Saturday, September 3, 2022

Carlos Mérida's delightful illustrations for "The Magic Forest"

So far as I can tell, famed Guatemalan artist Carlos Mérida (1891-1985) didn't illustrate many books during his long career of focusing primarily on canvas, ceramics and murals. A Treasury of Mexican Folkways, from 1947, is perhaps the most notable example of Mérida doing book illustrations; he provided about 100 drawings.1

Mérida also collaborated with author Patricia Fent Ross on at least three books. Two of them are Made in Mexico: The Story of a Country's Arts and Crafts and The Hungry Moon: Mexican Nursery Tales. The third is today's featured book: The Magic Forest, which was published in 1948 by Alfred A. Knopf under the Borzoi Books for Young People label.

Here's a little about Mérida's career from, purely coincidentally, the website of the nearby Phoenix Art Museum:
"Guatemalan artist Carlos Mérida is best known for creating Modernist abstract art that integrated Latin American culture with 20th-century European painting. ... In 1910, at the age of 19, Mérida presented work in his first art exhibition. That same year, he moved to Paris, where he lived for four years and met and worked with Pablo Picasso, Piet Mondrian, and Amedeo Modigliani, as well as several prominent Latin American artists residing in Europe at that time. ... He was known for integrating figurative elements into his abstract art, such as colorful organic and geometric representations of clusters of people, and employed a variety of media, including watercolor, oil, gouache and pencil, and parchment and plastic."
Mérida's illustrations, including the cover and endpapers, for The Magic Forest are pure delight. As for the story itself, its characters include Concha and Coco Perez, who are twins; Peddy, the Chief of the Elves; Queen Peachblossom; Raul the Fox; Rosita Rabbit; Dido the Dog; Mario Monkey; Chippy Chipmunk; Mr. Bear; Bully Badger and Derry Deer. In 1948, a short review from Kirkus called it "a disturbing fairy tale for the five and six year olds [but] older children will find it enjoyable in somewhat the manner of the Wilde tales." That's the only review I could find online. The book isn't even listed on Goodreads, which is curious for something from a major publisher as relatively recent as 1948. I might go ahead and rectify that.

Here is a sampling of Merida's illustrations, starting with the front endpapers.
1. A Treasury of Mexican Folkways is subtitled "The Customs, Myths, Folklore, Tradition, Beliefs, Fiestas, Dances and Songs of the Mexican People." Reviewing it on Amazon in 2007, someone noted: "This fascinating book is a magnificent, all-inclusive account of the Mexican people, their colorful, dramatic, and ancient traditions and ways of life, worship, work, and play. It is filled with rare and wonderful stories of saints, heroes, cowboys, bandits; descriptions of exotic dances and fiestas; accounts of strange customs and ceremonies. All the folk arts -- pottery making, gold and silver work, carving, weaving, hand-drawn work -- are thoroughly described and lavishly illustrated with line drawings and photographs. ... [It] is nothing less than an encyclopedia, a virtual one-volume course in Mexican lore and culture." 

Thursday, September 1, 2022

"A beautiful woman, and a most horrid demon"

It's September 1, and the coolest kids declare that's the official start of Halloween Season. That's perfectly fine with me. We need all the horror escapism we can get these days, when the real world is scarier than Boris Karloff and Michael Myers. I've already been doing some posts that could qualify as Mild Fear 2022 since the blog reboot (1, 2), but I'll make this the first official post for that category of the year. 

It's also time for our family to finalize our 2022 Halloween Movie Festival, which will likely begin in September and bleed (ha!) into November. I'll share the lineup when it's done, but it's likely to include some lighter fare, like Mad Monster Party, Carry on Screaming!, My Name Is Bruce and the hard-to-find 1985 TV movie The Midnight Hour. We've also been working our way through the Hammer Dracula film series this summer. Because we can never get enough of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.

Anyway, for tonight's fun little post, this is a newspaper clipping I found on Page 2 of the May 11, 1865, version of the Lancaster Intelligencer.  I don't know what was in the water 157 years ago, but this is quite the wild ghost tale. I think if I had been the editor in the newsroom, I probably would have asked for another source to verify this before sending it to the press. But that's just me. I'm no fun anymore.

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

1973's "Garage Sale Shopper"

Today we have a book that's a Goodwill find about shopping at garage sales a half-century ago. Garage Sale Shopper was written by Sunny Wicka and published in 1973 by Dafran House Publishers of New York. The subtitle is "A Complete Illustrated Guide for Buyers and Seller."

The book itself is an interesting find, but hardly a hidden-treasure rare book (which I'm always on the lookout for at thrift shops). There are a few copies for sale on eBay and AbeBooks for under $10. 

No, this book is most intriguing as a cultural artifact and a peek into the exciting world of scoping out yard and garage sales in the early 1970s. And that's cooler than you might initially imagine. In the 2020s, I still occasionally find items from the 1960s and 1970s at yard sales. So it's not hard to imagine that 1973 yard sales had items dating to the 1920s. Or earlier!

As Wicka notes, yard sales were still a relatively new phenomenon in the early 1970s. During the 1950s and 1960s, there was a transition from holding such secondhand sales at churches and other community centers to holding them in individual driveways in the new American suburbs, the perfect spot for walk-by and drive-by customers. Wicka writes: "It has mushroomed in the last few years to a national hobby of incredible proportions." Her reasons for the "mushrooming" include the economic savings of buying furniture and clothing new instead of used; the perhaps dubious idea that rich people with mountain cabins and lake cottages want to furnish those second homes at a discount; and Americans choosing recycling over continued wastefulness.

The book contains section that explains garage sales to newcomers, one that provides strategies for shoppers, and one provides tips for sellers, including pricing and advertising.

There's a big section titled "Garage Sale Finds" (not to be confused with the wonderful blog of the same name). And another section provides ideas on what to do with those finds when you bring them back home.

Some excerpts:
  • "At one of my sales, an elderly man confided to me that he lived on a large acreage with a big garden, and he intended to use the 15¢ ragged golf bag he had just bought for carrying his hoe and rake and cultivator to and from the gardening area. I say, right on, sir."
  • "Milk bottles, medicine bottles, decorative bottles and unusually shaped jars seem to go well if marked low. An antique shop owner told me that the present day ceramic and quality glass wine bottles will become scarce as more and more distillers are switching to less expensive type containers for their products -- making their old containers fair game for collectors."
  • "Another one of my clever friends and her equally clever husband mounted a collection of five door knobs on a gracefully shaped piece of wood. The final result was then installed in the entryway where visitors could hang their jackets and hats on brass, porcelain and copper."
If author Wicka is still alive, she'll be 88 this October. Maybe she still keeps an eye out for good yard sales in Minnesota. Here's a picture of her from the book, modeling one of her second-hand finds...