husband Mr. McGregor who is in Bedd with a Cauld to say if you Comes heer agane we will inform the Polisse.

Jane McGregor
P.S. I have bort a py-Dish, itt is very Large

I had to chuckle when I read these, and there are pages of these in the wonderful book, A History of The Writings of Beatrix Potter by Leslie Linder. If you want to immerse yourself in Potter book lore, this a book for you. A great biography is the one pictured above by Linda Lear, and winner of the Lakeland Book of the Year award.
In most cases the letters were written as from characters in the books. The letters were shaped and folded to represent an envelope, addressed and a tiny stamp drawn on them. Some were posted in a mini mail-bag, others sent in toy boxes.
No wonder then when word got out that Miss Potter was coming for a visit that the Moore children were a buzzing. And Beatrix would delight them. She would bring her pet mice and let them out in the house. She would bring party frocks for the girls and I am sure other presents fro the boys.
Lets have a little break from the letters of BP & as per Willows request I will tell my own story about 'letters'.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Picture Letters ll

First page of Beatrix Potter's letter to Noel Moore of 4 September 1893 - telling the story of Peter Rabbit for the first time.

The Tailor of Gloucester
Cover (later)

The success of Beatrix Potter's Peter Rabbit was partly based on her study, the real lovable rabbit of hers, Peter. Beatrix also did watercolours of the gardens, the potting shed, the tools, plants, nature and so the connection to the human activity of gardening entered the story. This success encouraged Beatrix to explore the picture letters and other ideas she had based on real life human endeavours. Consider her second and third books the Tailor of Gloucester & The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin. The picture letter about squirrel nutkin to Norah Moore formed the basis of The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin. It was an elaboration of an earlier letter to Noel about squirrels adventures on a river. All that summer(1901) she studied the red squirrels in the grounds of Lingholm, Derwentwater in the Lakes District of Cumberland, a favourite holiday place of the Potters.

Concurrently Beatrix worked on the other story based on a tale she had heard in Gloucester about a poor tailor in that town. The tale was about the tailor who went home leaving an unfinished suit only to return after the weekend to find it finished except for one buttonhole with a note 'there was no more twist' and then for him to conjecture that the "fairies" had completed it.
The tale was based on an actual tailor in Gloucester. Beatrix visited Gloucester to search out the shop and did studies of both the exterior and interior and features of the tailoring trade. In Beatrix's story the mice were the jolly tailors who completed the waistcoat sans buttonhole in return for the tailor saving them from a cat. This was to be her much loved Rhyme book much in the style of Caldecott and Crane whose work she admired. The rhymes were Christmas rhymes recited by carollers. The 18C costumes on display at South Kensington Museum where she went to do studies set the period although initially she went to study the owls there.
Beatrix again decided to go the route of self publishing and privately printed 500 copies. Warne was again to take up the book and publish them. A deluxe edition was published. The covers were fabric sought out by Beatrix from a mill in the Potter family.
Tomorrow the Pre-Raphaelite connection.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Picture Letters of Beatrix Potter

Beatrix Potter drew from an early age. She had lots of pets and took to drawing them. Beatrix was close to her governess and when she married and moved away Beatrix kept up a good relationship with her. It was Beatrix's love of drawing and storytelling that prompted her to write her former governesses (Annie Moore) children on many occasions. Often the Potter family would holiday in the country and Beatrix would gather ideas from her pets, the farms, the people and the animals.
Beatrix wrote to Annie Moores children on a regular basis. She wrote the first picture letter to Noel, Annie's first son around 1892, it was about her trip to Cornwell and the harbour. By 1899 there were six Moore children, all of whom Beatrix wrote picture letters to.Her letters were about real people, real animals and real places. Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny, for instance were her own pets whom she wrote fantastic stories about.
In January of 1900 on visiting the Moores, Beatrix was encouraged by Annie to consider making the picture letters into books.
Beatrix was taken with the idea and as the children cherished their letters from Aunt Beatrix they had kept them and Beatrix asked if she may gather them up to copy them.
She selected a letter about Peter Rabbit that she had written to Noel in 1893. She added text and new illustrations to make it something more suitable for a book. She sent it off to 6 publishers who replied that they wanted colour illustrations which by 1900 were proving popular.
Beatrix however had other ideas. She wanted them in black & white to keep the cost down and therefore the purchase price as Beatrix was concerned about making a book affordable to most children. S0 she just went ahead and self published the Tale of Peter Rabbit, printing 250 copies privately, in black and white and distributing them herself. She sold out and ordered 200 more copies and they too were soon sold out. Warne & Co had expressed interest in the book but wanted it in colour. Norman Warne was finally able to convince Beatrix that colour copy would have a broader appeal and that it could be produced affordably. Even before the October of 1902
publishing date the edition of 8,000 copies was sold out. By years end 28,000 copies had been printed . By 1905 it was in it's 5th edition. It was a wholesale success.
Beatrix in effect had created a new form of animal fable, one in which anthropomorphising animals behaved as real animals, with animal instincts. In real terms Potter was successful in melding text and image in such a way that the illustrations enhanced the text.

Sources: Beatrix Potter by Linda Lear

Friday, September 5, 2008

Beatrix Potter - Renaissance Woman

In my opinion Beatrix Potter was a true Renaissance woman, and ... she was bloody brilliant. Not only was she a storyteller and illustrator extraordinaire, she was very observant, principled, determined and delightful person. She was way ahead of her time. In fact at first she did lots of watercolour studies of mushrooms and fungi amongst other things. Her powers of observation led her to discover the unknown reproductive qualities, the underground Mycellia of fungi. Of course she wasn't a scientist and was a mere woman so who would listen to her... you guessed it nobody as in those days it was the old boys club at Kew Gardens.
I have so much to say Idon't know where to start except to say you must read Linda Lear's biography, Beatrix Potter and do catch Miss Potter the movie, delightful. Tommorow the picture letters.
Just a tidbit today!
Miss Potter poster image-Wikipedia

Thursday, September 4, 2008

More on the Willows

Mole in the Wildwood

As promised I wanted to share a little more on the Wind in the Willows. For me one of the most interesting things about the Wind in the Willows is that it is based on the letters of Kenneth Grahame to his son Alastair or his affectionate handle 'mouse'. A bedtime story nightly for mouse by Grahame was of a ritual importance in the family. So stories of ratty, mole & toad developed. When Alastair was nearly seven he refused point blank to go on a holiday with his nursery governess (Miss Stott) because he would miss the adventures of toad. His dad promised to provide further installments by letters and luckily Miss Stott had the for site to keep the letters which would form the basis of the Wind in the Willows. The letters themselves account for almost a third of the book along with earlier stories on the mole and water rat. The Pipers at the Gates of Dawn & Wayfarers All, were the last two stories added.
Originally Grahame did not intend to publish the stories; they were partly educational for his son, whose behavior had similarities with the reckless and selfish Toad. It was Elspeth's (Grahame's wife) idea to use the letters as the basis of the book. My Dearest Mouse, The Wind in the Willows Letters includes copies of the actual letters.
The book was not an immediate success, but would achieve wider popularity thanks to the 1930 stage version, "Toad of Toad Hall" by A. A. Milne (1882-1956), whose "Winnie-the-Pooh" (1926) was interestingly created for his own son Christopher Robin. Milne focused on the animals, cutting out most of Grahame's romantic fantasy. In addition to ill health, Grahame's retirement was precipitated in 1903 by a strange, possibly political, shooting incident at the Bank of England where Grahame was secretary... Grahame was shot at three times, all of them missed. Grahame retired from his work in 1908, officially because of health reasons, but perhaps also under pressure from his employees. It was in his retirement that he took up seriously the task of writing the book. Grahame's manuscript was rejected by an American publisher, but eventually the book appeared in 1908 in England. It was issued later that year in the US by Scribner's. First it was received with mild enthusiasm, but E.H. Shephard's illustrations in the 1932 edition and Grahame's animal characterizations started soon to gain fame.
Probably the most loved of all children's illustrators, Beatrix Potter, wrote picture letters to her former governesses children, and many of them. It was at the suggestion of Annie Moore (Her Former governess) that she decided to gather them back and from them the many tales of Beatrix Potter emerged. Beatrix Potter was a true Renaissance woman and I will be devoting numerous posts on her in the future.
Sources & Credits:Petri Liukkonen, Wikipedia, My Dearest Mouse, Image courtesy Charles van Sandwyk

Monday, September 1, 2008

More on the Kelmscott Chaucer

'Here ends the Book of the Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, edited by F.S. Ellis; ornamented with pictures designed by Sir Edward Burne Jones, and engraved on wood byW.H Hooper. Printed by me William Morris at the Kelmscott Press, Upper Mall, Hammersmith, in the county of Middlesex. Finished on the 8th day of May 1896.'
From the Colophon, Kelmscott Chaucer ( Colophon; Notes at the end of a book on the production details of the book)

The name Kelmscott is after Morris's residence Kelmscott Manor in Gloustershire. Many of the manuscripts of the Chaucer's writings were fragmentary. Morris used the Ellesmere manuscripts (Named after manuscipts owned by the Earl of Ellesmere) which Walter William Skeat was using as the basis for a seven volume edition of Chaucer. These were regarded as the best. This was the text that Morris used.
I have the The World Publishing Facsimile which is slightly smaller than the original. It contains the complete text and all 87 woodcuts by Burne-Jones and the borders ,decorations and initials drawn by William Morris. The decorative frames around the images by Burne-Jones were also done by Morris. It was written in Middle English.A glossary of Chucerian words is included so you can read the text and understand what you are reading. This is a big plus.There is a very interesting introduction with lots of ancillary information.
The Chaucer was the 40th of a total of 53 books that the Kelmscott Press produced between 1891 & 1898. Morris chose Chaucer type which he himself designed. It was not designed specifically for the Kelmscott Chaucer. Morris designed and used three fonts; Golden, Troy and Chaucer.
An all linen paper was specially made for the edition by Joseph Batchelor at his mill near Ashford, Kent. The watermark was a perch with a spray in its mouth. Ink came from the German firm of Jaenecke.
Edward Burne-Jones spent every Sunday on the book’s 87 illustrations, working long hours in fear that Morris might die before the project was finished. His pencil drawings were painted over in Chinese white and Indian ink by R. Catterson-Smith, whose interpretive role is often overlooked. The black and white designs were then transferred to wooden blocks and engraved by William Harcourt Hooper. The individual wood engravings by Hooper took upwards of a week each to complete.
Morris oversaw all aspects of production and the book was printed initially on one press but as the edition expanded a second press was added. The type was set by hand and the text and engravings were printed letterpress.
A correction to my previous post. There were 425 copies produced. The Kelmscott Chaucer was initially to be a 325 volume edition but it was over subscribed prior to publication. The complete edition was 425 paper copies. 48 of these were bound in white pigskin by Thomas J. Cobden-Sanderson of the Doves Bindery (the precursor to the Doves Press). There were 13 copies on vellum. The elaborate stamping took upwards of 6 days per volume to complete. The design was by Morris. (The World Edition cover is a facsimile of the stamped pigskin). The entire edition required 1 year, 10 months & 7 days to complete.
William Morris entered the private press business at the age of 55 and in 8 short years left a legacy in design and fine books that is truly monumental. The press was a break even operation. He died in 1896 less than four months after the Chaucer was published. Eleven more books already in production were finished but the press ultimately died with Morris.

Sources- Introduction to The World Publishing Facsimile, The British Library