The Birthplace of Beethoven…

Admittedly, I only bought this because it was small and cute; a little piece that could fill in an awkward space on a gallery wall. At just 4″ x 4″ total, the actual print probably only measures half of that.

On the back, it appears this was purchased in 2001 to commemorate Steve Andy’s visit to Bonn…

I’m embarrassed to admit that I thought Bonn was in France. It’s not. Turns out, Bonn is actually in Germany and is known as the birthplace of Beethoven. Also, fun fact, no one really knows when Beethoven was born. It was sometime in December of 1770, but the date of his birth is not recorded. However, since it was customary for baptisms to take place within 24 hours of birth, it’s likely he was born on December 16th.

Anyways, I hope Steve Andy or Steve and Andy (if that’s meant to be two different people) enjoyed his/their trip to Bonn. And I’m glad, 17 years later, this little souvenir found its way to a store shelf in Seattle.

The Bull…

I love how anything can be art. You could frame a gum wrapper, hang it on your wall and…boom…art. No one can tell you that something you put in your house doesn’t classify as art, because there are no rules. Art is the wild west of decor. Paintings, fabrics, labels/wrappers, photographs…absolutely anything you decide is art, is art.

The same can’t be said for a lamp or a couch. Those have a specific form and function. You can’t put a bar of soap on the floor and call it a coffee table. It doesn’t work that way. But art is different. So in a sense, the boundaries that confine other things in our homes don’t apply when it comes to how we decorate our spaces.

Take this picture of a bull standing in the desert. Why do I like it? What made me say, “Oh that’s something I’d like in my house?” The answer is: I don’t know. Sometimes you just see something and it makes sense…to you…even if to no one else.

Bulls symbolize passion, transformation, virility, strength and fulfillment. I didn’t know that before I Googled it. Doesn’t matter. I saw this at a thrift shop for $0.99 and was like, “Yup. Mine.”


Why are cigar labels so cool?

In the interest of full disclosure, I know nothing about cigars. I only know that every time I see an old cigar box label I think, “Oh my God that is so cool.” That’s why when I found this Antique Original Label that had been professionally framed for Frances Lee Kaufman in Culver City, CA I was like, “I’m definitely buying this.”

But first, a little research:

Prior to the Civil War, few cigars were packed in boxes. Even in Cuba, most cigars were sold singly, by the handful or in small wrapped bundles called yaguas, made from palm fronds. In this country, cigars were typically shipped in barrels of 2,500 or more. Overworked revenue agents, faced with counting individual cigars in a factory, found it impossible to keep track of the movement of taxed and untaxed cigars. “They all look alike,” one harried agent complained to Congress.

The Revenue Act of 1864 tried to solve the problem by requiring all cigars to be packed in “boxes or bundles,” but feisty cigar makers harassed inspectors with odd lots, turning record keeping into a nightmare. With Lincoln’s strong support, the laws of 1865 resolved the problem of counting by requiring all cigars, foreign or domestic, to be packed in wooden boxes containing 25, 50, 100 or 250 cigars, giving IRS agents somewhere to paste a stamp proving taxes had been paid. By the end of the war, cigar boxes were everywhere: the federal solution to a very taxing problem.

Even the most far-thinking visionary in the chaw-chewing 1860s could not have foreseen that within a few years superb, new cigar tobaccos would be developed, cost-cutting cigar molds would be introduced from Germany (then the cigar-manufacturing capital of the world), exorbitant Civil War taxes, which made a five-cent cigar cost 12 cents, would be lifted and a huge, immigrant labor force would arrive eager for work.

With those changes in the 1870s and 1880s, domestic cigars became better, cheaper and more available, and for the next 50 years, cigars replaced the plug as the most popular form of tobacco use in America.

By 1900, four out of five men (and a goodly number of women and children) smoked cigars, and cigar connoisseurship had become an art. Dozens of distinct domestic tobaccos were blended with tobaccos from Cuba and Sumatra and rolled into more than 3,500 shapes and sizes–ready “for every occasion, purpose and time of day.” About 150,000 cigar factories flooded the country with a bewildering array of product. Between 1870 and 1920, more than 1.5 million brands of U.S. cigars appeared and disappeared on the market. More than 250 billion cigars were manufactured. And the law said they all had to be packed in boxes.

At first, cigar boxes sat closed on shelves behind the bar or counter, with only the simplest markings to identify the contents. But as the cigar industry became more competitive, the humidified cigar counter was developed to allow the new varieties, shapes and colors of cigars to be displayed without drying out. Colorful inside labels became essential to make a brand stand out among a sea of rather similar-looking competitors.

Cigars were unique among American retail products because everyone had a finger in the advertising pie. Cigar makers labeled cigars in accordance with their own tastes, but any wholesaler with a big order could get the same cigar packed in a different box with a different label, any saloon or drugstore that bought as few as 10 boxes could have the cigars reboxed under yet another label. With fancy labels costing only a penny or two, even customers could easily order “custom” brands emblazoned with their children, dog or favorite boat. As a result, there were more brands of cigar than any other product in history. During the height of cigar popularity, a small-town drugstore was forced to carry as many as 350 brands to keep its clientele happy.

For example, the 60 hand-rollers at the Powell & Goldstein factory (1870-1926) in Oneida, New York, made only two cigars: a five-center they sold as Factory 370 and a popular 10-center called Napoleon. Although they made just two cigars, they (like many other factories) were responsible for hundreds of brands. For more than 50 years, Powell & Goldstein’s five salesmen covered every town within a day’s ride of the Erie Canal. They created “custom brands” of cigars for hotels, restaurants, barbershops, train stations, social clubs–even haberdashers and shoe-shine parlors. The same cigar was sold side by side under multiple labels depicting well-dressed dandies, children at play, Masonic temples, white elephants and the mustached proprietor of a Buffalo pool hall–each trying to catch the eye of a smoker with a dime in his hand.

And catch his eye they did. Cigar labels were spectacular: full of colorful flags, eagles and naked women…showing off dogs, guns and fast horses. Ballplayers, actors, vaudevillians, opera stars and popular comic-strip characters were immortalized as were local heroes, civil servants and saloon keepers.

Labels depicted the high life, gambling, racial stereotypes, popular paintings, regional railroads, automobiles, inventions, political candidates, famous generals and women by the carload, generally staring virtuously into space. Labels featured lightbulbs, gas meters, wireless, the transatlantic cable, talking machines, radios and the Model T. Each new product or trend, new feat or event made it onto a label.

The Art of Cigar Boxes by Tony Hyman

I mean, I feel cooler just having this in my possession. But again, I’d be lying if I said I  knew anything about this brand of cigar or what the antique original label is worth. I paid $3.99 for it and feel perfectly ok with that.


The Ancient Kingdom of Mithila…

Besides pieces that are fun, bold and bright…I’m also drawn to travel-themed art and/or anything that comes with a really good story. I bought these two together because, while they don’t necessarily fit my aesthetic, I love what they represent.

These were hand made in India using fingers, twigs, nib-pens and paint brushes. They are identified with the Madhubani District, and are (therefore) referred to as Madhubani paintings.

Because they are devotional in theme, they depict scenes from the ancient epics and legends…and are rich with Vedic and Tantrik symbolism. They are simplistic manifestations of the philosophical heights achieved by Indian civilization.

The point is, you can be inspired by anything you see at any time. I got these both for less than $8 and I think they are worth WAY MORE than that…

A State of Oblivion…

It was Black Friday and while most people were battling mall parking lots or waiting in mile-long lines at Target, I was checking out a new thrift shop on Capitol Hill in downtown Seattle. Everything was 50% off so when I found this painting that cost slightly more than what I would normally spend on a piece from a secondhand store, I thought, “Meh…why not splurge a little?”

From the bid card on the back, it looks like this was part of a school fundraiser. The artist, Reba S. Bigelow, had handwritten the title of her work in pencil on the back.

“A State of Oblivion,” it said. While I have no idea what it went for in that auction, the price tag in front of me said $14.99. Paying half price for it meant that I could have it for $7.50. SOLD!

Luckily, the artist had also taped her card to the back so I was able to Google search her to learn more about the woman behind this particular state of oblivion.

Reba is originally from Kansas but married a Seattleite. Her interests include line dancing and volunteering. I even found this YouTube video of an interview she did while her art was on display at ArtNotTerminal (https://www.antgallery.org/) in August of 2005.

What I like most about Mrs. Bigelow’s painting is how abstract it is due to the lack of facial expression. I guess being in a state of oblivion shields us all from extreme emotions and leaves everyone guessing…

Dear Kelsey…

Dear Kelsey,

You and I have never met but yesterday I saw your incredible artwork at a thrift shop in downtown Seattle. I loved your use of color and, of course, I’m a big fan of any painting that includes a dog! But I was in a bit of a hurry and left the store without buying anything.

Then, last night as I was lying in bed scrolling through Twitter I saw a Tweet from Lin-Manual Miranda:

Instantly, your pieces came back to mind and I wished I had purchased them.

This morning I thought, “Hmmm…maybe after I run my errands I’ll swing back by and see if they are still there.” But as I had feared, I completed three full laps around the store and couldn’t find them anywhere. I was about to give up and surrender to the golden rule of thrift shopping: If you don’t buy it when you see it, someone else will. But just as I was about to leave, I decided to check the front corner one last time – perhaps the guy who had been blocking the bottom shelf while looking at the assortment of vinyl’s had finally moved on and I could make sure they weren’t accidentally mixed in with the stacks of records. 

YAHTZEE!

I couldn’t believe it, there they were…

I grabbed them and triumphantly marched up to the register where I learned that all pictures were 50% off – which meant I got both of your pieces for $3.30. Should you ever stumble upon this blog post and decide you want them back, let me know and maybe we can cut a deal 🙂

I have no idea when you did these, how old you were then, or are now…but I sincerely hope you are still painting because they are fantastic and I think you are extremely talented. I am a big fan of your work, Kelsey!

Sincerely,

Megan

Once Upon a Time in Barcelona…

In 2017 I left North America for the first time. With the exception of Canada and Mexico, I had never been anywhere outside of the United States. I was long overdue to get lost in a foreign city, wandering down unfamiliar streets and imagining what my life would be like if I lived there. I had set-up a few “fare alerts” through various travel sites and when a cheap flight to Barcelona popped up late night, I booked it on a whim.

Upon learning that I was FINALLY taking the trip I had been talking about for years, my best friend from high school bought a ticket as well. (Side note: nothing can test a 20-year friendship quite like spending a week together in a foreign country…but don’t worry, we made it).

Barcelona was everything I had dreamed of and more. As this isn’t a travel blog I will spare you the details of experiencing the sights, sounds and tastes of La Boqueria or enumerating our afternoon at the mountainside monastery of Montserrat but I will say that I definitely left a piece of my heart in that city.

Before I left, I bought this little painting off an artist on Las Rambla.

For about $15 U.S. dollars, I brought back my own little slice of Spain and every time I look at this painting I am right back in Barcelona.