Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Astronomy, Ephemera and Gay History in the Skies

I've been lucky today to be able to have a play with this really great piece of rare ... ephemera I suppose you would have to call it. These are a few of the 32 cards that go to make up Urania's Mirror, Or a View of the Heavens which was published by Samuel Leigh of London in 1824. The cards all have small holes at the centre of the stars illustrated so that one can hold them up to the light and see what the constellation would have looked like in the night sky. There is a great piece on Ian Ridpath's great astronomy site about the publication details of the set where he treats is among the genre of Star Atlases.

Just this selection here will show you that alongside the very familiar there are also constellations here that we have not heard of today. I was, of course, entranced to see that there was once a constellation called Antinous, a little bit of gay history in the sky. I bow to Ridpath again when he takes the creation of this constellation back to Hadrian himself: after the tragic drowning of his lover, Antinous, it wasn't enough to make him a God and to found a city in his name, the bereaved Emperor gave him a place in the stars. In the 1930s when the constellations were internationally standardised, Antinous was merged into Aquila but one has to wonder if Hadrian, in placing Antinous in the claws of the celestial Eagle was adding another level of meaning to the constellation, comparing his love for the young Antinous to that of Zeus for Ganymede. Sadly, we no longer have the constellation in our books but the stars are still there to be seen and interpreted how you wish.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

A Discovery: Winifred Welles

More than anything else I just love the way that these things happen. I was working today on a new book about the artist Albert Wainwright and I was flicking through a folder of scans I have of his artwork and sketchbooks and came upon this page from a 1920s sketchbook with three loose drawings of boys. I almost just clicked to go to the next image but then paused to read the poem. Even in those few lines I was quite captivated. I noticed that there was a name at the bottom, though not one I had heard of and so I Googled away and soon discovered that this was a few lines from a longer poem called "Boy" by a woman called Winifred Welles ...and suddenly this is a whole new thing.

I couldn't immediately find a copy of the whole poem "Boy" but what Google does tell me is that I am now one of a very few people who have heard of Winifred who, despite having a number of poetry books and other books published in the first half of the twentieth century, is more or less forgotten. Essentially she is known to the internet only through a small number of blog posts a little like this one where the blogger has stumbled across her work through some apparently random path and been enchanted. Top of the list of ways to meet Winifred seems to be that a phrase from a brilliant poem of hers called "The Climb" was used as the title of a 1960s children's book (what we would now call a YA novel). The book was called Knee Deep in Thunder and a couple of people who have found Winifred have done so because they have wondered about the title of their favourite childhood book. This is the level of obscurity we are talking about. The most informative blog post I have found is this from "Knocking From Inside" in 2009. There is a copy of one of her books at and a number of her poems also available in the form of pdfs of pages from The North American Review.

I can't imagine why she has been so forgotten. It is early days in my reading of her work but I wonder if people failed to see past the use of fairytale and local New England landscape to what I think might be a genuine mysticism. I eventually tracked down the poem "Boy" and it didn't disappoint after the excerpt. It was one of those poems you read and with each new line and thought your jaw hangs just a little bit lower. I could talk over the imagery for hours but I won't except to say that this seems to me to be a poem of great depths describing both the travails of being a boy in a completely non-sentimental way whilst also providing something like an initiatory map of trial and hardship with the promise of magic and knowledge to come.


Does no one see that in your wood
The season is not spring but winter?
You are too proud to wear a hood,
You love to drive a crystal splinter
Through your bare hands, your naked feet.
White nuts, snow berries you will eat,
If wild birds bring them, on your tongue
The taste of ice is piercing sweet.
Will no one say that being young
Is being hurt, it being bled,
Enduring dagger-thirsts, wolf-hungers,
Is being self-raised from the dead
More times than boys have toes and fingers?

Does no one know the unicorn
Kneels down to you as to your sister?
If with his single cryptic horn
He has crept close and sharply kissed her,
He is no less your animal;
He will run with you till befall
Your freshet, flower and furrowed mould.
Will no one say that growing tall
Is crouching down and feeling cold
Outside dark windows starred with frost?
That being innocent is only
Being locked out, alone and lost,
White as the snow, as still, as lonely?

I hope in the future to be able to provide a little more context and detail but for the time being I would recommend the "Knocking from Inside" blog post linked above as giving the most comprehensive account of her.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Couple of Vintage Swimwear Additions

These two vintage swim photos arrived in the post today and you know how I like to share the goodness with you! I have even provided a pre-cropped version of one of them to suit all tastes...

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Magic Lantern Slides in Hove

If, like me, you have often thought it would be great to have a collection of glass magic lantern slides, and yet, for lack of a magic lantern projector, can't quite imagine what you might do with them - take a leaf from this display in Hove Museum near Brighton where they have created a floor-to-ceiling wall of slides with a light behind. I have selected just a few of my favourite individual slides to display below.

Monday, February 15, 2016

A Pointer to Peter Knoch

On our recent trip to Berlin, R and I passed a gay bar called Hafen and outside they had a holder with the above postcard in as a little advert to take away with you. I thought having a woodcut illustration on a postcard was a pretty classy way of advertising yourself. Googling the artist, Peter Knoch, on my return I discover a really interesting body of work, a couple of which I have added below, on mainly gay themes (often NSFW) that ranges over painting, printing and ceramics, do please have a look at his website.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Paul Thevanez

It is strange how these things happen. For two years, whenever we have visited a town not far from us here, also in Hampshire, we have popped into a rather nice, unconventional charity shop which services a rolling rosta of different local charities. In their rather boudoir-like back room they have a series of folders with prints and pictures in. For all that time I have been charmed by a number of images from the 1920s in those folders obviously all by the same hand and presumably cut from the same book. It was only today that I decided they had been there long enough and they were coming home with me. They are the top three images on this post, the ones in colour, which I have scanned. I am sure you can see why they were so attractive.

So of course, the next thing to do is to look up the artist, Paul Thevanez, and suddenly a whole world of Front Free Endpaper goodness tumbles out of the Internet. Thevanez was a Swiss artist who created murals, costume design and watercolour paintings. He was firmly convinced of the link between dance, sculpture and painting and fascinated by the application of the notion of rhythm to painting. He studied in Paris and came into the orbit of both Stravinsky and Cocteau, both of whom he drew in rather exciting portraits that are still extant on the Internet. (In fact, the Cocteau portrait, drawn on a postcard, inscribed by Cocteau and framed, is available to buy if you have a pleasant 1,900 Euros lying around.) He moved to New York and continued his career in art and began a long-distance relationship with the poet Witter Bynner, his senior by some ten years. It is thought that it was Thevanez's influence which led Bynner to move beyond his rather repressed New England approach to his sexuality and to live as a gay man as far as that was possible in the 1920s. But it didn't last, tragically Thevanez died of a rupture appendix in 1921 at the age of 30.

Bynner, devastated by the loss, helped to compile and privately print a memorial volume which is where these prints that I bought today have obviously been culled from. The black and white images below are just a few samples I have picked out from an online version of that book. The top black and white image is self-portrait. How many artists paint self-portraits of themselves not just smiling but laughing, being happy? It is nice to see. The second b/w image is also, a rather more 'arch', self-portrait.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Narcissus in Berlin

I am no expert on Greco-Roman sculpture but regular readers will know I do have a bit of a thing for a finely carved piece of white marble. Berlin, where R and I have been on a break recently, is full of stunning statuary and nowhere more so than in the Altes Museum which houses the national collection of antiquities. The photos in this blog are of two statues that stand together in the museum, both interpreted as images of Narcissus. The top three photos are of the first statue, the bottom three of the second.

Precisely because I am no expert, one of the things it took me a long time to appreciate was how a single image, particularly of a divine or mythical subject would be portrayed using near identical iconography and an early masterpiece copied for centuries. Hence these two statues, though they both derive from Rome in the second century AD, are actually copies of works whose original would have been first carved in about 400BC - for six hundred years, this is how Narcissus looked. It it something of a challenge to our modern notions of creativity. So similar did these iterations become that there are in fact three statues here: the bottom three photos show a statue in which the body and the head have been 'married' from two separate versions (a marriage done in Berlin in the 20th century) and looking all the more seamless for the similarity of all versions of this image.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

A Vintage Swimwear Post to be back at the Blog-face

Hello, it's good to be back! Thank you to those who emailed or messaged to ask if everything was okay: actually I have been dealing with my annual bout of winter ill health and haven't had the energy to keep up the blog. Those of you who follow me on Twitter will know that this weekend gone we were able to go on a long-planned, long-weekend to Berlin and whilst it was perhaps a little less hectic than it might have been, it was a good trip and hopefully it marks a turning-point. Certainly I hope to be back at the blog-face again now.

So it has become a little tradition now if I have a break from the blog that the first post back is a vintage swimwear photo post ...and who am I to break with tradition! In fact, this is rather nice because all but one of these photos were picked up at Berlin flea markets. Another very good reason to collect photos and paper ephemera is that it takes up so little room in the hand luggage on the way home again!

Lots more to come from Berlin in the following days on the blog too.

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