Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Snake Handlers of Harlan, KY

In light of the recent death of a religious snake handler here in the United States, I share with you an International News Photo from October 23, 1947 of snake handler W. H. Edmonds holding aloft a poisonous timber rattlesnake during a worship service in Harlan, KY. Though outlawed, the practice obviously continues today in some remote regions of the United States.

Photo collection of John and Teenuh Foster

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Finding Art: New book by John Foster

Hello everyone!

I'd like to introduce you to my first book, designed by me and produced by Blurb. It includes selected images from well over five years of photography. Check it out and I hope you like it.





Friday, February 7, 2014

The Snowmobile as Envisioned in 1924

Armstead Snow Motors
from Seeking Michigan on Vimeo.

WHEN I FIRST WATCHED THIS VIDEO, from an old 16mm film made in 1924, I was stunned. For the last 100 years, American ingenuity and know-how has been a leader in the industrial world. From backyard tinkerers to garage inventors to larger productions—there’s nothing like the freedom of the entrepreneurial spirit to spur a new idea. My father once told me the story of the trouble American tanks had during WWII in the hedgerows of France. The tanks could not negotiate the thick, thousand year old hedges until a ordinary soldier—a farm-boy from back home—suggested welding to the front of the tank steel prongs—which was able to virtually rip their way through the underbrush. Problem solved… a simple solution to a serious situation.

What an ingenious idea to a crippling problem before the small, fast and streamlined snowmobiles of today. The concept is a little bit like Buck Rogers, a futuristic design below a Ford tractor.

And then I wondered why the concept never went any further? Perhaps the idea lacked backers. Perhaps there were design problems this “PR film” did not display, or perhaps the concept vehicle sat stagnant until the 1929 stock market crash doomed its production.

To my knowledge, the U.S. military did not have any kind of snowmobile vehicles during the fierce winters in Belgium and Germany in WWII in the early 1940s. I do recall seeing pictures of trucks and jeeps being stuck in and dug out of snowdrifts, troops walking alongside. While it’s not such a peaceful thought, think of this baby multiplied by 200 with a couple of machine guns mounted on the front—leading a frontal assault during the Battle of the Bulge. Wild! Or, think of it being used to move supplies or injured troops to and from the front lines. It seems to me that the military would have funded this concept in a heartbeat.

So, where did this (seemingly) great industrial design go? I don’t know.

This old silent film is about 10 minutes long, but I guarantee you’ll watch every bit of it—in awe.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Vilet Lester: A Slave Letter from 1857

(Above is actual letter, below is translation): Click for larger view.

Georgia Bullock Co August 29th 1857
My Loving Miss Patsy

I hav long bin wishing to imbrace this presant and pleasant opertunity of unfolding my Seans and fealings Since I was constrained to leav my Long Loved home and friends which I cannot never gave my Self the Least promis of returning to. I am well and this is Injoying good hlth and has ever Since I Left Randolph. whend I left Randolf I went to Rockingham and Stad there five weaks and then I left there and went to Richmon virgina to be Sold and I Stade there three days and was bought by a man by the name of Groover and braught to Georgia and he kept me about Nine months and he being a trader Sold me to a man by the name of Rimes and he Sold me to a man by the name of Lester and he has owned me four years and Says that he will keep me til death Siperates us without Some of my old north Caroliner friends wants to buy me again. my Dear Mistress I cannot tell my fealings nor how bad I wish to See you and old Boss and Mss Rahol and Mother. I do not [k]now which I want to See the worst Miss Rahol or mother I have thaugh[t] that I wanted to See mother but never befour did I [k]no[w] what it was to want to See a parent and could not. I wish you to gave my love to old Boss Miss Rahol and bailum and gave my manafold love to mother brothers and sister and pleas to tell them to Right to me So I may here... (continued)
(Above is actual letter, below is translation): Click for larger view.

... from them if I cannot See them and also I wish you to right to me and Right me all the nuse. I do want to now whether old Boss is Still Living or now and all the rest of them and I want to [k]now whether balium is maried or no. I wish to [k]now what has Ever become of my Presus little girl. I left her in goldsborough with Mr. Walker and I have not herd from her Since and Walker Said that he was going to Carry her to Rockingham and gave her to his Sister and I want to [k]no[w] whether he did or no as I do wish to See her very mutch and Boss Says he wishes to [k]now whether he will Sell her or now and the least that can buy her and that he wishes a answer as Soon as he can get one as I wis him to buy her an my Boss being a man of Reason and fealing wishes to grant my trubled breast that mutch gratification and wishes to [k]now whether he will Sell her now. So I must come to a close by Escribing my Self you long loved and well wishing play mate as a Servant until death
Vilet Lester
of Georgia
to Miss Patsey Padison
of North Caroliner
My Bosses Name is James B Lester and if you Should think a nuff of me to right me which I do beg the faver of you as a Sevant direct your letter to Millray Bullock County Georgia. Pleas to right me So fare you well in love.

WHAT YOU JUST READ ABOVE IS AN EXTREMELY RARE LETTER FROM A SLAVE BY THE NAME OF VILET LESTER in the Special Collections Library at Duke University. It’s not every day that we get to actually read a letter by an African while enslaved in these United States during the period up to their Emancipation by President Lincoln in 1863. That is why, when I stumbled upon this—I figured it was too good not to share. Obviously, the digitizing of old documents is bringing research to our fingertips. I feel so fortunate to read this, and especially love the cadence and dialect—which we can get a good sense of by the particular spellings—published here as it read in the letter. According to historians there, this letter “is one of less than a dozen such letters that the Duke Special Collections Library has been able to identify among the vast amount of plantation records held at the Special Collections Library.”

This letter and others were showcased in a wonderful book about letter writing entitled “More than Words: Illustrated Letters from the Archives of the Smithsonian’s Archive of American Art” by Liza Kirwin. It was published by the renowned Princeton Architectural Press and you can order it by clicking here. The
ISBN number is: 9781568985237.

Note: A transcription of this letter has also been published in the 2nd edition of Roots of Bitterness: Documents of the Social History of American Women published by Northeastern University Press, 1996.

The Vilet Lester letter © Special Collections Library at Duke University. Learn more about this letter and other unique collections at Duke by clicking here.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Sideshow Banners of Fred Johnson

(click any image for larger view)

(click any image for larger view)

Fred G. Johnson was considered to be one of the finest side show banner painters in the history of the circus and sideshow world. He had a 65-year career of banner painting, creating many works that are still prized by collectors and museums around the world. He worked for the O. Henry Tent and Awning Company in Chicago for 40 years from 1934 - 1974. His ingenious, old school techniques for painting banners inspired generations of younger painters.

These objects are huge, sometimes 10 to 15 feet in size (and some much larger!), a slight drawback to those who like to exhibit their art. But the cool thing is that many of these banners are for sale (and some are sold) by a private collector in Westfield, Indiana. You can learn more by e-mailing the collector: See more banners and prices here.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Clowns Are Evil

(Above) Does this child look happy? I think not.

COULROPHOBIA IS AN ABNORMAL OR EXAGGERATED fear of clowns. I can understand how someone has such a phobia, especially with photographs like these. Psycho killer John Wayne Gacy was a clown by day at kid’s birthday parties. In the evening, he killed young boys and buried them under his house. Let’s face it—clowns are creepy.

These snapshots are from my personal collection.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Handmade Flash Cards

LAST WEEK I DID A POST ABOUT THE BEAUTY OF THE SILHOUETTE IN PHOTOGRAPHY. Based on that, folk art and extraordinary objects dealer Joshua Lowenfels of NYC sent me these incredible vintage flash cards, made to teach a child to recognize animals by their form.

What you see here are small handmade flash cards, probably from the first part of the 20th century. There are 21 in total that he has, all made from black cut paper lightly glued on these wonderful speckled cards. They are each about 5 x 8 inches in size, and each one is signed on the back. Josh says they are each signed by a woman on the back, and she was from the rural Midwest.

What I like about these besides their complete charm as part of Americana, but that the maker took some unique artistic liberties as she cut the paper. Take the goat, for example. His head is bent down, so we can only see one ear and have to imagine the other. Sweet.

Joshua Lowenfels has some of the best, most extraordinary stuff in the country. Ahhh-h, if only I were a rich man....

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