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June 2008


Ellis island postcard
Vintage Postcard - Ellis Island, NY

I adore the photographs of Stephen Wilkes. I particularly love his series of photos of abandoned spaces. I place them in the genre of modern ruins. I don't know if Wilkes does or not. It's certainly not all he does, but they are the ones that resonate most for me. Wilkes is the photographer I'd like to be if I were a good enough photographer. I have a good eye. Wilkes is a good photographer with a good eye. "Good", of course, is totally loaded with cultural and subjective suppositions. Wilkes is  good. And by "good" I mean "I feel faint from their beauty, technique, and emotion."

Stephen Wilkes Ellis Island, Ghosts Of Freedom

If you will be in or near Chicago from July 11 to October 15th, really try to get to this show.  The Chicago Cultural Center, Michigan Avenue Galleries, 78 East Washington St. 312 744 6630 www/ affairs.

This series of photographs is breathtaking. Those of us who live in the US (and many of my readers do not) probably understand the cultural and historical backstory of these photographs. Ellis Island has a fascinating history, the most famous of which is it's role as the  port in New York City through which came 12 million  immigrants from all over the world from 1892 to 1954.

Wilkes photographed the hospital and contagious diseases complex at the ruins of Ellis Island over a five year period starting in 1998.

Isolation ward, stephen Wilkes, Ellis Island Stephen Wilkes,Isolation Ward, curved corridor, Island 3

These images look great online, but seeing them in person is an experience. This one, for instance, I'm sure contains the ghost of a little girl. I actually own a print of this, and it took me weeks to make my peace with her. I didn't feel any pain or malice coming from her, but it was spooky. And sometimes she wasn't there. I know this sound really screwball, but I swear it's true. It happens that Wilkes named his book on Ellis Island Ghosts Of Freedom.   I urge you to follow the link to the book website and if you want your own copy, Buy the book from my Powells partner account

I first saw the Wilkes Cibachrome prints at The Monroe Gallery in Santa Fe,  where I bought my print in 2003. I had already been making my own series, Shipyard Archeology, and was in love with the genre of modern ruins. When I saw the Wilkes photographs they stopped me in my tracks.

If you are or will be near Santa Fe, New Mexico, and you love photography, go to the Monroe Gallery. Owners Michelle and Sidney Monroe are my role models for owning a gallery, although in fact, mine is nothing like theirs. They specialize in "classic black & White photography with an emphasis on humanist and photojournalist imagery." They curate wonderful shows, which I wish I could go see regularly, but hey, I'm stuck in Vermont.

From Oct. 3 - November 16th 29, 2008, The Monroe Gallery will be showing Stephen Wilkes' new collection of photographs taken in China over the last three years.

BlueRoom, Stephen Wilkes, Ellis Island Stephen Wilkes, Blue room With Bed Frame, Island #2, Ellis Island

From The Authors Note, Ellis Island Ghosts Of Freedom, Stephen Wilkes:

"The Statue of Liberty loomed over my shoulder, yet I felt no less an archaeologist than those who ventured into the Mayan tombs. I wore a respirator against the ravages of asbestos and lead paint. I saw the shoes of immigrants long forgotten; shards of mirror; remnants of beds; the ruins of the autoclave, a chamber where tuberculosis-infected mattresses were sterilized with scorching heat. I saw Eveready batteries hooked to strange pipes...

"...I felt the palpable presence of humanity everywhere I turned, in every room. It was an energy in whose presence I felt tremendous humility.

"...Strange things happened. I'd photograph a mirror that had hung on a wall for half a century, on to return to find its shattered remains. I'd photograph a show, which several days later had disappeared though no one had entered the space after me. I photographed the 500-foot long spine of the hospital, Corridor 9, a long tunnel of decay. In the photograph, a golden glow of sunshine warming the walls at the far end is visible. In all the times I returned to it, I never again saw this glow, nor can I discern its origin."

Stephen Wilkes, everready batteries, Isolation Ward, Ellis Island Stephen Wilkes "Isolation Ward, Eveready Batteries, Island 3"

Stephan Wilkes, bethlehem Steel
Stephen Wilkes, from his series Bethlehem Steel.

OK, here I have to digress to make a comparison  to one of my own photographs from my Shipyard Archeology series from 1999. The photographic quality of his is better. I have no idea what kind of camera, lens, film he was shooting with. His website is not filled with information on technique, but Wilkes is a master of light and capture. I was shooting with a Nikon F100 with a 50mm lens. Still...

In:Out, machine shop, industrial abstract, shipyard, wheels,
Liza Cowan, In/Out, 1999.

All the Stephen Wilkes images in this post are from The Monroe Gallery Website. Thanks Michelle and Sidney! Love ya!

More about Ellis Island

Forgotten Ellis Island Lorie Conway

Forgotten Ellis Island by Lorie Conway.

This bookForgotten Ellis Island: The Extraordinary Story of America's Immigrant Hospital by Lorie Conway looks great, too. I haven't read it yet, but I've ordered it. Dr. Fitzhugh Mullen, who I have known literally all my life, was a consultant on the book and film.  There's a DVD as well, which is available through the Forgotten Ellis Island Website

You can also check this link to PBS to see when this film will be shown in your area.

Ellis Island, Feebleminded, photograph, expression,

From Forgotten Ellis Island. Faces of the Feebleminded. Author Laurie Conway found files at the National Archives from Dr. Eugene Mullan, an Ellis Island psychiatrist.

"Since I had researched Dr. Mullan's files before, I was not expecting to find anything new, but tucked behind several letters written by Dr. Mullan were these original, black and white images, complete with typed captions indicating various mental conditions: constitutional apathy, low grade moron, juvenile paretic, surly, and the catch-all description, "feebleminded."

Public health physician Fitzhugh Mullan, grandson of Eugene Mullan and one of the advisors to the Forgotten Ellis Island film/book project, analyzed the photographs from his grandfather's file as attempts to "distinguish between normal and abnormal and various levels of abnormality." Since the feebleminded were automatically deported, one can only assume that the people in these pictures were denied entry to America and sent back to their homeland." Laurie Conway,from Forgotten Ellis Island Website

Christopher Barnes Ellis Island Photographs

These photographs are by Christoper Barnes from 1986, obviously predating the Wilkes portfolio. The Barnes photographs were used in Forgotten Ellis Island. I urge you to check his website to see more of the series.

Christopher barnes, ellis Island 1986
Christopher Barnes, Forgotten Ellis Island, Curved Passage. 1986

Christopher barne, Desk Of Questioning, Ellis Island
Christopher Barnes, Desk Of Questioning

Christopher Barnes, Forgotten Elis Island, Nurse's Shoe
Christopher Barnes, Forgotten Ellis Island, Nurses Shoe. 1986


Wells:richardson building blog

The Wells Richardson Building on College Street is a Burlington, Vermont landmark. These days it houses Bennington Potters, but in it's heyday at the end of the 19th Century, Wells Richardson & Company patented, manufactured and distributed analyne dyes under the name of Diamond Dyes, as well as butter dye, baby food and proprietary medicines like Celery Compound.

Wells richardson butter color adPrint Advertising was a part of their marketing strategy. Before the advent of color ads in newspapers and magazines manufacturers and distributors relied on trade cards and medical pamphlets -featuring their own cures - to sell their products. These they made by the gajillion, and distributed nationwide. They would be distributed for free in retail stores or any public venue where they might drum up  business.  Trade cards were hugely collectible, even in those days, and would often end up in scrapbooks, which were also the rage. The trade cards and pamphletss were printed by chromolithography, and retain their brilliant colors to this day.

Two links in the above text are from The Library Collection of Philadelphia, which has great collections. Check out their website.


Images below are from the Liza Cowan Ephemera Collections.

Diamond dye kitchen stove
Diamond Dyes, Wells Richardson trade card. 1890's Vermont. Cowan ephemera collections.


Diamond dye kettle detail blog
Diamond Dyes Trade Card. Detail.


Diamond dyes cousin john's wife liza cowan ephemera collectiosn
Diamond Dyes booklet. Cousin John's Extravagant Wife, A Story. 1890'st. Cowan ephemera collections.

Diamond dye cousin john detail 2 blog

Diamond dye cousin john detail blog
Diamond Dyes booklet, detail.

Diamond dyes boys blog
Diamond Dyes. Unequaled for making Ink, or for color
ing any articles any color. Cowan ephemera Collections.

Diamond dyes boys detail blog

Diamond Dyes, detail.

Diamond dyes class tryptich blog
Diamond Dyes booklet, front and back covers. Cowan ephemera collections.

Diamond dyes egg color Liza Cowan Ephemera Collections
Diamond Dyes, back cover detail. Dying Easter eggs.


Diamond dyes egg detail girl blog

Diamond Dyes, back cover detail. Easter eggs.



Diamond dyes class blog
Diamond Dyes booklet, front cover

Diamond dyes color your children's clothes trade card Liza Cowan Ephemera Collections
Diamond Dyes, back cover detail. Color your childrens clothes with  Diamond Dyes.

Diamond dyes detail girl with doll stroller log 

Diamond Dyes booklet, detail. She's sad because her clothes haven't been dyed with Diamond Dyes.


Lactated -girl in can blog
Wells, Richardson & Co. Lactated  Food.


Lactated food wells richardson & Co. Liza Cowan Ephemera Collections 

Wells Richardson & Co. Lactated Foods, What Are These Babies after. Die cut trade Card. Cowan ephemera collections.


Lactated food wells richardson & Co. Liza Cowan Ephemera Collections 

Wells Richardson & Co. Lactated food. Die  cut trade card. Cowan ephemera collections. The background here is blue because I scanned it on  a piece of blue paper. 


Lactated orange baby blog 

Wells  Richardson & Co Lactated food trade card. Cowan ephemera collections.

Paynes Celery Compound probably contained opiates or other drugs, which were perfectly legal. Before the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, manufacturers didn't have to list ingredients or prove their effectiveness. This Wells Richardson & Company ad from the 1889 book from Burlington Business Association.

Wells:richarson celery blog

In this ad it is touted as a cure for Nervousness, one of the most "popular" diseases of the 19th Century middle class. Here is a link to a good post about 19th Century Nervousness from  the blog (what is this).

I did my Master's Thesis in Anthropology on 19th Century American Uterine diseases, in which I write a lot about middle class women and nervousness or neuresthenia. Someday I'll write more here about it.

Diamond dyes trade cards seen on SeeSaw a blog by liza cowan





 It's probably a good omen when a car trip starts out with seeing a truck with your name on it.

Cowan truck
Cowan truck. Vermont Rt. 89.

I took some time off last weekend with my parenting partner, Laurie Essig, and our two kids to visit our old house in Greenport, NY. We sold the house about five years ago and none of us had been back since then.

Naturally, we visited the carousel.

I hadn't remembered that there are several Charles Dare horses on the Greenport Carousel, which was a wonderful surprise for me.

Charles dare horse carousel greenport
Charles Dare horse, Greenport Carousel. Liza Cowan photo.

I got to spend a little time at the Greenport Shipyards, site of my Shipyard Archeology photo series. I only had my point and shoot camera with me, and I just can't get the same quality I got from my trusty Nikon F100 and a roll of film, but still it was nostalgic just walking around.

Siding and Rudder. Greenport Shipyard. 2008. Liza Cowan photo.

On our way home we stopped for a few hours in New York City so Laurie could tape a TV Show about Gay Marriage. (No, we're not. Families have all kinds of shapes and configurations.) The show was the Laura Flanders show on GRITtv, and although the kids wanted to go shopping during the taping, we did manage to catch the last few minutes and hang out in the control room to see the backstage operations. You can watch the segment here

Control room laura flanders show
Control Room - taping the Laura Flanders Show.

And then a quick hello to the panel and Laura.

Laura flanders show
Laura Flanders, left.  Laurie and kids, right. Not in this picture is panelist Kenyon Farrow, whose excellent blog is worth taking a look at.

So if you watch the show and Laurie briefly mentions her kids and parenting partner, that's us. I'm in the Vermont media fairly often, usually about art, so it was fun to be on the sidelines and out of the spotlight.

The best part about travel, when you know things are going really right, is when you are happy to get home. We were all glad to cross Lake Champlain and be back in Vermont again.

Lake champlain, ferry, charlotte vermont, essex ny
Charlotte, VT and Lake Champlain from the Lake Champlain Essex/Charlotte Ferry.


Yay! School's out, and that's always a good thing. But today was also an emotional last day at Champlain Elementary School in Burlington, VT, where my kids have gone for the last five years. Today was the last day for the visionary school leader, principal Nancy Zahniser, who will be retiring after many years as a teacher and administrator.

Waiting for ms z
Parents and students at Champlain Elementary wait for the final bell to ring to say goodbye to Ms. Z.

Robert resnick

Local celebrity musician/radio host/librarian and alumni dad Robert Resnick came to seranade the crowd and Ms. Z with his accordian in a rousing version of a school favorite, The Chicken Dance . And trust me, you are very sorry that you never got to do this dance with Tammy Charbenau and Ms. Z leading it.

Champlain Elementary is always a joyous place. The wonderful, inspired teachers stay year after year, the halls ring with laughter and the kids enjoy learning. What makes a great school? Great leadership. And that we had.

Ms Z
Nancy Zahniser on the right,  greeting the crowd  with a typically enthusiastic gesture. On the left, beloved teachers Tammy Charbeneau and Coleen Cowell.

Ms. Z is the principal who knows every kid's name, who is out on the steps to greet each child and parent every morning with inspired music mix cds which she makes and then and plays on the steps of the school so the kids can dance - and you should see some of the inspired line dances the kids do on that makeshift step/stage.  Even the kids who play 4 Square or chat while waiting for the school bell  are enfolded into a  rhythm for the day.

Ms. Z  lead her faculty and administration into creating an environment where education flourishes. I don't usually wax enthusiastic about our educational system. (Don't even get me started talking about Edmunds Middle school.)  So it is with great and rare pleasure that I can say these wonderful things about Ms. Z and Champlain Elementary.

Click here to see a news clip from local channel WCAX TV about a Burlington history project that the fourth / fifth grades did this year.

Goodbye ms z
Everyone gathers around at the top of the steps for a final hug.

So thank you Ms. Z. We love you.


I think I'm entering my third week of absolutely no sales. Zero. Nada. Zilch.

I get that we are in a recession/depression and that most people are scaling back. Buying expensive works of art is more of a luxury than it has been for a long time. But seriously, I think some people need a refresher course in the do's and don'ts of shopping at an independent retail venue.


william steig "we clean em" exhibition postcard for pine street art works
Exhibition post card featuring William Steig, We Clean 'Em Poster.


If I could pay my bills with compliments, I'd be sitting pretty. Every day I hear, "this is the best shop" "this is the best gallery" "you have such an amazing collection" "this is the highlight of my visit to Burlington" Yet do my visitors reach into their pockets to buy a $2 postcard? No, they do not. Do my visitors spend an half an hour of my time looking at all the art, talking about it, asking questions, wanting to see more, yet not spending a dime? Yes, they do. I can't help but find this most unsupportive, if not downright rude.

I have postcards and ephemera that start at $2, less than the price of the latte  from next door which they walk in with (and for which they also probably, I hope, gave a tip.)  I have fabulous things for under $30 and of course, on up to work worth hundreds and sometimes, even thousands. But let me emphasize, I"ve got the cheap stuff too. And by cheap I mean fabulous, unique and inexpensive.  I'd be mortified if I loved a store and took up the owner's time and expertise and didn't spend a spend a dime. So here is

 My basic shopping rule: Buy something!

Since I know that most of my readers do not live in Burlington, or even in the United States, I urge you to apply this to shops in your own community, or when you are traveling. It doesn't have to be expensive. If they sell cards, or candy, or trinkets or maps or whatever, buy something. Buying something is a show of good faith. Buying something shows that you care that the store stays in business, because, trust me, without sales they will have to close, probably sooner rather than later.  Buying something is a win win event. You get something, the store gets something, the person or company that made the item gets something, and if you are buying something vintage (which is a lot of my stock) you get the satisfaction of knowing you are buying Green. Stores can not stay in business without sales.

Unless they are funded  (I'm not, and most in the US aren't)  art galleries cannot stay in business without sales. I know this should seem obvious, but apparently it isn't.

If you have engaged the owner or the salesperson in conversation you've spent some of their valuable time, now repay them with some of your valuable money.

I would be embarrassed to death if I spent the kind of time that some of my customers spend here without buying anything. Even if we've had a conversation about how tough the market is, how I'm not sure if I can meet my expenses, how I've had to pare down to bare bones, how scary it is to be in retail these days. Still, they walk out with a "Thank you, I adore this place."

And I sit here with my jaw dropped down to the floor. Did I hear you right? You adore this place but you walk out without anything? No! I take that back. Every person who enters this store walks out with at least one beautiful free postcard announcing an upcoming show, or a generic store card. These are gorgeous cards, which cost twenty five cents more or less to print. Everyone gets two. So they walk out with fifty cents worth of miniature art for which they've paid nothing. I know it's marketing for the store - they've basically walked out with a little advertisement - but they still get to keep and display them, and believe me, they're good.

pine street art works post card maira kalman ralph pucci mannequin photo ©Liza Cowan
Generic card for Pine Street Art Works. Photo and design by LIza Cowan. Mannequin by Ralph Pucci International based on art by Maira Kalman. used by permission of Ralph Pucci International.


Everyone who visits the store gets one of these postcards, as well as a show postcard, and often, if they've expressed interest in a particular past artist, I give them cards from that show as well.


nakki goranin american photobooth exhibition pine street art works design ©Liza Cowan
Pine Street Art Works Exhibition Card. Nakki Goranin's American Photobooth show. Photographer unknown. Photo copyright Nakki Goranin. Design by Liza Cowan.


Maybe I'm just not a good salesperson. I don't know. I try to be encouraging, and I certainly don't want to hard sell or  berate my customers, because I really do want them to feel comfortable, but sometimes I just want to say, "What the bleep are you thinking? Where are your manners? Where is your support?"

I don't usually share this kind of information with the public, but I thought that you, my readers far and wide, might be interested in some of the back stage stuff, and who knows, maybe someone has something to tell me that would be helpful or encouraging. Because I'm more than a bit depressed.


If you've been reading this blog, or if you scroll down the  ephemera pages, you know that I've been collecting needle books for a while. I'm still actively collecting but I thought I'd try to make some order out of the jumble. Of course, there are many ways these can be combined, but here I'm sorting them into categories of women, and women with children. Other needle packs feature travel, space age technologies, or just down and out advertising.

 I've posted most of these images before so you can scroll through the Ephemera or Needle pack categories if you want to see larger images.

Needlepack groups of women blog
Needle books from Pine Street Art Works Ephemera Collection.

These feature groups of women. I have more, and some featuring solitary women, and I'll bring 'em to you soon.

And here's a brand new one. New to me, old to the world, that is. I find it particularly charming.

Superior needle
Superior Needles, collection PSAW. Made in Japan.

Superior needle face detail
Superior Needle, collection PSAW, detail

Superior needle detail 2
Superior Needle, collection PSAW, detail


Paw card broadway needle detail happy birthday 

Superior Needle - (detail) greeting card. Happy Birthday





 The Richard Gombar exhibit is now up at Healthy Living, Natural Foods, at 222 Dorset Street in South Burlington, and it looks great.

Melaney with gombar paintings
Melaney with Richard Gombar Paintings at Healthy Living Natural Foods.

Melaney and amanda
Melaney and Amanda in front of Richard Gombar painting at Healthy Living Natural Foods

The paintings will be at Healthy Living until July, when they move over to Pine Street Art Works. There will be more Gombar paintings at PSAW than there were room for at Healthy Living, so please, if you are in the neighborhood, stop into Healthy Living for this great preview, and then join us a Pine Street Art Works in July for the full exhibit.


Burlington photographer Dok Wright came over to Pine Street Art Works yesterday to hang three of his banners in the window. These banners were a highlight of Dok's recent show at Burlington's Art Space 150 (which is where I had my first show in Burlington). 

Dok hanging banners
Dok Wright hanging his banners in the PSAW window.

I love Dok's work. Recently he's been concentrating on stylized images of the human torso, in black and white. I love how he's had these three printed  as banners. I think they are particularly suited for windows because of their translucensce, as well as their size.

Dok's banners in psaw window
Dok Wright photographs in window of Pine Street Art Works

My windows face west, and the strong afternoon and evening light off of Lake Champlain, three blocks away, makes very strong reflections. They are backlit by three bulbs, as well. The effect of this is to make Dok's photos appear almost ghostly. The appear to shimmer in the window, blending with the reflections of the buildings across the street, as well as those of cars and pedestrians.

Dok's banners psaw
Dok Wright photos in the window of Pine Street Art Works

It helps, too, that the background of the images is black, so they disappear into the seeming blackness of the window. They look stunning from inside, as well, with the light from the window shining through.


It's been a while since I posted any new images of needle books. Needle books are one of my many collecting obsessions. They are beautiful, full of social history, and relatively inexpensive.

Air traveller needlebook
Air Traveller Needle Book. Made in Occupied Japan, which dates it from between 1945 and 1952

There are several major themes for needle books. One is travel, which makes sense because a sewing kit is a hand travel item. Needle books contained only needles, no thread or scissors or anything. But still.

Fashion quality needle
Fashion Quality Needles. PSAW ephemera collections. Made in Japan.

This follows another major themes: women sewing. A subset of that is women sewing with their children. Girls, actually. This is one of the mother child. Child is probably sewing for dolly.

One hundred needles
One Hundred Needles. PSAW ephemera collections. Made in Japan


Cara Barer was interviewed in Conversational Reading (an online literary quarterly)  Issue 12, summer 2008. The article is about book art featuring Robert The, Cara and Jacqueline Rush Lee. Essay by Elizabeth Waddell.

"Behind their playful solemnity, these books that flaunt their pages and pose as insects have an oddly wistful, fleeting quality. The ephemerality of books, not just individual volumes but the future of books, is one thing that led Barer to embark on the project. "I'm afraid the printed word will become a rarity, and the next generation will rely on the ephemeral word—the digital kind that only exists through a computer monitor, or a sort of virtual book that can hold thousands of titles. I'm not saying that's a bad idea—I only hope that the paper version continues to be exist for the people that want the real tactile sensation of turning a page and holding the real thing."

Cara Barer, Shitake

Jacqueline Rush Lee's work is something like Cara's but she presents it in it's sculptural form.

"Confronted with Unfurled, a sculpture by Jacqueline Rush Lee, it is difficult to know exactly what we are looking at. Delicate yet durable, its white striations blossom forth like the remains of some heretofore unknown sea creature or perhaps a fossilized fungi. It is neither of these. It is a book, fired in a potter's kiln at high temperatures until, instead of disintegrating, it reached a brittle, "petrified" state."

Endoskeleton by Jacqueline rush Less
Endoskeleton by Jacqueline Rush Lees

Also featured - Robert The:

"Robert The never intended to be an artist. As an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, he double majored in Philosophy and Math and was interested in language and logic, pursuing what he calls the "foundations of truth and meaning." You might say his artwork continues that same search—but in a skewed way. Books are guns, a dictionary is a noose, and bugs crawl out of covers. They seem to mean something, but what? At the very moment that these works create new significations, the meanings float ever-elusively away."

Robert The, book gun
Robert The: Book gun