Out of the Shadow of Aunt Jemima: the real black chefs who taught Americans to cook

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Featuring reviews of more that 160 cookbooks written by African Americans during the 19th and 20th centuries, Toni Tipton-Martin's The Jemima Code is a much-overdue look at at how African Americans really cooked over the last 200 years, as well as how caricatures of African Americans were used to sell white homemakers everything from "Pickaninny Cookies" to pancake mix. Over at Collectors Weekly, Lisa Hix interviewed Tipton-Martin to learn more about this heretofore malnourished chapter in America's culinary history.

Aunt Jemima the Pancake Queen became a national sensation in 1893, thanks to Davis’ ingenuous promotion at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The company hired 56-year-old black actress Nancy Green to play Aunt Jemima at the fair. A former slave, Green was eager to leave behind a life of drudgery — as her other career options involved washing dishes or sweeping floors — in favor of the world of entertainment and advertising. With her warm, smiling persona, Green made pancakes, sang songs, and told nostalgic stories about the “good ol’ days” making breakfast for her plantation masters. Her pancakes were believed to be made of love and magic, not culinary artistry or domestic science.

That image of a fat, happy slave — who faithfully nurtures a white family while neglecting her own — lived on for 75 years through the Aunt Jemima Pancake line, purchased by Quaker Oats Company in 1925. Ubiquitous in ads, she promoted easy-to-make variations on pancakes, waffles, and other pastries in promotional recipe pamphlets, and an Aunt Jemima impersonator even received the keys to the city of Albion, Michigan, in 1964.

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Drawn in Stereo captures the art of noise

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See sample pages from this book at Wink.

In my other life as a board member of The Rock Poster Society, the phrase “rock art” just about always equals “rock posters.” For Michael Gillette, though, whose beautiful Drawn in Stereo was published last fall by AMMO Books, rock art encompasses a whole lot more than concert advertisements. Oh sure, Gillette has designed his share of rock posters for bands like Saint Etienne, Colorama, and MGMT, but he’s also created animations for the Beastie Boys and My Morning Jacket, as well as portraits of musicians as diverse as Paul McCartney, Madonna, Jay-Z, and Pink for music magazines and websites like Spin, Mojo, and The Fader. Beyond the music world, his work has even appeared in the hallowed pages of The New Yorker and Esquire (every illustrator’s dream), and he’s been hired by such marquee clients as Levi’s, Nokia, and Sony, for whom he created the cover art for the vinyl version of the “American Hustle” soundtrack.

Drawn in Stereo delivers all of this prodigious output in a straightforward, unhurried manner, not unlike the artist’s work. Or so I thought until I read an anecdote in the book’s interview with Elastica’s former lead singer, Justine Frischmann. In that casual conversation between two friends, Gillette admits to having started and finished some of his deadline-driven assignments in only a day, a trick that requires finishing a wet acrylic-on-paper illustration with a hair dryer before delivering it to “a courier at the door.”

That interview, as well as the organization of the images in the book, loosely tracks Gillette’s journey from England to California, where he now lives with his wife and their two daughters, but the lack of linearity is a plus. Read the rest

East of the Sun and West of the Moon – Norwegian folklore intricately illustrated by artist Kay Nielsen

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See sample pages from this book at Wink.

If Walt Disney gave us the definitive picture of German fairy tales such as Cinderella and Snow White, first published in 1812 by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Kay Nielsen helped the world imagine the settings and characters found in the stories of Norwegian folklorists Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe. The lifelong friends were inspired by the Grimms, and like the brothers, the look of the stories they had collected came to life many years after they were published in 1841. In the case of Asbjørnsen and Moe, the catalyst was a London publisher named Hodder & Stoughton, which hired Danish artist Nielsen, in 1914, to illustrate a collection of the friends’ Norwegian stories called East of the Sun and West of the Moon.

That volume is reproduced in its entirety, with a gorgeous new layout by Andy Disl, in a new slipcovered book from Taschen. Like the Hodder & Stoughton version, Nielsen’s illustrations are the book’s stars. Unlike it, the Taschen package also includes illustrated essays about Asbjørnsen and Moe’s contribution to the 19th-century’s preoccupation with “indigenous literature,” as well as an overview of Nielsen’s career, which included a stop at Walt Disney’s studio to create the artwork for the “Night on Bald Mountain” sequence in the 1941 animated masterpiece, Fantasia.

Nielsen’s influences ranged from the Art Nouveau fantasies of Aubrey Beardsley, which can be seen in his earliest work, to Japanese woodcuts and the Ballet Russes, which dominate East of the Sun and West of the Moon. Read the rest

Tales of book-collecting bonanzas

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Needle-in-a-haystack stories are the caffeine of collecting. As the editor of Fine Books & Collections, Rebecca Rego Barry knows this better than most; her new book, Rare Books Uncovered, is filled with more than 50 such tales of book-collecting bonanzas. Recently, I interviewed Barry for Collectors Weekly. She told me about her conversations and correspondences with everyone from legendary rock guitarist turned book hunter Martin Stone — he reportedly sold Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page a copy of the I Ching that had been owned by occultist icon Aleister Crowley — to author and book dealer Larry McMurtry, who typed out his book-discovery story before mailing it to Barry.

This raises an interesting question: When one person finds a rare book, is their gain always at the expense of somebody else? “That can be true,” Barry says, “but among the booksellers I work with, especially those that belong to organizations like the ABAA or the ILAB, there’s an ethical obligation not to swindle each other or people who don’t know any better, like little old ladies selling their husband’s things. Personally, if I were to go to a garage sale and thought I had found a $5,000 book on sale for a dollar, I would feel conflicted. In most cases, though, the more common example is that you see a book you feel like you’ve seen before and decide to take a chance on it. It’s only after you get it home and do your research that you know if you’ve hit the jackpot — or overpaid.”

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The forgotten kingpins who conspired to save California wine

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Last month, Frances Dinkelspiel's new book, Tangled Vines, cracked the New York Times' Best Seller list. It's a great read, since it mostly follows the events leading up to an arson-caused wine-warehouse fire in 2005, in which 4.5 million bottles of wine worth at least a quarter-billion dollars were lost.

Dinkelspiel's account of that inferno, as well as the man who sits in jail for causing it, is riveting, but I found myself even more interested in the author's numerous references to an organization called the California Wine Association, which controlled as much as 84 percent of the state's wine business from 1894 until 1920. That means the C.W.A., as it was called, was in charge of millions of gallons of California wine that were stored in almost two dozen San Francisco warehouses, most of which were destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and the fires that followed.

Another two million [gallons of wine] were salvaged from the C.W.A.’s main headquarters, at Third and Bryant Streets, but not before “the wooden tanks and casks came apart in the fire storm,” as [wine historian Charles] Sullivan describes it. The spilled wine might have washed into the streets as it had at other warehouses, but a “plugged sewer line” and the building’s solid concrete walls and floor kept the sloshing wine within the structure. Suddenly, the building itself had become a wine cellar, which enabled the C.W.A. to pump the precious liquid through fire hoses to a small fleet of barges, which were towed to Stockton in the San Joaquin Valley, where the wine was distilled into brandy.

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The politics of prejudice: how passports rubber-stamp our indifference to refugees

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When Hunter Oatman-Stanford began working on an article about Neil Kaplan's collection of old passports, we had no idea his story would be so timely. Alas, the acts of terrorism in Paris, followed by the backlash against Syrian refugees, and then a certain political candidate's proposal to block all Muslims from immigrating to the land of the free, has given Kaplan's collection of old paper new meaning.

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Coin-op cuisine: when the future tasted like a five-cent slice of pie

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For his latest piece at Collectors Weekly, Hunter Oatman-Stanford spoke to filmmaker Lisa Hurwitz about the Horn & Hardart chain of cafeterias and automats. Despite being limited to Philadelphia and New York (a Boston branch was short-lived), Horn & Hardart was the largest food-service business in America from the 1930s through the 1950s. As it turns out, though, its famous automats were not especially automated, relying on hundreds scurrying cooks and kitchen staffers to fill entire walls of glassed-in compartments with plates of scrapple, deviled crab on toast, and nickel slices of apple pie.

Upon entering an automat, customers would head to one of the restaurant’s “nickel throwers,” who would give customers change to use at the banks of food-dispensing windows. “The most vivid and common memory that people have shared with me is of the amazing nickel throwers,” Hurwitz says. “Especially how, without even counting, the thrower could feel the exact change needed with her fingers. You’d give her a dollar, and she’d throw you 20 nickels across this beautiful marble or wooden counter.” Horn & Hardart’s machines accepted both nickels and quarters, though with such low prices, a few nickels often covered an entire meal: A cup of coffee was five cents; a ham and egg sandwich was ten.

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How America bought and sold racism, and why it still matters

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We've all encountered what people today call Black Memorabilia — a Mammy cookie jar, a racist postcard — but have you ever wondered where these depictions came from, and why they are so common? In her latest article for Collectors Weekly, Lisa Hix interviewed Dr. David Pilgrim, author of Understanding Jim Crow, to get some answers to these and other questions. Hix learned that Black Memorabilia was popularized by post-Reconstruction whites to dehumanize African Americans, and that while slavery may have ended in 1865, Jim Crow has persisted in various forms and guises to this day, which helps explain why the presence of an African American family in the White House has not been enough to put America's racial history behind us.

Stock caricatures such as Mammy, Uncle Tom, Sambo, pickaninny children, coon, Jezebel, Sapphire, and the black brute were employed to spread these messages to millions of people. Companies mass-produced these images in every form — including postcards, cleaning products, toys and games, ceramic figurines, ashtrays, cast-iron banks, children’s books, dinnerware, songbooks, tea towels, cookie jars, matchbooks, magazines, movies, gag gifts, salt-and-pepper shakers, planters, fishing lures, trade cards, ads, records, and tobacco tins. If you lived during the Jim Crow era, you’d encounter such caricatures everywhere, in your newspaper, on restaurant walls, on the shelves at stores, and at the cinema or live theater.

“If you believed that black men were Sambos, childlike buffoons, for example, then why would they be allowed to vote?” Pilgrim says. “Why would they be allowed to hold office, serve on a jury, or attend public schools with whites?

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A fictional but physically real world of dolls that heal a beaten man

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See sample pages from this book at Wink.

For much of the 1990s, Mark Hogancamp of Kingston, New York, adhered to a predictable pattern of waking up, going to work, returning home, drinking as much as a half-gallon of vodka, and then passing out. He was a serious alcoholic, as Hogancamp and Chris Shellen make clear in Welcome to Marwencol (Shellen produced a documentary on Hogancamp’s life in 2010). He also liked to dress in women’s clothes.

Hogancamp didn’t know it, but this last fact would change his life when he drunkenly mentioned it to a stranger in the Luny Tune Saloon, sometime before closing in the wee hours of April 8, 2000. Shortly after exiting the bar, he was brutally beaten by the man and four others, who left his broken and bloodied body in the middle of the street. He would spend nine days in a coma and more than a month in the hospital.

After his release, Hogancamp’s recovery was aided, essentially, by playing with dolls. He got into it when he rediscovered his childhood interest in World War II miniatures. The tiny objects, though, were too small for Hogancamp’s shaky, post-recovery hands to paint, so the owners of his local hobby shop suggested he try detailing figures at a larger 1:6 scale. Dressing the figures proved good therapy for Hogancamp, and before long he had moved on to Barbies and action figures, for whom he eventually built a fictional but physically real place called Marwencol, named after himself, a friend named Wendy, and a neighbor named Colleen. Read the rest

The Book Cover in the Weimar Republic reveals a society's struggle for its identity

Books about book covers and jackets have long been a favorite of publishers, in part, I’m assuming, because the subject is at once self-congratulatory and economical. There are books devoted to American modernist covers, Penguin paperbacks, and covers designed by individual artists, such as the recent title on Edward Gorey. The Book Cover in the Weimar Republic, though, which focuses on covers and jackets created in Germany from 1919 to 1933, is unlike any of those tidy projects. Edited by book collector Jürgen Holstein, The Book Cover in the Weimar Republic is comparatively messy, revealing a society’s struggle for its identity after a humiliating defeat in the Great War, but before a new regime would rise up and instigate a conflict that would prove far, far worse.

Filled with 1,000 or so covers from Holstein’s collection, Weimar Republic is not designed merely to be a premonition of World War II. Instead, thanks to its thematic and publishing-house organization, we learn about the role of publishers in Germany, as we witness a young democracy trying to figure out everything from the limits of taste to the emerging prominence of film. Some covers depict Berlin’s notorious nightclubs. Others describe life in newly Soviet Russia. Naturally, considering his stature at the time, Upton Sinclair’s work figures prominently, including a 1930 Elias Canetti translation of Sinclair’s 1911 novel, Love’s Pilgrimage, whose cover features a disturbing photomontage of abortion forceps paired with a rose, the work of the great German artist John Heartfield. Read the rest

The best Burning Man coffee table book

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About two-thirds of the way through NK Guy’s enormous, gorgeous, and thoughtful new Taschen book, Art of Burning Man, the author/photographer makes a small confession: “For all the wonders of Burning Man, it has to be said that not all the art is inspiring. Read the rest

Portraits of the world’s most storied rock guitars

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Most of the guitarists, bassists, and mandolin players in photographer Jay Blakesberg’s just released gem of a new book, Guitars That Jam: Portraits of the World’s Most Storied Rock Guitars, are members of bands that use rock, bluegrass, the blues, and R&B as launch pads for improvisational jams. But one artist stands apart from this group – Willie Nelson – who posed for Blakesberg in 2014 at the Lockin’ Music Festival in Arrington, Virginia with his famously beat-up classical guitar. Nelson calls his 1969 Martin N-20 “Trigger,” after the horse ridden by matinee idol Roy Rogers, but with all due respect to the red-headed stranger, Willie doesn’t quite get the metaphor right. Comparing his guitar, as well as the rest of the Martin, Gibson, Fender, Alembic, Modulus, and Ibanez axes in Guitars That Jam, to a horse is fine, but musicians like Willie, Jerry Garcia, Warren Haynes, Carlos Santana, Trey Anastasio, and Neil Young are polar opposites of the saccharin Rogers. I’d say they are more like rodeo stars, or perhaps elite jockeys, who ride their thoroughbreds, night after night, to the musical equivalent of the Triple Crown.

Blakesberg captures the energy of these artists (plus more than 50 others), the sheer beauty of their instruments, and the intimate relationship between artist and machine, with the sure hand and keen eye that has made him a favorite of rock bands and music fans from coast to coast. Accompanying each photo of the artist in performance with his or her guitar is a statement about the instrument, usually written by the artist. Read the rest

How corporations avoid identity crises

Last year, when Unit Editions of London published Manuals 1: Design & Identity Guidelines, the 432-page gloss-wrapped hardback sold out fast. Read the rest

Homegrown: Austin Music Posters 1967 to 1982

For those of us who do not live in Texas, and even for many who do, Austin is an outpost of progressive weirdness in a state better known for its regressive rectitude. Music has been the key to Austin’s enlightened reputation, and after a brief flirtation with psychedelia in the late 1960s, the posters that were created to promote the state capital’s music scene became as iconoclastic as the city itself, as a new book called Homegrown: Austin Music Posters 1967 to 1982 ably demonstrates.

With essays by noted Texas author Joe Nick Patoski and poster artist and historian Nels Jacobson, Homegrown is mostly organized into thematic sections, including Blues Portraits (Muddy Waters, Mance Lipscomb, Big Joe Williams, Johnny Winter), Traveling Bands (Frank Zappa, Gram Parsons, Bruce Springsteen, the Grateful Dead), and Punk (The Ramones, Iggy Pop, David Johanson). The first section, though, is devoted to the city’s first full-fledged rock hall, Vulcan Gas Company, which produced shows by local bands like Conqueroo, Shiva’s Head Band, and 13th Floor Elevators at 316 Congress Avenue, from the fall of 1967 until the spring of 1970. Gilbert Shelton, who is better known now for his Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers comics, was the venue’s first poster artist, hewing to the psychedelic sensibility being practiced by Wes Wilson and others in San Francisco.

After Shelton and three other Austinites moved to San Francisco to found Rip Off Press in 1969, Jim Franklin took over art-director duties at the Vulcan, bringing a more realistic style to the club’s rock-posters. Read the rest

Pogo in the Age of McCarthy

On May 1, 1953, a rifle-toting bobcat named Simple J. Malarkey ambled into Okefenokee Swamp, the setting for Walt Kelly’s Pogo comic strip, which ran in U.S. newspapers from 1948 until 1975. At the time, Malarkey’s inspiration, Senator Joseph McCarthy, was at the height of his political power, routinely destroying reputations in the name of rooting out Communism. Kelly should have been intimidated, but he mocked the bilious senator from Wisconsin for a year and a half, until one of the newspapers that published Pogo, the Providence Bulletin, threatened to drop the strip if Kelly didn’t drop the character. Seizing upon this fresh opportunity for parody, Kelly promptly drew a new Malarkey panel, hiding Malarkey’s face under a sack. “I’m afeared us will haf’ta keep these bags over our heads, otherwise that chicken from Providence might recognize us,” Malarkey confided to a cartoon cohort on October 8, 1954. In the context of the strip, the statement was a reference to a Rhode Island Red named Sis Boombah from the previous day’s comic, but it was also a clever slap at that Rhode Island newspaper that had tried to censor him.

Kelly’s Malarkey/McCarthy plot is just one of the many storylines in Evidence To The Contrary, which covers the syndicated Pogo comic strips from 1953 and 1954. The third volume in what Fantagraphics promises will be a dozen, Evidence To The Contrary gives us Kelly at his most self-assured, an artist whose facility with both caricature and dialect convinces us that an alligator named Albert really does enjoy nothing more than a good cigar; that an owl named Howland wears a gravity-defying wizard’s cap; and that the guilelessness of a likable possum named Pogo can be a surprisingly effective weapon against the fulminations of mere politicians. Read the rest

Otis and Dorothy Shepard: exemplars of mid-20th century design

Anyone with even a passing interest in mid-20th century design has heard of Charles and Ray Eames, but Otis and Dorothy Shepard were arguably the more influential designing couple. Until recently, little was known about the pair, each of whom was an accomplished artist in their own right, efficient with line, unerring with color. A gorgeous new book by Norman Hathaway and Dan Nadal titled Dorothy and Otis: Designing the American Dream corrects this gap in the design literature. Filled with never-before-published materials from the Shepard family’s archives, the book is packed with both personal photos and key examples of their work from the 1930s to 1960s. Read the rest

World War 3 – It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I don’t feel fine

Since 1979, World War 3 Illustrated has been a forum for those who chafed at the treacly bromides of Ronald Reagan, who heaved on the endless hypocrisy of religion, who were seriously cheesed at the presumption of male politicians to deny woman their reproductive rights, and who had nothing but contempt for the fearmongering that followed the tragedy of 9/11.

But in the hands of founders Seth Tobocman and Peter Kuper, along with an ever-changing roster of new and returning artists—from Eric Drooker, Sabrina Jones, and the late Spain Rodriguez, to Sue Coe, Art Spiegelman, Chuck Sperry, and Tom Tomorrow — World War 3 has been more than a vehicle for artists to vent their anger, although many of them have done that exceedingly well. More importantly, World War 3 has been a place to build a counter narrative to the pablum ladled into the trough we know as the mainstream media, a place where the most unflinching and searing critiques can bud and flower before blasting the corpulent ruling classes to smithereens.

See sample pages from World War 3 at Wink Read the rest

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