Monday, November 22, 2010
Friday, November 12, 2010
Dreaming of a Dwight Christmas
Thursday, November 11, 2010
The Four Seasons of Dwight
Monday, November 08, 2010
Sunday, November 07, 2010
MAGPIE TALE: The Lost Art of Poultry Photographic Portraiture
(Our contribution to this week's Magpie Tale community.)
When news began to spread in 1826 of Joseph Nicéphore Niépce's "View from the Window of Le Gras" -- believed to be the first photograph -- excitement swept Europe and the Western Hemisphere as enterprising souls realized that the implications of this new technology were infinite.
While kings, queens, prime ministers and other rulers would soon be sitting for their portraits, a more practical application began with arguably greater economic and social implications. By the early 1830s, livestock and barnyard animal photography was quickly emerging as one of the lesser known growth sectors of the Industrial Age. Though significant in Europe, in primarily agrarian United States and Canada, it proved to have even greater importance.
No studio held more prominence in the field than Oak Leaf Studio in Akron, Ohio. Founded in 1851 by the Mullgardt twins -- Hubert and Hobart, German immigrants who established themselves as photojournalists during the Mexican American war -- it soon gained a national reputation. After the war, they settled in Ohio and established Oak Leaf on Mulberry Avenue on the western edge of downtown Akron.
Similar studios had been established in Manhattan, Boston and Philadelphia. These urban technicians may have been more skilled with lenses and darkroom technique but lacked the Mullgardts' rapport with farmers and, more importantly, their feathered and furred subjects.
The Mullgardts captured many handsome images of stallions, goats, mules, mares and heifers. But it was their poultry work, especially their exquisite rooster portraiture, that built their reputation and was central to taking the poultry industry from being a village-to-village cottage industry to a national enterprise.
Before the arrival of Oak Leaf Studio, farmers were able to market their chicks and eggs mainly by line drawings or written descriptions. A farmer in Fresno would not likely buy several dozen hens from a distributor in Pennsylvania just because of faith in a glowing paragraph description, but seeing a handsome photographic image was all it took to convince and entice them to put the money down and have a flock sent by rail across the continent.
After a successful start in Akron, family tensions going back to Bavaria arose, and in 1860 Hobart left for Tennessee and later became second only to Matthew Brady in capturing the brutality of the Civil War. During Reconstruction, he opened a small studio in Knoxville called Oak Brook, but he specialized in wedding and holiday portraits that were never as magical of those of roosters and hens.
Hubert continued undaunted, passing on the business to his son Heinz and son-in-law Everett in 1882. Both Hubert and Everett died during the 1901 smallpox outbreak, but Heinz soldiered on, continuing to produce the most stunning poultry portraits in the Midwest. By the 1910s, he had opened up franchises in Fort Wayne, Moline, Pottsboro and Duluth.
Heinz's only heir, Trudi, continued the business until the 1950s when she sold it to the Ohio Agrarian magazine and it slowly began to lose much of its magic. Trudi was warmly remembered from the 1920s onward for her chicken dance at the annual Farmer-Stockman Ball in Columbus. Plans for a statue of her in central Akron have been discussed for years, but a benefactor has never emerged.
Saturday, November 06, 2010
The Vegan-Bacon Divide
Today I met up with Bryce Digdug for our weekly brunch at Carnivore, the posh restaurant at the Duck Creeke Inn on 22nd Street. Dinner at Carnivore is much too rich for my blood, but it's rare I miss brunch, usually ordering their signature dish -- ostrich eggs benedict with foie gras aspic. Bryce had the same but with a side of pan seared arugula.
Our usual discussion of art, Godard and cuckoo clock repair shifted to this week's election. Though overshadowed by national and state races, we both are curious about the impact of the passage of Proposition BK. Even the landmark Duck Creeke and Carnivore are direct in the line of fire of this controversial initiative that builds on the momentum of the recent banning of Happy Meals from San Francisco.
Proposition BK allowed each precinct in the city to set local regulations on the sale and distribution of animal products. The western Mission -- where Bryce lives and the Duck Creeke is located --will be completely vegan. Even Shoe Biz will be forced to sell nothing but synthetic footwear once the bill goes into effect in January. The Duck Creeke may be spared since it has historic landmark status.
Over in the eastern Mission where I live, Proposition BK failed 9-1. Almost every living room on our side of the arroindissement has deer antlers above the mantle, and all of the ubiquitous pick up trucks have gun racks. In neighboring Bernal Heights, most residents hunt and catch the plentiful wildlife and put it in their smoke houses for the long, wet San Francisco winters.
Life will go on as normal in our part of the Mission where you will find the beloved bacon maple lattes at Pirate Cat Radio or Dynamo Doughnut''s maple bacon doughnut and the famed cannibalistic pig cariceria, Belmar-La Gallinita, on 24th Street.
As a fan of tradition, I really worry about the future of the Duck Creeke. Opened in 1851, it was the tallest building west of the Mississippi until the Call Building was constructed in 1897. It was often called the Chelsea Hotel of the west, having served as the hide away of Fatty Arbuckle after that notorious night at the Saint Francis and was a refuge from LA for Fritz Lang, Bertolt Brecht, Peter Lorre and other German expatriates who found San Francisco's gloomy, foggy summers much more comforting than all that depressing sun and optimism in Hollywood.
Joplin, the Airplane and the Dead all took refuge there after the Summer of Love when boring kids from Orange County and Omaha destroyed all that had once made the Haight so wonderful. Ginsberg did not write Howl there, but he held his first press conference there.
What's not well known is the source of the Duck Creeke's name. It is literally on top of Duck Creeke, the underground estuary that begins at the eastern tip of Stowe Lake to China Beach where ducks are able to make safe passage through the busy neighborhoods of San Francisco without worry of being turned into soup in my part of the Mission or being run over by one of the countless psychotic MUNI drivers.
The creek was built secretly in the 1880s and funded by Meredith Cliff Linquist (whose father was developer Ernest Avrum Cliff, namesake of Sea Cliff), an early animal rights advocate and reputed lover of John Muir. She was concerned by the carnage of ducks hit by street and cable cars and funded this secret, safe passage for her feathered friends.
One can't help but wonder what will become of the Duck Creeke. It would see a bit odd to have the Carnivore shut down at a time when medicinal heroin is available over the counter at San Francisco's Walgreens right next to Airborne, and most hookah bars have opium vending machines.
Only time will tell the future of Carnivore and the Duck Creeke, but it seems we will live in a city divided, and there is even talk of building wall down the middle of South Van Ness, the dividing line between the bacon and vegan sides of the Mission.
Thursday, November 04, 2010
Tonight on the Fabric Channel: Ultrasuede, the Revolution That Fashion Cotton Forgot
The ads were ubiquitous that season -- from Bridget Loves Bernie to The Waltons to Police Woman you would hear that familiar line: "Imagine...storm clouds are looming, and you step out on the street in your suede blazer without caution, without concern."
At a press conference during Fashion Week, Halston and Bill Blass named it "The fabric that will be a bridge between the 20th and 21st centuries...and likely to the 22nd and 23rd."
A 70-foot billboard in Times Square of a beaming Lena Horn featured her in an ankle length suede trench coat in a downpour as she gallantly threw her broken umbrella into the dustbin. Looming above her blazed the fabric's iconic motto: "Suede without Fear!"
ULTRASUEDE. The fabric with as much providence and provenance as an opera window on a Mark IV Givenchy designer edition. When Halston launched his JCPenney line, Jean Luc Godard was working on a film about him called Suede Ultimante and his Studio Fifty-4 meals at JCP, the snack bars at the proletariat department store featured tiny mirror balls in the children's Pleasure Island meals until they were warranted as being a choking hazard.
The evolution of Ultrasuede in the late 20th century is perhaps the least documented and most fascinating chapter in its still emerging history. After being dismissed by the early 1990s as a relic of the flashy, hedonistic synthetic era, a Uruguayan agronomist discovered a way to produce it organically through hybrid silk worm-alpaca fauns which produced a fleece that had all of the properties of Ultrasuede. Though not quite as rain repellent as its synthetic forefather, it was even more wrinkle resistant and did not melt or explode when ironed.
Sadly, Halston did not live to see this innovation. Regardless, it is proof that fabric does not die but evolves.
Tuesday, November 02, 2010
Dia de los Muertos 2010
Labels: Day of the Dead