Sunday, December 9, 2018

Tony Drehfal Engraving | Braiding Sweetgrass

Braided Sweetgrass © Tony Drehfal
Above In recent years, an old friend and fellow artist, Tony Drehfal from Nashotah WI, has become a devotée and skilled practitioner of one of our favorite art forms, wood engraving. He recently produced an image of strands of sweetgrass that had been braided by his wife, artist Jeanne Debbink. By the fortuitous meeting of minds, it has now been used as the cover of the Japanese edition of a book by Robin Wall Kimmerer, titled BRAIDING SWEETGRASS: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants (as shown below). You can learn more about Tony and his extraordinary prints at various online sites, including this one, and this one, and this one as well. And of course on Instagram.

Cover of Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Winsor McCay | Brute in the Brain Illustration

The Brute in the Brain by Winsor McCay
Above An early uncharacteristic illustration by legendary comic page illustrator Winsor McCay, titled "The Brute in the Brain" (date and source unknown).


Cornelius Weygandt, On the Edge of Evening: The Autobiography of a Teacher and Writer Who Holds to the Old Ways (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1946), p. 107—

In 1902 we went to Ireland…As we got off the ship there were women selling gooseberries on the quay. I had often heard of the proficiency in bad language of alewives. I was now to hear it. It was the time of the Boer War. A Tommy came by with a hat about the size of a teacup on one side of his head and the strap from it around under his chin to hold it in place. He said to the woman with the gooseberries, "Mother, how much the gooseberries?"

"You blank blank bastard of a blankety blank blank. I'm not your mother, and you may be very sure that I wouldn't have been. I'd have no child by a man that would get the like of you." And more of the same. And more of the same. I had been told by numerous kindly Irish people that the gooseberries in Ireland were as big as English walnuts in America. It is true they were. I was waiting for the old woman to show her dexterity by driving them at the offending Tommy, but she didn't. They were, I suppose, too previous. I had been intending to buy some, but she lost the sale. I was too afraid of what she might say to me to offer to buy any of them.

Let's Pretend | A Radio Series from the 1950s

Poster by Roy R. Behrens (2018)
Among the most vivid memories of my early childhood is that of listening to a fantastic children's radio program called Let's Pretend. I no longer recall any specific stories. All I remember is how powerfully engaging the performances were—as if they were visual, when in fact they consisted entirely of voices and sound effects.

Recently, I've been reading the autobiography of Terry Gilliam, the only American member of the Monty Python troupe, titled Gilliamesque (New York: HarperCollins, 2015). On page 9, he recalls his own American childhood, and the experience of reading books, in which a child may often engage in "translating that mental picture from two dimensional into three." How clearly I remember that in my early years of reading books. But then he goes on—

It's the same with the radio, which was all-powerful in America at that time [the early 1950s]. There was a children's radio show called Let's Pretend, which was one of my very first gateways to the fantastical. 

Mine too, for which I will always be grateful.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Dennis Ichiyama | Curris Endowment for Design

Dennis Y. Ichiyama
Above Graphic designer, typographer and teacher Dennis Y. Ichiyama will speak at the University of Northern Iowa at 6:00 pm on Monday, November 12, 2018. The presentation will take place in the auditorium (Room 111) of the Kamerick Art Building. It is made possible by The Elena Diane Curris Endowment for Design and the UNI Gallery of Art in conjunction with the endowment's inaugural biennial exhibition, titled THE REACH AND RICHNESS OF DESIGN, in which the work of Ichiyama and other designers is featured. The event is free and open to the public.

Professor Ichiyama is widely known for his work in publication design, typography, and his active interest in the renewed use of vintage wood type in printmaking. He was featured prominently in the documentary Typeface, which includes an account of his efforts as an artist / designer at the Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum in Two Rivers WI.

Ichiyama earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Hawaii-Manoa. He received his MFA degree at Yale University, where he studied with Paul Rand. He also studied with Armin Hofmann at Allegemeine Gewerbeschule in Basal, Switzerland. Before his retirement, he taught Visual Communications Design at Purdue University for many years.

Monday, October 15, 2018

High Backs, Ladder Backs, Glasgow Grids

Above One of the slides featured in a talk by Roy R. Behrens, titled Sitting Down with Frank Lloyd Wright. Presented at the annual gathering called An Afternoon with Frank Lloyd Wright, Cedar Rock State Park (Walter Residence), Quasqueton IA, on October 13, 2018.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Elena Diane Curris Design Exhibition | 2018

Opening on October 8, 2018, at the Gallery of Art at the University of Northern Iowa is the first of an on-going series of biennial design-themed exhibitions. Titled The Reach and Richness of Design: The Elena Diane Curris Biennial Design Exhibition, it consists of five components representing architectural design, editorial illustration, industrial design, information graphics, and wood type and typography. Included are works by Frank Lloyd Wright, Dennis Ichiyama, Ad Reinhardt and others, as well as historical artifacts from the collections of Jessica Helfand, and Paul D. Whitson. The exhibition is one part of The Elena Diane Curris Endowment, which also provides for the return to campus annually of past graduates of the UNI Graphic Design program, which is housed within the Department of Art. more>>>

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Frederick Douglass Poster | Libby Schwers

Above This wonderfully eloquent poster is the work of Libby Schwers, graphic design student in the Department of Art, University of Northern Iowa. She designed it in connection with her internship (working under Sarah Pauls) in the Marketing and Promotions section of the Office of the Dean of the College of Humanities, Arts and Sciences (2018).


UNI Frederick Douglass POWER OF WORDS Festival. September 18-22, 2018 at the Rod Library on the UNI campus. Social Justice | Human Rights.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Kevin Nute on Frank Lloyd Wright and Japan

If I named a single book from which, more than any other, I learned about the architecture and beliefs of Frank Lloyd Wright (and the source of his influences), my first choice would easily be Frank Lloyd Wright and Japan: The Role of Traditional Japanese Art and Architecture in the Work of Frank Lloyd Wright by Kevin Nute, who teaches architecture at the University of Oregon. I was fortunate to buy a copy when it was published in 1994, nearly twenty-five years ago.

Only yesterday, I was delighted to find that Professor Nute will soon be talking about Wright in Japan at the Architectural Interpretive Center in Mason City IA. The lecture begins at 7:00 pm on Tuesday, July 10, 2018. It is free and open to the public.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Film on Eden Ahbez | Nature Boy Songwriter

New York filmmakers Brian Chidester and John Winer are in the process of completing a feature-length film about the life of Hollywood songwriter Eden Ahbez. For those who may not remember that name, nearly everyone will recognize the most famous of the songs he wrote, called Nature Boy, as first recorded by Nat King Cole in 1948. It was the No 1 hit song for eight weeks. Nearly every well-known singer has put out his or her version of it in the years since, including Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughn, Natalie Cole, David Bowie, Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga. It was prominent in the film Moulin Rouge.

The two filmmakers came through the Midwest last fall, in part to visit Chanute KS, where Ahbez had grown up in a foster home. But later he also lived briefly in Hampton IA and Burlington IA, and it may have been in those two locations that he first began to write music.

The filmmakers also visited Cedar Falls IA, and the University of Northern Iowa, where I teach. We spent a day together on campus, for the simple reason that when I was a freshman high school student in 1960, living in Iowa, I wrote to Ahbez. In response, he sent a hand-written sheet music copy of the score and lyrics for Nature Boy, autographed to me. He also sent an LP of his most recent album called Eden's Island—which, unfortunately, had been damaged in the mail and was broken into five pieces (which I taped back together, curiously, but of course it couldn't be played). Later, using oil paint on canvas board, I made a portrait of him (which was pretty awful, looking back), which I sent to him to thank him. In response, he replied with a wonderful letter.

I am one of about ten people who are interviewed in the film, which is still in process of being edited. One of the highlights of their campus visit was a session in which the filmmakers visited my history of design class, to talk about Ahbez and the project. During that session, my wonderful colleague, vocalist Celeste Bembry, sang Nature Boy, with the students as her impromptu audience.

Part 2 of a three-part series of "behind the scenes" clips about the progress of the film has just been posted on YouTube here. They hope that the film will be ready for release by late this year or early next. The film is titled As the Wind: The Enchanted Life of Eden Ahbez. Go here for more info.

The entire text of an essay I wrote was published in Ballast Quarterly Review in 2002. That issue can be accessed online at this UNI Scholarworks link. It was later republished as a small handbound booklet, titled On Eden Ahbez: Nature Boy Spelled Backwards.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Ballast Quarterly Review | Issues Online Now

Back issues of Ballast Quarterly Review are now online
We are delighted to announce that the ScholarWorks team at the Rod Library at the University of Northern Iowa is making rapid progress on the online posting of all issues of Ballast Quarterly Review. The magazine, a self-described "periodical commonplace book," ran for twenty years, beginning in 1985. Here is the story of how it began, and here is the link to the archived issues.

Above Photograph of Ballast Quarterly Review founder / editor Roy R. Behrens (1994) by Dave Rasdal, Cedar Rapids Gazette, Cedar Rapids IA.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Roy R. Behrens | Site Revised & Redesigned

We've been struggling with the design and reorganization of our website, using the subsections 0f Intro, Books, Essays, Design, Art and Research. These scroll down, and include high definition images that enlarge when clicked on. There are also links to downloads or to further information. Above is a screen grab of the Intro page. Additional pages are shown below. Each of these has a live link, or the entire site can be easily accessed here.


Sunday, February 4, 2018

The Vietnam War | Scott Cawelti

Poster © Roy R. Behrens (2018)
Above Poster announcing a program by Scott Cawelti about the merits and accuracy of the recent PBS documentary series on The Vietnam War.


William Blake
The god of war is drunk with blood,
The earth doth faint and fail;
The stench of blood makes sick the heav'ns;
Ghosts glut the throat of hell!


Sherwood Anderson in H.H. Campbell, ed., The Sherwood Anderson Diaries 1936-1941. Athens GA: University of Georgia Press, 1987—

Went with Katy and Mims to a German place in Philadelphia [in 1936]. Danced. It was hot and I took off my coat. They saw my brown shirt and cheered. They thought me a Nazi.


Lewis Lapham "Notebook: Mute Button" in Harper's Magazine (April 2006), p. 10—

…and if I'm wary of religious belief in any and all of its ardent emissions, it's because I remember, as did the authorsof the American Constitution, the vast numbers of people crucified—also burned, tortured, beheaded, drawn, quartered, imprisoned, and enslaved—on one or another of its ceremonial altars (Protestant, Muslim, Catholic, Aztec) over the course of the last 2,000 years.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Audubon's Birds of America | Samantha White

Audubon Poster © Samantha White 2017
Above and below Reinterpretations, in poster form, of John James Audubon's The Birds of America, designed by Samantha White, graphic design student at the University of Northern Iowa (2017).


Louis MacNeice, The Strings are False: An Unfinished Autobiography. London: Faber and Faber, 1965. p. 127—

Dr. Johnson had said that the poet is not concerned with the minute particulars, with "the streaks on the tulip."  This, I thought, was just where he was wrong and just where I met Mariette on a common ground. Mariette was crazy for the streaks on the tulip. At the same time I felt she made much ado not about nothing but about the obvious or the trivial. Her conversation was like a barber's scissors when he is giving his last retouches to the back of your head, clicking away very fast, very deftly, but apparently not making contact.

Audubon Poster © Samantha White 2017

Louis MacNeice, The Strings are False: An Unfinished Autobiography. London: Faber and Faber, 1965. pp. 73-74—

At school I no longer assumed that the masters were all my superiors. Some of them were ninnies.  Mr. Cameron left us for a time and in his place we had a master from Galway—seedy, embittered, with a powerful brogue, a bad cough and always the same suit. He could not manage the chalk on the blackboard; the pieces of chalk from day to day, from month to month, harassed him with unending guerilla warfare, breaking in his hand, deploying to all corners of the room. "Damn the chark!" he would shout, hurling the remaining stub away from him. "The square on the hypotenuse is equal—Damn the chark!" And then, conscious of our grins, he would look ashamed, on the verge of tears, and surrender to a spasm of coughing.

Audubon Poster © Samantha White 2017

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Audubon's Birds of America | Mallory Thurm

Audubon Poster © Mallory Thurm 2017
Above and below Components from John James Audubon's magnificent Birds of America are reimagined in these commemorative posters by Mallory Thurm, a graphic design student at the University of Northern Iowa.


Marvin Bell, A Marvin Bell Reader: Selected Poetry and Prose. Middlebury College Press, 1994—

[In Star Trek, Captain] Kirk is eating pizza in a joint in San Francisco with a woman whose help he will need, when he decides to fess up about who he is and where he has come from. The camera circles the room, then homes in on Kirk and his companion as she bursts out with, "You mean you're from outer space?" "No," says Kirk, "I'm from Iowa. I just work in outer space."

Audubon Poster © Mallory Thurm 2017

Norman Douglas, Siren Land: A Celebration of Life in Southern Italy. London: Penguin, 1948—

Bouillabaisse is only good because it is made by the French, who, if they cared to try, could produce an excellent and nutritious substitute out of cigar stumps and empty matchboxes.

Audubon Poster © Mallory Thurm 2017

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Audubon's Birds of America | Ross Hellman

Audubon poster © Ross Hellman 2017
Above and below Components from John James Audubon's magnificent Birds of America are reimagined in these commemorative posters by Ross Hellman, a graphic design student at the University of Northern Iowa.


Henry David Thoreau, Walden, or Life in the Woods, 1854—

I once had a sparrow alight upon my shoulder for a moment while I was hoeing in a village garden, and I felt that I was more distinguished by that circumstance than I should have been by any epaulette I could have worn.

Audubon poster © Ross Hellman 2017

Vaclav Havel, quoted in The New York Review of Books, January 15, 1998—

…America is an almost symbolic concentration of all the best and the worst of our civilization. On the one hand, there are its profound commitment to enhancing civil liberty and to maintaining the strength of its democratic institutions, and the fantastic developments in science and technology which have contributed so much to our well-being; on the other, there is the blind worship of perpetual economic growth and consumption, regardless of their destructive impact on the environment, or how subject they are to the dictates of materialism and consumerism, or how they, through the omnipresence of television [and the internet] and advertising, promote uniformity, and banality instead of a respect for human uniqueness.

Audubon poster © Ross Hellman 2017

Audubon's Birds of America | C. Strelow-Varney

Audubon poster © Cheyenne Strelow-Varney (2017)
Above and below Components from John James Audubon's magnificent Birds of America are reimagined in these commemorative posters by Cheyenne Strelow-Varney, a graphic design student at the University of Northern Iowa.


Edmund Clerihew Bentley [inventor of the clerihew], Biography for Beginners. London" T.W. Laurie, 1905—

Sir Humphrey Davy
Abominated gravy.
He lived in the odium
Of having discovered sodium.

Audubon poster © Cheyenne Strelow-Varney (2017)

Edmund Clerihew Bentley in More Biography. London: Methuen, 1929—

George the Third
Ought never to have occurred
One can only wonder
At so grotesque a blunder.

Audubon poster © Cheyenne Strelow-Varney (2017)

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Audubon's Birds of America | Hanna Seggerman

Audubon Poster © Hanna Seggerman 2017
Above and below Components from John James Audubon's magnificent Birds of America are reimagined in these commemorative posters by Hanna Seggerman, a graphic design student at the University of Northern Iowa.


Samuel Foote [nonsense text devised to test the claim of actor Charles Macklin that he could memorize anything] quoted in Maria Edgeworth, Harry and Lucy Concluded. New York: Harper and Borthers, 1842, p. 315—

So she went into the garden to cut a cabbage leaf; to make an apple pie; and at the same time a great she-bear, coming up the street, pops its head into the shop. What! no soap? So he died, and she very imprudently married the barber; and there were present the Picninnies, and the Joblillies, and the Garyalies, and the grand Panjandrum himself, with the little round button at top, and they all fell to playing the game of catch as catch can, till the gun powder ran out at the heels of their boots.

Audubon Poster © Hanna Seggerman 2017

 Melissa Meyer, quoted in Heresies (Winter 1977-78), Vol 1 No 4—

Published information about the origins of collage is misleading. Picasso and Braque are credited with inventing it. Many artists made collage before they did, Picasso's father for one and Sonia Delaunay for another.

Audubon Poster © Hanna Seggerman 2017

 Lawrence Perlman (American business executive)—

When you ask children what they want to be when they grow up, they don't say, "I want a boring job where the only thing I look forward to is Friday."

Audubon's Birds of America | Charles Williams

Audubon Poster © Charles Williams 2017
Above and below Components from John James Audubon's magnificent Birds of America are reimagined in these commemorative posters by Charles Williams, a graphic design student at the University of Northern Iowa.


Camilo José Cela, Journey to the Alcarria: Travels Through the Spanish Countryside. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1994—

Things are always best seen when they are a trifle mixed-up, a trifle disordered; the chilly administrative neatness of museums and filing cases, of statistics and cemeteries, is an inhuman and antinatural kind of order; it is, in a word, disorder. True order belongs to Nature, which never yet has produced two identical trees or mountains or horses.

Audubon Poster © Charles Williams 2017

Arthur Eddington, quoted in Nicolas Rose, ed. Mathematical Maxims and Minims. Raleigh NC: Rome Press, 1988—

We used to think that if we knew one, we knew two, because one and one are two. We are finding that we must learn a great deal more about "and."

Audubon Poster © Charles Williams 2017

Thursday, October 5, 2017

BLOOD ROAD / Nick Schrunk Returns to UNI

It was in October 2015 that one of our most accomplished graphic design alumni, Red Bull filmmaker Nick Schrunk, returned to the University of Northern Iowa to meet with current students. His talk was a great success, the semester's high point. As his former teachers, we are both proud and appreciative of his remarkable achievements.

Among the things he shared with us were in-process insights into the production of his first feature film, titled BLOOD ROAD. A powerful documentary on a mountain bike retracing of 1,200 miles of the Ho Chi Minh Trail (an 8-week endurance trek) in Vietnam, it was released earlier this year, to awards and wide acclaim. The official trailer is on YouTube, and the film itself is available online through Amazon Video, YouTube, Google, iTunes and other sources.

The two mountain bikers in the film are American athlete Rebecca Rusch and her Vietnamese riding partner, Huyen Nguyen. Part of Rusch's motivation was to try to locate the site where her father (a US Air Force pilot) was fatally shot down some forty years ago in Laos.

In a few days, Nick Schrunk is returning to the UNI campus again, this time to screen the finished film, to reflect on film production, and to revisit the painful reminders of the Vietnam War (survivors are still being injured or killed by buried explosives and the enduring effects of chemical defoliants).

The timing of this could hardly be more opportune, since Nick's visit to campus follows by a week or two the premiere of Ken Burns' new, ten-part PBS documentary on the horrid consequences of that war, and the increasing likelihood that we and other countries have and will continue to engage in comparable atrocities. It is especially critical for younger, current Americans—those who did not witness the war—to be aware of the damage that governments do.

The screening of BLOOD ROAD is free and open to the public. It will take place on Monday, October 9 in Sabin Hall Room 002 on the UNI campus. Despite what it says on the poster, the starting time is 7:30, not 7:00.

Don't miss it.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Audubon's Birds of America | Sophia Grover

Audubon poster © Sophia Grover 2017
Above and below Components from John James Audubon's magnificent Birds of America are reimagined in these commemorative posters by Sophia Grover, a graphic design student at the University of Northern Iowa.


Arthur Koestler, The Act of Creation. New York: Macmillan, 1964, p. 191—

"The great field for new discoveries," wrote William James, "is always the unclassified residuum. Round about the accredited and orderly facts of every science there ever flows a sort of dust-cloud of exceptional observations, of occurrences minute and irregular and seldom met with, which it always proves more easy to ignore than to attend to." The genius of Sherlock Holmes manifested itself in shifting his attention to minute clues which poor Watson found too obvious to be relevant, and so easy to ignore. The psychiatrist obtains his clues from the casual remark, the seemingly irrelevant drift of associations; and he has learned to shift the emphasis from the patient's meaningful statements to his meaningless slips of the tongue, from his rational experiences to his irrational dreams. [It is] the trick which [Edgar Allan] Poe's character empolyed when he let the secret document lie open on his desk—where it was too obvious to be seen. 

Audubon poster © Sophia Grover 2017

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Audubon's Birds of America | Colton Ellison

Audubon poster © Colton Ellison 2017
Above and below Reinterpretations, in poster form, of John James Audubon's The Birds of America, designed by Colton Ellison, graphic design student at the University of Northern Iowa (2017).


Louis MacNeice, The Strings are False: An Unfinished Autobiography. London: Faber and Faber, 1965. p. 123—

Ireland was something new to Mariette and obliged her by appearing very Irish. A local peasant girl, who had been engaged to do the work, turned out delightfully incompetent and committed all the Irishisms beloved by English humorists. When told to clean a pair of shoes she asked "Do you mean both of them?" and when sent up to a bedroom with a hot-water bottle she would hang it on the knob of a chair. There were three itinerant butchers who visited the house in rotation and sold us whole sides of sheep. And when I walked along the road with my arm around Mariette, an old woman called out, "That's a grand way for a girl to be—linked to a boy."

…One day Mariette and I drove across the island to buy lobsters. The fishermen had only a dozen which they had contracted to send to the mainland, but Mariette's Mediterranean persuasiveness was too much for them and one of them gave us two lobsters, saying to his colleague who was in charge of the box for the mainland, "Throw in a couple of herring; they're all fish." The lobsters sat on the back seat and clacked their claws like castanets as we drove home.

Audubon poster © Colton Ellison 2017

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Audubon's Birds of America | Sydney Hughes

Audubon Poster © Sydney Hughes (2017)
Above and below Reinterpretations, in poster form, of John James Audubon's The Birds of America, designed by Sydney Hughes, graphic design student at the University of Northern Iowa (2017).


Andrew Nelson Lytle, A Wake for the Living: A Family Chronicle. New York: Crown Publishers, 1975—

Papa, my grandfather Nelson, rarely went to church. The evangelical sects seemed lacking in ritual and ceremony, and he had had the chance to know full well the hypocrites. I asked him once for a nickel to go to Sunday school. He enquired if a penny wouldn't make as much noise in the pan. [p. 31]


Aunt Tene and I were very fond of each other. She was thin as a straw but with a clear eye that never mistook its object. She managed to outlive one of those old-fashioned "consumptions" which was a medical term of the day for death's affair with life. During the Great Depression I used to borrow her burial money to go courting. "You might as well have it," she said. "It looks like I can't die." [p. 20]


I think I have already told you that I called my grandfather Nelson, Papa, as if I were a younger child…

I never heard Papa complain, but at times he was politely tart. Once, speaking out of a general silence, he said at large, "All old women ought to be shuck out every morning."

His intentions were not misunderstood. Aunt Tene without hesitation replied, "Well, every old man ought to be stood in a barrel of lye." [pp. 15-16]


Cousin Mary set an extravagant table and, I understand, ruined her husband. She took on great weight and died at Grandma's one hot July day…The wagon carrying Cousin Mary's coffin to the funeral cracked a wheel, as it jolted through a creek. Before the matter could be mended, the hot July sun made her well and Cousin Mary split the coffin.

"She wants out," a mourner said, downwind. [p. 113] 

Audubon poster © Sydney Hughes (2017)