Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Privy aperture: Set right down I'll mark 'er 'round

Roy R. Behrens, front cover, Journal of Creative Behavior (1976)
Buck Johnson, quoted in Remar Sutton and Mary Abbott Waite, eds., The Common Ground Book: A Circle of Friends. Latham NY: British American Publishing, 1992, p. 272—

Cousin Sally wanted an air conditioner, so she went into Metter [Georgia] to buy one, and they said: "Miss Sally, what size you want?"

She said, "I don't know."

They said, "Well how many BTUs do you want?"

She said, "I don't know a thing in the world about BTUs. All I know is I want an air conditioner with enough BTUs to cool a b-u-t-t as big as a t-u-b." She was really large.


Rockwell Kent in It’s Me O Lord: The Autobiography of Rockwell Kent. New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1955, p. 177—

…I laughed when he [Mr. Young, an old carpenter who worked with him in Maine] told me of “the big fat lady over on the main” for whom he was building a privy. “Now you be sure and make it big enough,” sez she. Said Mr. Young: “Lady, you set right down there and I’ll mark her ‘round.”

Roy R. Behrens, rear cover, Journal of Creative Behavior (1976)

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Flu pandemic and quackery in Iowa in 1918

Roy R. Behrens (©1980), Cream City Review
Richard Critchfield, Those Days: An American Album. New York: Dell, 1986, p. 189—

[Jessie in Postville, Iowa, writing to Anne in Minneapolis, October 28, 1918, in reference to the Spanish flu pandemic] . . . Hope you and the children got there safely. Helen got ill just after you left. It seems to be a recurrence. She had it awfully hard last year. I’m keeping her out of school. So far the rest of us have been spared. We keep hearing wild rumors. One is that some doctors and nurses at Camp Dodge outside Des Moines were caught injecting flu germs into patients and were court-martialed and shot. Another is that fifty black soldiers who died of flu were buried in a mass grave behind the hospital. Who can be believed? Dad says none of it's true but that so many of the young boys who got drafted and are down at Camp Dodge are sick and going overseas. One of the fellows we knew died of flu on his way to France and had to be buried at sea. Liquor is outlawed here, but the police will issue medicinal whiskey permits if Doc Schmidt signs them. No more than a quart and the man is watched. Doc Schmidt got hold of what he calls “pneumonia serum.” He told Papa, “I don't know if it's any good, but c'mon over and I'll give you a shot.” So he went. I tried a new medicine, “Vick's Vaporub,” with Helen. Folks have been trying just about anything—onions, kerosene, Hicks tablets, mustard poultices, lemon juice, turpentine, linament. Papa had me make up some little cheesecloth breath strainers. But there's plenty of quackery…

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Entangled threesome | a walking Läocoon

Coles Phillips "fadeaway" magazine cover illustration (1916)
Above Magazine cover illustration for the October 1916 issue of Good Housekeeping by Coles Phillips (1880-1927). As shown in this example, he was especially known for paintings in which edges of the figure merge with the background. Tragically, he died of tuberculosis at the early age of 47. We reproduced another work of his in an earlier blog post.


Ford Maddox Ford as quoted by Simon Nowell-Smith, compiler, The Legend of the Master (London, Constable, 1947), p. 44—

I was once walking with him [Henry James] and Mr. John Galsworthy…[whose] dachshund Maximilian ran sheep, so, not to curtail the animal’s exercise, the Master had provided it with a leash at least ten yards long. Mr. Galsworthy and I walked one on each side of James listening obediently while he talked. In order to round off an immense sentence the great man halted…He planted his [walking] stick firmly into the ground and went on and on and on. Maximilian passed between our six legs again and again, threading his leash behind him. Mr. Galsworthy and I stood silent. In any case we must have resembled the Laocöon, but when Maximilian had finished the resemblance must have been overwhelming. The Master finished his reflections, attempted to hurry on, found that impossible. Then we liberated ourselves with difficulty. He turned on me, his eyes fairly blazing, lifting his cane on high and slamming it into the ground: “H…” he exclaimed, “you are painfully young, but at no more than the age to which you have attained, the playing of such tricks is an imbecility! An im…be…cility!”

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

a wreath of trefoiled shiny leaves—just like ivy

© Mary Snyder Behrens 2002
Above  Mary Snyder Behrens, American Canvas No 006.  Mixed media, assemblage (©2002).  5.5 x 4 in. Private collection.


Rockwell Kent, It's Me O Lord: The Autobiography of Rockwell Kent. New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1955, p. 21-22 [recalling his early childhood]—

…above all, and forever dear to my thoughts, there was Rosa, our young nurse from Austria. It was Rosa who dressed me in the morning and put me to bed at night. It was Rosa who taught me to say my prayers, and to believe in them…

It was always in German, of course, that with Rosa I prayed, and German—long before I spoke English—that I spoke. And it was Rosa who read us Struwwelpeter aloud, teaching us how wicked it was to kill birds and hunt hards, how sinful it was to make fun of little black boys, how disastrous it was to not watch your step and to tilt back in your chair at table, and how fatal it was to play with matches or not eat your supper every night. It was Rosa who walked with us in the fields and woods, who made us daisy chains and garlands of flowers, and who, sitting with us under the great oak tree—a veritable "charter oak"—wove me a wreath of trefoiled leaves, green shiny leaves just tinged with russet red, wove me the wreath and put it round my brow. Such pretty shiny leaves, like ivy! Ivy indeed it was: poison ivy. It was the doctor who prescribed the milky lotion, sugar of lead, for a swollen and disfigured child. And it was that child who got hold of it and drank it, and who almost died. It was Rosa who, more than any other, fills my memory of those years.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

small like the wren, chestnut hair, eyes of sherry

Trammel: White Wish © Mary Snyder Behrens (2005)
Above  Mary Snyder Behrens, one of a series of small (palm-sized) mixed media artworks called Trammels (2005). This is Trammel Box (White Wish), made of cloth, thread, and twine in which a box-like metal form is encased.


Emily Dickinson (describing herself in a letter to Thomas Wentworth Higginson)—

I had no portrait, now, but am small, like the Wren, and my Hair is bold, like the chestnut Bur, and my eyes, like the Sherry in the Glass, that the guest leaves.


Charles Darwin

I remember a funny dinner at my brother's, where, amongst a few others, were [Charles] Babbage and [Charles] Lyell, both of whom liked to talk. [Thomas] Carlyle, however, silenced everyone by haranguing during the whole dinner on the advantages of silence. After dinner, Babbage, in his grimmest manner, thanked Carlyle for his very interesting lecture on silence.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Ice cream, drinks and the half and half Iowa man

Above An advertising postcard featuring a tavern owner from Bonair IA named John Pecinovsky (1899-1942). After opening his tavern in the late 1930s, he attracted wide attention, was sought after by tourists, and was featured in Ripley's Believe It or Not, when he began to wear an outfit that was dark-colored on one half (bearded) and light on the other (clean-shaven). He was buried dressed the same way in nearby Cresco IA. See our earlier, related post.

Bonair has all but vanished now, but there is an American writer (she teaches writing in France) named Janet Hulstrand, whose relatives were from Bonair, who is in process of writing a memoir about her Midwestern origins called A Long Way from Iowa. See her post from 2014 titled A Little Town Called Bonair. I believe it was in Cresco (or was it Decorah?) that my father (who grew up near Ossian IA) saw Buffalo Bill and his Wild West extravaganza, c1912.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Kenneth Gogel | Recalling a wonderful teacher

Above Kenneth Gogel, The Nervous System. Collage (1973). Permanent Collection of Art, University of Northern Iowa. Among his most memorable artworks is Gogel's portrayal of “the [very] nervous system” of US President Richard Nixon at the height of the Watergate scandal. Gift of Roy R. and Mary Snyder Behrens.


In the late 1960s, when I was an undergraduate art student at the University of Northern Iowa, one of my favorite teachers was an art education professor named Kenneth Gogel. He had been a student of Victor Lowenfeld at Pennsylvania State University. He was particularly interested in children’s drawings, and what those might reveal about (in Lowenfeld’s words) their “creative and mental growth.”

Part of the reason I liked him so much was his eccentricity. He had "a mind of his own,” so his comments were often surprising. His artwork was equally unpredictable. He wasn’t committed to staying within a consistent approach to art-making, whether medium, style, or subject matter. In one of his experiments, he used photo booth self-portraits and xerox (innovative at the time). In another, he rigged up a kind of terrarium, the sides of which were covered with a card-like material punched with random circular holes; inside the terrarium were ladybugs, which changed the pattern of the holes (on-or-off, like digital punch cards) as they climbed up and down the interior walls.

Of the artworks he was making then, one I especially admire is a large mixed media work titled A Bride and Her Father Visit the World’s Largest Turtle, dated c1968 (below). It is now in the UNI Permanent Collection of Art. Gift of Roy R. and Mary Snyder Behrens. The original source for the turtle is the vintage print at the bottom of this post.

Kenneth Gogel (c1968), mixed media

Ken and I remained in contact now and then after I graduated, by exchanging cryptic notes. His were usually whimsical observations he made during lengthy faculty meetings or peculiar things he’d run across while nosing around in the library. One time, he sent me the patent diagram for a mechanical drawing device by Jean Tinguely. He was forever looking around at thrift shops and used bookstores, then sending me things that he thought I could use. He sent me my very first vintage World War I photograph of a dazzle-camouflaged ship, the USS Leviathan.

He even wrote to me when I was (miserably) in the US Marine Corps. When I answered candidly, he saved the letter (he saved nearly everything, repurposing the slightest scraps), then simply mailed it back to me fifteen years later.

Years later, when I was teaching temporarily at an awful art school in the South, I was surprised to hear his voice when I answered the phone one day at home. When I asked where he was calling from (I had heard that he was touring the country alone in a recreational vehicle), he replied, “Oh, I’m just a couple of blocks from your house. If you’re going to be there, I’d like to stop by briefly, just to say hello.” Moments later, he arrived, and, in spite of my insistence that he stay for a few days, we talked briefly and off he went. That time, I think he gave me a copy of Karl Gerstner’s A Compendium for Literates.

As an undergraduate, my major was Art Education, so that later, I would teach grades 7-12 for most of a school year, until the draft board broke my contract and sent me off to be a Marine. But in the last year before graduating with a BA degree, I was a student teacher for the first nine weeks of one semester. During the remaining half of that semester, Ken Gogel was my advisor for a full-time research project in which I proposed to read about the role of perception in visual art. I met with Ken only a few times, with the agreement that at the end of the term I would turn in a substantial paper about what I had discovered.

The paper I turned in was titled Perception in the Visual Arts. It anticipated many of the subjects that I would research and write about for the next fifty years. Although I was only an undergraduate, on a whim I submitted it to Art Education: The Journal of the National Art Education Association, the foremost journal in the field. It was published there in March 1969, just weeks in advance of being ejected from the classroom (not having a bone spur) and sent off to an unjust war. I am the same age as the man who now pretends to be the US President.

Public domain

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

The blooming, buzzing confusion of daily life

Digital montage © Roy R. Behrens 2020
Lee Simonson, The Stage Is Set. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1932, p. 51—

[Newspaper columnist] Walter Lippmann, in analyzing the creation of stereotypes that make public opinion, says: “For the most part we do not first see, and then define, we define first and then see. In the great blooming, buzzing confusion of the outer world we pick out what our culture has already defined for us, and we tend to perceive that which has been picked out in the form stereotyped for us by our culture.” And he goes on to demonstrate how largely our conclusions about the world we live in are based not on a fresh perception of experience, but on the stereotyped pictures of the world already in our heads.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

A thud of consonants | an upholstery of tears

Roy R. Behrens © altered book collage (1992)
Above Roy R. Behrens, collage, mixed media, altered book. Private collection.


Anatole Broyard, Aroused by Books [his dismissal of the poetry of Dylan Thomas]—

Such a fatigue of adjectives, a drone of alliterations, a huffing of hyphenated words hurdling the meter like tired horses. Such a faded upholstery of tears, stars, bells, bones, flood and blood…a thud of consonants in tongue, night, dark, see, wound and wind.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Trammels | perception is always a transaction

© Mary Snyder Behrens (2005)
Above (with close-up below) Mary Snyder Behrens, one of a series of small (palm-sized) mixed media artworks called Trammels (2005). This is Trammel Box (Home II), made of cloth, thread, and twine in which a box-like metal form is encased.


E.H. Gombrich, Topics of our Times, pp. 169-170—

Perception is always a transaction between us and the world, and the idea that we could or should ever perceive an image without the preconception or expectations we derive from prior knowledge and experience would resemble the demand that we should make an electric current flow from the positive pole without connecting the wire with the negative pole. The image is one pole, the title often provides the other, and if the set-up works, something new will emerge which is neither the image nor the words, but the product of their interaction.

Detail of the same artwork

The ingenious posters of designer Abram Games

Abram Games, WWII-era poster
Without hesitation, one of the finest designers in modern history was British graphic designer Abram Games (1914-1996). Shown here are two rather similar but equally excellent posters he made during World War II, both of them appealing to the wartime public to be self-sufficient. As is characteristic of many of his posters, they are astonishing visual puns. In an essay in his book, Topics of Our Times (London: Phaidon, 1991), British art historian E.H. Gombrich acknowledged that Games was indebted to the "deliberate ambiguities and illogicalities" of the work of such Surrealists as Max Ernst and Salvador Dali. But many of those works, he went on to say—

were pointless… [and] were aimed at defying the canons of reason to shake our complacency. In the art of Abram Games the very puzzlement caused by such arresting images is given an added purpose. We attend because we are momentarily baffled, and thus we are ready to seek for the message, which we will remember all the better for having discovered it in such a flash of recognition.

Abram Games, WWII-era poster

Thursday, March 12, 2020

A designer remembers the writer Guy Davenport

Remembering Guy Davenport
Guy Davenport was an American essayist, fiction writer, poet, translator, painter, illustrator, university scholar and professor, and a recipient in 1992 of a "genius award" from the MacArthur Foundation. For more than a decade, he and I exchanged letters of a length of one or two pages, sometimes as often as weekly. I saved all his letters, with copies of nearly all of mine. To correspond with him for so many years was among the wisest things I’ve done. Yet in truth, it was always exhausting since the intensity of his letters was forever a woeful reminder that I was writing not simply to an ordinary person but to a remarkably talented man whose powers of observation were astonishing at very least. more>>>

Acclaimed film of Jerzy Kosinski's Painted Bird

Cover of The Painted Bird (1976)
In 1976, I was asked by Polish-American writer Jerzy Kosinski to illustrate the dust jacket for the special tenth-year edition of his celebrated novel The Painted Bird. We have only recently learned that a much-acclaimed film version of his book has been completed, and is now on tour for screening. Produced and directed by Václav Marhoul, it will be released in the near future. more>>>

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Snaggle-toothed | a dancer and a mountain lion

Don Lorenzo Hubbell (n.d.)
Above Photograph of Don Lorenzo Hubbell, Arizona trading post owner. His family founded the Hubbell Trading Post (a National Historic Site) on Highway 191 near Ganado AZ. He was supportive of the efforts of American anthropologist Edward T. Hall, who worked with the Native Americans in the area of the Four Corners during FDR's implementation of the New Deal. Hall also described Hubbell in a later, brief memoir, titled West of the Thirties (NY: Doubleday, 1994), in which this photo was reproduced.


Edward T. Hall, An Anthropology of Everyday Life: An Autobiography. NY: Doubleday, 1992—

Lorenzo had been given the Navajo name of Nakai Tso (the Big [or Fat] Mexican). A snaggle-toothed man of tremendous girth and immediately obvious appeal, Lorenzo chewed tobacco, which he spit into a coffee can on the floor next to his foot whenever he needed to stop and think. Each conversation was punctuated by a splat as Nakai Tso, like a practiced bombardier, zeroed in on that can. His skin was mottled from what must have been a liver disorder; he spoke with a gravelly rasp that was more like a thick whisper than an ordinary conversational voice. He was able to communicate expressively with his left eye while speaking out of the right side of his mouth. When he pushed himself out of his chair, the movement transformed what only a moment before had been a mass of flab into a cross between a ballet dancer and a mountain lion—the grace, ease, and speed of his movements were truly extraordinary. Relatively expressionless of face, he nevertheless had a twinkle in the eye that came and went with the tempo of the conversation. To know what was happening in his head, one had to attend the twinkle. When he encountered lies or fraud, the twinkle became a glint. Like most businessmen in the West, Lorenzo wore the pants of a nondescript gray business suit supported by narrow suspenders, a shirt to match, a tie, and a straight-brimmed four-X beaver Stetson hat. I never saw him dressed any other way. In spite of a rather rough exterior which was typical on the reservation in those times, Lorenzo had an air that set him apart. As I had suspected, he was no ordinary man.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Memoir | Learning from Iowa poet James Hearst

I still clearly remember the day I met Iowa poet James Hearst and his wife Meryl Hearst for the first time. I remember it in part because I have a photograph of it. It took place during my freshman year at the University of Northern Iowa (known as the State College of Iowa in those days). I was an art student, and I had just returned to Iowa from a summer in California, where I had the fortune to study pottery with a person who had been among the first women students at the Bauhaus in Weimar, Germany. The UNI Department of Art hosted an on-campus event in which non-art members of the faculty were invited to a gathering at the ceramics studio quonset hut, where they painted their designs on greenware pots that had been wheel-thrown by the students. In that surviving photo, I am quietly standing beside music professor Don Wendt and Meryl Hearst. James Hearst is not in the photo, but he was nearby in his wheelchair. …more>>>

Thursday, February 20, 2020

More than 50 years ago | The Maucker Portrait

In 1966, University of Iowa painting professor James Lechay was commissioned to paint a portrait of the president of the State College of Iowa (now the University of Northern Iowa), J.W. Maucker. When the painting was completed and displayed prominently in the library, it prompted a controversy that went on for months, with most of the debate taking place in the student newspaper.

To a lot of people, both faculty and students, there was not enough resemblance between Lechay's portrait and its subject. "The first time I saw the President's picture," lamented sociology professor Louis Bultena, "I muttered, 'If that looks like President Maucker then there is no reason why it should not be said that I look like the Queen of Sheba.” (Possessed of a rare sense of humor, as well as a talent for sleight of hand magic, Professor Bultena later confessed that ”I have since been told that I do bear a distinct resemblance to the Queen of Sheba, so it's all very confusing.") more>>>

Monday, February 10, 2020

Salvador Dali's Dreams of Iowa Fields in 1952

Few people know the story about the visit of surrealist artist Salvador Dali to the University of Northern Iowa campus (Iowa State Teachers College at the time) in February 1952. Not surprisingly, it has moments of hilarity. An updated version (enlarged and redesigned) is now available online at this link.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Coming noon tomorrow to North Liberty, Iowa

For weeks I have been working on a new presentation for the Humanities Iowa Speakers Bureau, which I finally finished yesterday. Titled IOWANS IN NEW MEXICO: The Newcombs and the Navajos, it's the story of the involvement of my ancestors, for nearly four decades, with the Navajo people of the Four Corners region of the American Southwest.

My ancestors were from Manchester IA. Two of my great aunts (Pentony sisters) married Newcomb brothers (also from Manchester), while a third Newcomb married a Wisconsin woman, later known as Franc Johnson Newcomb, who became an authority on Navajo sandpainting and folktales. A third great aunt married a photographer in New Mexico, who worked for the National Geographic Society, and took some of the first archaeological photographs of the ancient dwellings in the region of Pueblo Bonito NM. As a child, I heard about these people (they sent kachina dolls as gifts) and now I have unearthed the details. What a story.

I will present it for the first time publicly tomorrow, Friday, January 31, 2020, starting at 12 noon, at the Community Center in North Liberty IA (just north of Iowa City) at 520 West Cherry Street. Sponsored by Humanities Iowa, it is free and open to the public.

Here is the formal description of the program, as posted on the website of the Humanities Iowa Speakers Bureau—

Around 1907, in advance of New Mexico's statehood, three brothers from Manchester, Iowa, moved to the vicinity of the Navajo Indian Reservation, near Gallup. For the next thirty-odd years, the Newcomb brothers (Charles, Arthur, and Earl) worked for, owned or managed remote trading posts on the vast reservation. Newcomb, New Mexico bears their name.  Two of them married sisters from Manchester (Madge and Isabel Pentony), the sheriff's daughters. A third Newcomb brother married a Wisconsin teacher (Franc Johnson Newcomb) who became a leading authority on ceremonial sandpainting and helped to establish the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian. For decades, the Newcomb brothers and their wives lived among the Navajo, learned to respect their traditions and actively promoted handcrafted native arts and crafts. They later wrote insightful books about their years as Navajo friends and neighbors. Roy R. Behrens (the speaker) is descended from the Pentony family, and as a child, he often heard stories about his New Mexico relatives. This is a fast-paced 50-minute talk about the Newcombs, the Pentonys, and the Navajos, illustrated by rare archival photographs.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

As much chance of surviving as a sewer rat

American book designer Merle Armitage
In the early 1940s, shortly after the novelist Henry Miller had moved back to the US from Paris, he concluded that a noncommercial artist in America "has as much chance for survival as a sewer rat.”

Refusing to borrow or to hire out for "stultifying work," he sent out a letter inviting support from the readers of The New Republic, requesting, among other things. "old clothes, shirts. socks. etc. I am 5 feet 8 inches tall, weigh 150 pounds, 15 1/2 neck, 38 chest, 32 waist, hat and shoes both size 7 to 7 1/2. Love corduroys.”

The appeal worked and a number of curious mailings arrived, one of which contained a complete tuxedo. "What'll I ever do with this?” Miller asked a friend, then used it to dress up a scarecrow that sat for a generation on the picket fence in front of his Partington Ridge house in Big Sur, California.

Among other gifts was a cash contribution from Merle Armitage, an Iowa-born book designer, civil engineer, set designer, concert promoter, gourmet cook, art collector, and author. Armitage was living in California then, and soon after, when he visited Miller’s home for the first time, he described his own profession as that of an “impresario." "But I have heard that you were a writer,” replied Miller. "If the truth were known," Armitage explained, "I write books so that I will be able to design them.” In fact, by that time Armitage had designed nearly two dozen books, some of which he had also written.

But Miller was incredulous: “Does a book have to be designed?” he asked. “A book is a book, and I don’t see how you can do anything about it.” more>>>

Friday, December 27, 2019

The worms are now eating dead Ernest again

Above and below: Two photographs that surfaced only recently in the post-retirement agony of downsizing. They appeared side by side in an issue of The Northern Iowan, the student newspaper at the University of Northern Iowa, on October 14, 1975. I was an assistant professor then, and, as part of the freshman foundations program, had initiated a student competition called the Rube Goldberg Drawing Machine Contest, in which students were challenged to invent absurd self-operating contraptions that would somehow result in a "drawing" (loosely defined). I was also one of the judges, as shown above. The caption for that photo reads: "A judge at the Rube Goldberg content, Roy Behrens, did not seem to get a great deal of sleep the night before the contest, or he just saw a great looking piece of art." In the photo at the bottom, I have been joined in the judging by writer Robley Wilson (who was editor of the then-famous North American Review), who is attired in a fine-looking British judge's wig. The caption for that photo reads: "A large crowd was on hand…and some of them are shown looking at the first place entry in the drawing machine contest." I still remember the first-place winner, invented by a student named Mark Mattern. At the end of a sequence of absurdly unrelated events, it made a silhouette of a dog—with gun powder.


A memorable humorous passage from David Meyer's memoir of his friend Ernest Summers, in Ernie and Me (c2003)—

His name was Ernest Summers and he told this joke about himself: When he was dead the marker on his grave would read, "The worms are eating in dead Ernest." 

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Arcimboldo portrait | Do you carrot all for me?

Above A reversible painting (view top side up or upside down) by the Italian master Giuseppe Arcimboldo (c1526-1593), especially known for his portrait heads comprised of visual pun arrangements of fruits, vegetables, flowers and so on. This one is referred to as Reversible Head with Basket of Fruit. c1590. Oil on panel.


Do you carrot all for me?
My heart beets for you,
With your turnip nose
And your radish face.
You are a peach,
If we cantaloupe,
Lettuce marry;
Weed make a swell pear.

wassily wassily I say unto you—please be seated

Above The latest in a sequence of historic views of various individuals posed in Marcel Breuer's celebrated "Wassily chair," Bauhaus-era. © Roy R. Behrens.


Anon (children's nonsense verse)—

Come smoke a coca-cola
Drink catsup cigarettes
See Lillian Brussels wrestle
With a box of castanets
Pork and beans will meet tonight
And have a finished fight
Chauncey de Pew will lecture
on Sopolio tonight 
Bay rum is good for horses
It is best in town
Castoria cures the measles
If you pay five dollars down
Teeth extracted without pain
At the cost of half a dime
Overcoats are selling now
A little out of time
Do me a favor—drop dead.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Logo-like pictorial Native American haircuts

Osage clan-related haircuts
Above These diagrams are not as strange as they might appear. They are an ethnologist's renderings of the purposeful hair designs of Native American Osage boys. See examples below as well. Originated by Francis La Flesche (1857-1932), who was himself a Native American, they were published in a US Government report, titled "The Osage Tribe: Child Naming Rite" in 1928. I first saw them in the early 1970's when they were reproduced in Claude Levi-Strauss, The Savage Mind (University of Chicago Press, 1968), a book that was greatly important to me at a time when I was trying to grasp the process of categorizing.

These unusual haircuts are like pictorial logos. Each haircut represents a different clan, which is in turn connected with a particular animal (usually). In the examples shown above, they represent (as numbered) (1) Head and tail of elk. (2) Head, tail, and horns of buffalo. (3) Horns of buffalo. (4) Buffalo's back as seen from above. (5) Head of bear. (6) Head, tail, and body of small birds.

In the second set of examples, the patterns are indicative of: (7) Turtle's shell, with head, feet, and tail of the animal. (8) Head, wings, and tail of the eagle. (9) Four points of the compass. (10) Shaggy side of the wolf. (11) Horns and tail of the buffalo. (12) Head and tail of the deer. (13) Head, tails, and knobs of growing horns on the buffalo calf. (14) Reptile teeth.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Humanities Iowa | Program opportunities 2019

WPA mural by Orr Fisher
Since the mid-1990s, I've been associated with the Humanities Iowa Speakers Bureau. For all those years, I've been available to speak on subjects that pertain (in one way or another) to the history of the state. I've often given talks (sometimes as many as ten per year) at public libraries, historical societies, community centers, and so on. The talks are free and open to the public. They are funded by Humanities Iowa, which is part of the National Endowment for the Humanities. The requesting organization is charged only $50, while the HI picks up the additional costs of travel expenses, speaker's honorarium, and so on. What a great program.

Over the years, the talks I've offered have usually been about Frank Lloyd Wright, Grant Wood, Buffalo Bill, World War I camouflage (which Iowans contributed to), and so on. A few days ago, I gave my presentation on Buffalo Bill (which includes an account of the plight of the Native Americans during the dreadful Indian Wars) at the Story County Conservation Center, just north of Ames IA. The large audience (around 100 people) was absolutely wonderful, and, as usual, I had a truly delightful time.

The downside is that it was probably the last time I'll present my talk about Buffalo Bill, which has easily had the most requests. With my retirement from teaching, I decided it was time to offer new topics. My new talks are listed on the HI website here. One of those talks is about the WPA (Works Progress Administration), one of the government programs set up by Franklin D. Roosevelt in the Depression Era, as I described in an essay I wrote years ago. One facet of that enabled unemployed artists to apply to create public murals for permanent installation in US post offices. It's surprising how many of these have survived. Reproduced above is one of my favorites, titled The Corn Parade, a painting by Orr Fisher in the US Post Office in Mount Ayr IA.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Montage | he is shooting a gun in the house

Digital montage, Roy R. Behrens © 2012
Above Roy R. Behrens, He Is Shooting a Gun in the House. Digital montage (©2012). 
Heaven is where the police are British, the cooks are French, the engineers are German, the administrators are Swiss, and the lovers are Italian. Hell is where the police are German, the cooks are British, the engineers are Italian, the administrators are French, and the lovers are Swiss.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

New talks & posters soon at Hartman Reserve

The fourth and final installment in an on-going series of poster exhibitions will be on display during November and December 2019 at the Interpretive Center at the Hartman Reserve Nature Center in Cedar Falls IA. These new nature-themed posters (created by author and designer Roy R. Behrens) are intended as promotions for a series of informative talks on nature-related topics, one per month, always on the second Sunday.

The upcoming presentations include a program by Robert Pruitt, Executive Director of the Cedar Valley Arboretum and Botanic Gardens (Sunday, November 10, at 2:00 pm) on "Creating Monarch and Pollinator Zones in the Cedar Valley," and a talk on area water trails, titled "Paddling the Cedar Valley and Beyond," by well-known area naturalist Vern Fish (Sunday, December 8, at 2:00 pm). All presentations are free and open to the public.

Concurrent with the Second Sunday Speaker Series talks and other events at the Hartman Center during November and December, the poster exhibition will be on public view in the Interpretive Center. In addition, all items in the exhibit can also be viewed online.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Apache | Excerpts from an ethnographer's diary

Digital montage © Roy R. Behrens
Keith H. Basso, "Strong Songs: Excerpts from an Ethnographer's Journal" in Daniel Halpern, ed., Antaeus. No. 61, Autumn 1988, pp. 26-37. These are fragments from a diary kept by a Yale anthropologist while living on the Apache reservation in Arizona during the summer of 1960—

July 11. I spent most of the afternoon practicing my meager Apache vocabulary. It has grown a bit during the last two weeks but my confidence to use it has not. This morning, while Dudley and Ernest [Apache friends] were here, a grasshopper crawled across the floor. I pointed to it and spoke the word for "insect." Dudley burst into laughter. What I had said, he informed me, was "vagina."  He went on to point out that the difference between grasshoppers and vaginas was quite considerable, an astute observation which prompted a broadly grinning Ernest to ask me if I were a virgin.

July 16.…I will attend the ceremony [an Apache healing ritual] with Dudley Patterson and Ernest Murphy. Although I am eager to see what happens, I know [as a White outsider] I will feel conspicuous and self-conscious. When I asked Dudley how I should conduct myself, a quizzical expression crossed his face. "Show respect," he said. Then he grinned. "And don't talk to nobody about grasshoppers."

July 17. Today, I produced my first comprehensible sentence in Western Apache. Sitting outside with Alvin Quay [an Apache boy], I pointed to my horse and said, "That horse eats grass." Alvin, who turned six last week, glanced at the animal, fixed me with a disbelieving stare, and responded in his own language, "Horses always eat grass."  Although my observation failed to impress Alvin, I thought the fact of its delivery—and of his responding to it in Apache—was nothing short of astonishing. Perhaps there is hope for me after all.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Is it true: Oregon, Arizona, and Canada Named

Flora Spiegelberg, "Reminiscenses of a Jewish Bride of the Santa Fe Trail" in Sharon Niederman, ed., A Quilt of Words: Women's Diaries, Letters and Original Accounts of Life in the Southwest, 1860-1960. Boulder CO: Johnson Books, 1988, pp. 27-28—

During the long expeditions of the Conquistadors, Coronado went from Mexico to Colorado in search of gold and silver treasures. He was greatly surprised to find among the peaceably inclined Indians a well-regulated community life in their pueblos or villages. While the Conquistador was transversing what is now Oregon and Arizona, he met several tribes of Indians with very large ears, so he called them "orejones," or "Big Ears." Another tribe that had very long noses, he called "Nazizones," or "Big Noses." We Americans have translated these Spanish names to "Arizona" and "Oregon." 

Another similar incident: the first explorers of what is the province of Canada today, were Spaniards, as usual, in search of gold and silver, and not finding it. As they marched away, they said, "Aqui Nada," meaning, "There is nothing." Later on, when the French explorers came and asked the Indians the name of their country, they replied what they had heard the departing Spanish say, "Aqui Nada," and thus the French changed it to, "Canada."

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Graphic Design Alum | Matthew Menz at UNI

Poster © Phil Fass (2019)
Coming Thursday evening of this week: Matthew Menz, graduate of the Graphic Design Program at the University of Northern Iowa, and now Amazon Web Services Director in San Francisco, will speak in the Art Auditorium, Kamerick Room 111, at 7:00 pm, September 12, 2019. Free and open to the public. Made possible by funding from The Elena Diane Curris Endowment for Design.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Typecasting | Twain translated from the jug

Digital Montage © Roy R. Behrens (n.d.)
Mark Twain, No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger: Being an Ancient Tale Found in a Jug, and Freely Translated from the Jug. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982. This is very odd novel, perhaps one of the strangest books ever written by the American humorist. This passage is a description of a character called Frau Stein, as if written by someone who sets metal type by hand—

…she was a second edition of her mother—just plain galley-proof, neither revised nor corrected, full of turned letters, wrong fonts, outs and doubles, as we say in the printing-shop—in a word, pi, if you want to put it remorselessly strong and yet not strain the facts. Yet if it ever would be fair to strain facts it would be fair in her case, for she was not loath to strain them herself when so minded. Moses Haas said that whenever she took up an en-quad fact, just watch her and you would see her try to cram it in where there wasn't breathing-room for a 4-m space; and she'd do it, too, if she had to take the sheep-foot to it. Isn't it neat? Doesn't it describe it to a dot?

Einstein and Wertheimer | Street Peek-A-Boo

D. Brett King and Michael Wertheimer, Max Wertheimer and Gestalt Theory. New Brunswick NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2005, p. 122—

He [Albert Einstein] seemed also to relish his intellectual and social exchanges with [his friend, Gestalt psychologist Max] Wertheimer. Wertheimer was once amused when he and Einstein consecutively covered their right and left eyes with their hands to test the effects of retinal disparity (the slightly different images of the same object on the two retinas because of the spatial separation of the eyes) as they stared at a church steeple.  Watching these figures on the street corner, a crowd soon gathered and the two were surprised to see that the onlookers were also engaging in this curious behavior, shifting their hands back and forth over their eyes. more>>>

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Saying so much with so little | such a poster

Above An extraordinary poster (unfortunately, haven't found the graphic designer's name) that says so much so powerfully—with such unbelievable brevity. Thanks to former student Amanda Chan, who passed it on.