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December 2007


mary louise spoor, bye baby bunting, chromolithograph, mother and baby, baby in cradle, blue dress stars
Mary Louise Spoor, Baby Bunting, chromolithograph 1917. Liza Cowan Collections

Collecting is an adventure. The civilized version of big game hunting. You never know where the chase will  will lead, what roads you will follow. Here, we go from nursery illustrations to the early history of cinema.

A couple of years ago I was hunting at an antiques show. I was fast- walking the aisles, which is how I always do my first scan. I stopped abruptly at  a huge chromolithograph schoolroom poster published in 1917 by Congdon Publishers in Chicago. I immediately fell in love with the Japanese - or Japonism - inspired design. The dealer knew the name of the illustrator, Mary Louise Spoor, but not much about her. 

I immediately began searching for more of her work. I have subsequently found three of the school room posters. Hickory Dickory Dock, Little Bo Peep  and Baby Bunting Went A Hunting.

mary louise spoor

Mary Louise Spoor, Hickory Dickory Dock, 1917 Chromolithograph. Liza Cowan collections. Available here

Internet searches revealed scant information on Spoor.  An interesting conversation among collectors and descendants reveals that Spoor (1887-1985) worked for a brief shining moment from Chicago, publishing illustrations for Rand McNally and Lyons & Carnihan.

Mary Louise Spoor, 1917, chromolithograph, children's illustration, hickory dickory dock, mice, doll
Mary Louise Spoor, Hickory Dickory Dock, 1917 Chromolithograph. Liza Cowan

By 1917 she was married and pregnant with her first child. She moved to Massachussets to raise her family. And that, as far as I can tell, ended her professional career. She continued painting and drawing private works that would end up in family collections but those works have not yet entered into public circulation. Nor may they ever. What a shame to have access to so small a piece of a life's work


Mary Louise Spoor, 1917, nursery school poster, chromolith, little bo peep, sheep
ML Spoor from schoolroom poster triptychs, 1917, Liza Cowan Collections. Each image is 15'" square.

Before she left Chicago, Mollie, as she was called, went to The Art Institute  and shared a studio with Gertrude Spaller, another young illustrator. Together they illustrated at least two children's readers. The Easy Road To Reading Primer editions one and two.


Mary Louise Spoor, Easy Road To Reading, Children pushing doll carriage
ML Spoor illustrations, The Easy Road To Reading- Cowan Ephemera Collections

Here's where the road forks:

Mollie's brother was George K Spoor. In 1907 George founded Essany Studios in Chicago. Essanay was one of the first movie production studios in the US during the blink of an eye when Chicago was the center of US movie production. A couple of years later Essanay built studios in Niles, CA, but kept offices in Chicago.  George Spoor's partner in Essanay (S&A) was Max Aronson, aka Gilbert Anderson, aka  Broncho Billy, the very first film cowboy star .

Broncho Billy, Essanay Film Company, early cowboy, jewish cowboy

Broncho Billy And The Essanay Film Company by David Kiehn. Farwell Books 2003

That's right. The first cowboy star was Jewish. Aronson/Anderson appeared in the first great narrative film ever, The Great Train Robbery, then went on to direct and star in hundreds of films for Essanay.

When it began, Essanay depended on, and discovered, local Chicago talent, many of whom went on to become some of the biggest stars and directors in the industry, including Ben Turpin, Alan Dwan, Louella Parsons, Francis X Bushman, Gloria Swanson.

They made 2,000 movies in their ten year span, out of which only about 200 survive.


Charlie Chaplin in drag in Essanay's The Woman  from 1915

Charlie Chaplin was an Essanay star too, one of the first to be hired from outside the neighborhood. He had a contentious relationship with the studio, and left after a few years. His first version of The Tramp was an Essanay production.

It seems not unlikely  that the George Spoor would have asked his illustrator sister to design movie posters for his studio. She did design the Indian Chief logo for them. So far, I haven't discovered any but the hunt is on.


conversation amongst relatives and collectors at Antiques and The Arts

essay on essanay from Chicago Magazine May 2007

Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Niles CA



Mary louise spoor seen on see saw


I finished off my rather limited holiday shopping yesterday with a visit to two bookstores, Barnes & Noble in South Burlington, VT and The Flying Pig in Shelburne, VT.

I had a 25% off card at B&N that ended on the 24th, and with a family that's addicted to Buffy The Vampire Slayer (the kids)  and Star Trek (me), I needed to cash in. Our local B&N is as corporate driven as you might imagine. That is, the layout in all the stores follows a format that is familiar and  pleasant, with the requisite St*rbucks, comfy chairs to lounge in and a good used book section. The selection of books is large, if predictable, with sprinklings of local and small press books, and author appearance by local writers, of which we have an abundance.

You can go into a B&N pretty much anywhere and know your way around. My shopping philosophy - Shop Local - only somewhat applies here. But  much of the staff has been there at least as long as I've been in VT, six years, and the salaries, rent and taxes go towards supporting the local economy. I've run into B&N staff in Yoga class, at local concerts and at the grocery store. They know their stock, and some of them, at least, are knowledgeable readers, particularly in the kids section. Despite this, the store is too corporate driven to feel like you are visiting someone's personal vision. You aren't. There's no community building going on here. But I got $50 off my DVD, and that's a good thing.

Leader_bluemle_leavitt_link_3 Ten miles away, in the Village of Shelburne, The Flying Pig Bookstore is another animal altogether. Shelburne is cute as a button and just as small, but recently has bloomed into quite a shopping destination. Shelburne is known around here as being a pocket of wealth and the village reflects that, but in a very New Englandy way- which, as a New Yorker, is still exotic to me. Nothing flashy. No box stores. All very tasteful. Shelburne is also home to the world class Shelburne Museum, just down the road.

The small shops are all in historic wood or brick buildings, some beautifully renovated. The stores are clustered in a central location along Rt. 7 and a gracefully curving offshoot around the village green.  In the summer there's a farmers market. And my favorite cafe, Village Wine and Coffee, is right there, too.

The Flying Pig exemplifies great retailing. Owners Josie Leavitt and Elizabeth Bluemle are passionate readers, as are their staff. The store is beautifully designed to make use of every inch of floor and wall space, which they need to house their stock of 40,000 books.  Josie, Elizabeth and the staff  are so cordial and welcoming - and funny - that you feel like you are visiting their home, rather than their store. Looking at the stock  you know the books are all selected by intelligent creative minds. Although the emphasis is on children's books, the adult sections are as varied and smart as the kids sections. In a nutshell, you can trust their choices. Readings by terrific authors, an informative newsletter and a well designed website with online shopping round out their brilliance.

An important part of being a retailer, and one that is so rare, is the art of being a host. Sometimes employees can fill this role. But usually it takes the presence of the owner, and a rare owner at that. The best stores, at least my favorites, are the ones where I not only feel like I've made a connection to the goods via the host, but also one in which I connect with other like minded shoppers. The best retailers will not only know regular customers, but introduce them to one another. Not in an an overbearing way - there's a fine line here - but in a graceful and knowledgeable way.

Location_index_head_image_2 Josie and Elizabeth shine at this- as does Kevin at Shelburne Wine and Coffee. When a store has that ambiance, the clientele will start to take over the task as well. That's when a store comes alive, and makes a community.


Small_bag_4I cant keep these products in stock. They are my number one best seller this holiday season.

Two years ago Ali Marchildon and Laura Cheeney started making  Flashbags, handmade laminated handbags in Ali's dining room in Burlington, VT. At the same time I was getting ready to open Pine Street Art Works, right down the street. We started collaborating immediately.

Last year the bags sold steadily but slowly. But those gals have a lot of flash, as well as a fantastic product  and two years of hard work and a lot of great business sense are paying off. Their new atelier in Winooski, VT is a hive of sewing and packing activity. They have expanded their line to include checkbook covers, clutches, bins, wallets and placemats. Their new line of Red Sox items are a big thrill for many Vermonters, who consider the Sox their home town team.

This year the bags are flying off my shelves.

On the top is Liza Leger from my series, Fake! Paintings by Liza Leger, Liza Picasso and Liza Matisse.

Midnight_bag_white_bg_2 Flashbags is also now working with Cara Barer, the fantastic photographer from Houston TX, whose series of photos of soaked and shaped books  is a staple at PSAW. Cara's work is  in the Houston Museum of Fine arts as well as in a couple of  other fine galleries in the US. 

You can come here to PSAW- 404 Pine Street, Burlington VT - to shop for your Flashbags bags and accessories or go directly to their site to buy their array of images and products, or, for even more fun, order a custom bag.

Make sure to tell them that Liza sent you. And stay tuned for my new line of bags based on my ephemera collections, coming sometime this winter.


I’ve been collecting Jello ephemera for thirty or more years. I used to find recipe booklets at yard sales for a dime, but that Jello_icecream_powder_small_for_blowas then. Now they are a bit pricier, and harder to find, although with eBay anything’s possible, with patience and determination.

Jello started advertising heavily at the beginning of the 20th Century. The early booklets are lush with chromolithographed color. The Jello really does seem to shimmer off the page. Jello was an innovative advertiser throughout the 20th Century, and my collection goes right up to the seventies.

My collection will stay intact and is not for sale unless I have doubles. I do, however, make reproductions and have them mounted by Silver Maple Editions, for sale at Pine Street Art Works.

I only reproduce images from ads in my collection, in limited editions, and only those before 1925. Although it is possible to find good scans of Jello, and other, ads on some websites, I  find it somehow unseemly - if not unethical - to sell copies of electronic copies of copies of art.The parade of simulacra must not be allowed to get too rowdy.

Hello_they_all_want_jell111_3 The back cover of this booklet - of which the above Jello Ice cream Powder was an insert - shows the Jello girl on the phone to the grocer, who is pictured on the front of the booklet answering the phone. Phones were a new technology, and using them in the advertising shows just how modern and up to date the product is. The telephone cord in the picture becomes a real life green string which is threaded through the  green hole on the upper right.

If this ad were  being made today, the girl would be using her Blackberry to call the grocer. If we called the grocer anymore. "Hello, City Market, send over a box of Jello please."