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April 2008


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.

ralph pucci showroom-Wade in mirror, liiza cowan photo
Photo by Liza Cowan. This is Wade, reflected in a fabulous mirror by Philippe Hiquily in the Pucci foyer.

Pucci- heads on shelf
A shelf of heads in the sculpting room. On the upper right is the head of my beloved Maira Kalman girl. Liza Cowan photo.

Pucci-three wave mannequins
Ralph Pucci workrooms, Photo by Liza Cowan. Three finished mannequins in front of a shelf of  casting forms.

Pucci head molds
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.


Pucci hands
Photo by Liza Cowan. An assortment of Ralph Pucci mannequin hands.

Pucci - sanding manniquins
Photo by Liza Cowan. Sanding down the cast fiberglass mannequins at the Ralph Pucci factory.

Kalman willy mannequin in psaw window
One of my Maira Kalman mannequins in my show window at Pine Street Art Works, photo Liza Cowan


Here are some fun finds from a 1938 Spiegel Catalog.

Spiegel 1938 cotton blog
Love the little camera she's holding.

Spiegel 1938 stove blog

Spiegel 1938 boys outfit blog
There were no similar outfits for little girls. Hmmm, I wonder why.

Spiegel 1938 cover blog
The cover. The text says, "The best thing in life is a happy, comfortable, attractive home. When the day's work is done, it's our haven of peace and quiet, rest, pleasure and security."  What the text deletes is that the day's work for the wife is at home, working hard to provide that peace quiet etc.

Spiegel 1938 cover detail blog
Spiegel 1938 Cover, detail. At first I thought this was a peddler, which would be appropriate since my Spiegel relatives came to America and worked as peddlers, eventually starting the store that would become Spiegels. However, on closer inspection he seems to be an itinerant knife sharpener. His clothing style doesn't match the clothing style of the woman and girl, and the proportions of the people to the house are way out of  scale, so I suspect the whole image is rather fanciful.


The amusements of Atlantic City in the last post made me think of carousels. I have spent periods of my life obsessed with carousels. In my own childhood I rode the Stein & Goldstein horses at the carousel in Central Park in New York City. But more than that, we had our own carousel horse on our lawn in Redding Connecticut in the early 1950's. Nowadays, nobody in their right mind would leave a vintage wooden carousel horse outdoors, exposed to the elements and gaggles of rowdy children, but in those days the discarded horses were not particularly valuable or appreciated as works of folk art.
carousel, charles dare horse, carousel horse on lawn Liza Cowan, circa 1951, Redding, CT.

charles dare, carousel horse, carousel horse in private collection, children on charles dare carousel horse

Photo by Mary Morris Steiner

My sister just sent me this. Sorry about the quality, it's a many times scan, but here is my mother, Polly Spiegel Cowan, with my sister Holly and brother Geoff on the carousel horse.  I don't understand the seeming discrepency in the color of the mane, but I guess that between the time of the picture with my mom and sibs, and the one of me, the horse was painted. Ouch.

The horse  sat on our lawn for years. The mind boggles. I rode this horse until my early teens, when we sold the house. And by "we" I mean my parents. Years outdoors exposed to the elements runied this fine piece of sculpture, and I regret that more than I can begin to express.

Carousel dare carousel NY State Museum
These horses are in the New York State Museum in Albany.  Armitage/Hershell machine probably carved by Charles Dare in the 1890's.

Carousel Charles Dare
Attributed to Charles Dare. Photo from James D. Julia Auction, Maine.  This is the horse we had. The breastplate and saddle on ours was simpler, but otherwise they match up. My heart is breaking.

Moving on from my heartbreak...

When my daughters were little, we were lucky to have a house in Greenport Long Island, where there is a beautifully restored Hershell Carousel right on the water's edge. I got a call one evening at dusk that the horses were about to be moved to their newly built pavillion, so I raced over and got this shot of some of them stacked up and ready to go. The light was fading too fast, so I only got a couple of good images.


Carousel horse, carousel greenport ny, allen herschell carousel horses, hershell horse,

Liza Cowan Photo 1999, Hershell Horses, Greenport NY Carousel

 hershell carousel horse, greenport LI

This Hershell beauty was up and rolling when I took the picture. The Greenport Carousel actually has a brass ring, which makes it even more exciting and historic.




Liza Cowan Hershell carousel horse painting on photo copy of cowan photo

Mixed Media by Liza Cowan.


This is a painting I did on top of a photocopy of a photo I took of a Hershell horse at the Greenport, Long Island Carousel. If you've never tried painting on top of a photocopy you should. It's really fun and easy. Best if you put down a coat of clear medium first.


charles carmel, carmel carousel horse, carousel prospect park, child on carousel horse, restored carousel, carmel jumper

Photo by Liza Cowan. WG riding a Charles Carmel jumper, Prospect Park Carousel


The carousel in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, NY has beautifully renovated horses carved in Coney Island sometime between 1910 and 1915 by Charles Carmel. We spent many an afternoon there. The American Folk Art Museum in New York recently had and exhibit, which I missed, called Gilded Lions and Jeweled Horses, The Synagogue To The Carousel, which traced the art of Jewish immigrant carvers "inspired by their memories of the  symbols and forms they left behind. Some of the same Jewish artisans who arrived in America at the turn of the twentieth century and carved for their local synagogues also found work carving horses and other animals for the flourishing carousel industry."

"Gilded Lions and Jeweled Horses" Exhibition Catalog, American Folk Museum with Brandeis University Press. 2008
Listed on my Powell's Bookshelf (under MY WEBSITES on upper right of sidebar.)


carousel paris france, carousel france, carousel luxembourg, child on small carousel horse, child on paris carousel
Photo by Liza Cowan

This turn of the century carousel is in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris. The children can take sticks and try to spear the wooden hoops. This must hark back to when carousels were used to teach jousting to knights. It's as much fun for the children as grabbing for the brass ring. Notice how petite these horses are.

mechanical horse, child on mechanical horse, child on amusement park horse
Photo by Liza Cowan.

And then, sometimes, a mechanical horsie -ride -for- a- quarter is just as much fun. Although GW is wearing the same dress as in the Paris photo, it is not the same day, or even the same country. She just adored the dress.

Carousel at Shelburn Museum  
Carousel at Shelburne Museum, Shelburne VT

Now we live only a few miles from the Shelburne Museum, Shelburne Vt. They also have a working Hershell Carousel. They also have an amazing collection of historical carved carousel animals. It's worth the trip.


My blog banner says, "wherever the ride goes" and I swear I never know what that will be. I was looking a the postcard of the Ambassador Hotel in Atlantic City and I remembered that my mom, Polly Spiegel Cowan, took me to Atlantic city for a weekend when I was about ten years old. It was rainy and cold and I hated it, but I did enjoy her stories about her visits there as a youngster. Of course she stayed at her Uncle Simon's hotel, The Ambassador. It would have been special trip, since she lived in Chicago as a girl. Her favorite memories seemed to be of the rolling chairs. And the salt water taffy. Honestly, I wasn't paying that much attention, I just wanted to get back home. But this vague memory inspired my search for images of Atlantic City rolling chairs.

Atlantic city rolling chairs detroit publishing company 1880-1920
Late 19th or Early 20th Century. The boardwalk was originally built to keep sand out of the hotels. Atlantic city, in it's early days of the 1850's was a health spa and middle class vacation playground. Leisurely walks, or rides, along the boardwalk were a famous attraction.

 1905 blog
Sheet music. 1905

The rolling chair song art neauveau cover
Same song, different version

Atlantic city early rolling cart
Early 20th Century Postcard

Atlantic city nght boardwalk 1908
1908 Postcard, Boardwalk at night

Rolling chairs-women blog
No date on this one. But early 20th century.

Atlantic cityboardwalk 1910 circa
Boardwalk 1910

Atlantic city rolling chair 1914
A Boardwalk pastime. 1914

Rolling chairs-night blog
Atlantic city rolling chairs 1948

Atlantic city rolling cars 1961
Rolling Chairs in 1961, around the time I went with my mother.

Atlantic city rolling chairs circa 196's
This must be late 1960's. The rolling cars have lost their elegance, and there's some horrible piece of institutional architecture added to the otherwise elegant cityscape.

Now Atlantic City is a big gambling strip and since I don't like to print ugly images on my blog I'll stop while the going's good.

SW Straus Family and NY architecture

Harriet straus rachevsky, zina rachevsky, vladimir rachevsky
SW Straus' daughter, Harriet Straus Rachevsky. 1929. Harriet is Zina's mother.I got this photo on eBay several years ago. It came with this text:

Harriet Straus Rachevsky, Vladimir Rachevsky, Grand Duke Boris Russia
This text shows that Harriet's husband, Vladimir, was the brother in law of  Grand Duke Boris. Not royalty himself. I also have several  passenger lists from transatlantic voyages in which he appears  as Vladimir Rachevsky, engineer. Not Duke or anything royal. This text brings up an interesting question: Why was the marriage secret? My hunch is that the dying SW would have been livid that Harriet planned to marry someone not Jewish. Her two sisters, Louise and Madeline, had married Jews, as had everyone else in the family. My own grandfather (a Spiegel, not a Straus, but still...) had explicitly forbidden my mother from marrying a Kike, which to him meant a Jew of Eastern European descent, not the good kind from Germany, or even a Sephardic Jew. My mom did, in fact, marry a Kike - my father - and my grandparents grew to adore him. But to marry a Christian in those days was not something you'd tell your dying father.

update: a relative on the Rachevsky side of the family found me through this blog. Ain't google amazing?!! According to him, it seems that the Rachevsky's were, in fact Jewish. Converted to Catholicism, for a variety of reasons, including safety, but Jews nevertheless.

Now that I look at the pictures of Zina, Mrs Grand Duke, she does look Jewish. I mean, she looks like several Jews I know in Russia. . I'm keeping the rest of this post in, because I don't know if Vladimir told Harriet he was Jewish, and even if he did, he was a Russian Jew, not the "good" kind, a German Jew.

From Growing Up Rich by Anne Bernays -  a wonderful novel about a German Jewish family in New York in the 1940's. The heroine is Sally Stern, a fourteen year old girl. Sally's mother is speaking to Sally about her (Sally's) step Grandmother. She is refering to a conversation Sally and Oma Lucy have had about Jews passing for Gentile.

"Oma Lucy has very firm opinions about 'passing.' She thinks it's a sin. It's her hobbyhorse, dear. Of course, she's the ultimate snob herself. Did you know that when she refers to any Jew who isn't the acceptable kind - not German or Spanish - she always uses the word 'little' in front of their name. Little Mrs. Steinberg, little Mrs. Epstein. It's a dead giveaway. I don't think she's aware she does it. Oh, she'd be horrified to hear what I'm telling you. And don't you go repeating it to her either."

Grand duke boris Russia, Zinaida Rachevsky  
Grand Duke Boris and his wife Zinaida (Rachevsky) This is not our Zina. It is her father's sister. I think she is gorgeous.

Meanwhile, Harriet's father, my great uncle Simon William Straus, had been busy changing the skylines of three major US cities. He built the Ambassador Hotels in New York, Atlantic City, and Los Angeles.

Ambassador hotel ny postcard
Ambassador Hotel, New York City. The building has been torn down.

Ambassador hotel ad 1941 blog
Advertisement from The Hotel Ambassador, New York City.
Ambassador hotel atlantic city
Ambassador hotel Atlantic City, NJ
Here's a juicy little tidbit from an Atlantic City history website
In May of 1929, mob kingpins from around the country, including Lansky, Lucky Luciano, Dutch Schultz and Al Capone, gathered for a three-day national convention in Atlantic City's Ambassador Hotel....The gangsters gathered at Atlantic City's Ambassador sought to find ways to end their bloody wars, coordinate their national racketeering activities and reign in Capone, whose ferocity unnerved even them.
Straus building chicago

The Straus Building, Chicago.

SW also held the underwriting mortgage  of $6,000,000 on the construction, building and land of the Pershing Square Building, which was right next to Grand Central Station, on 42nd Street and Park Ave.  It was owned by The Pershing Square Corporation, of which Seward Ehrich was the treasurer. Seward Erich had just married Louise Straus - Harriet's sister and Zina's aunt. The marriage tookplace at the Italian Gardens of The Ambassador Hotel. The building was designed by John Sloan, architect at York & Sawyer.

Pershing square ny times 1931
Pershing Square Building Plans Completed, NY Times 1921
Pershing square circa 1922 postcard

Pershing Square, NYC, 1922 postcard

Pershing Square now. It is a trendy restaurant.

Building was nothing new to the Straus family. SW's uncle, Jacob Straus, Jewish pioneer and businessman in Ligonier, Indiana, built this beauty.
Citizens bank, ligonier Indiana founded by Jacob Straus

Citizens bank, Ligonier Indiana founded by Jacob Straus

And that's it for today's Straus family history. If you are interested in reading more about the Straus/Spiegel clan, and about reclaiming Jewish roots, I highly recommend An Orphan In History by my brother, Paul Cowan. (It's on my Powell's booklist). For a great read about German Jews in New York City in the 1940's, I recommend Growing Up Rich, by Anne Bernays.

more about Zina Rachevsky

Did you know Zina. I'd love to hear from you. Drop me a line in the comment section.


Today is my mother's birthday. Had she lived, Polly Spiegel Cowan would be 95 years old today. She died when she was a mere 63, but she lives on in the hearts of those who loved her.

Polly cowan at redding (small)
Polly Spiegel Cowan, Redding CT, circa 1948. Photo by Mary Morris Steiner

Lena 1906 (small)
My grandmother, Lena Straus Spiegel.

It's Lena's birthday too, after all. On this day in 1913 she gave birth to the last of her four children.

And finally, a picture of Polly Spiegel Cowan and little Liza Cowan. I wouldn't be here if Polly hadn't been born.

Steiner liza&polly (SMALL)
Polly Spiegel Cowan and Liza Cowan. Circa 1952. Photo by Mary Morris Steiner.