B.W. from Montecito has a painting of colorful straw-hatted workers in a rice paddy, which she believes was purchased in Thailand. It is signed “Sujarit”: the artist is Sujarit Hirankul (1946-82). Most of this artist’s works were created in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s; Sujarit was a prolific painter of his day, selling such idyllic scenes to Western tourists.
This little painting is symptomatic of a global sea change in the art world, which is, briefly, the result of such romantic visions of a foreign, third world culture. Today the vision has changed to a newer, hipper brand of globalization. Which form of globalization suits a painting: consumer culture overlaid onto idealization, or conceptual culture, which teaches that art should be about a certain philosophy? This little painting tells the path into that story.
I come across many “genre” paintings like this, which sold to Western tourists coming to Southeast Asia in the mid 20th century. Artists such as Sujarit often painted delightful visions of Southeast Asian rural life, deceptively joyful and bright. However, life in Cambodia, Burma, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, the “Mekong” area, was not joyful and bright in the 1960’s-70’s. Images like B.W.’s romanticized what Westerners nostalgically wanted to imagine. Not all those straw hats in the hot sun bent to labor were as golden as they are here portrayed. Yet many tourists to Southeast Asian bought such ‘innocent’ images. Why?
The aesthetic sea change that has happened in Southeast Asia means that art like Sujarit’s may never be painted quite like this, for sale to foreigners, again. Art, and painting, is today thinking of itself as “global,” all over the contemporary art world, and so is the artistic idea of a “concept” behind a work of art. Today South Asian contemporary art is globally aware of itself and its philosophy. This is due in part to the generation of artists who entered overseas art schools just when Sujarit was ending his career as a painter in Thailand (early 1980’s).
Gone today are visions of happy peasants laboring in rice paddies, this singular, childlike vision in art that was purchased by American tourists after the memories of the Vietnam War. Sujarit was a fine painter, and his paintings sell in the range of $1,000-3,000; some canvases of ‘happy workers’ sell for much more. But the ‘kind’ of painting, a good craftsman painting politically romanticized Mekong visions, is a thing of the past.
That style is itself an inherited style, a hangover from late 19th century. European visions of the happy farmhand or fisherman, smithy, or seamstress. The late 19th century “genre," meaning peasants and common folk in romanticized portrayals, style of painting gave birth to Sujarit’s happy Asian peasants, painted in the 1960-70’s, the happy colors applied with expert brush strokes. These canvases sold wherever Western tourists with dollars were found.
Contrast that art scene with the Southeast Asian art scene today. Singapore today is the center of a renaissance in contemporary art. The National Heritage Board sponsors the Singapore Art Museum as well as the New National Gallery. Hong Kong, too, has a 100-acre West Kowloon Cultural District anchored by a new $642 million contemporary art museum, M+ Pavilion. Gwangju, South Korea, opened its own huge state-sponsored Asian Culture Complex in 2016.
Sujarit’s work, being Thai art, comes from the only Southeast Asian nation that was never colonized, and New Siam today has a privately owned $24.6 million dollar Museum of Contemporary Art. Moreover, Thai artists are well represented in the major festivals of the contemporary art world. The famous Venice Biennale honored a modern contemporary Thai artist, Kamol Tassananchalee. Thailand has been represented in the Venice Biennale since 2003.
The sea change, from art such as we see in BW’s painting by Sujarit, to the burgeoning contemporary art scene in southeast Asia today, shows proof how far Thai artists today are from Sujarit’s “happy peasant” subject matter: in 2009, a Venice Biennale installation, aptly titled “Gondola al Paradiso Co., Ltd”, satirized former Thai artists' visions (such as Sujarit’s) of “Tourist Art.” In other words, art is the conveyor (the gondola) of a so- called Paradise, which is, ironically, trademarked Paradise, Ltd.
That is exactly the kind of art we see in B.W.’s lovely idyllic little canvas, which tells a story of assimilated cultural values in such an appealing way that Sujarit’s canvases have been known to sell for $6,000 on a good day at auction.
P.P. sends me a copper plate engraving on paper which is signed Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier (1815-91), a French Classicist painter known for his portrayal of cocky handsome soldiers, ‘bonhommes’ – original Good Fellas of the 17th and 18th century. Meissonier loved to paint armies, Napoleon, chivalry, games of skill, and manly men smoking pipes, reading, drinking, eating and posing in uniform. His work was famed for its meticulous line and tiny details, and, although large-scale mythological and moralistic history paintings were formerly prized, he turned popular taste to the small canvas of narrative, good old days themes, often including just a few (handsome, stalwart) historically dressed subjects.
Meissonier in his day charged so much for his paintings that by mid-career in 1846 he could afford a Grand Mansion in Poissy complete with two studios, one, glass-roofed for summer, and the other, a warm top-floor studio for winter. Portly, massively bearded in white, he looked every inch the “old master,” selling to the likes of Sir Richard Wallace, the Duc de Mornay, and Queen Victoria, and later, commissioned by Napoleon III to document battle scenes as they happened.
Just 40 years before the Impressionists turned the art world on its head, fresh out of art school Meissonier first exhibited in the Salon of 1831 a small detailed painting of ‘Dutch Burghers’ in a throwback style reminiscent of Dutch Realism of the 17th C. The Salon of 1857 saw nine Meissonier paintings, all historical genre pieces, such as his “The Young Man at the Time of the Regency.” He lived what he painted: loving military life, in 1848 he fought on the French Republican side as a captain in the National Guard. King Emmanuel of Piedmont and Sardinia with Napoleon III warred against the Hapsburgs in Northern Italy; Meissonier was called to document that glory. After working three years, Meissonier produced “The Emperor Napoleon III at Solferino,” showing a grand mustachioed emperor on Campaign, at the 1861 salon.
The artistic climate of Paris in the 3rd quarter of the 19th C has often been described as the established order holding onto dear life in the dawn of industrialization, modern warfare, photography, and new ways of seeing. Meissonier represented the Old Guard. Upon their first exhibit in 1874 at the studio of the photographer Nadar of the “Anonymous Society of Painters, Sculptors, Engravers, etc.” (the first Impressionist exhibition), Monet, Degas, Renoir, Pissarro and Morisot saw Meissonier, a few years later and across Paris, showing 16 historical paintings at the Exhibition of 1878, such as his portrait of “Alexandre Dumas,” and “Cuirassiers of 1805,” and “Outpost of the Grand Guard.” Two more opposing currents have seldom been witnessed in the art world.
The art world and those upstart painters from the other side of the City of Lights would have to wait a bit for an Impressionist Revolution: Meissonier became President of the Great National Exhibit in 1883, showing “The Army of the Rhine,” and in 1885, Meissonier became the President of the Societe National des Beaux-Arts, a newly minted organization holding onto the Old Guard of art and architecture.
P.P. was also a Meissonier etcher, and we see this in P.P.’s piece: both a master etcher of his own works and the works of other artists; etchings sold well to the middle class, perhaps because of affordable, conservative manly themes as “Preparations for a Duel” and “The Reporting Sergeant.” The glory of French militarism was in the air: in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, Meissonier was a Colonel of a regiment; previously he had accompanied Napoleon III to Italy attached to his Imperial staff. He loved his uniforms!
P.P.’s etching of two handsome young military types reading a letter is pencil signed in the margin by the artist and also signed in the “plate” which means his signature is etched into the design itself for multiples of prints; it is dated 1857 in the plate. Also in pencil in the margin is the name Henri Dioz, a soldier who fought in 17th C. in battles against the Dutch, the Portuguese and the Spanish for the treasures (mainly sugar) of Brazil. Thus, Meissonier depicts a noble soldier reading missives from this glorious foreign war to a comme il faut friend. Note a “Remarque” lower right – a small image worked by Meissonier as a footnote to this etching; this depicts two fashionably dressed young swordsmen.
Although a huge moneymaker in his time, today Meissonier is not in great demand, and I place the value of P.P.’s etching at $300.
DC sends me two Chinese works, one an ink and gouache painting on paper, and one a silk embroidery on silk. The painting depicts a lone, bearded, fur-cloaked man of the countryside in a fur wrap over baggy brown heavy trousers. He stands on a snow-filled riverside bank, under a bamboo stand speckled with snow. He holds a pole or spear to catch game. His plain ‘dǒulì’, a simple bamboo hat, is frozen over with crystalized white snow. Yet the most striking feature of this image of 12” x 22 ½” is the thick blue woolen scarf the freezing man hugs to his mouth and chest. The image effectively captures the feeling of cold; holding a warm wrap to chattering teeth, or capturing warm breaths in wool, is known to every farmer, fisherman or hunter.
The hunched posture is indicative of the poor man’s attempt to conserve body warmth. Thus, the artistry of feeling is definitely evident. This emotion in the painting is one of the clues that perhaps the painter executed the work with knowledge of the European taste for a certain type of art. This theme of the common folk in art is closer to the European tradition of Genre painting of the late 19th early 20th century. Not often in Chinese painting does the collector see a member of the common folk expressing basic simple human emotion. Yes, classic Chinese painting portrays battle scenes and sword fights and wrestling matches, but these are noble pursuits by the warrior class. Perhaps an early 20th century Chinese collector found this image of a hunter or fisherman huddled for warmth in the snowy countryside an unlikely theme for a work of art. Further indication suggests this painting was created for other than Chinese eyes, and for other than connoisseurs of classic Chinese painting.
The work is signed “Yu” in “Latin” alphabetical letters. This is not typical of the highest level of Chinese paintings, as what is considered the best Chinese paintings were painted for Chinese connoisseurs. In fact, an artist’s pictographic signature (called a chop) has pride of place in a composition. Moreover, Chinese consider the way an artist signs an art in itself. A subset of Chinese artwork features only Chinese characters; this is the fine art of calligraphy painting. A saying in Chinese states, “Calligraphy is the reflection of one’s morality and moral character.” The way an artist writes the characters of his name is his personal style disclosed to the connoisseur.
Think of the importance of writing in ancient China. Arguably, the building blocks of European plastic arts are architecture and sculpture. In Chinese art, the premier heads of the formative arts are firstly, calligraphy, and secondly, painting. One of the reasons for this preeminence is Chinese writing’s rich history: pictographic Chinese characters date back 8000 years. As far back as the Song Dynasty, (960-1279) scholars emphasized the essential element of the written word in painting. Theories of brush-handling were taught in practice that blended calligraphic skills into painting. Thus, the relationship between writing and painting is intertwined uniquely in China, in a way many Occidentals may not grasp. The style of an artist’s brush when painting or signing his/her name is therefore the soul of the painting, historically speaking.
This indicates the painting was created for the non-Chinese market, for Occidental standards of appreciation. That is not pejorative in itself, but it means DC’s painting’s style falls outside of the traditions appreciated by Chinese connoisseurs. And the art market is definitely on the side of Chinese paintings in the classic Chinese style which include certain traditions of proportion, color, perspective, and signature.
DC’s other work is a Chinese silk on silk embroidery of two kittens, gifted to her after the death of her cat. Ever see a cat sculpture with raised paw at a Chinese-owned business? Cats bring fortune. And DC’s research turned up the translation of the characters that comprise the chop: "energetic and lively-dedicated." This silk work typically comes from Suzhou, where experienced needle workers split a single silk thread to create realistic fur. Layer upon layer in various tones creates depth. DC’s work dates to before computerized machine embroiders: hand-embroiders use silk; and machines use full strands of anything but silk, which breaks easily. Yet the art market thinks of these as decorative works. The value of DC’s “Cold” painting? $300. The value of DC’s embroidery? $100.
PH sends me two pieces of ceramics in the style of Attic figural (Greek) vase painting. PH wants to know if he has something of ancient history, dating from the 6th century BC, worth millions, or a simple keepsake of a relative’s visit to Athens. He has some nice tourist vases from the 20th century. A dead giveaway is the two little lead pieces hanging from the handles. These little bits of lead are a 20th century Greek (honest) gesture meaning “copy.”
PH’s first vase shows Dionysus, the god of the grape harvest, winemaking, and wine. He is well built and naked, showing him to be powerful, bearded, and virile. He carries his attributes, a Thyrsus, a staff of giant fennel, which is wound around ivy vines and leaves, topped with a pinecone. He speaks to all things wild, wearing a leopard skin over his naked, massive shoulder, and carries a krater for wine. He is not only the god of wine, of course, but of madness, theater, and ecstasy. One of the three Dionysius figures carries a grape bag over his shoulder. If PH’s relatives were visiting Greece, they'd have known this recognizable god.
The other vase shows Herakles, a god for the Greek visitor, holding his attributes, a club and a lion skin. The skin of the Nemean Lion refers to the first of his famous labors. Also on the vase is a female figure who is eyeing his lion skin: that is Xenodice: Herakles killed her father, and later, her too. Although these are in the style of at least 580 BC, these vases are souvenirs only, but with a great story.
We did not know much about the production centers of early Attic pottery until 1852, when an area of Athens was demolished for a building project. German scholars discovered the Kerameikos section of the 6th century BC, the potter’s quarters in Athens. The 19th century scholars found the workshop of the Jena Painter, whose red and black works are now at the Fredrich Schiller University of Jena. Some of these vases are signed with two signatures, one for the painter, and one for the potter. The scholars could trace back some of the signatures to slaves, employed in the production.
We think of the painters as being the artists, above the skill of the potter, but in fact, the painters were the apprentices, hoping to graduate to the level of potter. The form is of utmost importance, and is a clue to the love of shape and mass in that early culture.
Vase painters were, in that early time, not considered artists but artisans, and their works were imported and traded. Some of the painters were literate, as shown by the naming of some of the gods and figures on ancient vases, but some had faux letter marks in the style of Greek lettering.
The figure of Dionysus on PH‘s vase is significant, because 6th century BC artisans made these ceramics for the Symposia. What a wonderful thing it must have been to experience such an event, not frequented by artisans, but restricted to upper class educated men. First, one dined on elegant lounges with these elegant ceramics for wine and food, and dined off precious metal platters. Then the highly decorated black and red kraters for wine only were bought in by the servants. Drinking wasn't merely part of dining: it accompanied the later conversation, loosening the lips, enlivening the appreciation of dancing, music and learned dialogue, and lustful thoughts.
Almost all households in the 6th century BC had ceramic vessels, as well as wooden platters for eating, but only the wealthy could afford elegant painted ceramic pieces.
The most interesting fact of all is that these red and black pots are found widely in the ancient world: the export market was lucrative. Scholars say that the only subject matter that was NOT exported was images of Greek Theater: trading partners Spain, France, and Portugal wouldn't have understood what magic happened on a Greek stage of that time.
PH, the market for tourist vases made in the 20th century like yours is not strong, but some of the early copies from the 18th and early 19th century are in demand. You could sell them today higher than you could have 10 years ago, because the midcentury modern market seems to like these copies. The value? $50 each.
EE sends me what might be every woman’s wish, here voiced in the form of pop art: Roy Lichtenstein’s print entitled “Well, if they can put one man on the moon, why not all of them?”
This print features this aphorism as well as two gorgeous blondes at a lady’s room mirror, fixing their hair, and wondering aloud about the ramifications of the late 60’s moon landing. EE asks, outside of the fact of the piece asking a GREAT question, what is the significance of the print? Is it a comic or something else?
There’s much interest in mid-century art. Roy Lichtenstein’s graphic images are often seen with art by Patrick Nagel. Nagel’s work features screen prints in flattened colors of seminude work-out girls from the 1970’s. Nagel’s work is not valued nearly as highly as Lichtenstein’s, for many good reasons, and an original print by Lichtenstein is valued in the six-figures.
Lichtenstein’s work turned comic book pixilation into a comment about what a work of art is allowed to be, and is popular because it spans print graphics and fine art. After mellowing for 50-years, it is considered expensive and iconic.
To see if EE has an original screen print, I would need to see the way the pigment is laid on that paper; it would be most valuable if it were signed and numbered.
As to the expression about men on the moon: most of Lichtenstein’s best work incorporates comic book-style one liners: today those one liners have a name: MEMES. And of course, I found a few sites devoted to the meme of the work she owns: Well, if they can put one man on the moon, why not all of them? One such meme site answers the question posed in EE’s print with a modern day answer: “If they put all men on the moon, we would have nothing to complain about.”
The importance of this piece was tied with the late 60’s moon landing. Almost 50 years after this event and the painting of it, Lichtenstein is still a controversial figure in art history. Arguably the first American pop artist to achieve worldwide fame (along with Warhol), his work was inspired by what was considered insipid comic strip material, and was called banal. Instead of copying, Lichtenstein’s canvases blend traditional mechanical print lithographic techniques with meticulous hand-painting.
A word on the art world before Lichtenstein: intellectuals painted in a style called Abstract Expressionism: as the name suggests, soulful abstracted colors and themes distanced the artists and the viewer from popular culture. Lichtenstein reversed the paradigm and brought popular culture to the forefront with all its garish vulgarity and surface decoration. This was a comment on how we consume art.
Anyone who has seen an original Lichtenstein up close will notice his painted dots, which mimicked print media such as illustrated tabloids. These, technically, are called “Ben-Day” dots: in EE’s work, these dots make up the whole of the image. Lichtenstein is asking: don’t we all see through a code? Is that code the very medium of a work of two-dimentional art? Or is that code the filter of common culture? His preferred medium, by the way, was a blend of the high and low: a blend of oil and synthetic polymer paint: itself a confusion of traditional and banal.
EE’s image from the 1960’s zooms in on one figure in a cartoon frame and creates a drama, albeit a comic one: two pretty blondes trivialize the moon landing in one age-old question: what if we didn’t have to live with men? Yet who are they dolling themselves up for in that lady’s room mirror? (Notice the well-upholstered 60’s push-up bra.) And notice the printed language in the artwork: that’s part of the code. The printed word, until Lichtenstein, was primarily reserved for the gallery label. Like so much in the mid-century world of consumerism, EE’s print is a comment on commercial art versus high art (in this case, regarding the earth-shattering moon shot), I should say cosmic art.
Until I see the work in person, EE, you don't have a comic book reprint. You have something much more significant.
JS sends me a figure of an abstracted spread-winged Thunderbird, pictured in an oval necklace made of copper of about 3 inches long. This is a piece from a Fred Harvey Gift Shop: this type of tourist art was, and is, a slice of American travel history. So much so that some collectors for this material refer to it as “Fred Harvey Jewelry.” Fred Harvey Company copyrighted the Thunderbird design in 1909. Of course, that was then, and this is now. You can’t really copyright a design long used by the Northwest Native American Culture. But this is a story beginning in 1900, when such things were done.
I remember the legacy of Fred Harvey eateries, whose restaurants hung temptingly over the Illinois Highways of my childhood. We traveled every summer to Lake of the Ozarks in dad’s huge avocado station wagon; we four kids had milkshakes, and bought souvenirs, with dad’s money, in such restaurants.
At the turn of the last century, Fred developed a brand of traveler’s havens that were revolutionary in their day: these restaurants were inexpensive, fast, efficient, and all-American. Fred Harvey, however, was British.
Although collectors of this type of jewelry use his name for what appears to be Native American jewelry, Fred Harvey (1835-1901) was born in London. In a significant way in the early 20th century it took a Britisher to popularize American travel in the West. Our early tourist trade centered around our growing railway lines. Fred noticed, and concentrated his talents on feeding tourists along the route.
Fred’s was the archetypal American success story. He sailed to the US at the age of 15 and washed dishes in restaurants in NYC. There, he observed the American restaurant until he turned 41, when he formed an agreement with a Topeka railway depot to serve passengers. There, he cleaned up a restaurant and developed a 35 cent hearty menu for breakfast, concluding with a big slice of apple pie. So successful was his Topeka venture that the Sante Fe Railway allowed him to operate restaurants on the AT and SF railway route. He opened 17 lunchrooms, “Harvey Houses” staffed by nice looking American waitresses in pristine white aprons.
The managers of these restaurants noticed that Native American artisans would offer wares to tourists, so in 1880 the Fred Harvey Comany developed their own trading posts, and distributed jewelry making supplies to Native American craftspeople who traded back. In 1880, the restaurants flourished and expanded in 1888 to the operation of dining cars on the Sante Fe railway, a contract held until 1898. Once well fed, tourists would buy.
The Fred Harvey Company appointed Herman Schweizer as the head of “Indian Jewelry:” he distributed die-cut silver, nickel, copper, and turquoise to Native craftspeople: collectors call what resulted ‘railroad jewelry,’ as distinguished from original Native American jewelry.
Fred died at 65: his son Ford (aptly named) took over in 1920, and landed a concession contract for the Grand Canyon National Park. That’s where this type of jewelry really took off. Expanding into National Park concessions, a visit to a park included a visit to a Harvey “Indian” trading post. First, it was Meisel’s Indian Trading post, then the Bell Trading Company (1932-1972, operated by Jack and Mildred Michelson). Both suppliers were based in Albuquerque. You’ll find them stamped with a bell shaped hallmark: when Meisel and Bell merged, they used a hanging signpost hallmark.
The Fred Harvey Company created a market for a lightweight tourist grade “Indian Jewelry,” popularized to the extent that in 1972 Bell Trading Company offered a wide line of “Indian” material, including moccasins. I believe my dad bought me a pair of those in Yosemite. Under the logo of Sunbell, jewelry was made by a Harvey affiliate for the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair. The main artisans were said to be Navajo.
As fascinating as the story of Harvey provenance is, there's an unmistakable flavor of cultural co-opting. These bracelets, pins, bookmarks, necklaces, and rings had their own symbols. Remember Herman Schweizer, the “Indian Jewelry” head? He developed symbolic markings and images for the jewelry, not sourced from Native American culture, on a handy Harvey chart. For example, the image of a lasso “meant” captivity. The image of a Thunderbird, in Fred Harvey iconography, “meant” the “sacred bearer of happiness unlimited.” It says so on the Harvey chart. How ‘original;’ yet this piece of American culture shows our best as marketing geniuses, and at our colonial worst, too. JS’s piece is worth $75 to a collector.
R.S. sends me an ornate Renaissance Revival style hand carved 19th century barometer/thermometer marked G & L Guanziroli, who was a maker of optical instruments in London (Hatton Garden) in the mid 19th century.
Searching for similar barometers at auction, I discovered almost all of the fine thermometers and barometers in the collection of the eminent repository at the Alder Planetarium in Chicago were made in England by Italians. Therefore, R.S.’s barometer is a material example of social barometrics.
Storia Dell’Emigrazione Italiana by Bevilacqua, DeClemential and Franzina tells the story of Italians in London 1700-11. But we must go back to the 1500’s when the Venetian Giacomo Verelini monopolized the British glass industry, importing Venetian glass makers. Glass is the first element of R.S.’s barometer: Italians were famous for intricate glass blowing, so necessary to scientific instrumentation of the 19th century. Since the 16th century, Italians in England knew glass.
A wave of Italian immigrants to London in the mid 1700’s brought skilled mirror and frame makers. The carvers and glazers made looking-glasses (uno specchio), ornately carved frames, and carved birdcages. Note the fine carving on R.S.’s barometer: that carver who made those barley twist columns and supporting caryatid griffin mask could make an elegant frame as well. The style is in the typical mid-19th century genre called Renaissance Revival, appropriate to artisans who grew up in Italy. The style evokes the era of the Quattrocento, the florid classical style of the Renaissance. As the Industrial Revolution raged forth, designers pulled back to an era where everything was hand made for the great Medici family. R.S.’s barometer carries all the classic markers of this style in its small presentation: the naturalistic relief carving of the leaves anchored by two volutes to the top of the piece, tapering down to two barley twist columns either side of the thermometer, terminating on a plinth supported by an opened mouth bearded gargoyle mask head. The housing, therefore, for high tech scientific instruments of the mid-19th century was decidedly Antique. The medium was NOT the message in the mid-19th century: exhibiting a scientific instrument in your house was fashionable, but only if displayed in a form that was nothing like the geometry needed to create the science.
The Italian community by the 18th century in London carved frames, blew glass, created the top of the Anglo-Italian labor pyramid: fine makers of optical instruments. Anglo-Italian became the greatest artisans of optics of the 19th century. Other lesser jobs held by 19th century Italians in London included statue carvers, ice-cream makers, street vendors, roast meat sellers and organists, centered in the London Italian quarter.
The London Martinellis were a family in point: leaving Lake Como in 1800; skilled in woodworking, metal crafting, glass/mirror making, frame making came to London, finding a secure place as sellers of barometers and thermometers. The Martinelli family created barometers in London for 100 years. Italophiles.com tells us that “barometers were the must have, high-tech item of their day, first in the homes of the wealthy, at shipping and fishing ports, and then in the homes of the growing middle class.”
Dangerous job, making mercury barometers. The Italian artisans were of the labor class in London: occupying a position in England rather like the Irish in early to mid 19th century America, they were laborers, builders, domestic workers, cooks. The optics industry, however, offered the opportunity for Italian artisans to come and go between Italy and England, returning to the Clerkenwell, London’s “Little Italy” of the time, to shops on Leather Lane.
Leather Lane, mentioned in a survey of 1538, was an ancient street that became the address of the most famous of all thermometer and barometer makers. Leather Lane housed the large shop of the famous instrument makers Negretti and Zambra, which ceased business only in 1999.
In 1841 the Italian patriot Mazzini set up a free Italian school for London’s Italians, who spoke Comasco (Lake Como’s dialect) mixed with English. If they could speak pure Italian, Italy might be improved by their repatriation. Because of Catholic roots, Catholic services were held by Italian priests in London at the embassy of the Kingdom of Sardinia. The Faith drew fresh immigrants to Clerkenwell: over-crowding lead to dire conditions: cholera (carried by drinking water from the polluted Thames), drunkenness, lack of sewers, and no standing police force. Thus, many Italian scientific instrument artisans left for Canada and Australia.
R.S., your piece is a slice of material culture, anthropologically speaking, but is worth $275-300 today.
JF sends me a ViewTex Filmstrip projector from the 1960's, sourced from Alpha Thrift, complete with its own brown leatherette suitcase. It’s heavy, because of its streamlined style metal shell. JF tells me it works, and has a spare lens and light bulb, necessary in the classroom in the 1960’s. Your teacher, in those days, was not an IT professional; a malfunction with such a machine brought many groans from the class. When JF brought this machine into my office, the dusty electronic smell, combined with the aroma of its rubber feet, and that special machine oil fragrance, brought me back to my classroom.
The image in the classroom has a quiet history, and thinking of this bought back the memory of my first boyfriend, Jim K, a proud member of the Deerfield AV club. He and the other nerdy guys in the AV Club had the special dispensation to skip class time to fetch the overhead projector, a journey in which the boys might lollygag around the halls on the way, without the hall monitor’s study hall penalty for loitering.
The manufacturer of the overhead projector was 3M: our school had about 20 of these massive beasts in a special closet that smelled of electronics. Jim, and the other short-sleeved AV guys, commandeered these beasts down the linoleum of the halls; we had a reprieve from a boring hour of looking at the teacher, (hallelujah) once the machine was geared up.
In the early 1960’s, an inventor, Roger Appeldorn, pioneered that special overhead projection machine from which a teacher could write the features of the lesson on clear plastic. Remember the smell of overheated lamps with hot plastic? Remember that smell, and you’ll remember the overhead projector, especially if you were one of the smart kids who sat in the front row in the 1970’s.
JF’s devise is earlier. The success of film in the classroom was predicted by none other than Thomas Edison, who said, “It is possible to teach every branch of human knowledge with the motion picture. Our school system will be completely changed inside of ten years.” Edison believed the image would replace the book, and he was right; we have seen the procession of videocassettes, DVD’s, and Blue Rays, not to mention a screen in every pocket, into our classrooms.
JF’s machine is not a film projector: that was larger, and was wheeled in for Hour Long Movies (boy, did we love those!): JF’s machine is a filmstrip projector, for short visual lessons, to accompany the teacher’s lesson plan. A film projection machine had a magic black knob: turn that, and the teacher paused the film, to enable class discussion. To do so, a special fan kept the film cool while the teacher talked. Once she starting talking, we all longed for the images to resume!
Remember Sex-Ed? These filmstrip projectors were used in classrooms for this purpose until the 1980’s, among other lessons, in tandem with the more stationary overhead projector used for those tedious math and science classes, and used, most dreadfully, for those English Classes, “graphing” sentence structure.
An invention for the classroom in the early 1980‘s overthrew the dominance of film strip projectors: the Cathode Ray Tube Data Projector, weighing more than 40lbs each. The machine sat on the teacher’s desk, grabbing an image from a computer or TV, shooting that image onto a screen. These clunkers were overthrown by the liquid Crystal Display Panels, and these in turn were replaced by the Digital Light Processors, which ruled the visual classroom of the 1990’s.
The DLP chip enabled the “three-D” projector to project two images at once: students wore special glasses: one type of eyeglasses in which each eyeglass had a special shutter for each image per eye, and another form of glasses, polarized, filtered the right image to each eye. DLP 3D ready projection was a leap forward, according to a major manufacturer, Texas Instruments.
How far classroom imaging had come from the Magic Lantern of the early 20th century, which projected glass slides with the aid of an oil lamp, (dangerously) lighting the process. And of course, slides remained a mainstay even when loaded in that Carousel in the 1970’s.
JF, you'll find a few collectors for these out there, but not many, as their original use is now obsolete. JF tells me he is going to re-purpose this machine into a slide show machine. The value is not much more than what he paid Alpha for it: $50.
Certified appraiser for estates, inheritances and trusts.
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart's column appears every week in the Salon & Style section of the Santa Barbara News Press. Email her your questions and high-resolution photos at ElizabethAppraisals @ gmail.com
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