Previous month:
December 2007
Next month:
February 2008

January 2008


Nakki Goranin and I are busy setting up the American Photobooth show. It's going to be amazing. Since this is photobooth theme month, I've dredged up some old photobooth images I took when dinosours roamed the earth. My favorite booth was the one at Woolworths at 86th and Lexington in New York City. I'd go there after school many a day.

photobooth, teenage girls 1960's

Liza and SuSu circa 1964, 86th St. Woolworths, NYC
This was ninth grade - 1963. I still remember, we went over to Woolworths after an afterschool play rehearsal. I think we were doing Twelfth Night. I was wearing desert boots, which I thought were the coolest shoes ever made. In my hair was a strand of thick yarn, which was the fad. I had just had my ears pierced, which was shocking in 1963.

photobooth, teenage girls holding photostrips, 1970's
Liza and Penny. Circa 1970, NYC

This was a year about seven years later, around 1970. I was already working as a radio producer and my friend was in college. I later painted a picture for her that incorporated this image. Maybe she'll take a photo of it and send it to me.

Both of these girls were friends of mine from early childhood. We went all through elementary and high school together and we're still friends  - and they read this blog. So surprise, Susu and Penny. I love you both.

photobooth, girl with crewcut, girl with shaved head, surprised girl, big glasses
This was about five or six years later. I'd moved to upstate NY. Obviously, I'd just shaved my head and it was freezing out. The photobooth was in Catskill NY.

DOLLEY Madison & HOLLY Shulman

A few years ago, when I first thought about creating a website, my main inspiration was my older sister, Holly C. Shulman, and her outstanding website, The Dolley Madison Project . Holly, Dolley. Be confused not.

Holly C. Shulman is probably the foremost scholar on Dolley Madison. Dolley was the wife of President James Madison and the most famous hostess of Washington DC. Far from being stuffily academic, the website is gorgeous, informative and fun. Produced as a project of the Virginia Center For Digital History - University of Virginia, The Dolley Madison Project has both academic clout and design pizzaz. The graphics are beautiful, including probably all the known likenesses of Dolley. There is a section on Dolley and pop culture and a section on how to read old handwriting.

Image courtesy of Holly Cowan Shulman, The Virginia Center For Digital History, University Of Virginia


Jewelry made from hair of a deceased beloved. From VCDH  website. University of Virginia

Now Holly Shulman has published a piece in the Virginia Center For Digital History Website/blog about Dolley, James and the custom of making jewelry from the hair of a dead beloved to use as a memento mori. According to Shulman, "The fascination with ritualized mourning clothes and accessories has generally been considered an outgrowth of Queen Victoria’s intensely private, but socially influential bereavement of her husband, Prince Albert. But Albert did not die until 1861, and Dolley wrote her cousin in the summer of 1837. We can assume that in her practice and assumptions about memorializing the dead, Dolley was not alone among her friends and family in Virginia. These letters inform us about their practices of mourning. It indicates a shift in how the dead were remembered, and it locates the tradition of creating jewelry with hair enclosed to the 1830s."

Holly also edits another website, an exhibition site about Wednesdays In Mississippi: Civil Rights as Women's Work. Maybe I'll post about it another time.


Charles and Ray Eames are so famous - so iconic - that an entire era has been named after them, at least on eBay. And now there's a new postage stamp collection honoring them.
Eames stamp, charles eames, raye eames
Eames US Postage Stamp- due to be issued next summer

I had the pleasure of meeting Charles, but not Ray, Eames in the late sixties at a  conference at the Aspen Institute in Aspen, Colorado.  My parents dragged me along that summer, hoping, I suppose, to enjoy some time with their still somewhat rebellious teenager.  One evening Charles screened a film he and Ray had made  -The Powers Of Ten. This was the first version. Nine years later they released a second version.

You can see the second version on youTube.


That evening, Eames took questions from the audience. I had sat spellbound throughout the film. It probably wasn't too easy to capture my imagination that summer, but this film took my breath away. Apparently I managed to ask an intelligent question, because he sought me out after the film. I was with my parents - it was all on the up and up.

After Aspen, my parents and I traveled to Los Angeles where we met up once again with Charles -but not Ray - Eames, to discuss schools, and the design of schools, with someone else who had been at the Aspen Conference. I apologize for my hazy memory here, I don't remember who this other guy was or anything that was said.

Charles eames, raye eames, george platt lynes

Ray and Charles Eames, photo by George Platt Lynes

Later that year I  started working full time at the Pacifica Radio station WBAI-FM in New York City, and was producing their live performance series, The Free Music Store. I scheduled a screening of The Powers of Ten to coincide with an Eames visit to NYC. He was designing a huge exhibit at the time, I think at IBM.

For some reason, I decided to screen early Betty Boop cartoons with The Powers of Ten. For some reason, Charles thought this was a great idea. Remember, this was way before VCRs or DVD, and Betty Boop was not seen often on TV or anywhere else.

Amy Crehore loves Betty, too. Check out her blog

Charles and I spent part of the afternoon together while he showed me the exhibit he was putting together. Later in the evening, I picked him up at his hotel and we went over to the hall we'd rented. This was before WBAI started having concerts in the renovated church we later used for studios, offices and productions.

We screened the film to a packed audience. Charles spoke and answered questions. After the screening, we parted, and I never saw him again.

Almost forty years later, it still amazes me that this design genius was kind enough, interested enough, and open enough, to appreciate the ideas of a nineteen year old just beginning to make her way in the world as an adult. He never condescended to me. On the contrary, he took me and my ideas seriously. What better way could there be for a young person to enter into the grown up world of design and information.

My deepest thanks and yes, love, to Charles Eames.

Go buy some stamps! (when they're issued, that is.)


I suppose not everyone thinks of store mannequins as art, but I do.

Eugene Atget, mannequin,boulevard de strasbourg, paris, 1912
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.

Mannequin, rootstein, photo liza cowan, mannequin conversation
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.

Diane dewitt in polka dot small file ©liza cowan
Dianne Dewitt Mannequin by Rootstein. Photo ©Liza Cowan

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.


Ralph Pucci, Maira Kalman, mannequin, orange sari fabric, mannequin on postcard
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.


Mannequins by Ralph Pucci based on drawings by Maira Kalman. photo ©Liza Cowan
Male mannequins by Ralph Pucci based on drawings by Maira Kalman. 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, mannequin, boy mannequin, mannequin in graphic design, mannequin red back ground,
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.

American Photobooth Exhibit

american photobooth, nakki goranin, man smoking, black glasses
anonymous photobooth photo. Copyright Nakki Goranin from American Photobooth, WW Norton 2008

Who amongst us hasn’t enjoyed a trip to a photobooth and then tucked those strips of paper into photo albums or given them away to friends? What happens when those pictures, made so casually, leave their original owners and begin to circulate publicly though flea markets, antique dealers and auctions?

One answer: they become Art and History.

Burlington, Vermont artist, writer and photo historian Nakki Goranin has collected several hundred of these images into a new book,  American Photobooth, to be published in February by W.W. Norton & Co. Leading the now hot trend in collecting vernacular photography, Goranin   spent twenty five years gathering thousands of photobooth images made since their invention in the 1920’s.
american photobooth, nakkin goranin, african american sailor, african american couple in photobooth,

anonymous photo booth photo. Copyright 2008 Nakki Goranin from  the book American Photobooth

A selection of these pictures. along with images of original booths and their settings, make up the body of the new book, along with the social and technological history of this photographic phenomenon. Several of Goranin’s own photobooth-based works are also included.

Goranin’s collection will make it’s exhibition debut at Burlington VT's Pine Street Art Works in  February and March. Dozens of images from the book, enlarged for exquisite viewing, will be included in the exhibit.
American photobooth, nakki goranin, Blackfoot
Anonymous photobooth photo. Copyright 2008 Nakki Goranin from the book
American Photobooth

American Photobooth
, which has already been cited in The New York Times and The New Yorker, is sure to be one of the most talked about photo books of 2008. After it’s debut at Pine Street Art Works, the pictures will travel to New York City for exhibition at a major New York City photography museum.

Signed copies of the book will be available at Pine Street Art Works, and the artist/author will be on hand at the opening, Saturday, February 9th, from 2-5.



 fake photobooth portrait, scarf covering head, neckline covering head,

I made these iMac Photobooth self portraits last week. I've set them up to look sort of like actual photobooth images, but we all know they're not, right?

Unlike real photobooth images, these were not made sequentially. Some editing happened. I was at home. I had control over the lighting.

Like real photobooths, these are fun to do.


Liza, self portrait using iMac Photobooth and digital point and shoot camera. With SP Goodman painting as screensaver.

Alison Bechdel mentioned in a response to my last post that there is a piece about this blog in our local weekly newspaper, Seven Days Vermont. At the risk of this blog turning into an endlessly recursive hall of mirrors, I refer you to the the piece.

Alison is one of several artists who have exhibited at PSAW who also blog. See Alison’s blog, also Elizabeth Bunsen and SP Goodman. Other artists have excellent websites, which you can get to by following the links page on the PSAW website.

Links are often my favorite part of blogs. I’ve found some of my most valuable resources by following links, not only in the body of the text but also by following the URL’s embedded in names of reader comments. [Which, by the way, is different from people using comment space to write about their own sites. This is generally - with certain exceptions -not considered good blogging manners]

Some of the people who respond  to blogs are brilliant bloggers themselves -creative thinkers, writers, artists, analysts, collectors. Or not. But it’s worth following the links if you are interested in what they've said.

Just click on the names on the comments, and if they have embedded their URLs you will get there. How postmodern is that? It’s one of the best and easiest ways for blogs to create community, which, according to the piece in 7Days, is what I’m here to report on.


These are some ads I’ve been working on this week. I try to keep a design sketchbook for ad ideas.
This is an idea for a generic ad. The goal is to sell the gallery using a simple repeated image. In this case it is one of my photos of one of my Adel Rootstein mannequins. The mannequin collection is a feature in the gallery. I think of them as contemporary sculpture.

A large part of my job as a gallerista is designing ads for local magazines and newspapers and  I spend a lot of time studying ads in local and national periodicals to see which ones please me, and why.

This sketch uses an image from Nakki Goranin's upcoming American Photobooth exhibit (February + March at PSAW) I wanted to see if I could use several different images and two different typefaces and still maintain the smooth look that I like. The background multiple is the back of a Jello booklet, the foreground is the Photobooth image. I imagine that they existed in the same historical era. This sketch was fun to do but it's unlikely that I will ever use it. Too fussy, ultimately.

 There’s a lot of optical competition in most periodicals, which so often look like the designer shook up everything up dumped it on the page willy nilly.  Bad overall layout is so commonplace that often the hardest part for me is compensating for having to be part of the mixup.   The challenge is to design something that will stand out. Simplicity works. I like to have the image do the heavy lifting, with text acting as a design element . I prefer to have as little text as I can get away with.

The problem I see with most local ads, and a lot of national ones, is that they are a jumble of competing typfaces with no overall sense of composition. It’s hard enough to make people’s eyes rest on a particular ad when there’s so much visual noise surrounding it. When the reader’s eye does lite on an ad, it shouldn’t be a struggle to figure out what the ad is selling.

Another generic. It incorporates an illustration from a children's reader that I picked up in Holland many years ago. This illustration is typical of the kind in my collections and my limited edition reproductions. It was published in 1955, but it must be  a reprint of an earlier version. It must be. But I don't read Dutch, so I can't tell. The book is called VIJFDE LEESBOEKJE, and the illustration is by  C. Jetses. I gave the illustration a  red header, a black border, and added the arrows because they amuse me, add some graphic humor, and point out the physical address and the gallery website.


I did this a couple of months ago and although I've never used it as a print ad, I have used it on the homepage of the Gallery Website several times, and I'm very fond of it. It took me ages to get just the right combination of images, and to scale them properly. The image on the left is one of my photographs from Shipyard Archeology, a series I did a few years ago. The image on the right is from Paint By Number painting, part of the collection that was on exhibit last August here at PSAW.


My ideal ad. Volkswagen, 1964. It just doesn't get better than this.


American Photobooth, Nakki Goranin, photo old lady, dog, wire terrier, Anonymous Photobooth photo from American Photobooth by Nakki Goranin

Nakki Goranin's American Photobooth -The Exhibit will be making its world debut next month at Pine Street Art Works to coincide with the publication of  Nakki's book, American Photobooth. Forthcoming from W.W. Norton & Co., the book has already been cited in The New Yorker and The New York Times.

Nakki is a Burlingtonian, an artist, writer, teacher, folklorist, anthropologist and major collector of photobooth images. American Photobooth is a sure bet for one of the top photo books of '08.

There's more to come on this subject but I couldn't resist bringing you this photo which will become the show postcard.


setting up for party at PSAW. Photo by Deana O'Connor

New Years Eve- Allison Dincecco and Lisa Cadieux took over PSAW to throw a rockin' New Year's Eve Party. Allison was the first person in Burlington to show my art, at her wonderful, innovative  contemporary furniture store, Sohome, now defunct, on Flynn Avenue. Alison's mom is Lorna K. Peal, art consultant, past (and wonderful) director of SEABA - Burlington's South End Arts And Business Association.

Allison and Lisa  gathered their Salsa-loving community from Salsalina and the classes of David Larson and John Anthony. Friends, relatives, kids, parents, grandparents. Fabulous. I love how Dance, as a social art and activity,  always seems to create  community. It seems to be true, no matter what the dance tradition. And to have a fabulous party where everyone, no matter their age or dance level feels welcomed and comfortable - well that's the best.

The crew spent the afternoon transforming PSAW into a twinkly vision. DJ New York Raul spun the best music I've heard in ages. Everyone had a blast. Even me, and I'm not much of a party animal.

a brief moment of rest during the dance: Liza Cowan photo

I swear I was the only woman there not wearing high heels and a fabulous outfit. I always wear sensible shoes - I'm like that. Particularly on my unforgiving concrete floors. But how festive everyone looked.  And even in my sensible shoes I thoroughly enjoyed a spin on the floor with Lupe (above right) before I left to watch the fireworks with my children.


Dancing at PSAW. Photo by Liza Cowan

I love seeing PSAW transformed by someone else's vision. As I stood there under the twinking lights and red lanterns, my space filled with music, food, and the kindness of strangers, I wondered for a moment if I was hallucinating the whole thing.  I wasn't.

Allison and Lisa are venturing into Event Planning. Keep posted for more info on them and their business.