Saturday, December 29, 2018

Iowa's Buffalo Bill Is the Man in the Moon

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Vincent Starrett (Chicago Tribune book columnist Charles Vincent Emerson Starrett), Born in a Bookshop: Chapters from the Chicago Renascence. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1965, p. 154—

My only other clear memory of Washington days is a visit to Keith's Theater, where I heard and met the famous old minstrel James Thornton and his wife Bonnie. The rest of the bill was a bust as far as I was concerned, but the opportunity to meet the man who had written "When You Were Sweet Sixteen"—to say nothing of "My Sweetheart's the Man in the Moon" and "The Irish Jubilee"—was too good to miss…But I was sorry to have missed an encounter, a few weeks earlier, between Jimmy and Colonel William F. Cody. The theater manager told me about it with great glee. Cody also had been eager to meet an old favorite, and Jimmy had been brought around to his box. The manager made the introductions. "Jimmy," he said, "I want you to meet the famous Buffalo Bill, who is an admirer of yours." "Glad to know you, Mr. Bill," said Jimmy, shaking hands solemnly. "What part of Buffalo do you come from?"

The secret handshake?

Charles Henry Bennett | Shapeshifting Fox

C.H. Bennett, Metamorphosis (1863)
Above One of a series of elaborate comic metamorphoses (aka shapeshifting) created by Victorian-era British illustrator Charles Henry Bennett (1863) in sardonic reference to Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection, this one titled "Beware of the goose when the fox preaches." Courtesy The Wellcome Library.


Vincent Starrett (Chicago Tribune book columnist Charles Vincent Emerson Starrett), Born in a Bookshop: Chapters from the Chicago Renascence. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1965, pp. 295-296—

It is curious how the faces of acquaintances repeat themselves in foreign lands. Uncanny, too, for what could be more disconcerting than to encounter an old friend jogging past dressed like a mandarin or selling chestnuts in coolie cloth? No sooner had I reached the Orient than this began to happen. Friends and associates I thought I had left behind in America, sometimes fellows I hadn't seen in years, popped up in Yokohama, Tokyo, Shanghai, and Peking, looking very much as I had seen them last, yet subtly altered by the native costumes they were wearing. It was as if one met them coming from a masquerade. In Yokohama it was an old school friend who had been dead for years. He was running a cigarette kiosk near the docks and I knew better than to speak to him. In Tokyo it was a genial barber who used to shave me in Chicago. And in Peking [Beijing] here were so many that my blood ran cold.

Among the friends I met in Chinese garb (and with Chinese faces) were some pretty distinguished fellows…I saw Alex Woollcott many times: once he was chirping seductively at a bird he was carrying through the streets in a bamboo cage. Once my dead mother turned out of a side street and gave me a turn that almost bowled me over. Once I met Bob Casey driving a small donkey attached to a two-wheeled cart: he was selling vegetables. After a time it became an amusing game to look for absent friends and sometimes to hail them genially, and no harm came of it for the Chinese were a friendly people, always ready to hail one in return.

But one day I really did get a shock. Rolling down one of the main thoroughfares of Peking in my rickshaw, I came suddenly abreast of another rickshaw rider headed in the opposite direction. He was bundled up in a fur coat and wore a fur hat, rather like a turban, at a rakish angle. He looked exactly like J. P. McEvoy and for a moment we looked hard at each other. Then I said, “Hello, Mac,” and he stopped his boy and said, “Why, hullo, Vince! What are you doing in Peking?”

Thursday, December 27, 2018

George Herriman | Are Cubists From Cuba?

George Herriman (1914)
Above A syndicated cartoon panel (repositioned vertically to read while scrolling) by the American master cartoonist, George Herriman, well-known because of Krazy Kat. This was one of his responses to the controversy surrounding the infamous Armory Show, the first US exhibition of Modern styles of art, Cubism among them.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Milton Glaser on All Life as Transcendence

Above This image, created by Thomas Kent, was published in the Strand Magazine in 1909. It was one of a number of graphic peculiarities. A pencil-drawn portrait, it was accomplished with a single continuous line that originated at the tip of the nose.


American graphic designer Milton Glaser, interviewed in Joan Evelyn Ames, Mastery: Interviews with 30 Remarkable People (Portland OR: Rudra Press, 1997), pp. 84-85—

I remember Rudi [a friend and teacher] saying once that all life is about transcendence. If you’re ugly you have to transcend your ugliness, if you’re beautiful you have to transcend your beauty, if you’re poor you have to transcend your poverty, if you’re rich you have to transcend your wealth… There is nothing worse than being born extraordinarily beautiful, nothing more potentially damaging to the self. You could say the same for being born inordinately rich. You suddenly realize how wise the idea is that you get nothing at birth except things to transcend. That’s all you get.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Robert Frost and Darwin | Metamorphosis

Visual metamorphosis
Above Fr. Schmidt, Table 2. Evolution of household articles, animals, etc. according to Darwin's doctrine. Hand-colored lithographic, c. 1870s. Courtesy the Wellcome Library. Creative Commons license CC by 4.0.


Louis Untermeyer, Bygones: The Recollections of Louis Untermeyer. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1965—

[As a young writer]…I was much given to a style that employed epigrammatic checks and balances, appositions, paradoxes, and puns. I remember dismissing a rather commonplace collection of Gaelic poetry as "A Child's Garden of Erse" and characterizing the author of an abortive American epic as "A Yankee Doodle Dante." I referred to a Dowson-Beardsley pastiche as being "less erotic than Pierrotic. I inquired, since much of the Restoration comedy of manners took place in elegant country houses, was it not a comedy of manors? [p. 44]…

[His friend] Robert Frost, the most penetrating as well as the most profound poet of our time, might be expected to have been an anti-punster. On the contrary, he made point after point by punning; one of the favorite games during our fifty-year friendship was hurling word-plays at each other. He insisted that the most American trait was a combination of patriotism and shrewdness; he called it "Americanniness." He made fun of Mussolini and his cultural pretentions as the poet's dictator, "the great Iamb." He wrote about the liberal lugubrious poetry of Conrad Aiken and spelled the name "Conrad Aching." Ezra Pound was, he said, a glittering confuser of showmansip and erudition, a "Greater Garbler." "T.S. Eliot and I have our similarities and our differences," he wrote to me. "We are both poets and we both like to play. That's the similarity. The difference is this: I like to play euchre; he likes to play Eucharist." [pp. 45-46]

Death Begins at Forty | Art Deco Illustration

Cover illustration (c1938)
Above, Artist unknown, "Death Begins at Forty." Magazine cover illustration published by Travelers Insurance Companies, c1938. Courtesy New York Public Library.


Louis Untermeyer, Bygones: The Recollections of Louis Untermeyer. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1965—

[Recalling his earlier immature writings] They were, as someone is supposed to have said, the kind of thing one should go to the trouble of not writing.…

It is as a poet that I most resent those resentful of puns, for the pun is, per se, a poetic device. Poetry is essential a form of play, a play of metaphor, a play of rhyme. The pun is another form of syllabic playfulness, a matching of sounds that, like rhyme, are similar yet not quite the same—a matching and shifting of vowels and consonants, an adroit assonance sometimes derided as jackassonance. Whatever form it takes, searching or silly, the pun springs spontaneously from the same combination of wit and imagination which speeds the poetic impulse.

[James] Joyce might well have tesitifed for the defense. Finnegans Wake, with its "Ibscenest nansence," "There's no plagues like Rome," "Wring out the clothes! Bring in the dew!" is a book-length frolic of puns. The nonrational logic of the man-level parable (or parody) of the life of everyman embodies more than a thousand word-plays, which makes Joyce the most riotous punster since Shakespeare (p. 45).

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Poster | Why Angels Take Themselves Lightly

Poster © Roy R. Behrens. Purchase online.
Cornelius Weygandt, On the Edge of the Evening: The Autobiography of a Teacher and Writer Who Holds to the Old Ways. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1946—
We had nearly all of us been brought up on the King James version of the Bible, Mother Goose, Pilgrim's Progress, Paradise Lost, and Shakespeare. We were much easier to teach than the classes of today, classes in which there is no common denominator of culture [p. 56].


…Captain Makins' daughter had made the voyage to the Orient with her father on one of these trips. In her old age she was something of a Mrs. Malaprop, speaking of the cat licking her plumage and of the cedars of Zebulun. China was always Chiney to her and Portugal Portingale [p. 63].


You are waiting for Dr. Phillips to haul you home by his car from the dentist's office at Fifteenth and Locust Streets. You have lost five teeth. An old man comes up to beg of you. He sees your despoiled gums. The hand that pockets your nickel withdraws from the pocket's depths a handful of teeth. "These are mine a dentist took out," he says, "at a dollar apiece. See how sound they all are. I wonder will I ever be able to sell them again for what they cost to have them pulled?" [pp. 76-77]


[On first meeting him,] I got that impression of [Irish novelist] George Moore that I carry with me still. He was built like one of those little figures that you can not turn over, that are so heavy in their posteriors that no matter which way you put them down they come to a sitting posture. He had real eighteenth-century sloping shoulders and a seedy tobacco-stained lugubrious moustache not so walrus-like as [Irish linguist] Douglas Hyde's but incipiently walrus-like [p. 120].

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Tony Drehfal Engraving | Braiding Sweetgrass

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

Cover of Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Winsor McCay | Brute in the Brain Illustration

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mine too, for which I will always be grateful.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Dennis Ichiyama | Curris Endowment for Design

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

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

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

Monday, October 15, 2018

High Backs, Ladder Backs, Glasgow Grids

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

Friday, September 7, 2018

Elena Diane Curris Design Exhibition | 2018

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

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Frederick Douglass Poster | Libby Schwers

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


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

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Kevin Nute on Frank Lloyd Wright and Japan

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

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

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Film on Eden Ahbez | Nature Boy Songwriter

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Ballast Quarterly Review | Issues Online Now

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

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

Friday, April 20, 2018

Roy R. Behrens | Site Revised & Redesigned

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


Sunday, February 4, 2018

The Vietnam War | Scott Cawelti

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


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


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

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


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

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