The Clock Struck One (inspired by the 1744 “Mother Goose” nursery rhyme, Hickory, Dickory, Dock) – Handmade “grunge” clock—illustration board, smooth Bristol board, copper metallic paint, watercolours; soot; genuine mouse skeleton; dried leaf; dried rose; bits of genuine rusted metal; antique key; cobwebs; spray varnish
Hickory, Dickory, Dock,
The mouse ran up the clock;
The clock struck one,
And down he run;
Hickory, Dickory, Dock
Wednesday, May 1, 2013
How Does Your Garden Grow? (inspired by the 1744 “Mother Goose” nursery rhyme, Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary) – Hand-distressed frame; crackle paint; watercolours; eucalyptus bell pods; large cockleshell; dried tulip petals; dried rose with leaves; thorn branch; antique pharmacist’s bottle; genuine desiccated longhorn beetle; sterling silver paint; matte varnish; black paint, cardboard; colour print of framed Victorian postmortem tintype; colour print of Victorian mourning women tintype; colour print of dead flower design; colour print of antique Murton’s Concentrated Arsenical Weed Killer label
Mary, Mary, quite contrary;
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells, and cockle shells,
And pretty maids all in a row.
Mary, Mary, quite contrary;
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells, and cockle shells,
And pretty maids all in a row.
Monday, April 1, 2013
To Fetch a Pail of Water (inspired by the 1765 “Mother Goose” nursery rhyme, Jack and Jill) – Hand-distressed frame; hand-stained brown paper; rusted tacks; high-gloss liquid varnish; matte varnish; trio of desiccated water beetles; dried hydrangea with leaves; black paint; watercolours; cardboard; colour print of antique Victorian tintype; colour print of desolate well (image taken from the 2002 film, The Ring)
Jack and Jill went up the hill,
To fetch a pail of water.
Jack fell down and broke his crown,
And Jill came tumbling after.
Jack and Jill went up the hill,
To fetch a pail of water.
Jack fell down and broke his crown,
And Jill came tumbling after.
Friday, March 1, 2013
Ahhh, old Mother Goose, a staple of American childhood. The nursery rhymes ascribed to this mythical materfamilias epitomize the happiness of cooing babes in their cradle, of a young child's introduction to reading, to playing with sound, language, rhythm, and rhyme. They also introduce preschoolers to the ideas of character, simple plotline, and the literary conventions required for more complex stories and poems. Yup, all that's true — it’s also true that Mother Goose can be one mean old witch when she chooses to, terrorizing children into good behaviour, her sharp-billed, white-downed avian associate snapping at their heels to keep them in line. In short, Mother Goose is a tot’s first taste of terror. Talk about child abuse! Little Miss Muffet’s assaulted by a lactose-intolerant arachnid; Jack (a favourite name for boys in nursery rhymes, it seems) takes a tumble and splits his head open while on bucket-filling duty; Wee Willie Winkie is dragooned into wandering the cold and lonely nighttime streets in his pajamas shouting out the hour; and a whole herd of future orphanage-destined waifs are crammed into a shoe for shelter, force-fed broth, and then whipped for good measure (you can double-check all this for yourselves; I’m not making this stuff up). Animals don’t fare too well either, just think of that trio of typhlotic rodents and their rump-maiming encounter with the farmer’s spouse or old Mother Hubbard’s starving pooch. And we won’t go into “Ring Around the Rosie,” which is about the Black Death, or question just why that baby was left unsupervised, rock-a-byeing way up there on that tree top… and that bough looks like it’s about to break. As one respected children’s book author said: “I couldn't overlook the violent, scary, mean-spirited, or just plain weird aspects of many of the rhymes...”— a statement, which, of course, sent me straight to them like a shot! So, I dusted off my dog-eared copy of the elderly ornithic dame’s verses to take another look… and treading carefully in the footsteps of that master of the macabre, Charles Addams, who conjured his own unique vision of Mother Goose almost fifty years ago, I will present here for the next ten months my interpretation… beware.
And, so, since leg of lamb is such an Easter dinner table staple, let’s begin with…
Little Bo-Peep has lost her sheep,
And can't tell where to find them;
Leave them alone, and they'll come home,
Bringing their tails behind them.
Little Bo-Peep Has Lost Her Sheep… (inspired by the 1805 “Mother Goose” nursery rhyme, Little Bo-Peep) – Hand-distressed frame; hand-stained brown butcher’s paper; old butcher’s twine; antique Oxford silver plate cold meat fork; dried leaves with berries; rusted tacks; brown wax; watercolours; colour print of antique framed tintype of young girl in a shepherdess costume; colour print of antique French butcher’s sheep diagram poster; colour print of Victorian tiles; colour print of antique P.C. Flett and Co. Mint Jelly label; colour print of vintage Mutton Tallow Ointment label; hand-stained print of Wood Brothers Butcher’s letterhead
Friday, February 1, 2013
Irena Dubrova’s Key to the Zoo’s Panther Cage (inspired by Jacques Tourneur’s 1942 film, Cat People) – Vintage 1920s art deco glass lithographed picture frame; vintage lion “Master Lock” security key; black and white print of art deco panther illustration by Major Felten; black and white prints of cage bars, distressed tile work, cement with claw marks
God made the cat in order that man might have the pleasure of caressing the lion. —Fernand Mery
Man is an animal, as much as he might try and deny it.
Darwinian theory aside, man has the same needs, the same wants, the same desires as all our mammalian brethren—food, warmth, safety, sleep, and sex.
And think of the zoological similes which abound!
Stubborn as a mule.
Blind as a bat.
Busy as a bee.
Sly as a fox.
Poor as a church mouse.
Strong as an ox.
Sick as a dog.
Dead as a dodo.
Happy as a pig in…well, you get the idea.
And as we head into spring, that proverbial mating season, rutting males of the human genus are classified as wolves, young studs, or horny old goats (randy men used to be compared to hares in March, because those wild rabbits went crazy during those thirty-one consecutive days in their attempts to propagate their species—thus the term “Mad as a March Hare” and that’s why the March Hare’s bonkers in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but I digress).
And women—don’t think you’re getting off scott-free—you’re minks and minxes and currently if you’re on the prowl for younger meat, you’re cougars.
This seems an apt way to begin our amatorial tale for this Valentine’s Day.
Meet Irena Dubrova, a Serbian-born stunner—sleek dark hair, almond-shaped eyes, slinky shape, a true catch in any man’s book. But now I’ll let the cat out of the bag…
Irena has—shall we say, a slight problem when it comes to the subject of love. It appears that when Cupid’s little arrows strike her, and her hormones are raging, she has the nasty habit of transforming into a black panther, one that has the capabilities and compunctions to devour her mate.
Oops, fellas, better cancel that dinner date!
Poor Irena. She does her best not to let her heart rule her head—that’s until she meets Oliver, and she falls head over tail for him.
But Irena has a rival for Oliver’s affections; Alice, a beautiful, smart and savvy co-worker of his, and before you can say Fancy Feast, the green-eyed monster of jealousy rears its ugly head and softly-treading, padded paws are following Alice to the YWCA swimming pool—and you know how much cats like water. Picture it: Alice, alone, doggy-paddling in the pool, the lights go out, a low growl is heard, and—what’s that?—a long, skulking shadow flickers across the tiles, here, then there and…
The shadow darts away, vanishes.
Alice leaps from the water, the lights snap on, and she comes face-to-face with—Irena, who claims she’s looking for Oliver. Alice’s left believing she’s just imagined the whole thing, until she finds her bathrobe mauled and shredded.
Things just go from bad to worse—Oliver proposes; Irena accepts in spite of knowing what awaits. The marriage goes unconsummated—and mercifully, Oliver goes unconsumed—but Irena’s spending far too much time pussyfooting around the zoo’s panther cage than what could be deemed healthy. Her pet kitten hates her and the entire cute and cuddly inventory of a local pet shop freaks out—howling and hissing—the minute she walks through the door, the sweet little old lady of a proprietor intoning wisely, fatefully, portentously that animals always have an instinct about people, and then a creepy, catlike woman in black satin materializes at the happy couple’s wedding reception, asking in Serbian whether or not Irena is moya sestra, “my sister”. Sheep are soon found slaughtered, the bloody paw prints left behind by the predator incrementally changing into the imprints of a woman’s shoes. Anybody see a pattern here, or is it just me? Finally, professional help is called in—a psychoanalyst, Dr. Judd, who’s certain that he can cure Irena of her felinic delusions.
But, as they say, sometimes the cure’s more dangerous than the disease—and Dr. Judd’s soon reduced to mincemeat. Mortally wounded in the attack on her shrink, Irena flees back to the zoo, where she releases the caged panther, and where her body is later discovered by Alice and Oliver…
So, in the end, Irena Dubrova sadly learned the hard way that sometimes…
Tuesday, January 1, 2013
“An optimist stays up until midnight to see the new year in. A pessimist stays up to make sure the old year leaves.” —Bill Vaughn
Well, if you’re reading this, it looks like we’ve survived the end of the world. The Mayan calendar ran out and we’re all still here. Another apocalypse averted. Now we can look forward to the next.
Looking ahead is a New Year’s tradition; so is looking behind. Making future resolutions to try and correct the blunders of the past.
That’s why January is named after the Roman god, Janus—the double-faced, bearded, laurel-browed deity, who had the ability of seeing both backwards and forwards simultaneously. He was the god of beginnings and endings, of foresight and hindsight, who allowed mankind to learn from its prior mistakes so that it wasn’t condemned to relive them.
But, in checking the pages of any ol’ history book, it seems that we’ve been really poor students, always rushing in where angels fear to tread, stumbling, making the same missteps over and over again.
So, class, we will start out the New Year by recalling the hard lesson learnt by one of literature’s ultimate two-faces—
—Dr. Henry Jekyll.
Dr. Frankenstein wanted to resurrect the dead, Dr. Moreau’s mission was to turn beast into man, while Dr. Jekyll? Jekyll’s noble quest was to separate man’s good side from his bad—yes, a noble quest, indeed, and one doomed to failure from the start.
We’re all familiar with the oft-told tale—honorable, moral, upright doctor seeks the division of the dishonorable, immoral, and downright foul aspects of his makeup, in hopes of eradicating them permanently, like a virus. Such a cure! Thus mankind would change its path, amend the errors of its way. Via chemical, almost alchemical, distillation he creates a potion, which brings about a single personification of his every loathsome characteristic, an iniquitous creature that calls itself Mr. Hyde—appropriate name if there ever was one, he the lurker forever in our shadow. Hyde does terrible things, from “harmless” vices of drinking and gambling to the true atrociousness of child beating, all culminating in the ghastly murder of an innocent old man. It is only then that the good doctor sees the error of his way, but by then Hyde has taken over, the dark side is too strong…suicide, total self-annihilation, the only way to end the evil and save the world.
Robert Louis Stevenson, Jekyll’s creator and author of such literary classics as Treasure Island and Kidnapped, claimed that this macabre allegory came to him as a dream, fully formed. His wife recalled the moment well: “In the small hours of one afternoon,” said Mrs. Stevenson, “I was awakened by cries of horror from Louis. Thinking he had a nightmare I woke him. He said angrily, ‘Why did you wake me? I was dreaming a fine bogey-tale.’ I had awakened him at the first transformation scene ...”
Now all Stevenson had to do was put that “fine bogey-tale” to paper.
Stevenson’s stepson remembered that: “I don't believe that there was ever such a literary feat before as the writing of Dr. Jekyll. I remember the first reading as if it were yesterday. Louis came downstairs in a fever; read nearly half the book aloud; and then, while we were still gasping, he was away again, and busy writing. I doubt if the first draft took so long as three days.”
Stevenson finished the novel, then destroyed it in a fit of pique, and then rewrote it again in only a few days. Scholars and Stevenson biographers allege that the author’s pen was never still during the writing of Dr. Jekyll due to the fact that he was as high as a kite on cocaine at the time. Others say that his drug of choice was ergot, a strange fungus that causes hallucinations and irrational behavior in humans that has been put forward as the main instigator behind the hysterics of the seventeenth-century Salem witch trials.
Whatever the facts, whatever the stimulant, Stevenson’s tale was a sensation from the instant it hit the bookstalls in January 1886, with forty-thousand copies sold by June of that same year, and over a quarter of a million copies sold by 1901. It was praised by critics, devoured by the public, and even quoted from in the pulpit and religious papers.
Could a theatrical adaptation be far off?
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, now known simply as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, came to the stage the very next year after the book’s publication, premiering in Boston in 1887, and starring English actor Richard Mansfield. It next went on to tour Britain, where it ran for twenty years.
Since then the adaptations have never ceased.
The first film was a silent one-reeler, produced in America in 1908; the latest a 2009 Canadian television version. The actors who have played the dual roles run the gamut from the sublime to the ridiculous—John Barrymore, Conrad Veidt, Frederic March (who won an Oscar for his portrayal in 1931), Spencer Tracy, Boris Karloff, Jack Palance, Christopher Lee, Udo Kier, Oliver Reed, David Hemmings, Anthony Perkins, Anthony Andrews, Michael Caine, and John Malkovich.
The story has been musicalized—a 1973 television movie with music and lyrics by Lionel Bart (he of Oliver! fame), starring Kirk Douglas (yes, singing) and a 1997 Broadway bomb by Frank Wildhorn and Leslie Bricusse with Sebastian Bach, front man of the heavy metal band Skid Row, and (horror of horrors!) David Hasselhoff. And it has been parodied—Jerry Lewis’ 1963 screwball comedy, The Nutty Professor (which attempted to have a Broadway run of its own as a musical in 2012, and failed) and the execrable films Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1953), Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hype (1980), and Jekyll and Hyde…Together Again (1982). The naughty/nice medicine man has also been a character in such dubious film fare as Mad Monster Party (1967), The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003), Van Helsing (2004), and Hotel Transylvania (2012) plus he’s been spoofed by Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Scooby-Doo, Sylvester and Tweety, Tom and Jerry, and Phineas and Ferb.
He’s been in blaxploitation, Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde (1976), where he’s a black man who turns white; he’s been a 1968 Who song “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” as well as a 1983 Men at Work tune “Dr. Heckyll and Mr. Jive,” and he’s gone mano y mano with a werewolf in Paul Naschy’s Spanish “el cheapo” cinema frightfest Dr. Jekyll y el Hombre Lobo (1972).
He’s been transmuted into a perennial Halloween costume and a classic Aurora monster model, and he has been said to be part of the inspiration for the infamous Batman villain, Two-Face.
The women have gotten in there as well—The Daughter of Dr. Jekyll (1957) with Gloria Talbott; Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971) with Martine Beswick; and Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Hyde (1995) with Sean Young. There’s a 1996 novel, too, Jacqueline Hyde, by British young adult book writer, Robert Swindells. And pop/rock singer Pink seems to have taken notes from Jekyll’s lesson on the subject of duality for the stunning video for her 2008 song “Sober,” in which she tries to reconcile herself to the darkness of her hard-drinking, platinum-haired, and fishnet-stockinged party monster of a doppelgänger.
There’s even an eatery, the Jekyll and Hyde Pub, on 7th Avenue South in Greenwich Village, touted as New York’s only haunted Restaurant and Bar, where you can sink your fangs into Frankenstein’s Favorite Create-Your-Own-Monster Burgers, Cannibal Sausages, and The Mummy, a “sirloin bandaged in your choice of cheese.”
We won’t go into The Strange Case of Dr. Jiggle and Mr. Sly, an episode of the Veggie Tales children’s television series, or Jekyll and Heidi, a volume in the famous Goosebumps book set, and the less said about the X-rated sleaze flick Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hung the better.
Most of the above, I guess, show that, just as in poor Dr. Jekyll’s case itself, the bad way outweighs the good.
Maybe he can look back and learn from his mistakes, give it a rest, and not venture into the minefield of contemporary mass media again for quite a while.
But, Dr. Jekyll’s only human, and so are we.
In the end, I wish you a Happy New Year—one free from as many mistakes as possible.
Saturday, December 1, 2012
Der Letzte Traum des Unsinnigen Königs—The Last Dream of the Mad King (inspired by the life and legend of “Mad” King Ludwig II of Bavaria) – Black wood-framed shadowbox; antique German mercury glass peacock Christmas tree ornament; antique square silver frame; genuine white swan plume feathers; vintage metal and crystal hanging embellishments; silver cording; colour prints of King Ludwig II and Neuschwanstein Castle photographs by Angelika Schnell-Dürrast; negative print of Ludwig’s handwriting and signature
One-hundred and twenty years ago, American writer and literary critic, William Dean Howells wrote a short story titled, “Christmas Every Day.”
Ahhh, a child’s fondest wish!
But as the old adage warns, be careful what you wish for…
In Howells’ story, one little girl makes such a foolish wish, asking a fairy if it could be Christmas every day of the year. And, lo and behold, her wish comes true. Every day without cease—the Christmas tree, the Christmas carols, the candy, the presents, and the turkey dinner. It’s Christmas on Valentine’s Day, it’s Christmas on Easter, it’s Christmas on the Fourth of July!
And, as Howells penned:
“After a while turkeys got to be awfully scarce, selling for about a thousand dollars apiece. They got to passing off almost anything for turkeys—even half-grown hummingbirds. And cranberries—well they asked a diamond apiece for cranberries. All the woods and orchards were cut down for Christmas trees. After a while they had to make Christmas trees out of rags. But there were plenty of rags, because people got so poor, buying presents for one another, that they couldn't get any new clothes, and they just wore their old ones to tatters. They got so poor that everybody had to go to the poorhouse….It was perfectly shameful!”
Of course, at the end all is set right again, with Christmas coming only once a year.
Excellent example, I suppose, of another old adage, “Familiarity breeds contempt.”
But the idea of getting everything one wants, every day still entices.
But that was only a story, I hear you saying. That’s fiction.
True, so now I will present a parallel tale—a real-life lesson…
Once upon a time, a baby boy was born into the royal family of Bavaria. His name was Ludwig. He was handsome, he was precocious, he was destined to one day be sovereign of his own fairy tale kingdom. But as in almost all fairy tales, Ludwig had been born under a curse.
He had inherited the taint of his lineage.
Insanity pulsed rampantly through the blue-blooded veins of the Bavarian royal House of Wittelsbach. Ludwig’s aunt wore only white, walked sideways down corridors, and was under the delusion that she had swallowed a grand piano made of glass (fight that one, Freud!); his younger brother, Otto, was so unbalanced that he was literally barking mad (his vocal impersonations of various members of the canine species at the most inconvenient moments got his leash yanked from public appearances); and his favorite cousin, the exceptional beauty, Empress Elisabeth of Austria, was a health fanatic, a peripatetic wanderer, and acute recluse, whose only son and heir to the Austrian throne committed suicide after murdering his mistress. Elisabeth herself would later die an appropriately eccentric death at the tip of an assassin’s stiletto (Ludwig almost married Elisabeth’s sister, Sophie, but the wedding bells never rang, probably because Ludwig’s companions in the boudoir were of the decidedly more masculine persuasion; a groom, an aide de camp, a chief equerry, and a Hungarian theatre actor were all known to have shared his bed). Even Ludwig’s grandfather, the notoriously shabby King Ludwig I, had been deposed of his autonomy due to his less-than-kingly habits of scribbling atrocious verses, daydreaming of the glory days of Ancient Greece, and carrying on affairs of the heart with the likes of the high-class courtesan Lola Montez when he should have been attending to affairs of state.
As Fate would have it, Ludwig’s father shuffled off this mortal coil far too early, leaving his inexperienced and distrait eighteen-year-old son to be crowned, Ludwig II, King of Bavaria.
And from the moment his imperial bottom touched the throne, not only did young Ludwig follow in his peculiar relatives footsteps, he outran them all, straight into a straightjacket.
Akin to his ousted grandpapa, Ludwig had no interest in the day-to-day tedium of running an empire; he was far more interested in making all of his private fantasies come true, losing himself in his own obsessions—chief among them, the operas of Richard Wagner. Ludwig saw himself as the new Lohengrin, the magnificent swan king of Germanic lore.
And such a magnificent swan king as he needed magnificent surroundings in which to nest.
And so, the castles rose—Linderhof, Ludwig’s secluded paradise, a place where he could be alone (well, as alone as a king could get); Herrenchiemsee, his island re-creation of Versailles on the largest lake in Germany (where Ludwig lived for only ten days during his entire reign); and the most famous, Neuschwanstein—the never-completed, turreted mountain palace that inspired Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty castle at Disneyland (it’s a tourist trap now, too, visited by over fifty-million camera-snapping visitors a year).
Splendid, glorious, superb, grand, impressive; garish, gaudy, vulgar, kitschy, ersatz—such adjectives fail to describe these architectural flights of fancy.
Sprawling gardens, gilded statues spewing water into marble basins, ornate throne rooms, sure every European castle worth its weight in gold had those—and so did Ludwig’s.
But, ahhh, let me tell you where they differed.
Ludwig’s castles came with Moorish kiosks; Indian temples; and halls of mirrors to rival his venerated Versailles. There were spun glass, Meissen porcelain, and ivory chandeliers; carpets woven of ostrich plumes, and heated bathtubs. There was a private grotto painted with backdrops from Tannhäuser, and equipped with multicolored lights, which changed the mood and atmosphere, where Ludwig was rowed about in his own gilt seashell swan boat while Wagner’s music resounded; and a massive indoor winter greenhouse on the roof of one castle, brimming with tropical flora and fauna, kept swelteringly hot no matter the time of year, illuminated by imitation rainbows and faux moonlight, and appointed with blue silk tents blooming with roses. (This iron and glass-paned structure leaked, causing the servants below to sleep beneath opened umbrellas; it was later demolished for safety reasons. A lack of safety was also the reason why one of Ludwig’s most fabulous imaginings never saw fruition—an elaborate gondola car that was to be suspended from a monstrous balloon, which would float him via a cable across the lake to Herrenchiemsee. The designer worried that the inflatable might get loose during a storm, thus carrying its royal passenger off to certain doom, leaving one Ludwig biographer to write: “The picture of Ludwig making his final farewell in this way is curiously appropriate.”)
Reality came to mean nothing to this “dream” king. Just as his gardens grew in spite of the season, so time itself was ignored. Ludwig now lived only by night, seeing himself as the “Moon King”, a romantic, though ever-increasingly agoraphobic, shadow of the earlier French “Sun King”, Louis XIV. Thus he grew to be a nocturnal creature, shunning the sun, wandering in solitude the resplendent marbled halls of his residences, losing himself in an incense-scented never-never-land of gold-leaf, crushed velvet, swan down, and peacock feathers, demanding sumptuous banquets to be prepared at two in the morning. But no matter how large, how extravagant the dining chambers, no matter how many chairs and settings had been laid, the table seated only one. Here Ludwig held sway engaged in conversations with the long-dead kings and queens of France, stuffing his face with lavish confections until his weight swelled and his teeth rotted. His only form of exercise, other than being rowed around his grotto, was being driven in the middle of the night at blinding speeds through the snows of the Bavarian Alps in his colossal gold-plated sleigh, attended by footmen in bright blue eighteenth-century livery.
The government was in disarray; the country’s coffers all but empty from funding its monarch’s latest whim.
Something needed to be done.
And something was.
Ludwig was declared insane and removed from the throne.
He was imprisoned and placed under a suicide watch.
And he died as mysteriously as he had lived—on the rainy night of June 13, 1886, Ludwig went out walking by Lake Starnberg with his appointed psychiatrist; they never returned. Both Ludwig and the doctor were later found face down in the brackish waters. No official explanation was provided. Although an autopsy stated that Ludwig met death by drowning, rumors persisted that he was actually shot, a story corroborated by the king’s boatman, and by a royal relative who would show her afternoon tea guests the gray overcoat Ludwig was supposedly wearing at the time, which had two bullet holes in the back.
The Swan King, the Dream King, the Mad King was dead at age 40.
His reign of perpetual Christmas had come to an end.
So, in the end, as wonderful as Christmas is, there is a reason why it only comes once a year…