I can't imagine a more perfect blend of people, ideas and art. Here's a clip from the 1947 flim Dreams Money Can Buy, produced and directed by Hans Richter, Dada/surrealist artist. The film, which follows a story line about a man with the talent of seeing into people's minds to help them craft dreams, features segments by Surrealist superstars, Max Ernst, Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray and Fernand Leger. Here's the Leger segment:
Mannequins...Fernand Leger. Be still my seesaw heart. But there's more.
The song, The Girl With the Prefabricated Heart, was sung by Libby Holman, a Jewish, bisexual, broadway star and chanteuse and a huge supporter of civil rights, anti war and environmental causes. She may be obscure today, but in mid 20th Century America, she was a superstar. Known not just for her stage and recording performances, but also for a scandalous and difficult personal life, as well as for her serious and deeply held committment to political causes.
Libby Holman in 1931
One of Libby's great loves, Louisa Carpenter. Here, in 1941. Deleware Public Archives.
I'm just going to imagine for a moment that Libby Holman and my mother, Polly Cowan, must have crossed paths at least once in New York City or Connecticut, where they both owned homes.
The soundtrack in the clip above differs slightly from the one in the original. Same song, same singer, but a different recording. Both include Josh White, a now-famous African American folksinger, who Libby worked and sang with, sometimes at great peril to both of them.
Libby Holman and Josh White, 1944
Hans Richter on the set of The Girl With The Prefabricated Heart. Photo Arnold Eagle.
Mannequin and flowers in silhouette. Liza Cowan photo 2009
In the summer I put white curtains behind the show window at Pine Street Art Works. The bright west light throws everything into silhouette in the afternoon. You have to be inside the gallery to get this view. Mannequins by Ralph Pucci International (left) and Adel Rootstein (right)
Two mannequins in silhouette. Liza Cowan photo 2009
It's a cold rainy day here in Burlington, VT, but I finally got my Obama T shirt and I had to put it in my shop window.
Obama t shirt and Obama Flashbag in window of Pine Street Art Works.
Obama shirt, detail
Limited edition Obama bag by Flashbags. Each bag is numbered. A substantial portion of each sale goes to the Obama Campaign. Order online directly from Flashbags or if you are in town, come by and buy one at Pine Street Art Works.
Two weeks to go until Nov. 4th, and I don't know about you, but I'm filled with a mixture of hope and anxiety. If Obama wins, well, the world will be a much better place. If he loses, there will be hell to pay. Obama says "do you want four more years of the same?" But I say a McCain/Palin presidency would be exponentially worse than we suffered with Bush.
So keep on making those calls, talk to your neighbors, do everything humanly possible in the next two weeks to make sure Obama wins.
Here in Burlington people are enthusiastic about Obama. Almost everyone who comes into Pine Street Art Works is delighted to take some of my Obama Or Else postcards, or some buy an Obama bag by Flashbags. A few people have been politely not interested. No fights, no arguments. Just lots of, "what are you doing to help? Any suggestions of what I can do to help? and "here's what I've been doing to help."
But a few stores where I've asked if I could leave some Obama cards have said, "well, we can't afford to alienate our clients or customers who support McCain." Maybe it just shows that I'm not that great at business, but my response is, "Bite Me!" I'd rather lose the business than not show my support for Obama and sane government.
Obama Or Else postcard. Still available, still free. Send SASE to 404 Pine Street.
Oh, and this is the painting that is also in the window. It's my variation on a Tibetan Buddhist White Tara. I painted it about 4 or 5 years ago, and it's in the window because right now I am showing photos from Tibet taken just before the Chinese takeover. The photographs are by Heinrich Harrer, who wrote Seven Years In Tibet.
White Tara. Acrylic on Canvas, 64" x 51". Copyright Liza Cowan 2003
I had the great pleasure of visiting the Ralph Pucci headquarters in New York City the other day. Pucci makes mannequins - and sells limited edition home furnishings - and I have five of their creations. Those of you who know my work know that I love to photograph my mannequins, and I've always kept the Pucci people aware of what I'm doing. Wade Willams at Pucci has always been gracious and fun to talk to, and when I had a trip planned to the city, I made an appointment with Wade to get a tour.
Photo by Liza Cowan. This is Wade, reflected in a fabulous mirror by Philippe Hiquily in the Pucci foyer.
A shelf of heads in the sculpting room. On the upper right is the head of my beloved Maira Kalman girl. Liza Cowan photo.
Ralph Pucci workrooms, Photo by Liza Cowan. Three finished mannequins in front of a shelf of casting forms.
Photo by Liza Cowan. Ralph Pucci mannequin head molds.
These things look to me like ancient treasures recovered from a sunken ship. Maybe Greek amphora. But they're not. They are workaday artifacts, which, in my opinion, only makes them more valuable.
Photo by Liza Cowan. An assortment of Ralph Pucci mannequin hands.
Photo by Liza Cowan. Sanding down the cast fiberglass mannequins at the Ralph Pucci factory.
One of my Maira Kalman mannequins in my show window at Pine Street Art Works, photo Liza Cowan
I'm a huge Maira Kalman fan. I love her childrens' books, her New Yorker covers, and mostly I love her mannequins. I consider myself lucky that I get to live with her art every day because I own five of her mannequins produced by Ralph Pucci International. I put those mannequins to work every day in my display window, on my showroom floor, in my ads and even on my handmade handbags by Flashbags. Maira Kalman bag from Barnes & Noble.
Yesterday I was cruising the magazine racks at Barnes & Noble in Williston when I came smack dab upon Maira Kalman tote bags. They're nice enough and they're inexpensive but I really prefer mine. Everything about mine says fun flash design. From the image, to the beautiful stitching, to the cellphone pockets. And I wonder where the B&N bags were made? China? Mine are made in Vermont.
Bag photo and image design copyright Liza Cowan for Pine Street Art Works. Maira Kalman mannequin made by Ralph Pucci International. Bag made in Vermont by Flashbags.
Flashbags are hand made in Winooski VT (just outside Burlington) by a small group of fabulous women. We have collaborated on many designs. My own art is on some, as well as pieces by artists who have shown at PSAW.
Now they have made me a collection of ephemera bags based on my ephemera collections. Jello, children's readers, needle books and old coloring books form the core of this collection of bags and accessories.
Whoopee! It's Jello Flashbag. Images from PSAW collections by Rose O'Neil, famous for her Kewpie Dolls. Made in Vermont by Flashbags.
Images from chilrden's reader and old coloring book. Collection PSAW. Made in Vermont by Flashbags.
Checkbook cover with image from mid 20th Century Needle Package. PSAW collections. Made in Vermont by Flashbags.
Checkbook cover with Jello illustration. PSAW collections. Made in Vermont by Flashbags.
I suppose not everyone thinks of store mannequins as art, but I do.
Photograph by Eugene Atget, Boulevard De Strasbourg 1912
I’ve been a bit obsessed with mannequins - contemporary hardworking sculptures - since I was in grade school in the sixties. One day, I must have been about thirteen, I found my way down to the display department in Bloomingdale’s in NYC. It was like wandering into Surrealist heaven. I don’t remember how long they let me snoop around before they booted me out. But not before I got the chance to see all those arms, legs and heads and torsos on their way to becoming the next fabulous window or floor display.
My first mannequin, Ruth, on the right, with her friend, Dianne DeWitt by Adel Rootstein. Photo by Liza Cowan
I bought my first mannequin around four years ago from a local dress shop that was going out of business. She was band aid pink, but a few coats of gesso and white paint made took care of that. My collection has grown to seven mannequins. They sit in the display window, or inside alongside the art. They pose for ads and signs and merchandise. They are enormously fun to dress up, like huge dolls for grownups, and they are always a pleasure to be with.
Dianne Dewitt by Adel Rootstein. Photo by Liza Cowan
I was lucky to find a source for an amazing Adel Rootstein mannequin, the beautiful Dianne Dewitt. When I first brought her home my children were so freaked out by her blank eyes that I quickly painted in iris and pupils. I pasted on a nose jewel and earrings, and gave her some subtle gray lipstick. Otherwise, she is as I found her. I often change the mannequin's clothing. Sometimes it fits the theme of an exhibit, or the season, or just a whim. I usually shop for them at thrift stores. Sometimes they wear my old clothes (which are huge on them) or, as below, I wrap them in fabric and scarves.
Rootstein's Dewitt with Ralph Pucci/Maira Kalman little girl. Photo by Liza Cowan
The mannequins have all kinds of jobs around the gallery. Here, in a traditional occupation, they are showing off hats by Burlington milliner Jude Mulle, in the Holiday '06 Artifact show. Dianne is joined by one of my five Ralph Pucci International mannequins. This little girl is based on the work of Maira Kalman.
PSAW postcard. Ralph Pucci/Maira Kalman mannequin. Photo and design by Liza Cowan
Mannequins were made to work, and work they do. Here the Pucci/Kalman woman posed for a Pine Street Art Works advertising postcard. I wrapped her in sari silk, and photographed her against a black backdrop. She has also posed for newspaper and magazine ads.
Ralph Pucci/Maira Kalman mannequins. Photo Liza Cowan
These are my "boyakins." Also from Ralph Pucci/Maira Kalman. Here they pose for a picture. I'd like to say that they work hard, but they are mainly just pretty boys whose job it is to dramatize the art they sit next to. Sometimes one of them will sit on my desk.
Ralph Pucci/Maira Kalman mannequin against mid 20th Century botanical chart. Photo Liza Cowan
Ralph Pucci/Maira Kalman mannequin. Outdoor sign and Flashbag handbag. Photo by Liza Cowan
This Pucci/Kalman mannequin works as hard as the Kalman woman. He has worked as a sign model, and I put this image on a handmade handbag by Flashbags. He and his sister have a sassy little attitude that always makes me laugh They are source of delight to the children who come to the gallery and want to play with them. I totally understand, and as long as they are careful, I let them.