Sunday, May 19, 2013
On May 19, 1898, the U.S. Congress passed the Private Mailing Card Act, which allowed private publishers and printers to print and market postcards. Previous to that date the U.S. Post Office held a monopoly on printing postcards. For several years, the government also restricted private companies to the use of the term “souvenir cards,” which had to be labeled "Private Mailing Cards." The term “post card” was allowed for private publishers in 1901. Before 1907, postcards could not have a “divided back”: i.e., only an address could appear on the back, a message appearing only on the front. The 20th century’s first decade is considered the “Golden Age” of picture postcards. The public loved them. In the fiscal year ending June 30, 1908, nearly 680 million postcards were mailed (when the U.S. population was less than 89 million). Most picture postcards sold in the United States were printed in Germany, where lithography was an art. That ended with World War I, and so did the postcard craze.
Saturday, May 18, 2013
At 8:32 AM Pacific Time on Sunday, May 18, 1980, an earthquake caused the entire north face of Mount St. Helens in Washington state to slide away, instantly exposing volcanic molten magma and gas-enriched rock that had created a huge bulge on the mountain’s side. The resulting landslide was one of the largest in recorded history, completely displacing all of the water in Spirit Lake north of the mountain, washing thousands of trees away from the surrounding hills. The nearly simultaneous volcanic explosion sent out a pyroclastic flow of hot gases, ash and pumice, at near-supersonic speed, into a fan-shaped area 23 miles wide and 19 miles long, destroying 230 square miles of forest. Miles beyond, it killed even more trees with extreme heat. The blast melted nearly all the mountain’s glaciers, resulting in immense lahars (volcanic mudflows). A vast ash column rose 12 miles above the mountain’s expanding crater during the nine-hour eruption. Most of the 57 people known to have died in the event succumbed to asphyxiation; several died from burns.
Friday, May 17, 2013
Composer and pianist Erik Satie was born on May 17, 1866, in Normandy, France. He studied music at the Paris Conservatoire as a teenager, where he was judged a failure. After military service, he lived in Montmartre in Paris and assumed musical residence in the Chat Noir cabaret , where he met Claude Debussy and other young "revolutionists." In 1888, he wrote three pieces for piano, “Trois Gymnopedies,” that defied classical tradition in music and presaged minimalist and absurdist works of the 20th century. They were later orchestrated by Debussy. Satie’s rebellious, avant-garde spirit gave birth to classical music parodies, including “Unpleasant Glimpses,” “Desiccated Embryos,” “Genuine Flabby Preludes (for a dog),” “Old Sequins and Old Breastplates” and “Teasing Sketches of a Fat Man Made of Wood.” He wore 12 identical velvet suits and started his own church, the Metropolitan Church of Art of the Leading Christ, of which he was the only member. A connoisseur of absinthe, he died in 1925 from alcoholism.
Thursday, May 16, 2013
The first rock double album, Bob Dylan's “Blonde on Blonde,” was released on May 16, 1966, by Columbia Records. It was Dylan’s seventh studio album and the third in his trilogy, starting with “Bringing It All Back Home” (1965), then “Highway 61 Revisited” (1966). Recording sessions in New York in 1965 proved to be troubled and fruitless, so Dylan’s producer moved sessions to Nashville, taking along keyboardist Al Kooper and guitarist Robbie Robertson. Two singles from the album, "Rainy Day Women ♯12 & 35" and "I Want You," became Top 20 hits in the United States. Other songs have become Dylan classics, including "Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I'll Go Mine)," "Just Like a Woman," "Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again" and "Visions of Johanna." The album’s cover (pictured) opens to a 12-by-26 inch, out-of-focus photo of Dylan at three quarter length; his name and the title appear only on the spine. The album has been described as having an “air of reclusive yet sybaritic genius."
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Author Lyman Frank Baum was born May 15, 1856, in Chittenango, NY, near Syracuse. Born into a wealthy family with nine siblings, he had a weak heart and was sensitive and shy. He studied theater in New York, then pursued failed business ventures in South Dakota and Chicago. In 1897 he published Mother Goose in Prose, children’s fairytales he had created in his youth to avoid the violent tales of the era. Its success led to the best-selling Father Goose: His Book (1899), with pictures by artist W.W. Denslow. In 1900 he published The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, also illustrated by Denslow, which was instantly successful. Some characters and themes had personal relevance. As a child, Baum had nightmares of being chased by a scarecrow that would disintegrate before its "ragged hay fingers" reached his neck. He said that the name "Oz" came from his file cabinet labeled "O-Z." The story of the wizard focuses on power and the importance of self-belief to avoid the deceptions of the powerful.
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
English portrait and landscape painter Thomas Gainsborough was born on May 14, 1727, in Suffolk, northeast of London. Proficient at drawing as a youth, he trained in London with painter and illustrator William Hogarth. By 1759 he had a successful business painting portraits in the fashionable spa city of Bath, and later became a founding member of the Royal Academy. After moving to London in 1774, he painted portraits of King George III and his queen, then remained the royals’ favorite painter even though his rival, Joshua Reynolds, was named the royal painter. Gainsborough’s famed “The Blue Boy” (c. 1770, pictured) is believed to be a portrait of a wealthy merchant’s son. The boy is actually trapped in a costume study, since his clothing is 140 years old, dating from the early 17th century and the age of Van Dyck, whom Gainsborough admired. Gainsborough sometimes used brushes on sticks six feet long to paint portraits. He preferred to paint landscapes and was impatient with clients who demanded portraits.
Monday, May 13, 2013
Artist Georges Braque was born on May 13, 1882, in a Paris suburb and grew up in the port city of Le Havre. Though trained to be a house painter and decorator, he also studied fine art. In Paris he was influenced by the colorful style of the Fauves (“Beasts”), including Matisse. But the works of Cézanne greatly inspired his interest in geometry, simultaneous perspective and the effects of light, leading him to question the basic conventions of painting. In 1908 an art critic mocked his canvas “Maisons à l'Estaque” with the term "bizarre cubiques," describing it as “full of little cubes.” That year he began working with Pablo Picasso, who had pursued a similar style of painting, and together they developed Cubism, producing works in monochromatic color with complex, faceted forms. Braque’s “Woman with a Guitar” (1913, pictured) is a key example of early Cubism, combining a limited palette with multiple planes and mixed perspectives while creating balance and harmony amid fracture and abstraction.
Sunday, May 12, 2013
Actress Katharine Hepburn was born on May 12, 1907, in Hartford, Connecticut, to wealthy, politically progressive parents. As a teenager, she discovered the body of her brother, Tom, with whom she was close, after he hanged himself. For much of her life Hepburn used his birthday (November 8) as her own. She pursued acting while at Bryn Mawr College and performed on and off Broadway. In 1932 she was hired by RKO Pictures for “A Bill of Divorcement,” then in 1933 won the first of four Academy Awards for her third film, “Morning Glory.” Though she made a screwball comedy in 1938 now considered a classic, “Bringing Up Baby” with Cary Grant (pictured), her career declined and theater owners labeled her “box office poison.” Her abrasive, often arrogant attitude and boyish behavior alienated the public. When RKO’s costume department took away her slacks (considered improper and boyish), Hepburn wore only her underwear until she got her pants back. Her career recovered with “The Philadelphia Story” (1940).
Saturday, May 11, 2013
Catalan artist Salvador Dalí was born on May 11, 1904, in Figueres, Spain, near the French border. He was named after an older brother who had died; his parents led him to believe he was that child’s reincarnation. His father encouraged his drawing, and he studied at Madrid’s Real Academia, where he became known for eccentric behavior and his admirable Cubist paintings. In Paris he met Magritte, Miró and Picasso, whom he revered. In 1929, Surrealist artists praised what Dalí termed his “paranoiac-critical method” of accessing the subconscious for artistic creativity, especially shown in optical illusions. In 1931 he completed his most famous work, “The Persistence of Memory” (pictured). Its malleable watches are considered a rejection of time as rigid or deterministic, but Dalí dismissed any association with Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity by saying the images were surrealist perceptions of a Camembert cheese melting in the sun. His famous moustache was inspired by that of Spanish master Velázquez.
Friday, May 10, 2013
Dancer, choreographer and singer Fred Astaire was born Frederick Austerlitz on May 10, 1899, in Omaha. At age 6 he and his sister performed a vaudeville dance act, and by the 1920s they danced in stage musicals in New York and London. In Hollywood, despite a lackluster screen test, he made his mark in “The Gay Divorcee” (1934), dancing and singing Cole Porter’s “Night and Day” with Ginger Rogers. Of the 31 musical films in his career, he made 10 with Rogers, including “Top Hat” (1935), “Follow the Fleet” (1936), “Swing Time” (1936), “Shall We Dance” (1937) and “Carefree” (1938). Six were RKO Radio Pictures’ biggest moneymakers. Several of Astaire’s most famous dance scenes occurred in “Royal Wedding” (1951), including the song "You're All the World to Me" in which he danced on the walls and ceiling of a specially-made set. The gravity-defying trick was accomplished by rotating the entire set (along with an attached camera and camera operator) on an axis while Astaire remained upright.