Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Audubon's Birds of America | Samantha White

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


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

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

Audubon Poster © Samantha White 2017

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

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

Audubon Poster © Samantha White 2017

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Audubon's Birds of America | Mallory Thurm

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


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

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

Audubon Poster © Mallory Thurm 2017

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

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

Audubon Poster © Mallory Thurm 2017

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Audubon's Birds of America | Ross Hellman

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


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

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

Audubon poster © Ross Hellman 2017

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

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

Audubon poster © Ross Hellman 2017

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

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


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

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

Audubon poster © Cheyenne Strelow-Varney (2017)

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

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

Audubon poster © Cheyenne Strelow-Varney (2017)

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Audubon's Birds of America | Hanna Seggerman

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


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

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

Audubon Poster © Hanna Seggerman 2017

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

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

Audubon Poster © Hanna Seggerman 2017

 Lawrence Perlman (American business executive)—

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

Audubon's Birds of America | Charles Williams

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


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

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

Audubon Poster © Charles Williams 2017

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

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

Audubon Poster © Charles Williams 2017

Thursday, October 5, 2017

BLOOD ROAD / Nick Schrunk Returns to UNI

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don't miss it.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Audubon's Birds of America | Sophia Grover

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


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

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

Audubon poster © Sophia Grover 2017

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Audubon's Birds of America | Colton Ellison

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


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

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

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

Audubon poster © Colton Ellison 2017

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Audubon's Birds of America | Sydney Hughes

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


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

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


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


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

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

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


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

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

Audubon poster © Sydney Hughes (2017)

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Pulling the Teeth of Frank Lloyd Wright

FLW montage © Roy R. Behrens 2017
Ben Masselink in "Gene" in Edgar Tafel, ed., About Wright: An Album of Recollections by Those Who Knew Frank Lloyd Wright. New York: John Wiley, 1993, pp. 189-190—

Gene [Masselink, his brother, an apprentice to Wright] had driven Mr. Wright in that open Cord down the rolling green hills of Wisconsin and along the sweeping outer drive of Chicago and through the smoky war of Gary, Indiana, and up along the huge, blue lake through Benton Harbor and Saugatuck, Gene's old art school, and into Grand Rapids to see the dentist, who was my dad. Mr. Wright wanted every tooth in his mouth pulled, which could compare to storming the Great Wall of China single-handed, and in one sitting, and then to be fitted for false. This greatly impressed my dad, as this was never done; it was too hard on the patient. Usually, one or two teeth were pulled at a time, four at the most, but Mr. Wright insisted, and so my dad pulled them as if he were plucking corn off a cob. Mr. Wright never flinched, but treated it as casually as if he'd come to have a hair trim.

Frank Lloyd Wright and Mason City (2016)

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Nonsensical Info Graphics | Chad Hagen

Nonsensical Infographic © Chad Hagen
Above This exquisite image by Minneapolis-based designer Chad Hagen is what he calls a nonsensical infographic. As he explains, infographics are usually judged on "how well they communicate their data." But in Hagen's delightful series of prints (he should do more!), the table is turned. He has omitted the data, reversing the priorities of form and (the customary) function of infographics.•


Edna Ferber, A Peculiar Treasure. New York: Doubleday, Doran and Company, 1939, pp. 114-115—

[While she was working as a newspaper reporter in Appleton WI, Ferber was assigned to interview the famous magician and escape artist Harry Houdini, who had grown up in the same town.] Celebrities didn't come our way often. When Houdini, the Handcuff King, arrived with his show he got shorter shrift than he deserved, being a hometown boy. Before my day, he had been a local product, [named] Harry Weiss, the son of a Russian Jewish rabbi. Failing to find him at his hotel I encountered him by chance on College Avenue at the drugstore corner just across from the [Appleton Daily] Crescent office. Outside the store was the usual slot machine containing chocolate and chewing gum. As he chatted affably with me Houdini leaned carelessly against this. At the end of the interview he dropped a cold metal object into my hand.

"There's the padlock to this slot machine," he said. "Better give it to the drugstore man. Somebody'll steal all his chewing gun."

I hadn't seen so much as a movement of his fingers. Tottering with admiration I went back to the office to write my story.

• For more on form and function see this new top-selling book about Frank Lloyd Wright.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Condé Nast: Mason City Among Top 20 Cities

Condé Nast Traveler (June 2017)
In a recent update to a list compiled originally in 2013, Condé Nast Traveler has ranked Mason City, Iowa, as among The World's 20 Best Cities for Architecture Lovers. As pictured on their website, it was listed as Number 8 of 20 on June 12, 2017. Other cities on the list include St. Petersburg, Budapest, Brasilia, Athens, Rome, Hanoi and others. The remaining American cities are Miami FL, Seattle WA, Columbus IN, Brooklyn NY and Portland OR. Mason City has nearly 40 Prairie Style buildings, including Frank Lloyd Wright's Stockman House, and the City National Bank and Park Inn Hotel, with additional structures by Walter Burley Griffin and others. For the story of how it all happened, see our recent book on Frank Lloyd Wright and Mason City—repeatedly featured in recent months as one of the top ten bestselling books on Frank Lloyd Wright on Amazon.

Mason City Posters © Roy R. Behrens 2016

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Sculptor / Printmaker Dallas Guffey

Epochal Descent © Dallas Guffey (2017)
We really respond to these woodcuts by sculptor/printmaker (and clandestine graphic designer) Dallas Guffey. See more at his website.


Rebecca Loncraine, The Real Wizard of Oz: The Life and Times of L. Frank Baum. NY: Gotham Books, 2009, p. 252—

In 1913, [Henry] Ford began making the Model T automobile in his Michigan plant through a researched, rationalized assembly-line production method. Before 1913, automobiles were custom-made. One of Ford's engineers was inspired by a visit to a meatpacking factory on Chicago, where he saw dead cows butchered in a rational assembly-line process, where a carcass was chopped into recognizable joints as it moved along a conveyor. The engineer reversed the idea and envisaged building an automobile along a moving line where static workers performed the same repetitive task over and over again. The cost of a Model T fell rapidly from $575 to $240, and became affordable to middle-income households.

Divulge © Dallas Guffey (2017)

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Mary Snyder Behrens | Shroud and Shadow

Assemblage (2003) © Mary Snyder Behrens
Above Mixed media assemblage, large scale, titled Drawn Conclusions No 12: Shroud and Shadow, made by Iowa artist Mary Snyder Behrens, c2003. Copyright © the artist.


Carl Van Doren Three Worlds. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1936, p. 27—

When he [his grandfather] ran for Coroner on the county ticket, he announced that if elected he would bury Republicans and Democrats with equal pleasure.


An autobiographer never knows quite which account he is giving of himself. Historian of acts of which he was the actor, he is still inside the self which remembers. No man, with the help of whatever mirrors, can know how he really looks to other men. Nor can he be sure how he sounds to them. Let him tell the plainest truth in the plainest way, he cannot know what else he may imply without suspecting it. Often he must wonder what the plain truth is. His memory has been quietly working his past over, and when he goes back to such unchanged evidence as letters and diaries he finds the story different from that he can come to remember. The man who remembers is not the man who did what the record shows. The man who was is now as strange to the man who is as the man who is would be to the man who was.…[pp. 105-106].


I had a head for liquor, when I took it, but I was always bored by drinking. Drinkers rarely say amusing things. What they say seems amusing only to other drinkers. The fun of alcohol is less on the tongue than in the ear [p. 256].

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Hummingbird in Cat's Mouth

Hummingbird surveillance drone
Above Hummingbird-based aerial surveillance drone. Public domain.


Dorothy Van Doren, The Professor and I. New York: Appleton , 1959, p. 128 [spouse of Mark Van Doren, mother of Charles Van Doren; her brother-in-law was Carl Van Doren]—

When Blackie [the family cat] was a half-grown kitten, I found him with something in his mouth—something that didn't look like a mouse. He is very good about giving up his prey if I insist and this time I insisted; I pried his jaws apart, there was a rush, and a hummingbird flew off at breakneck speed. How Blackie ever caught a hummingbird, I don't know; how he could hold the delicate body in his jaws without hurting it, I don't know either. But it happened; there was no mistaking the tiny size, the pointed bill, the emerald flash; and there was no doubt that it was unhurt. 

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Mary Snyder Behrens | Rift

Rift (2005) © Mary Snyder Behrens
Above Selected work from a series of intricate handmade bundles (called Trammels) with undisclosed contents, about palm size, made in 2004-2005 by Iowa artist Mary Snyder Behrens. Copyright © the artist.


Carl Van Doren Three Worlds. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1936, p. 110 (this reads like a concise restatement of the rationale of the Aesthetic Movement).—

Odysseus is not good: he is adulterous and crafty; Faust is not good: he sells his soul for the sake of forbidden power; Gargantua is not good: he buffets and tumbles the decencies in all directions; Henry V is not good: he wastes his youth and wages unjust war; Huckleberry Finn is not good: he is a thief and a liar. The heroes, the demigods, the gods themselves occasionally step aside from the paths into which men counsel one another; there are at least as many stories about gorgeous courtesans as about faithful wives. It is not the "goodness" of all such literature but the vividness that gives it perennial impact. Better a lively rogue than a deadly saint.

Mary Snyder Behrens | Barrier Box

Barrier Box (2005) © Mary Snyder Behrens
Above Selected work from a series of intricate handmade bundles (called Trammels) with undisclosed contents, about palm size, made in 2004-2005 by Iowa artist Mary Snyder Behrens. Copyright © the artist.


Carl Van Doren Three Worlds. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1936, p. 110—

I took him [his grandfather, a farmer from Illinois] to a convocation at the [Columbia] University. Something that President [Nicolas Murrray] Butler said so roused my grandfather that he whispered to me: "I'm going to give them my Indian war whoop"—and he drew in his breath. I knew what his war whoop was. Nobody who had heard it could ever forget it. I do not know quite how I stopped him. If he had been at his best I could not have done it. He would have whooped without warning me, and the steel girders in the roof would have rung, and the caps and gowns would have shuddered, and a stately decorum would have died. At the time I was in terror. Now I am half-sorry he did not have his way without my academic interference. If my grandfather and President Butler had met after the explosion they would have liked each other. And one Columbia convocation would still be remembered.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Mary Snyder Behrens | White Wish

White Wish (2005) © Mary Snyder Behrens
Above Selected work from a series of intricate handmade bundles (called Trammels) with undisclosed contents, about palm size, made in 2004-2005 by Iowa artist Mary Snyder Behrens. Copyright © the artist.


Owen Wister (author of The Virginian) as quoted in Fanny Kemble Wister, ed., Owen Wister Out West: His Journals and Letters. University of Chicago Press, 1958—

They had a dance somewhere [in Texas]—one of the regulation dances where the babies are all brought and piled in a corner while their parents jump about to music. After the thing had got going full swing, some unknown person got the babies and changed all their clothes—putting the linen of Mrs. Jone's little boy upon Mrs. Smith's little girl, and so on. In the dim light nobody noticed, and all went home with the wrong baby. Next morning there was the devil to pay, and for a week the whole countryside was busy exchanging and identifying babies [p. 158]


Texas life breeds sayings and doings enough to fill a volume. For instance, on the road to Brownwood there used to be a sign: "See Cross-eyed Jim before you sell your hides." The gentleman himself put it up, as that was the name he was known by; but today he would not care to have you call him by it, for he has become civilized. It is Texas fashion if any man has a deformity to name him accordingly. One Ace Brown had a hump back and was known as "Camel." A man lame from being shot in the leg is "Crip" Jones [p. 153].

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Mary Snyder Behrens | Home

Home (2005) © Mary Snyder Behrens
Above Selected work from a series of intricate handmade bundles (called Trammels) with undisclosed contents, about palm size, made in 2004-2005 by Iowa artist Mary Snyder Behrens. Copyright © the artist.


Robert Graves in Goodbye to All That, Garden City NY: Doubleday Anchor, 1957, p. 202—

[The continuance of war] seemed merely a sacrifice of the idealistic younger generation to the stupidity and self-protective alarm of the elder.…

War should be a sport for men above forty-five only, the Jesses, not the Davids. "Well, dear father, how proud I am of you serving your country as a very gallant gentleman prepared to make even the supreme sacrifice! I only wish I were your age: how willingly would I buckle on my armor and fight those unspeakable Philistines! As it is, of course, I can't be spared; I have to stay behind at the War Office and administrate for you lucky old men. What sacrifices I have made!" David would sigh, when the old boys had gone off with a draft to the front, singing Tipperary: "There's father and my Uncle Salmon, and both my grandfathers all on active service. I must put a card in the window about it."

Mary Snyder Behrens | Gape

Gape (2005) © Mary Snyder Behrens
Above Selected work from a series of intricate handmade bundles (called Trammels), with undisclosed contents, about palm size, made in 2004-2005 by Iowa artist Mary Snyder Behrens. Copyright © the artist.


Virginia Nicholson, Among the Bohemians: Experiments in Living 1900-1939. New York: HarperCollins, 2002, p. 73—

Quentin and Julian Bell [sons of Bloomsbury writers and artists Clive Bell and Vanessa Bell, sister of Virginia Woolf] had one special London Game that titillated them more than all the others, and which gave them early lessons in human psychology. They would manufacture a small tightly wrapped parcel, and drop it on to the Gordon Square pavement below; from their upper-floor window they would then watch with fascination the reactions of passers-by to the potential "treasure." Would they ignore it? Would they immediately pick it up and pocket it? Or would they edge it into the gutter with their foot before sidling across to "accidentally" appropriate it? A very few might even seize the package and rip it open, only to find that it contained—nothing.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Top Selling | Frank Lloyd Wright & Mason City

Digital montage (2017)
Publisher's description of Roy R. Behrens, Frank Lloyd Wright and Mason City: Architectural Heart of the Prairie. Charleston SC: The History Press, 2016 (repeatedly ranked in recent months among top best-selling books on Frank Lloyd Wright on Amazon)—

In the early 1900s, Frank Lloyd Wright transformed a small midwestern prairie community into one of the world’s most important architectural destinations. Mason City, Iowa, became home to his City National Bank and Park Inn—the last surviving Wright hotel. In addition, his prototype Stockman House helped launch the Prairie School architectural style. Soon after, architect Walter Burley Griffin followed in Wright’s footsteps, designing a cluster of Prairie School homes in the Rock Crest/Rock Glen neighborhood. Design historian Roy Behrens leads the way through Mason City’s historic development from the Industrial Revolution to the modern era of Frank Lloyd Wright.  

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Book Review | Frank Lloyd Wright & Mason City

Jerome Klinkowitz, in "Right Here in River City: An Iowa Community at the Prairie School's Edge: A Review of Frank Lloyd Wright and Mason City by Roy R. Behrens" in Universitas (University of Northern Iowa). Vol 12, 2016-2017—

…it is to Behrens's credit that his comprehension of the [Prairie School] movement reaches well beyond the limits that some commentators would impose…

No scholar has identified both the process of organic architecture and its sources more succinctly or with such clarity of thought. More>>>

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

2017 Graphic Design Portfolio Night at UNI

UNI Graphic Design Portfolio Night / Allison Rolinger (2017)
Above Each spring semester, the graphic design students and faculty in the Department of Art at the University of Northern Iowa celebrate the achievements of the graduating seniors. The event is the annual Graphic Design Portfolio Night, as announced by this exquisite poster, designed by one of those graduates, Allison Rolinger.

On Friday, April 21, from 5:30 until 7:30 pm (drop by anytime, leave whenever you'd like), nineteen current BA Graphic Design Majors will be at tables in the hallway of the ground floor of the south wing of the Kamerick Art Building. Their print and online portfolios will be on display, with the students there to talk to visitors (parents, fellow students, faculty, professional designers, prospective design students, alumni, faculty emeritus, you name it—it's open to everyone, and on-campus parking is easy on Friday evenings) about the work that they've achieved.

The person on the graphic design faculty who tirelessly oversees this always impressive annual event is Professor Phil Fass. Also represented will be student works produced in design studio courses taught by his faculty colleagues Soo Hostetler and Roy R. Behrens.

The student exhibitors this year are: Cassie Beadle, Emma Billerbeck, Joseph Burgus, Sadé Butler, Alison Cahill, Lexy Deshong, Abbagail Graveman, Derek Holt, Cecelia Hotzler, Dakota Jeppson, Jake Manternach, Megan Parisot, Christian Ravera, Leah Rieck, Allison Rolinger, Alisha Schlichte, Micah Skinner and Brianna Walker.

UNI Graphic Design Portfolio Night

This is an unparalleled opportunity for people both on- and off-campus to get a brief, concerted view of the quality of the student work in the university's award-winning Graphic Design degree program. In past years, on three occasions, students from the program have been chosen by the top design newsstand magazines (PRINT and Communication Arts) as being among the finest graphic design students in the country. Its graduates have gone on to careers at such firms as Apple, DreamWorks Animation, L.L. Bean, Lincoln Center, Huffington Poster, Fuel Branding, Motorola Mobile, Meredith Corporation, Visual Logic, and many many more—local, regional, national and international.

Don't miss it. It's a great way to support and encourage the senior students who will soon become contributors to the quality of our future lives.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Marvin Bell | On Bertrand Russell and Camus

Bertrand Russell with his children c1935 (public domain)
Marvin Bell in M. Bell and C. Merrill, After the Fact: Scripts and Postscripts. Buffalo NY: White Pine Press, 2016, pp. 100-101—

Bertrand Russell, May 18, 1872–February 2, 1970. An event of mind that lasted almost ninety-eight years. We shall not see his kind again, but are beset by ideologues pretending to be thinkers. I was hurrying along Broadway in the Capitol Hill District of Seattle. As I sped past two men deeply engaged in conversation as they walked, my hand bumped the wrist of one. I glanced back to say "excuse me" and kept going. But the bump must have "cleared the wax from my ears," as our teachers used to put it, and I realized that the older of the two was talking about Albert Camus. He was talking about Camus, Existentialism and meaninglessness. That was the word he used: "meaninglessness." I had overheard him say that meaninglessness was "a big idea." I couldn't just keep going. I went back and confirmed that they were indeed discussing Camus. I asked if they knew his essay on the myth of Sisyphus, who was sentenced to eternally push a boulder up to the top of a hill from where it would always roll down again. The older man (the other was much younger) said that in fact he had just been talking about Sisyphus. So I asked if he knew the very last sentence in the essay. "It's very important," I said, trying not to wag my finger. Well, he didn't, and he looked as if he wanted me to tell him, and I did. The last sentence in Camus' essay, the last of Camus' ideas about this man Sisyphus—who has been sentenced to an eternity of what seems to be meaningless suffering—is, "One must imagine Sisyphus happy." The older man was delighted at this information, and the younger one's eyes lit up as if he had been given permission to be cheerful. I felt like a Boy Scout of philosophy. I hadn't helped anyone across the street. I hadn't offered a way to escape the dark matter and sticky stuff. I had simply pointed out that one could live there. And I have lived there myself, largely as a fly on the wall, a bystander at the parties of the famous, a guest whose photo was taken in the movie star's bathtub, a tourist in international hot spots. We date watersheds, ages and eras, firsts and lasts, but nothing is over until no one remembers. Blessings on the lone scholar who looks again and recovers our words. Nonetheless, I have, like Bertrand Russell, no illusions. 

Albert Camus (1957), Library of Congress Prints & Photographs

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Louis MacNeice on English Dog Shows

Canine Portrait © Roy R. Behrens
Louis MacNeice, The Strings Are False: An Unfinished Autobiography. London: Faber and Faber, 1965, pp. 138-139—

An English dog show is very very English; you meet all the people you never would have thought of inventing. Dog-fanciers can be divided into two classes—those who look very like their dogs and those who look exactly unlike them. While there are old ladies showing Pekinese who look like Pekinese themselves, there are also gigolos with bulldogs or bruisers with Yorkshire terriers. The show is a wonderland of non-utilitarian growths. Through the smell and the noise and the clouds of chalk you can distinguish dogs that have been passed through the mangle and dogs with permanent waves, Bond Street ladies in veils and Amazons all boots. The human beings talk to each other roughly and curtly but twitter and coo to their dogs. There sportsmen and sportswomen who work their dogs in the field, and there are hermits from caves of melancholia who might have been artists or had lovers. You feel his nose to be sure that he is not ill, you chop up his meat so neatly, you put in his cod liver oil and a spoonful of lime for his bones, you brush him and comb him and pluck him and every so often you worm him—you are proud if he passes worms and proud if he doesn’t.

It’s not fair, that’s what it’s not, judge don’t know a dog from a carthorse, I tell you straight been showing for forty years and never in my life I mean when I say, see the dog he put up well would you believe it, no it’s not fair, that’s what it is, it’s not.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Mason City, Wright and Book Design

Poster © Roy R. Behrens 2017
Above Frank Lloyd Wright’s achievements in book design will be the subject of an evening talk during National Library Week at the Mason City Public Library, in Mason City IA. Titled Frank Lloyd Wright: Mason City and Book Design, the one-hour presentation will start at 6:00 pm on Tuesday, April 11, 2017. The speaker is author and design historian Roy R. Behrens, who teaches graphic design at the University of Northern Iowa.

Frank Lloyd Wright was an architect, art collector and teacher. His Mason City landmarks are widely known, consisting of the Stockman House, and the City National Bank and Historic Park Inn Hotel. But he also designed furniture, fabrics, dinnerware and stained glass windows. It is not usually noted that he was also a book designer.

In a richly illustrated talk, Behrens will focus on Wright’s efforts at book design, beginning in 1898 with The House Beautiful, a hand-bound letterpress book about interior home design. In that and subsequent efforts, Wright was influenced by various trends in architecture and design, among them the Arts and Crafts Movement, Japonisme, Art Nouveau and Art Deco.

Among Wright’s friends were two prominent book designers, Elbert Hubbard and Merle Armitage. The latter grew up in Mason City, and went on to become the manager and promoter for ballerina Anna Pavlova, operatic soprano Amelita Galli-Curci, humorist Will Rogers, and other star performers. He wrote and designed books about some of the finest artists of the twentieth century, including Martha Graham, Igor Stravinsky, George Gershwin and Edward Weston.

Also featured will be the work of New York publisher Steven Clay, a Mason City native who graduated from Mason City High School in 1969. After moving to New York in the 1980s, Clay established Granary Books, which became a leading distributor of limited edition, experimental “artist books.” In 2013, the archive of Granary Books was acquired by the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Columbia University, calling it “one of the country’s most significant artist book publishers.”

In addition to slide examples of the books of Wright, Armitage and others, the talk will include a selection of the actual books from the speaker’s book collection. The event is free and open to the public.


Roy R. Behrens, UNI Professor of Art and Distinguished Scholar, teaches graphic design and design history. He is internationally-known for his publications about art, design and the history of camouflage. The author of eight books and hundreds of published articles, he has appeared in films and interviews on NOVA, National Public Radio, 99% Invisible, Australian Public Television, BBC and IPTV. His most recent book is Frank Lloyd Wright and Mason City: Architectural Heart of the Prairie (2016).

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Buffalo Bill: Never Missed and He Never Will

Montage © Roy R. Behrens 2017
Above Title slide for Iowa's Buffalo Bill: Never Missed and He Never Will, a presentation sponsored by Humanities Iowa. For information on how to schedule this event for Iowa libraries, community centers and other public-accessible venues, as well as how to fund it through an HI grant (surprisingly easy), go to the Humanities Iowa website.


William F. Cody (1846-1917), better known as “Buffalo Bill,” was born near Le Claire, Iowa, in Scott County, just north of Davenport. By the end of his life, he had become what some have called “the most famous American in the world.” 

He had been a Pony Express rider, an Army scout, a buffalo hunter for the railroad, and the founder and central attraction of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, which traveled throughout the US and in Europe for thirty years. This talk is an overview of Cody’s life, both tragic and heroic. It was tragic because of the role he played in the near extinction of the American Bison (he himself is said to have killed nearly 3000 buffalo in eight months), and, more deplorable, in the subjugation of Native Americans. 

If his life was heroic, it was because of his later support of the rights of Native Americans, his friendship with many of them (most notably with Sitting Bull), and his link with such colorful characters as Annie Oakley and Wild Bill Hickok. As a Wild West performer, it is thought that Cody probably played to a collective audience of more than 50 million, including at various Iowa towns. This is a face-paced and entertaining 60-minute talk, illustrated by projected vintage photographs, film clips and animated graphics.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Review | Frank Lloyd Wright & Mason City

Poster © Roy R. Behrens (2017)
Above Roy R. Behrens, digital montage regarding Frank Lloyd Wright (2017) in relation to Prairie School architectural landmarks. Sources images include art glass window diagram from Historic American Buildings Survey, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs (based on window in the Robie House in Chicago), and designer's photograph of the Spirit of Mercury by Richard Bock, commissioned by Wright as a recurrent motif in his City National Bank and Park Inn Hotel in Mason City (1910).


Book review on GoodReads (four stars out of five) of Frank Lloyd Wright and Mason City: Architectural Heart of the Prairie. Charleston SC: The History Press, 2016—

I recently visited Wright's Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob houses in Pennsylvania and enjoyed seeing both of those homes. Having spent many summer vacations in Mason City as a youth, I was thrilled to stumble upon this book and excited to read about Wright's architectural impact on this small Iowa town. I think the author did a fine job of showcasing Wright's work in Mason City while incorporating some of Wright's personal (and scandalous!) history with the evolution of this north central Iowa town.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Duplicitous Serenity | Frank Lloyd Wright

Above Roy R. Behrens, digital montage portrait of Frank Lloyd Wright (2017).


What was it like to encounter for the first time the Midwestern prairie, not yet dominated by Euro-Americans at the time of the American Revolutionary War? Below is a description, based on eyewitness accounts from 1782, as invading American troops were in pursuit of Native Americans who had sided with the British.

Allan W. Eckert, That Dark and Bloody River: Chronicles of the Ohio River Valley. New York: Bantam Books, 1996, p. 342—

For those of the army who had never before seen the Sandusky Plains [in Ohio], their first view of it yesterday was breathtaking. The heavily forested hills through which they had been riding for the better part of a week had abruptly leveled out into high plains, with vast fields of grass as far as the eye could see. Their guides told them this type of terrain would continue all the way to the Sandusky towns, still some 30 miles distant: deep, thick grasses that were emerald green in their lush new growth and so high that the early morning dew soaked their horses and bathed the riders themselves to their waists. There was a deceptive sense of peace to the vista and a strong illusion that they had entered upon an expansive green sea where the surface was calm and smooth except where breezes touched down and rippled the grass in pleasant swaths all the way to the western horizon. The illusion of a sea was further enhanced by, here and there in the distance, great isolated groves of trees projecting above the grasses, appearing to be a series of lovely islands. So strong was this sense, in fact, that almost immediately the men referred to these groves as islands and dubbed them colorful names based on their size or shape or color. Smaller groves, hazy and indistinct in the distance, loomed above the grasses like ships traversing the sea from one of the larger islands to another.

Some of the men, however, viewed the deep grass with a rise of fear; in this sort of cover, a whole great army of Indians could lie hidden beyond detection, abruptly to rise at any given moment and pour a devastating fire into the troops. Their fear became infectious, and soon the initial serenity of the scene was replaced in the men's minds with uneasy expectation.