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


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


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


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


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


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

The big book of big of psychedelic fantasy posters

There's a new book out about Big O Posters, which grew out of the graphic design vision of Peter Ledeboer, the charismatic art director of the U.K. incarnation of music and counter-culture magazine Oz, published psychedelic, sci-fi, and fantasy posters from 1967 until 1980.

Originally promoted in the pages of Oz to sell readers full-size posters of the artwork they were enjoying in the magazine, the roster of Big O posters included some of the biggest names in rock art, from Martin Sharp (a pair of album covers for Cream) and Mati Klarwein (Santana’s “Abraxas”) to H.R. Giger (Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s “Brain Salad Surgery”) and Roger Dean (multiple covers for Yes). It’s a big, image-packed tale, which is why The Art of Big O, designed and published by Michael Fishel and written by Nigel Suckling, both of whom were Big O artists, feels so right. It, too, is big and image-packed, capturing both the atmosphere of the London graphic-design world of the 1960s and ’70s as well as the work itself, which is jammed into every nook and cranny of the hefty tome like so many posters tacked to the walls and ceiling of a teenager’s bedroom. The result is less a nostalgic trip down memory lane than a paean to the obsessives who produced and printed this often unapologetically obsessive art.

See sample pages from The Art of Big O on Wink Read the rest

Graphic biographies about famous Western artists

This past spring, the This is… series of graphic biographies about famous Western artists kicked off with a trio of handsome, modestly scaled books on Andy Warhol, Salvador Dali, and Jackson Pollock, thereby covering its pop, surrealism, and abstract-expressionism bases in one swift stroke. This fall, This is… ventured into somewhat less predictable terrain with a pair of titles devoted to Paul Gauguin and Francis Bacon. Read the rest

Art from a Seattle-born painter kept in a WWII internment camp

Published in conjunction with an exhibition of the same name (through December 13, 2014, at Washington State University’s Museum of Art in Pullman), Roger Shimomura: An American Knockoff offers a crisp look at the recent work of this Seattle-born painter of Japanese descent, who spent some of his earliest years in a World War II internment camp in Hunt, Idaho. Forced ostracization helped shape Shimomura’s sense of otherness, which has found expression in his work since the 1970s. Not surprisingly, some of the most powerful paintings reproduced in the exhibition catalog – which includes an essay by Anne Collins Goodyear and an interview with the artist – depict imagined images from those years. Because Shimomura was just three when he and his family were sent to Camp Minidoka, though, he relied upon translations of his grandmother’s diaries to create pictures of the surreal circumstances of trying to live a normal American life while imprisoned. My favorite, “Classmates,” captures two girls – one with Euro-American features, the other Japanese – holding ruby-red apples and smiling, seemingly untroubled by the barbed wire strung between them.

Other paintings in the book are comic-book-style self-portraits of the artist as iconic characters like George Washington (famously crossing the Delaware) and Superman (his trademark costume covered by a kimono). While these images may appear to be pop polemics designed to poke a thumb in the eye of some of America’s most patriotic icons, the artist demurs: “Sometimes people mistake my usage of them as painting the enemy,” he’s quoted as saying. Read the rest

Fat Tire Flyer: Repack and the Birth of Mountain Biking

When the race that became known as Repack was first run on October 21, 1976, a half-dozen or so people, along with a dog named Junior, lined up at the top of Pine Mountain Road just west of Fairfax, California. Before them was Cascade Canyon Road, a twisting dirt plunge that dropped 1,300 feet in roughly two miles. An Oklahoma transplant named Alan Bonds came in first on that cloudless morning, but it was Bonds’s roommate, Charlie Kelly, who became known as Mr. Repack, thanks to his role in helping to set up that initial race and organizing just about all of the 24 Repacks that followed.

Now, in Fat Tire Flyer: Repack and the Birth of Mountain Biking, Kelly candidly tells the story of the rock-n-roll-soaked years that led up to that race, as well as the business he started a few years later, MountainBikes, with his other roommate, Gary Fisher, with whom he coined the phrase we all take for granted today. Kelly gets to tell this tale not just because he was there -- he was one of the sport’s principal instigators and evangelists, the guy who kept the records, got on the phone, and regularly made lots of stuff happen. Thus we follow Kelly on rides out to Mineral King in the southern Sierra and up over Pearl Pass in Crested Butte, Colorado, a two-wheeled ambassador of sorts for his nascent sport. Filled with Wende Cragg’s cinema-vérité photographs, many taken at a brutally sharp left-turning switchback called Camera Corner, and with a foreword by Joe Breeze, who built what many consider the first true mountain bike in 1977, Fat Tire Flyer is a terrific read, although it’ll probably make you want to put the book down, dust off that clunker that’s been buried in the garage, and head for the hills. Read the rest

When Art Rocked: San Francisco Music Posters, 1966-1971

Ben Marks explores the history of the psychedelic rock poster.

Absurd and brilliant comics designed to be read right-side-up as well as upside-down

From 1903-1905, a Japanese-born, Dutch artist named Gustave Verbeek turned America’s Sunday funny papers on their collective head. Read the rest

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