Tuesday, November 23, 2021

WWI American actions and attitudes at home

Above 19th century Victorian wood type catalog page, 1874. Public domain.


Edward Robb Ellis, Life in the United States 1914-1918. New York: Coward, McCann and Geoghegan, 1975, p. 428, describing the actions and attitudes of Americans during World War I, after the US declared war against Germany—

Anything mindful of German culture became suspect. Vigilantes inspected public libraries and invaded private homes and burned books by Goethe and Heine and Kant, broke Victrola records that preserved the music of Beethoven and Bach and Wagner. School after school forbade the teaching of the German language, while in clubs and churches and halls there was a ban against speaking German. [In the Iowa home of my father's parents, whose parents had immigrated from Germany in the 1850s, German was guardedly only spoken at home.]

With trembling fingers people plucked their gardens free of bachelor buttons, which was Germany’s national flower. Sauerkraut was renamed Liberty cabbage, hamburger became Salisbury steak. German measles were called Liberty measles, German dishes disappeared from restaurants, seed catalogs referred to German clover as Liberty clover, and bartenders removed pretzels from their free lunch counters.

Saturday, November 6, 2021

38th year of a rare and fortuitous marriage

As of this very day, Mary and I have been married for 38 years. We've lived all over the country, traveled abroad for the pleasure of work, and have come to know so many people. It is a joy to be with her, increasingly, with each passing day. How wonderfully fortunate we are—as is tiny Lola, only the most recent of the amusing and curious creatures who have shared our daily lives. What is the secret? In part, it is because we see and think alike.

Sunday, October 31, 2021

sights, sounds—and smells—of stockyard blood

Above A Busy Day on Dearborn and Randolph Streets, Chicago. Vintage postcard.


Maurice Browne, Too Late to Lament: An Autobiography. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1956, p. 127—

Chicago in the second decade of this [the 20th] century was a mentally disturbing and therefore, to a young man, a mentally exciting place. Metropolis of an inland empire, its god was the dollar and municipal corruption his handiwork. “No decent man will touch politics” was a phrase heard daily and self-defensively from the lips of every “decent” man. Extremes of luxury and squalor contrasted even more violently than in the Dublin of my childhood or the London of my youth. On the east its huge inland sea bounded the city; when the wind blew from the west, where the stockyards lay, the smell of blood, seeping through shuttered window and bolted door, filled every room of every house. In summer pitch from the city’s pavements bubbled underfoot. In winter the streets leading to Michigan Avenue had ropes waist-high round corner buildings, for foot-passengers to pull themselves past the corner against the gale; blizzards swept the city, paralyzing traffic. And in that climate, amid Chicago’s material and moral filth, mental life fought for existence like a sapling in a jungle.

Friday, October 29, 2021

that Lazarus was the original raised character

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Above Roy R. Behrens, Wavelength. Digital montage (©2021). 


Edward Robb Ellis, A Diary of the Century. New York: Kodansha, 1995, p. 222—

Tuesday, March 1, 1955: In the city room today some of us were discussing a report that the New Testament has been published in Braille. Frank [Kappler] said: “Yes—but did you know that Lazarus was the original raised character?”


James Joyce, Ulysses (Chapter Six)—

“Come forth, Lazarus! And he came fifth and lost the job.”

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Nobel Prize checks freshly written pay the bills

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Roy R. Behrens, Snap Shot. Digital montage (©2021). 


Ione Robinson, A Wall to Paint On. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1946, pp. 152-153—

When I made a drawing of [American writer Sinclair] Lewis [who had just received the Nobel Prize] I had to take the train out to his country house. I was all in when I arrived but the afternoon and the trip back were so amusing I forgot how tired I was.

I made the drawing in his study, while Mr. Lewis wrote out checks to pay his bills with the Nobel Prize, and there were freshly-written checks all over the desk and the floor. I would have liked to paint him in that foreground of blue paper, which only increased the redness of his face and hair. He looked just like a carrot.

In a basket beside his desk there was a tiny baby with a wisp of red hair on the top of its head. Each time Mr. Lewis would finish a check, he would talk to the baby: “Isn’t it wonderful, Michael, that Daddy has won the Nobel Prize?” I had an awful time making the drawing because he was never still, but his face had made such an impression the moment I saw it that the drawing was fairly successful.

On the train back to New York Mr. Lewis joked a great deal about receiving the prize and the fuss that it had created throughout the country, especially among other contemporary writers. He told me how mad Theodore Dreiser was…and then he added that Dreiser ought to be tinting “fish plates.” I didn’t get the connection, and I don’t think there was any, as Mr. Lewis had had about ten highballs!

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

living in a poky village in a backward county

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Roy R. Behrens, Beach Repair. Digital montage (©2021). 


Maurice Browne, Too Late to Lament: An Autobiography. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1956, p. 30—

Mr. Pickford was one of the finest Sanskrit scholars of his day. He was very poor; he had sacrificed his life to Sanskrit and his sister. His sister kept house for him in a little village where he was rector, a few miles outside Ipswich; a dour, bitter, selfish woman whom no one liked. So, for his sister's sake, he had put aside marriage, advancement, happiness, and had taken that obscure living in a poky village in a backward county, to make her a home where were few to hate her.

One day a letter came addressed to Mr. Pickford. Through several weeks he had been hoping for it; if it came, it might offer him an academic position where he could carry to fruition his life's work in Sanskrit. Every morning his sister went downstairs to meet the postman and see whether the letter had come: "No, John, it has not come today; perhaps it will come tomorrow."

Long afterwards the Vice-Chancellor in whose gift that position lay, meeting Mr. Pickford accidentally in the streets of Ipswich, greeted him coldly: "I considered it discourteous of you not even to have acknowledged the offer which I made you." Mr. Pickford made no comment. But, when he got back to the ugly, lonely, village rectory, he spoke to his sister. "Yes," she said defiantly, "of course the letter came; I read and burned it. I'm very happy where I am, and you're much better off in a place suited to you."

A little later…[Mr.] Pickford killed himself. My father [an Anglican clergy] preached his funeral sermon. There was no mention of, no hint of reference to, that story in it; but the Stoic view of self-murder was upheld by the Anglican preacher [who years later did the same].

Sunday, October 17, 2021

rudimentary multiple nipples on a hydroplane

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Above Roy R. Behrens, Horn of Plenty. Digital montage (©2021). 


Maurice Browne, Too Late to Lament: An Autobiography. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1956, pp. 257-258—

[This is Browne’s account of time spent at the home of the parents of his friend and associate Robert Bell, whose] father, an eminent banker, terrified me, but I sat rapturously at his mother's feet; she had as many laughter-wrinkles round her eyes as there are waves in a field of corn.

One evening her famous brother-in-law, Alexander Graham Bell—Telephone Bell, as we younger folk inevitably nicknamed him—brought his charming deaf-mute wife [née Mabel Hubbard] to dinner as it was her disability which had first led him to the study of sound. During dinner he talked of a new hydroplane which he was building, the intensive breeding of sheep and rudimentary multiple nipples on human beings. Not one of us had an elementary acquaintance with one of his subjects, yet he held us all spellbound. After dinner his nephew and I steered him carefully into a corner: “How on earth did you keep us so interested in things of which we knew nothing?” For two memorable hours the old man thought aloud. Finally he reached a conclusion. “It is not primarily what a speaker says which interests his hearers—be he conversationalist, preacher, lecturer, actor or even writer—nor the words in which he says it, nor his manner of delivery, nor his personality; these things help or hinder but are secondary. The primary cause of sustained interest, I believe, is this. Each time that a speaker—or writer—pauses, for however infinitesimally brief a moment, he builds a bridge in his own mind over the silence between the word which he has last uttered and the word which he will utter next. If his hearers cross that bridge before him, he bores them; if they fail to cross it, or cross it too late, he loses them; if they cross it with him, he holds and keeps them.”

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

palmetto bugs / as large as mice and quicker still

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Above Roy R. Behrens, Swan Lake. Digital montage (©2021).

In reading the following passage from the autobiography of American artist Abel Warshawsky, I was reminded of those times in my life when I have lived in parts of the country (Hawaii and the Deep South) where apartments were inhabited by huge cockroaches, as large as mice and quicker still. 

I once climbed into the shower to find one on the curtain, and, on another occasion, I was typing in the living room on a Sunday morning when something fell from the ceiling and landed on my head—I knew immediately what it was. In the South, these are politely referred to as “pametto bugs,” but when we moved to Cincinnati, we had to pay admission to see the “live insect exhibit” at the zoo, to learn that in the North they're called the “American cockroach.” Not one of my favorite things to recall.


Abel Warshawsky, The memories of an American Impressionist. Kent OH: Kent State University Press, 1980, p. 34— 

[In a Paris studio] Once accustomed to the creaking wire mattress, I slept more soundly there than I have since in many a luxurious bed—this, despite the nightly incursions of roaches, which infested our building. My horror of these beasts was insurmountable. One Sunday morning, while lying on the counch, I was discussing with my companions ways and means for ridding ourselves of this pest. Glancing up at the ceiling, I saw three of the loathsome vampires. With a cry of horror I seized my shoes and started bombarding the enemy. Roars of laughter broke from my companions, The roaches had been painted on the ceiling, while I slept, for my special benefit!

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

if you don't mind please i must leave i smell bad

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Above Roy R. Behrens, Wind Instrument. Digital montage (©2021).


Abel Warshawsky, The memories of an American Impressionist. Kent OH: Kent State University Press, 1980, p. 60—

What the pitfalls of literal translation from one language to another can be, I also learned to my cost. Spending the evening with some French people I had met, I was attacked by a splitting headache and felt I must get back to my studo. Desiring to make explanation to my hosts for leaving so abruptly, I made the literal translation of “I must leave, I feel bad,” which I phrased “Il faut que je pars, je sens mauvas,” not realizing that I should have said, “Je me sens mal,” for “sentir mauvais” means “to smell bad.” This astounding avowal was too much for even French politeness, and the laughter that greeted it still rings in my ears. Such verbal faux pas were a speciality of mine in those days, and caused me often great embarrassment, for I never knew to what I might commit myself.

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Ripley's ghost illustrator / Believe It or Not!

Above Article in the current issue (October 2021) of The Iowa Source about American illustrator Clemens Gretter. Until recently, I had never heard his name, but (although I didn't realize it) I was familiar with his work. Why? Because in the 1940s, he was the "ghost illustrator" (not unlike a "ghost writer") for Robert Ripley's syndicated newspaper cartoon panel, famously known as Believe It or Not! As part of his contract, he was not allowed to sign his name, since the credit was given to Ripley instead. But Gretter was also responsible for a wide range of other cartoons, illustrations, and book designs, for which he did receive credit. Here's the whole story more>>>

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

no pain yet fearful that something had happened

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Above Roy R. Behrens, Egg Head. Digital montage © 2021.


Fritz Heider, The life of a psychologist. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1983, pp. 5 and 30—

My brother and I had little cap pistols [at around the age of ten]. These caps seemed to have remarkable properties, and I decided to experiment to find out more about them. The upshot was that something exploded in my face. Several small pieces of lead became embedded in my cheeks and forehead, and a few entered my left eye, injuring the retina. My father took me to our doctor right away. He was rather pessimistic about the outlook for the eye. I remember that I had to stay in bed for two weeks, with my eyes covered. I had no pain as I lay there, but I had a dim feeling that something of importance had happened which would influence my whole life. I could not judge whether this would be beneficial or harmful—I only knew that there was something serious about it, though I do not remember that I was unduly worried.…

[Ten years later, during World War I] I tried several times to enter the military service. I began to wonder whether I was rejected because the draft board considered the possibility that my injured eye might become infected and affect the healthy eye. So, on one bleak, wintry day in 1916 I went to the hospital, accompanied by my father, and had the damaged eye removed, to be replaced by an artificial one. But even after that change in my physical condition, I was not taken on.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

the elephant has a wrinkled moth-proof hide

Above A construction pattern for making a two-person elephant costume, from Albert Neely Hall, The Boy Craftsman: Practical and Profitable Ideas for a Boy's Leisure Hours. Boston: Lothrop, Lee and Shepard, 1905.


Ogden Nash, "The Elephant," one of a series of comical animal poems written to accompany Camille Saint-Saëns' Carnival of the Animals . NY: Columbia Masterworks, 1949—

Elephants are useful friends,

Equipped with handles at both ends.

They have a wrinkled moth-proof hide.

Their teeth are upside down, outside. 

If you think the elephant preposterous,

You've probably never seen a rhinosterous.



Nature, Art, and Camouflage  

Art, Women's Rights, and Camouflage

 Embedded Figures, Art, and Camouflage

 Art, Gestalt, and Camouflage

Saturday, September 25, 2021

a girl from new york begged him to grow a beard

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Carl Sandburg, Abraham Lincoln: The War Years. NY: Harcourt Brace, 1939—

Just why Lincoln took to whiskers at this time nobody seemed to know. A girl in New York had begged him to raise a beard. But something more than her random wish guided him. Herndon, Whitney, Lamon, Nicolay, Hay, heard no explanation from him as to why after fifty-two years with a smooth face he should now change.

Would whiskers imply responsibility, gravity, a more sober and serene outlook on the phantasmagoria of life? Perhaps he would seem more like a serious farmer with crops to look after, or perhaps a church sexton in charge of grave affairs. Or he might have the look of a sea-captain handling a ship in a storm on a starless sea. Anyhow, with whiskers or without, he would be about the same-sized target.


Nature, Art, and Camouflage  

Art, Women's Rights, and Camouflage

 Embedded Figures, Art, and Camouflage

 Art, Gestalt, and Camouflage


i was forced to suspect i was no longer young

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Above Roy R. Behrens, Peerless. Digital montage © 2021.


Samuel Johnson, in a letter to Joseph Baretti, July 20, 1762— 

Last winter I went down to my native town, where I found the streets much narrower and shorter than I thought I had left them, inhabited by a new race of people, to whom I was little known. My playfellows were grown old, and forced me to suspect that I was no longer young.


Nature, Art, and Camouflage  

Art, Women's Rights, and Camouflage

 Embedded Figures, Art, and Camouflage

 Art, Gestalt, and Camouflage


Friday, September 24, 2021

the thundering sound of an overhead bicycle

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Above Roy R. Behrens, Permit to Pass. Digital montage © 2021.


Fritz Heider, The Life of a Psychologist. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1983, p. 12—

As I think back on the [Burg] Feistritz house [in Austria], I recall an anecdote of my parents' early married life. My father was teaching my mother to ride a bicycle. They decided to practice in the privacy of the spacious attic, where there were a few loose boards that seem to have given off a rumbling noise that sounded like thunder to people on the floor below as the bicycle was ridden back and forth. Two of my father’s elderly aunts, who had scientific interests, were living in the house. They mailed regular accounts of the Feistritz weather to the Graz newspaper—this being before the day of regular weather reporting and easy telephone communication, amateur reports like these were welcomed. According to the press, the weather that summer presented some unusual features: the skies were consistently clear and blue, yet daily periods of thunder were reported from the Feistritz area.


Nature, Art, and Camouflage  

Art, Women's Rights, and Camouflage

 Embedded Figures, Art, and Camouflage

 Art, Gestalt, and Camouflage


in Naples / street games of joking make-believe

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Above Roy R. Behrens, Spycraft. Digital montage © 2021.

Fritz Heider, The Life of a Psychologist. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1983, pp. 74-75—

When I think of those summer days in Naples [Italy], I have a dim memory of noisy movements of masses of people, a surging of multitudes with much laughter and cheerful, restless activity. People wanted to get in touch; everywhere one felt that they had a need for human contact. And this seemed especially strong when a stranger appeared—he stimulated them and aroused their curiosity. Perhaps the frequent cases of young people who begged may have stemmed less from poverty or greed than from a compulsion to get involved with a stranger and establish some sort of contact. What they seemed to love above everything were little games of joking make-believe, and begging provided lots of opportunities for that. Once I passed two boys sitting on a wall, and when they saw me, they begged for cigarettes. I had seen that one of them had a box full, and I said: “Why do you beg? I can see that you have lots already.” They protested, “No, no”; and one of them took the cigarettes out of his pocket and handed them to the other. He knew that I saw what he had done, and he said, laughing, “I have no cigarette!” When I told him that I had seen him give them to the other boy, he answered, “Those are my father's cigarettes.” All this was spoken in a sort of theatrical comic way, with much laughter and many playful gestures, all as if they were telling fairy tales and hoping that the listener would join with them in the game.



Nature, Art, and Camouflage  

Art, Women's Rights, and Camouflage

 Embedded Figures, Art, and Camouflage

 Art, Gestalt, and Camouflage

Sunday, September 12, 2021

salutations / tipping the hat mere semantics

In John Pollack’s The Pun Also Rises: How the Humble Pun Revolutionized Language, Changed History, and Made Wordplay More than Some Antics (New York: Gotham Books, 2011), there is an account of a famous French gourmand named Alexandre Balthazar Laurent Grimod de La Reynière (1758-1837). According to Pollack—

As a young man, Grimod was known around Paris for wearing a mechanical wig that would tip politely, and apparently automatically, as ladies passed.

In reading that, I was reminded of a US patent (shown above), No. 556,248, titled Saluting Device, that was filed in 1896 by someone named J.C. Boyle. It seems to be more or less comparable to Grimod’s “saluting wig,” but in this case of course it’s a tip of the hat.

Here is a newspaper account of  Boyle's invention from The Democrat (Scotland Neck NC) on April 9, 1896, p. 1—

A patent has been granted J.C. Boyle of Spokane WA, for a "saluting device." It is a machine worn in the top of the hat. All you have to do is to slightly incline the head, and as the head starts forward the machine lefts the hat a little, holds it just long enough and in a graceful curve lets it back on your head.

Later that year, the following note was published in the Spokane Chronicle on September 30, p. 4—

J.C. Boyle, a member of the Drumheller Packing Company, but whose chief claim to notoriety rests in the fact that he invented the patent hat lift that removes the old labor of lifting the hat by hand, arrived home last evening after a prolonged visit to Kansas City and other portions of the east, where he has been for his health.

Friday, August 6, 2021

one bad clip / and a pheasant becomes a duck

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Above Roy R. Behrens, La Scala. Digital montage, © 2021.


Christopher Falconer, British gardener, as quoted in Ronald Blythe, Akenfield: Portrait of an English Village (New York: Dell Publishing, 1969), p. 113—

The garden was huge. The pleasure grounds alone, and not including the park, covered seven acres. The kind of gardening we did there is not seen nowadays. It was a perfect art. Topiary, there was a lot of that. It was a very responsible job. You had only to make one bad clip and a pheasant became a duck. The gardeners usually made up these creatures themselves. We were tempted to cut out something terrible sometimes, so that it grew and grew…but of course we never did.

we drank irish usquebaugh—and fired a volley

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Above Roy R. Behrens, Bell Jar. Digital montage, © 2021.


John Fontaine, Diary, excerpted in David Colbert, ed., Eyewitness to the American West (New York: Penguin Books, 1999)—

We had a good dinner, and after it we got the men together, and loaded all their arms, and we drank the King's health in champagne, and fired a volley—the Princess's health in Burgundy, and fired a volley, and all the rest of the Royal Family in claret, and a volley. We drank the Governor's health and fired another volley. We had several sorts of liquors, viz., Virginia red wine and white wine, Irish usquebaugh, brandy, shrub, two sorts of rum, champagne, canary, cherry, punch, water, cider, &c.…

At seven in the morning we mounted our horses, and parted with the rangers…

Saturday, July 31, 2021

Roycroft / Elbert Hubbard and Alice Hubbard

online version
Having taught courses in the history of design for many years, I have of course long known about the Roycroft Workshops in East Aurora NY, as well as their proprietors, Elbert Hubbard, and his second wife, Alice Moore Hubbard. But until recently, I hadn't realized the extent of their connections to people and events in Iowa. This new essay from The Iowa Source discloses the various details.

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Gertrude Käsebier's Portraits of Lakota Sioux

Article from The Iowa Source July 2021, p 10
On the evening of June 25, 1906, during a performance at Madison Square Garden in New York, a millionaire named Harry Thaw drew a pistol. Standing only two feet feet behind a prominent architect and socialite named Stanford White, he fired three times into his back, killing White instantly.

Thaw had recently married a chorus girl and actress named Evelyn Nesbit. In an effort to be straightforward, she revealed to him that, several years earlier, as a teenager, she had been sedated and seduced by White. At the time of the shooting, the public was well-acquainted with Nesbit. She was a popular model for artists and photographers, and a “Gibson girl” celebrity.

The best-known portrait of Nesbit, made in 1903, is an iconic image in the history of photography. The woman who made it, Iowa native Gertrude Käsebier (1852-1934), is now widely considered to be one of the finest photographers of the Modernist era. That ranking is not only based on her portrait of Nesbit—indeed, she was far more accomplished than that.

Käsebier (née Gertrude Stanton) had a photographic studio on Fifth Avenue in New York at the time that she photographed Nesbit. Her photographic career had taken off late in the 1890s, when Alfred Stieglitz published and exhibited her photographs. She was, he asserted, “the leading artistic portrait photographer of the day.”

Below Roy R. Behrens, Death Announced, 2021. Digital montage. Among the background components is a press photograph (not by Gertrude Käsebier) of the public appearance of Evelyn Nesbit (shrouded) after the assassination of Stanford White by her husband, Harry Thaw.

Roy R. Behrens, copyright © 2021

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

people tell me one thing and out the other

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Above Roy R. Behrens, Kettle Moraine. Digital montage, © 2021.


Daniel M. Wegner

[There are two types of scientists:] bumblers, who plod along, only once in a while accomplishing something but enjoying the process even if they often end up being wrong, and the pointers, who do only one thing: point out that the bumblers are bumbling.


People tell me one thing and out the other. I feel as much like I did yesterday as I did today. I never liked room temperature. My throat is closer than it seems. Likes and dislikes are among my favorites. No napkin is sanitary enough for me. I don’t like any of my loved ones.

Monday, June 21, 2021

familiarity devours the fresh sensation of life

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Above Roy R. Behrens, Universality. Digital montage, © 2021.


Victor Shklovsky, “Art as Technique” (1917)—

Habitualization devours works, clothes, furniture, ones wife, and the fear of war…And art exists that one may recover the sensation of life; it exists to make one feel things, to make the stone stony. The purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known. The technique of art is to make objects “unfamiliar,” to make forms difficult, to increase the difficulty and length of perception because the process of perception is an esthetic end in itself and must be prolonged. Art is a way of experiencing the artfulness of an object, the object is not important.

animals include moose, elks, knights of pythias

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Above Roy R. Behrens, Death Announced. Digital montage, © 2021.


Groucho Marx
[as Captain Jeffrey Spaulding in Animal Crackers (1930)]—

Well, sir, we left New York drunk and early on the morning of February second. After fifteen days on the water and six on the boat, we finally arrived on the shores of Africa. The first morning saw us up at six, breakfasted and back in bed at seven. This was our routine for the first three months. We finally got so we were in bed at six-thirty. The principal animals inhabiting the African jungle are moose, elks and Knights of Pythias. Of course, you know what a moose is. That's big game. The first day, I shot two bucks. That was the biggest game we had...The elks, on the other hand, live up in the hills, and in the spring they come down for their annual convention. It is very interesting to see them come to the water hole. What they’re looking for is an elkahole. One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas, I don't know. Then we tried to remove the tusks, but they were embedded in so firmly that we couldn’t budge them. Of course, in Alabama, the Tuskaloosa. But that's entirely errelephant to what I was talking about. We took some pictures of the native girls, but they weren't developed; but we’re going back in a couple of weeks.

Jonathan Miller on humor as classification errors

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Above Roy R. Behrens, Border Crossing. Digital montage, © 2021.


Excerpts from Jonathan Miller and Eric Korn, Under-Twenty Parade, a BBC radio panel, 1953—

Er, er, that was “Lift Up Your Socks”…Next week, “A Short Gap” recorded anonymously…the South of England is going to move in a westerly direction…Now here is a police message, published Methuen at twenty-one shillings. There was an accident last night on the Great North Circular Road, when an elderly chrysanthemum was knocked down by a steamroller and received injuries from which the Chief Constable of Hertfordshire has since died…The police are anxious to interview a man with long blue hair—they have never seen a man with long blue hair.


Kate Bassett [in reference to the above radio script] In Two Minds: A biography of Jonathan Miller. London: Oberon Books, 2012, p. 55—

What is remarkable, more immediately, is this extract’s sheer craziness. It is garbled, elided and dreamlike, with slivers of the everyday made strange by being miscategorized, everything playfully grafted into the wrong slots. Miller’s own theory of comedy, expounded in later life, would home in on precisely that: laughter aroused by errors of classification.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

if you want to see the sisters in their wimples

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Above Roy R. Behrens, Baseline Shift. Digital montage, © 2021.


Lawrence Crumb—

If you want to see the sisters in their wimples with the pimples on their dimples, making laces for the faces of the acolytes in surplices, with purples for the trimmings of the cassocks of the canons of the bishop of the diocese of Fond du Lac—you’re too late! They just passed by.

Friday, June 11, 2021

a crow crowd in the morning and made a noise

Above Roy R. Behrens, Baton Rouge. Digital montage, © 2021.


Alex Osborn, Applied Imagination. New York: Scribner’s, 1963—

What is a double petunia? A petunia is a flower like a begonia. A begonia is a meat like a sausage. A sausage-and-battery is a crime. Monkeys crime trees. Tree’s a crowd. A crow crowd in the morning and made a noise. A noise is on your face between your eyes. Eyes is the opposite of nays. A colt nays. You go to bed with a colt, and wake up in the morning with a case of double petunia.

Sunday, June 6, 2021

my family's brief residence in Fort Atkinson IA

Above online version of article in The Iowa Source


In an essay / memoir in the current issue (June 2021) of The Iowa Source magazine (Fairfield IA), I recall the story of the death of my paternal grandfather, Diedrich Joseph Behrens, an Iowa farmer, in 1918, in a harvesting machinery accident. My father, who was 17 that year, was the oldest of seven children. It was the third in a series of crop failures, and my grandmother was penniless. She could no longer lease the farm, and she and her children survived for the next year and a half by living in the ruins of an old US Army outpost, known as Fort Atkinson in northeast Iowa.

Friday, May 21, 2021

metaphor / two things come together as one

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Roy R. Behrens, Bird Repair. Digital montage, © 2021.


Robert Frost

Man likes to bring two things together into one…He lives by making associations, and he is doing well by himself and in himself when he thinks of something in connection with something else that no one ever put with it before. That's what we call a metaphor.

the one way by which new ideas come about

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Above Roy R. Behrens, Carry Out. Digital montage, © 2021.


Francis A. Cartier—

There is only one way in which a person acquires a new idea: by the combination or association of two or more ideas he already has into a new juxtaposition in such a manner as to discover a relationship among them of which he was not previously aware. An idea is a feat of association.

the unlikely marriage of cabbages and kings

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Above Roy R. Behrens, Bid Adieu. Digital montage, © 2021.


Arthur Koestler, The Act of Creation

The essence of discovery is that unlikely marriage of cabbages and kings—of previously unrelated frames of reference or universes of discourse—whose union will solve the previously unsoluable problem.

Saturday, May 15, 2021

something you will remember all your life

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Above Roy R. Behrens, Her Master's Voice. Digital montage, © 2021.


Norman Lewis, Jackdaw Cake: An Autobiography. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1985, pp. 7-8—

As confidence and sympathy began growing between us, my Aunt Li and I took to wandering round the countryside together. Li was a small woman, hardly any bigger than me. She would wet me with her tears, and I would listen to her sad ravings and sometimes stroke her hand. One day she must have come to the grand decision to tell me what lay at the root of her sorrow. We climbed a stile and went into a field and, fixing her glistening eyes upon me, she said, “What I am going to tell you now you will remember every single day of your life.” But whatever she revealed must have been so startling that memory rejected it, for not a word of what was said remains in my mind.

great bauhaus barcelona execution chair

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Above Roy R. Behrens, Rear End Collision. Digital montage, © 2021.


In Mark Leyner's My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist (New York: Harmony Books, 1990), a fictional prison inmate, condemned to die in the electric chair, utters the following frolicsome note about Bauhaus-era furniture—

Luckily, I'd developed an unusually close relationship with the warden. Knowing how much I loved Mies van der Rohe, he had an electric Barcelona chair custom-built for my execution. And when the date finally came and I was led into the death chamber, I couldn't help but marvel at the delicate curvature of the X-shaped legs, the perfect finish of the plated steel and the leather upholstery, and the magnificent, almost monumental proportions that have made the Barcelona chair timeless.

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Pearl Harbor / Boston's Japanese art collection

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Above Roy R. Behrens, Autodidact. Digital montage, © 2021.


Robert Craft, An Improbable Life. Nashville TN: Vanderbilt University Press, 2002, p. 33—

On Sunday afternoon, December 7, 1941, my father and I were watching a football game in Rockville Center, Long Island, when a loudspeaker announced the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The game went on as though the statement had not been understood, or taken for another Orson Welles radio hoax, but when twice repeated, the stunned, disbelieving crowd in the bleachers began to drift away. As we drove back to Manhattan, the automobile radio sputtered news bulletins, one of which said that the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston had been cordoned by police because of concern that its great collection of Japanese Art might be endangered by reprisals.

Glen Baxter / a childhood spent in darkest Leeds

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Above Roy R. Behrens, Twin Poseurs. Digital montage, © 2021. 


Glen Baxter in Les Coleman, Unthinking. UK: Littlewood Arc, 1993—

I spent my childhood in darkest Leeds. I had a problem. I stammered. One day my mother sent me down to the local haberdashery shop in Hunslet Carr to purchase a collar stud for my father's shirt. All the way down to the shop I practiced my speech, searching for ways to address the shop assistant without blocking on certain troublesome words. This was clearly an important mission and I must not fail. After a thorough rehearsal of every possible combination of words that would indicate to the person in the shop the nature of my visit, I stepped up and opened the door and marched boldly up to the shop counter. “Do you have any collar studs?” I blurted to the man behind the counter. He looked at me for a moment or two then replied slowly, “I'm afraid we seem to be right out at the moment, but if you care to pop next door to the haberdashery shop, they might indeed be able to help you.” I turned and made my exit through the furniture shop.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

recalling the pleasures of teaching with ede

Above Craig Ede, Self-Portrait (© 2021).


Some many years ago, too long to clearly remember (it was more than three decades ago), I was teaching a course in basic design (not graphic design), the arrangement of visual components, regardless of media. I came up with a brilliant idea: Why not invite an especially capable graduate student to team-teach that course with me? My approach to team-teaching required the combined presence and participation of both teachers in the same classroom at all times. 

But who to ask? It occurred to me that it should be someone who intended to teach in the future at the university level. And of course it should also be someone who had exceptional abilities as an artist / designer, as well as the skills that all teachers should have. To complicate matters, the experiment was non-funded. The student teacher would neither be paid nor would he / she receive course credit. But the experience could be listed on the person’s vita (when applying for teaching positions), with a letter of recommendation, and slide examples of the work that the students produced in the course. 

So who did I choose? Without hesitation, I approached a graduate painting student named Craig Ede, whose recent self-portrait drawing is posted above. At the time, of course, he was three decades or more younger, and did not yet show the scars of the torment of living through both a pandemic and the threatened decay of civilized life. Craig, who has so vividly “captured” himself, is an old friend, a painter, and former professor who lives in Wisconsin. I haven’t seen him for years, but this is such a persuasive reminder, it is almost as if he were present. Or, as he himself explains, it is what he will look like about seven months from now, in December 2021. More than ever, I can clearly see why I invited him to team teach in my classroom. It was a memorable experience, for students as well as the teachers.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

a cart, a ball, and two boxes of wooden bricks

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Above Roy R. Behrens, Cavern (© 2021). Digital montage.


John Ruskin (Victorian-era writer and art critic), Prataerita [Of Past Things], 1899—

…I was never permitted for an instant [as a child] to hope, or even imagine, the possession of such things as one saw in toy shops. I had a bunch of keys to play with, as long as I was capable only of pleasure in which glittered and jingled; as I grew older, I had a cart, and a ball; and when I was five or six years old, two boxes of well-cut wooden bricks.

With these modest, but, I still think, entirely sufficient possessions, and being always summarily whipped if I cried, did not do as I was bid, or tumbled on the stairs, I soon attained serene and secure methods of life and motion; and could pass my days contently in tracing the squares and comparing the colors of my carpet; examining the knots in the wood of the floor, or counting the bricks in the opposite houses; with rapturous intervals of excitement during the fillling of the water cart, through its leathern pipe, from the dripping iron post at the pavement edge; or the still more admirable proceedings of the turncock, when he turned and turned until a fountain sprang up in the middle of the street. But the carpet, and what patterns I could find in the bed covers, dresses, or wallpapers to be examined, were my chief resources, and my attention to the particulars in these was soon so accurate that, when at three and a half I was taken to have my portrait painted by Mr. [James] Northcote, I had not been ten minutes alone with him before I asked him why there were holes in his carpet.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

one legge / testy forward imperious tyrannical

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Above Roy R. Behrens, Revisiting Thomas Eakins (© 2021). Digital montage.


Anthony à Wood, Life and Times

Sir Arthur Aston was governour of Oxon at what time it was garrison’d for the king, a testy, forward, imperious and tirannical person, hated in Oxford and elsewhere by God and Man. Who kervetting on horseback in Bullington green before certaine ladies, his horse flung him and broke his legge: so that it being cut off and he therupon rendred useless for employment, one Col. Legge succeeded him. Soon after the country people coming to market would be ever and anon asking the sentinell, “who was governor of Oxon?” They answered “one Legge.” Then replied they: “A pox upon him! Is he governor still?”

song, carols, hymn, chants or even a drone

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Above Roy R. Behrens, Paul's New Acquisition (© 2021). Digital montage.


Joseph Langland (Poetry! What in the World are You Saying?)—

I wanted to sing to you to say, not to be forgotten, that poetry is among other things, song, varied carols, hymns, chants, or even a drone. But it is verbal music; the word is its god, and the poet its worshipper. I never was much interested in helping anyone into poetry because he had exciting ideas, but the moment I find someone who is enchanted by a phrase I think that he might be trained to lift whatever he thinks into a whole holy city of the imagination.

Friday, April 9, 2021

Inez McAlister Faber / Out Here on Soap Creek

Roy R. Behrens, Snake Eyes (© 2021). Digital montage.


Inez McAlister Faber, Out Here on Soap Creek. Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1982, pp. 23-24—

Probably many people wiser than I dislike some of the things I like, such as hoeing, canning, cleaning house, cutting corn fodder, living in the country, being in my thirties, dahlias, roses, meals on time, empty houses with flowers still growing in the yards, old furniture, small boys, books, newspaper editorials, astronomy, chickens, dogs, cows, horses, meat or gravy cooked in a cast-iron skillet, waffles, carrots and spinach.

It is quite likely that others, and I have no quarrel with them, like many of the things I hate, including petunias, cats, children who have been taught that they are cute, grown-ups who try to act kiddish, male or female sissies, superiority complexes, machine hemstitching, tablecloths hemmed on the machine, cows with horns, weedy gardens, dwelling houses painted green, rain on washday, so-called living rooms that are only used for company, and overstuffed davenports. Large women in striped or checked dresses, bad table manners, being flatly contradicted, people who handle books roughly or who lay an open book face down upon a table, people who read over my shoulder, inquisitiveness, concrete walks in front of farm homes, fried parsnips, mashed potatoes, interruptions while ironing, washing milk pails, cleaning muddy overshoes, cooking for visitors who do not come, going to bed, getting up, washing yesterday’s dishes, and talking over the telephone.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

a cool clutch and four gears and even reverse

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Above Roy R. Behrens, Hammer Smith (© 2021). Digital montage.


An unidentified aging British chaffeur and auto mechanic, recalling his youth as a worker on an estate, in Ronald Blythe, The View in Winter: Reflections on Old Age. New York: Penguin Books, 1980, p. 65—

I’ll tell you how I learned to drive. There was a shooting party and I had just got this car all washed and polished and clean, ready for the pick-up—the guns—when a boy came out of the house to put some dirt in the dustbin. I called out, “Come for a ride, Harry?” just as a joke, laughing, you know, but then in Harry jumps aside of me, looking pleased and excited. So what could I do? I was sixteen. I'd watched old Crossley [the estate chauffeur] with the gear-lever and the brake, and I told myself, “If he can do it, I can do it.” So I reached for the pedals and suddenly there we were, dashing down the front drive! That drive was a mile long and ended at the bottom lodge, where the village policeman lived. I was driving straight to prison, I told myself, for taking the motor. And could I turn it round and bring it back? But that lovely motor had a cool clutch and four gears and a reverse, and by luck I managed them all—brought it back safe, washed it all over again, and nothing was seen or said. That was the first time I had a drive and I’ve been driving ever since.

a car came down the street and ran into them

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Above Roy R. Behrens, Moon River Dog (© 2021). Digital montage.


Frank Jacobs, The Mad World of William M. Gaines. NY: Bantam Books, 1973, p. 77—

In the fall of 1954, [William M.] Gaines [founder and publisher of MAD Magazine] and Nancy [a close friend and staff member] were turning into a gas station on West 96th Street in Manhattan. As they made their turn, a car came down the street and barreled into them. No one was hurt, and Gaines exchanged the usual insurance data with the driver of the other car, whose name was Gene Zahn. About a year later, two blocks from the gas station, Gaines pulled up to a newspaper stand. After buying his paper, he returned to his car, backed out a few feet, and was struck by a car rounding the corner. No one was hurt, and Gaines exchanged the usual insurance data with the driver of the other car, whose name was Gene Zahn.

“Didn't we have an accident a year ago?” Gaines asked.

“I believe we did,” answered Zahn, giving a polite nod to Nancy, whom he remembered from the previous run-in. “Say, don't you think it's time you two got married?”

Gaines thought if over and decided that the point was well-taken. Within a month, he and Nancy were married.

a picture in which a dot is the lobe of a man's ear

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Above Roy R. Behrens, Rhythm and Discernment (© 2021). Digital montage.


Bennard B. Perlman, The Golden Age of American Illustration: F.R. Gruger and His Circle. Westport CT: North Light Publishers, 1977, p. 294—

The Composition Class instructor, Henry J. Thouron, sought to stimulate the creativity of his students. He would draw a rectangular area, then locate within it a few freehand lines and a dot. “Now I want a picture where this dot is the lobe of a man's ear and these lines are incorporated,” he would advise. All of the elements would have to become part of the composition; that was the challenge. Each student then evolved an original picture where the design was controlled by the novice artist, rather than by happenstance.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

or dance-like beatings the boy endured

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Above Roy R. Behrens, Papa's Waltz (© 2021). Digital montage.


The title of this digital book montage (I sometimes call them “visual poems”) is intended as an homage to what some people regard as Theodore Roethke’s finest work, a sixteen-line autobiographical poem, titled “My Papa’s Waltz” (c1942). It is beautifully constructed, filled with engagement and gesture—and is yet at the same time disturbing in its beneath-the-surface suggestions.

Roethke, as a poet should, makes apt use of figures of speech, and we (the readers) are left to decide what to make of it. Does “papa’s waltz” simply describe an innocent dance, in which an inebriated father is engaged in ritualistic fun with his son, a small boy. Or, as certain components suggest, is it not a literal waltz, but instead a frightening memory of dance-like beatings the boy endured at the hands of a drunken parent?

You must read the entire poem, which is available online at the website of the Poetry Foundation. At the same, it also helps to read the article about this poem on Wikipedia, and to learn about the life of Theodore Roethke.

rum, agony, complete carnage, noise and death

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Above Roy R. Behrens, Table Talk (© 2021). Digital montage.


Anonymous (a retired, 79-year-old British man, who, at age eighteen, while serving in France during World War I, had survived crippling battlefield wounds), quoted in Ronald Blythe, The View in Winter: Reflections on Old Age. UK: Penguin Books, 1980, pp. 135-136—

[While serving in the trenches] we reached a line the Germans had just vacated and on the next morning, after being made to drink a lot of rum, I went over the top for the first time. Everybody has written about it and nobody can describe it. Not really. The legs and arms of the dead stretched out, the ripped bellies of the horses steaming and stinking. And the dead faces of mates looking up at you out of the filth. Filth. Men made into filth before your very eyes. “He’s finished,” you’d say to yourself, and in a way you were glad he was! Because there was this useless agony because you’d got to go. How I prayed then! “Over the top!” it was, and there you were, running and falling. After the first time I fell asleep in a trench filling with water and was nearly drowned. We were on the Somme. It was solid carnage, noise and death. There was so much death then that it doesn’t matter to me now. Or should I say, it doesn’t worry me now. Now that I’m getting on for eighty, and when there’s not a morning when I don’t thank God for it. Day come, day go.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

i wanted my father to be what he could not be

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Above Roy R. Behrens, Tall Tails (© 2021). Digital montage.


Sherwood Anderson, Memoirs. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1942—

…as a small boy, I wanted my father to be a certain thing he was not, could not be. I wanted him to be a proud silent dignified one. When I was with other small boys and he passed along the street, I wanted to feel in my breast the glow of pride.

“There he is. That is my father.”

But he wasn’t such a one. He couldn’t be. It seemed to me then that he was always showing off…

…He was like this, let’s say an Irishman came to our house. Right away Father would say he was Irish. He’d tell things that happened to him in Ireland when he was a boy. He’d make it seem so real, that, if I hadn’t known where he was born, in a county down in southern Ohio, I’d have believed him myself.

If it was a Scotchman the same thing happened. He became a Scotchman. He’d get a burr into his speech. Or he was a German or a Swede. He’d be anything the other man was.