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Posts Tagged ‘design

“Making ornaments / Of accidents and possibilities”*…

 

This solemn group of posters teaching safety to British citizens comes from the archive of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. The images are from the Wellcome Library’s website; I first saw them on the blog the Passion of Former Days.

The RoSPA displayed a series of its 20th-century posters in a 2012 exhibition, after rediscovering a small archive of them in an outbuilding. In the exhibition notes,RoSPA curators noted that the society, which dates back to World War I, focused on road safety and pedestrian awareness in the 1920s and 1930s (much like analogous American safety organizations).

From the redoubtable Rebecca Onion: “Stark, Spare, Beautiful Midcentury British Safety Posters.”

* Vladimir Nabokov, Pale Fire

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As we put safety first, we might recall that it was on this date in 1938 that the Great New England Hurricane (AKA, The Long Island Express) dissipated.  It had made landfall on Long Island on September 21. With impact felt from New Jersey all the way north to Canada, the storm was estimated to have killed 682 people, damaged or destroyed over 57,000 homes, and caused property losses estimated at $306 million ($4.7 billion in current value).

Storm surge from the 1938 hurricane at the Battery, New York City

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“Design can be art. Design can be aesthetics. Design is so simple, that’s why it is so complicated”*…

 

Late-19th-century earrings incorporating real hummingbird heads

Home to drawings, textiles, jewelry, furniture, and thousands of other design objects, the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum is taking increased advantage of the internet’s digital real estate. The museum recently completed a massive digitization project that places almost its entire collection online; nearly 200,000 objects are now accessible and searchable, allowing online visitors to see just how rich its holdings are. Many of these works currently reside in the institution’s storage facility, so the project is a means of placing them in the public eye on a platform that also offers background information on each one…

Whitehead & Hoag Company, “Cawston Ostrich Farm, South Pasadena, California” (c. 1900)

More at “From Tiny Stairs to Taxidermy Earrings, 200,000 Objects from Cooper Hewitt Go Online“; dive into the collection here.

* Paul Rand

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As we shake out the duster, we might recall that it was on this date in 1940 that a teenager named Marcel Ravidat discovered the entrance to Lascaux Caves in southwest France.  Following a dog down the narrow entrance and into the cavern, Ravidat and three friends came upon (part of) the now-storied collection of wall markings– 15,000- to 17,000-year-old paintings, consisting mostly of animal representations– that are among the world’s finest examples of art from the Upper Paleolithic period.

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Written by LW

September 12, 2016 at 1:01 am

“The best way to destroy the capitalist system is to debauch the currency”*…

 

In a world full of smartphone payments and cryptocurrency, 85% of all transactions are still done in cash. Australia actually sees cash demand rising at a steady 6% to 7% per year with no decline on the horizon.

As printers and scanners become more sophisticated, the government has moved to ensure that its currency is safe. “What we noticed in recent years, with the availability of technology—particularly around reproduction technology like scanners and printers—counterfeiting in Australia had started to increase. We’re in the fortunate position where it’s still pretty low but it is rising,” says James Holloway, deputy head of note issue at Reserve Bank of Australia. “We thought we just don’t want it to keep rising in a sustained fashion, so the time had come around upgrading security”…

How Australia means to frustrate counterfeiters: “The Painstaking, Secretive Process Of Designing New Money.”

* Vladimir Lenin

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As we bite our coins, we might recall that it was on this date in 1789 that President George Washington named Alexander Hamilton as the first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury.  A founding Father, Hamilton created the Federalist Party, the world’s first voter-based political party, the the United States Coast Guard, and the The New York Post newspaper.  As Treasury Secretary Hamilton stabilized the nation’s economy and paid back the mountainous debt resulting from the Revolutionary War.  He established the first national bank and created the U.S. Mint in (the precursor of) the form in which we know it today.

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Written by LW

September 11, 2016 at 1:01 am

“Personality is everything in art and poetry”*…

 

Marcel Proust

From parlor game to psychological staple, the strange story of the Proust Questionnaire…

In 1886, Antoinette Faure, the daughter of the future French President Félix Faure, asked her childhood friend Marcel Proust to fill out a questionnaire in a book titled “Confessions. An Album to Record Thoughts, Feelings, & c.” A fashionable parlor game originating among the Victorian literate classes, the “confession album,” as it was known, presented a formulaic set of queries on each page—“What is your distinguishing characteristic,” for instance, or “What virtue do you most esteem?” The album’s owner would pass the volume around among her friends, collecting their comments as a kind of souvenir, not unlike the notes that high-school students leave in one another’s yearbooks. Though Proust was only fourteen years old when he filled out Faure’s album, he responded to the questionnaire in precociously Proustian style. Beside the prompt “Your favorite virtue?,” he wrote, “All those that are not specific to any one sect; the universal ones.” To the rather pedestrian question “Where would you like to live?,” he answered, “In the realm of the ideal, or rather my ideal.” His “idea of misery,” true to form, was “to be separated from Maman.” And when asked, “For what fault have you most toleration?,” he replied, “For the private lives of geniuses.”

The young Proust wrote his answers in French, though Faure’s album, a British import, was printed in English. In his early twenties, Proust would fill out a second questionnaire, in a French album titled “Les Confidences de Salon.” He was far from the only significant cultural figure to participate in this ritual. In 1865, Karl Marx confessed that he considered his chief characteristic “singleness of purpose,” and that his favorite occupation was “bookworming.” Five years later, Oscar Wilde wrote in an album called “Mental Photographs, an Album for Confessions of Tastes, Habits, and Convictions” that his distinguishing feature was “inordinate self-esteem.” Arthur Conan Doyle, Stéphane Mallarmé, and Paul Cézanne all filled out similar forms. But while these other confessions are curios of their era, remembered only by historians, Proust’s questionnaires have had a far-reaching influence that their young author could scarcely have foreseen, becoming, over time, the template for one of the most widely administered personality quizzes in history.

This peculiar afterlife began in 1924, two years after Proust’s death, when Antoinette Faure’s son, the psychoanalyst André Berge, discovered his mother’s confession album in a pile of old volumes among her effects…

More at “How the Proust Questionnaire went from literary curio to prestige personality quiz.”

* Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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As we answer authentically, we might spare a thought for Raymond Loewy; he died on this date in 1986.  A pioneering industrial designer, he shaped landscape of manufactured goods in the U.S., from the Coca-Cola bottle and vending machine, through the automobile (e.g., the Studebaker 1947 Starlight Coupe, the 1953 Starliner Coupe,  the 1961 Avanti, and the Greyhound Scenicruiser bus) and appliances (the 1947 line of Hallicrafter radio receivers that conveyed a crisp precision far ahead of their time; the 1929 Gestetner duplicating machine, the 1934 Sears Coldspot Refrigerator), to the heavy industrial (the Pennsylvania Railroad GG1 and S-1 locomotives); and he created logos for companies including Shell, Exxon, TWA, and the former BP. (A more complete list of his work, here.)  For all of this, he earned the epithets The Man Who Shaped America, The Father of Streamlining, and The Father of Industrial Design.

Loewy standing on one of his designs, the Pennsylvania Railroad’s S1 steam locomotive

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Written by LW

July 14, 2016 at 1:01 am

“Fashion changes, but style endures”*…

 

Once upon a time, spotted prints went by a host of other names. Slate’s Jude Stewart provides an overview: in the 19th century, “Dotted-Swiss referred to raised dots on transparent tulle,” and in France, “quinconce described the diagonal arrangement of dots seen on the 5-side of dice.” Meanwhile, “[t]he large coin-sized dots on fabric, called Thalertupfen in German, got their name from Thaler, the currency of German-speaking Europe until the late 1800s.”

But then came the polka, the dance so popular that mid-19th century Europe came up with the word “polkamania” to describe its own excitement. As the polka craze swept west across the continent, enthusiasts claimed the polka jacket, then the polka hat (neither of them spotted), and finally, the polka dot. There is only a tenuous connection between dot and dance, yet surely the two are linked—it’s possible that polka dots reflect the same regulated, short bursts of energy that inflect the polka itself. Regardless, we know that the American women’s magazine Godey’s Lady’s Book was the first to print the term, in an 1857 description of a “scarf of muslin, for light summer wear, surrounded by a scalloped edge, embroidered in rows of round polka dots”…

More fashionable fun at “A Brief History of Polka Dots.”

* Coco Chanel

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As we avoid pairing with plaids, we might send elegant but perky birthday greetings to Sonja de Lennart; she was born on this date in 1920.  A fashion designer who began her career at the close of World War II, she created a wide-swinging skirt with a wide belt (which, as readers can see below, she modeled herself), a blouse, and hat–a collection that became known as the Capri Collection.  A couple of years later, in a move away from the wide and rather masculine trouser profile being worn by women of the day, she added a tighter, three-quarter length pant to the collection, the Capri pant.  Audrey Hepburn made the slacks famous, wearing them first in Roman Holiday, then Sabrina.  As a result, Edith Head embraced the entire Capri line’s look, and so they adorned Doris Day, Jane Russell, Katharine Hepburn, Gina Lollobrigida, Ava Gardner, Elizabeth Taylor, Jacqueline Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe, Kim Novak, Sophia Loren, Anita Ekberg, and Mary Tyler Moore… along with black turtleneck-wearing Existentialists in Paris.

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Written by LW

May 21, 2016 at 1:01 am

“All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream”*…

 

Each night Dion McGregor would fall asleep; then he would narrate his dreams in astonishing detail.  Happily, his roommate recorded them– and the resulting tapes reveal the truly strange places our minds go to at night.

“Do you know Edwina didn’t even cry when that crocodile popped off her leg? She didn’t even cry, Edwina. She was fascinated, just fascinated. Her mother fainted dead away, and her father fainted dead away. Half the attendants fainted dead away. And Edwina just stood there and watched him chew up her leg… You know what? She said she always wanted to be Long John Silver!”

Welcome to the strange dream-world of the late Dion McGregor. By day, McGregor was an aspiring songwriter, whose Where Is The Wonder was eventually recorded by Barbra Streisand; by night, the world’s most dramatic sleep-talker…

More “Adventures in Slumberland” at “The dark tales of the world’s most epic sleep-talker.”

* Edgar Allan Poe

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As we nod off, we might stage a dramatic memorial for dramatist and scenic innovator James Morrison Steele (“Steele”) MacKaye; he died on this date in 1894.  A well-known theatrical actor and producer in his time, he is best remembered for his revolutionary contributions to theatrical design.  MacKaye opened the Madison Square Theatre in 1879, where he created a huge elevator with two stages stacked one on top of the other so that elaborate furnishings could be changed quickly between scenes.  MacKaye was the first to light a New York theatre– the Lyceum, which he founded in 1884– entirely by electricity.  And he invented and installed overhead and indirect stage lighting, movable stage wagons, artificial ventilation, the disappearing orchestra pit, and folding seats.  In all, MacKaye patented over a hundred inventions, mostly for the improvement of theatrical production and its experience.

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Written by LW

February 25, 2016 at 1:01 am

“The worst wheel of the cart makes the most noise”*…

 

The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: A Guide to Field Identification turns ten in 2016. Created by artist Julian Montague [bio here], the book attempts to bring clarity to a world littered with shopping carts far away from their birth stores. Written in the voice of a character who takes the project as seriously as a birder would take a birding guide, the book is as complex as it is wry…

A winner of the 2006 award for Oddest Book Title of the Year [c.f. this earlier visit to that list], Montague’s guide received a decent amount of media attention when it came out. But, published in the rudimentary years of social media, it missed out on a chance for the level of virality it may have achieved today. So far, there are few, if any, efforts to add to Montague’s research. Perhaps it’s too good. Perhaps it’s too insane…

See for yourself at “A Look Back at the Greatest (and Only) Stray Shopping Cart Identification Guide Ever Made.”

* Benjamin Franklin

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As we return our baskets to the queue, we might recall that it was on this date in 1904 that “CQD” (Morse code  – · – ·    – – · –    – · ·) became the official distress signal to be used by Marconi wireless radio operators. A few years later, judging that “CQD” was too easily mistaken for the general call “CQ” in conditions of poor reception, the signal was changed to the now-ubiquitous “SOS” (· · · – – – · · · ).

In 1912, RMS Titanic radio operator Jack Phillips initially sent “CQD”, which was still commonly used by British ships.  Harold Bride, the junior radio operator, jokingly suggested using the new code, “SOS”.  Thinking it might be the only time he would get to use it, Phillips began to alternate between the two.

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Written by LW

February 1, 2016 at 1:01 am

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