A blog about the arts, books, flora and fauna, vittles, and whatever comes to mind!

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Friday, June 24, 2011

Where There's a Reader, There's a Way

Books on Wheels from Richmond providing free books and bike repair at the
Our Community Place Lawn Jam in Harrisonburg, Va.  Photo by Artzcerxes/Wikipedia.

Bookmobile and mobile libraries are designed to service areas that have no access to books or library materials.  In modern countries, they sometimes service people who cannot get to libraries, such as residents of retirement homes.  Some even carry audio and large print books to homebound people who have no one or no way to go to a library.

Mobile library at a bus stop in Garden City, Oberesslingen.
Image  from 2006, courtesy of Zwiegel/Wikipedia.

The first written report of one came from the UK, from 1857 in a detailed report of a perambulating library operating in a circle of eight villages.  In 1859, the Warrington Perambulating Library was run by the Warrington Mechanic's Institute to increase its annual circulation of books.  The cost in its first year was £275, but the library lent 12,000 books.

Possibly the first UK mobile library, started in 1859.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

A mule-drawn wagon carried wooden boxes of books in Chester Co., South Carolina in 1904 by the People's Free Library.  In 1905, the Washington County Free Library in Maryland was one of the first U.S. book wagons to take books directly to homes in remote parts of the county.

Exterior and interior views of Vermont's traveling library from 1902.
Images courtesy of Wikipedia.

Today, the Internet Archive Bookmobile allows one to access, download and print any of its almost 20,000 public domain books currently available online, in your choice of type size.

Many countries have them:

Photo from 1970 by Safar Nameh of a mobile library in Kordestan, Iran, courtesy of Wikipedia.
Mobile library in Kajaani, Finland, courtesy of mace/Wikipedia.
Mobile library of Varde, Denmark from 2002, decorated by Seppo Mattinen.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
Mobile library boat - the MS Epos - in Bergen, Norway.  Image courtesy of Anders/Wikipedia.

But what about countries that aren't so modern?  That are struggling economically and can't afford the "luxury" of books?  Well, readers and educators are persistent, and there are some very unique and admirable programs going on in parts of the world.

In Thailand, elephants are used to take books and IT equipment to remote villages. They also provide PCs, modems, a solar panel, and a satellite dish.  The elephant is lured into the correct satellite position when his basket of food is placed correctly.

Both images courtesy Cambridge Library, UK.

Once at their destination and correctly oriented for the satellite, the elephants are tethered and fed.  Bamboo canes are hung around them, which are then wrapped with polythene sheets with pockets on them, which is where books are placed.

Camel Library Service photos here and below courtesy of Wairimu Gitahi/BBC.

Africa has two notable programs:  one with camels and one with donkeys.  The Camel Library Service in Kenya, funded by the Kenyan government, began in 1996.  In 2006, 7,000 books in English, Somali, and Swahili were delivered. Many of the books are supplied by Book Aid International, a charity which gives half a million books a year to some of the world's poorest countries.

In 2002, the International Federation of Library Associates and Institutions (IFLANET), assessed the Donkey Drawn Libraries in Zimbabwe.  The literacy rate in the area served was estimated to be 86%, compared to a national figure of about 31%, which was attributed to the program.  The carts were initiated by the communities served, who were also directly involved in the project, which perhaps explains their success.

Image here and below courtesy of IFLANET.

The mobile units are called Donkey Drawn Electro-Communication Library Carts. Each cart has a solar unit installed on the roof that charges a battery.  Audio-visual equipment is in a cabinet at the back of the cart and the sides hold storage for the battery, books, music CDs, records, and videos.  Some have an aerial or a satellite dish.  They function as a communication center with radio, telephone, internet, and email capabilities.

Luis Soriano came up with a solution for his area of Colombia about twelve years ago.  He gathers his donkeys, named Alfa and Beta, straps pouches to their backs filled with books, and heads out to reach the people who live in small villages.

As a young teacher, he was impressed with the impact that could be made on people's lives through reading and education.  Not content to work with his own local students, he came up with this way to reach those who had no access.  He not only delivers books, but also reads them to his audience.  There is a website (in Spanish) for his program that can be seen here.

Images above courtesy of the site.

Even the poorest countries value books and learning.  Every type of mobile book-lending invention serves to offer a chance for some type of education where no other kind exists.  E-books can't do it.  In the end, real books save lives.


Thursday, June 23, 2011

O Cristo Redentor

Image courtesy triptourism.com.

On July 7, 2007, Brazil's internationally known icon - the statue of Christ the Redeemer - was chosen as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World by the New Open World Corporation.  Two years later it was declared a monument protected by IPHAN, the Institute of Historical and Artistic Heritage, a government agency of Brazil.

Image courtesy NewOpenWorld Foundation.

The largest art deco statue in the world stands 130 feet tall (including the 31-foot pedestal) and is 98 feet wide and 699 tons.  It stands on the peak of 2,300 foot Corcovado Mountain in Tijuca Forest National Park in Rio de Janeiro.  From this vantage point, one can see downtown Rio de Janeiro, Sugarloaf Mountain, and the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema.

Image courtesy of triptourism.com.

The idea of erecting a statue there was introduced in the mid-1850s.  Pedro Maria Boss, a Catholic priest, proposed to Princess Caroline that she fund a large religious monument, but she wasn't interested.  It became a moot point in 1889, when Brazil became a republic country with laws mandating the separation of church and state.

Image courtesy of Emesbe/Wikipedia.

In 1921 the Catholic Circle of Rio proposed again that a landmark statue be erected on the mountain.  They organized Semana do Monumento, Monument Week, to gather donations and collect signatures in support of the idea.  Brazilian Catholics responded.

Comparison in height:  Spring Temple Buddha, Statue of Liberty, The Motherland
Calls, Christ the Redeemer, and David.  Image courtesy of Anna Frodesiak/Wikipedia.

Among the designs submitted for the monument were a giant cross and a statue of Jesus with a globe in his hand, but Christ the Redeemer with open arms was selected.  Heitor da Silva Costa, a local engineer, designed it.  It was sculpted by Paul Landowski, a Frenchman.  It was decided that it would be built out of reinforced concrete, with the outer layers from soapstone.  The cost was U.S. $250,000 (about $3,000,000 today).

Image courtesy copacabana.com

The monument was unveiled on October 12, 1931.  Floodlights aimed at the statue were meant to be turned on remotely by Guglielmo Marconi, the shortwave pioneer, in Rome, but due to bad weather it had to be lit locally.

Image courtesy triptourism.com

October 2006 was its 75th anniversary.  Cardinal Eusebio Oscar Scheid consecrated a chapel that holds 150 people under the statue, which allow Catholics to hold baptisms and weddings there.  The chapel was named Nossa Senhora Apareicida - Our Lady of the Apparition.

Image courtesy of triptourism.com

On February 10, 2008, the statue was struck by lightening, suffering damage to the fingers, head, and eyebrows.  Restoration was made by the government and the archdiocese to replace some of the soapstone and repair the lightening rods installed on the statue.

Image courtesy triptourism.com.

Last April the statue was vandalized and graffiti was left on the head and right arm. Restoration work is ongoing.  Maintenance is also ongoing due to the strong winds and rain in the area.  Arms held out to embrace the world, this statue is ready for anything.


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Blind Writer Makes Beautiful Music

18th century engraving of Pfeffel, artist unknown.
Image courtesy of the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

Gottlieb Konrad Pfeffel, aka Amédee or Théophile (French translations of the German name "Gottlieb" or "God love"), was a French-German writer and translator from the Alsace region of France.  His texts were used as librettos for works by Joseph Haydn, Franz Schubert, Ludwig van Beethoven, among others.

Pfeffel from the 1841 edition of Poetlishe Versuche, Volume 10.
Image courtesy of Google Books.

Born to the mayor of the town of Colmar, his father died when he was two and he was raised by his twelve-year-old brother.  In the interest of becoming a diplomat Pfeffel went to the University of Halle in 1751.  Two years later he developed an eye problem and went to Dresden seeking treatment.  His sight continued to deteriorate, and despite an operation in 1758 he became completely blind.  But that seemed to do little to deter him.  In 1759 he married and had thirteen children, seven of which lived.  He had established himself as a writer and translator.

Copy of an original statue in the Unterlinten Museum by
André Friedrich in 1859.  This one is on the Grand Rue in Colmar.
Image courtesy of flickr.

In 1773 he opened a military academy for aristocratic Protestants.  Protestants were not allowed at the military academy of Paris, so this was a much needed facility and did well.  Pfeffel became a citizen of Biel/Bienne in Switzerland and an honorary member of the city council in 1783, attesting to his capabilities and reputation.

Image of Pfeffel courtesy this site.

After the French Revolution he lost the military academy and his fortune.  He found work translating, with the educational board of Colmar, and with the publisher Tubingen-Cotta.  Even after Napoleon I granted him an annual pension in 1806 he continued writing, including many articles for the magazine Flora.  He died in 1809.

Portrait of Franz Schubert by Wilhelm August Rieder, 1875.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

But composers seemed to have been drawn to his work.  Franz Schubert made a lief of his text Der Vatermöder.  The Czech composer Leopold Kozeluch put music to his cantata for the blind Austrian singer Maria Theresia von Paradis, who learned piano from Kozeluch and singing and composition from Antonio Salieri. Ludwig van Beethoven, prior to his deafness, put Pfeffel's poem Der Freie Mann to music in 1794 or 1795.

Ludwig van Beethoven composing the Missa Solemnis by
Joseph Karl Stieler, 1820.  Image courtesy of www.Beethoven-Haus-Bonn.de.

Joseph Haydn turned Pfeffel's Philemone und Baucis:  Ein Schauspiel in Versen von einem Aufzuge, a one-act play in verse, into a Singspiel for a marionette theater in 1773.  (Singspiel means literally "songplay" in German, and is a music drama now considered a genre of opera.)  Haydn called it Philemon und Baucis oder Jupiter's Reise auf die Erde (Philemon and Baucis or Jupiter's Travels to the Earth).

Portrait of Joseph Haydn by Ludwig Guttenrunn, circa 1770.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

The occasion for Haydn's composition was the 1773 visit to Esterháza to see Empress Maria Theresa and her retinue of important personages.  He revised it as an opera for human actors in 1776, adding a final section praising the imperial Habsburg family.

Pfeffel dictating to his daughter, circa 1800.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Despite what could have been a very undermining disability for a writer, Pfeffel went on to lead a productive life.  He has a rather extensive bibliography, and was friends with many well-known people of the time, including Voltaire.  Makes writer's block seem like a petty excuse!


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

From Big Box to Big Art

The Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville, Arkansas.
Photo courtesy of the site.
The Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art will open in Bentonville, Arkansas on November 11, 2011.  (11/11/11 - get it?)  The 201,000 square foot museum will be twice the size of the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Crystal Bridges at night, courtesy of the site.

The brainchild of Alice Louise Walton, daughter of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton, and funded in part by the Walton Family Foundation, Ms. Walton has been working on this for a decade, although plans were announced in 2005. Bentonville, a town with a population of 35,000, is the home of the original Wal-Mart and the location of corporate headquarters.  Ms. Walton is #21 on Forbes' list of the world's billionaires with an estimated $18 billion net worth.

Photo of Alice Walton courtesy of Sipa Press.

The museum, designed by Boston architect Moshe Safdie, is built on 120 acres of family land surrounding two ponds and named for nearby Crystal Springs.  The museum is a series of pavilions that will house galleries, classrooms, meeting rooms, and a large auditorium able to accommodate 300 people.  This glass-enclosed space is intended for community receptions, business conferences, and private functions from dinners to weddings.  The museum is connected to downtown Bentonville through sculpture and walking trails.  There will be a store and dining facilities in the complex.

Maxfield Parrish's 1908 The Lantern Bearers.
Photo by Martin Polak, courtesy of Crystal Bridges.

The endeavor is expected to create 120 full-time jobs plus inject lots of tourist money into the local economy.  250,000 visitors are estimated for the first years. The idea from its inception was discussed at the three family meetings held annually, as Ms. Walton sought support from her nieces and nephews who will inherit the land someday.  The Walton Family Foundation pledged $800 million for an operating endowment, acquisitions and future improvements, which may be the largest endowment given to a museum of American art.

Thomas Hart Benton's Ploughing It Under, produced as a lithograph in 1934,
which sold out immediately.  Image courtesy of the site.

Although Ms. Walton only has one college art history course under her belt, she has studied on her own and is considered a knowledgeable collector.  She has acknowledged that she has come up against difficulties and attitude from the East Coast art establishment, but is hoping the finished museum will end that.  Her intentions for the museum are that it will be interactive with museums internationally, and fully intends that it will be a world-class museum in its own right.

Norman Rockwell's 1943 depiction of Rosie the Riveter.
Photo by Dwight Primiano, courtesy of Crystal Bridges.

To that end, even though she has been collecting art for most of her life, she began buying specificially for the museum in 2005.  She has become a shrewd and savvy force in the art market, often buying from auctions and galleries anonymously. Some of the works she's acquired for the museum include Gilbert Stuart's portrait of George Washington (the "Constable-Hamilton" one) from 1797 for $8.1 million, Norman Rockwell's 1943 Rosie the Riveter for 4.9 million, and Andy Warhol's 1985 silkscreen of Dolly Parton.

The Constable-Hamilton portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart
in 1797.  It was commissioned by William Constable for Alexander Hamilton
and remained in the Hamilton family until 1896 when it was bequeathed to the
Lenox Library, which later merged with the Astor library and Tilden Trust to
become the NY Public Library.  Photo courtesy of Kathryn Shattuck/NYTimes.

She also bought the most extensive surviving group of Colonial portraiture, the Levy-Franks paintings, which are notable examples of Colonial American portraiture.  Covering three generations, these portraits depict Moses Raphael Levy, his wife Grace Mears Levy, their daughter Abigail Franks and her husband Jacob Franks and five of their children.  Portraits signified social status in Colonial times, and these are important evidence confirming Jewish-American identity.  The American Jewish Historical Society has a collection of thirty-five of Abigail's letters, which together with the portraits, gives a glimpse of not only their personal lives but of 18th century New York.

Gerardus Duyckinc's 1735 portrait of Richa Franks.
Photo by Dwight Primiano, courtesy Crystal Bridges.

Some of the controversy with the museum, and the aforementioned troubles with the East Coast art establishment, is that many feel that the art that Walton has purchased should remain in their respective "birthplaces".  This is an old argument, and an international one.  (Can you say "Elgin Marbles"?)  In 2005, Walton paid $35 million to Sotheby's in a sealed bid for Asher B. Durand's 1849 landscape "Kindred Spirits", which was owned by the New York Public Library, and which is considered the definitive masterpiece of the Hudson River School.  Many thought that the piece should remain in New York.

Kindred Spirits by Asher B. Durand, 1849.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

In 2006, Walter partnered with the National Gallery of Art to buy Thomas Eakin's 1875 work "The Gross Clinic" for $68 million from Philadelphia's Thomas Jefferson University.  Fresh from the hoopla over the Durand piece, she let locals try and match her bid, which they did.  She then bought a less important Eakins work, the portrait of Professor Benjamin H. Rand from 1874, which is the first in a series Eakins did on professors and scientists.  She paid $30 million for that work.

The Gross Clinic by Thomas Eakins, 1875.  Dr. Samuel D. Gross
is in the surgical amphitheater at Jefferson Medical College.
Portrait of Professor Benjamin H. Rand by Thomas Eakins, 1874.
Dr. Rand taught Eakins anatomy at Jefferson Medical College.
Both Eakins images courtesy of Wikipedia.

She is also commissioning new work, but the collection so far has concentrated mainly on the 19th and 20th centuries.  She has gathered about 600 works, so has plenty of room to grow.  Two of her commissioned pieces are a giant silver tree that stands at the entrance by Roxy Paine, and a large-scale light installation by James Turrell.

Marisol Escobar was part of Warhol's circle in the 1960s.
This sculpture of Martha Graham is made of wood.

Probably the biggest problem with the museum is its location.  Although it is an interesting concept to have a major museum in the heartland, it also limits who will visit.  If you go to a big city - New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles - to see an art museum there will plenty of other things to see and do.  Bentonville?  Well, it would have to be a destination-specific trip, which those on limited incomes can't afford.  The wealthy, however, can fly anywhere in the world to see art, and often do.  Which begs the question, just who is this museum for?

Life-size glass sculpture by Karen LaMonte, 2007.
Photo by Martin Polak, courtesy of Crystal Bridges.

I guess I could get a job as a greeter at the museum.  I think I'm old enough.

To see more about the collection, go the museum website.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Are you Demented?

Dr. Demento, photo by Mark Takeuchi/Rhino Records.

A year ago last June one of the most unique syndicated radio shows in history ended, at least for radio.  The cult radio institution Dr. Demento took his show online.  Dr. Demento specializes in finding, playing, and promoting some of the strangest songs ever written.

Image courtesy http://dmdb.org.

Twelve-year-old Barret (Barry) Eugene Hansen grew up with an amateur pianist father, but it was finding that the local thrift store sold 78 RPM records for 5¢ each that got him started in a lifelong pursuit of music.  His first job as a dj was at his high school's sock hop in 1957.  When he attended Reed College in Portland, Oregon, he became program director, then general manager of KRRC.  He transferred to UCLA where he earned an M.A. in folklore and ethnomusicology, writing his master's thesis on the evolution of R&B in the 1940s and 1950s.

After getting his M.A. he lived for two years in Topanga Canyon in L.A. with members of the rock band Spirit, for whom he was also a roadie; later he was a roadie for Canned Heat.  He was then hired as a talent scout for Specialty Records. His persona was created when he was a dj at KPPC-Fm in Pasadena in 1970. When he played "Transfusion" by Nervous Norvus, someone at the station remarked that Hansen had to be "demented" to play it, and the moniker was born.

Image courtesy AP.

The positive listener response to the crazy, offbeat songs he included in his rock oldies show led to him doing an all-novelty show.  At the end of 1971, he moved to KMET in Los Angeles and did a four-hour live show.  The weekly show was syndicated in 1974.  From 1978 to 1992 his show was syndicated by Westwood One Radio Network.  This marked the height of his national popularity, as the show was carried in most major radio markets, mainly FM rock stations, and usually late on Sunday nights.

Image courtesy dmdb.org.

In 1992 the show was syndicated by On the Radio Broadcast when he left Westwood One.  He eventually took over the handling of the syndication from 2000, until its demise in 2010, under the name Talonian Productions.  But the show fell on tough times, like most everything else.  Part of the reason was because comedy songs lost much of their popularity, and very few were being released.  Also radio has developed into niche audiences, where at one time it was a melting pot of different styles and genres - everyone listened to the same things.

Image courtesy dmdb.org.

Toward the end of its syndication, Hansen had switched to a bartering system, but demanded that the radio stations carrying his show shut down internet streaming while his show played, so listeners would subscribe to his own website.  He lost more stations.  Yet for the show's entire syndicated history he did 52 original weekly shows every year, and very rarely were broadcasts repeated.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Beginning in 2006, the show became available via audio streaming.  There are archives from 1992 to the present, as well as select archives from the early 70s. The syndicated ones from 1978-1992 are still owned by Westwood One.  His site offers a new show every Saturday.  The most recent one - June 18, 2011 - has a theme of fishing, so songs about fishing and fish are featured.  He also debuted a new tribute to "Weird Al" Yankovic, the family tree of Minnie the Moocher, songs with extra special sound effects, and "Demented" farewells to James Arness and Jack Kevorkian.

Image courtesy dmdb.org.

His theme song, more or less, was the 1947 "Pico and Sepulveda", written by Eddie Maxwell and Jule Styne, and recorded by Felix Figueroa & His Orchestra (aka Freddy Martin & His Orchestra).  Basically just a recital of Los Angeles street names, the song became so requested that from May 1973 on he played it once a month, on the first Sunday of every month, at the end of a set of songs about L.A.   In exchange for this listeners understood that it could not be voted on or requested. He has used a version by the Roto Rooter Good Time Christmas Band as his opening theme since July of 1974.

Standing at the intersection of Pico and Sepulveda.
Image courtesy of dmdb.org.
P.S.  This intersection is nothing to write home
about, or even a song!

He is famously credited with bringing "Weird Al" Yankovic to national attention. A homemade tape given to Hansen by the 16-year-old accordion player started it all.  He has also introduced new generations of listeners to artists they may never otherwise have discovered, like Spike Jones, Tom Leher, and Haywire Mac. Hansen made the song "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer" by Elmo and Patsy in 1979 popular.  He revived songs like "Alley Oop" by the Hollywood Argyles, "Monster Mash" by Bobby "Boris" Pickett, "Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah" by Allan Sherman, and "They're Coming to Take me Away, Ha-Haaa" by Napoleon XIV.

A frequently featured artist was Frank Zappa, who Hansen has cited as a major influence on the show and who appeared several times as a guest.  When Zappa died in 1993, Hansen did his first two-hour show devoted to a single artist. Another highlight from the show was in the late 80s when Spinal Tap came in for a three-hour visit.

He was inducted into the Comedy Hall of Fame in June 2005, and the National Radio Hall of Fame in November of 2009.  Currently he keeps busy (aside from his Saturday show) doing research projects (often for Rhino Records), personal appearances, and maintaining his archives.  His shows have always been built on his personal music collection, which has hundreds of thousands of songs, and which includes every recording format from wax cylinders to digital downloads.

Image courtesy dmdb.org.

It's a good thing that so many of his shows can be accessed via the internet.  This wacky guy with both street and academic creds is an anomaly.  Remember..."Stay Dement-ed"!

Unless otherwise noted, image courtesy of Dr. Demento's website.
Here's a playlist archive of everything played from 1970 to today,
assembled with Dr. Demento's cooperation and blessing.
Here's Dr. Demento's top 100 Demented Hits from 1974-2010.