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December 2009

Dave Brubeck + Neil Fujita: music and art

We listen to Dave Brubeck a lot at PSAW. Today he turns 89 and is receiving a Kennedy Center Award. Fabulous.

And because great music and great design go better together,  let's not forget the wonderful Brubeck album covers by Neil Fujita.

  Dave Brubeck,TimeOut, Neil Fujita, jazz, record album illustration
Dave Brubeck:Time Out. Columbia Records. Art and design by Neil Fujita.

 dave brubeck, Brubeck plays brubeck, neil fujita design 

Brubeck plays Brubeck. Design by Neil Fujita

Here's a bit of an interview with Fujita, discussing legendary album designer Alex Steinweiss and the beginning of music album design.

"When I got to Columbia, Alex was at RCA, I believe. We met for lunch several times and would speak. The relationship was a friendly one, but I don’t think we talked a lot about design. There were a lot of changes going on in the business and we were both searching for our own answers. I would travel across the country speaking to record sellers. I would ask them how they sold records because I felt that we needed a new approach. In those days, clerks would spend a lot more time actually selling records to customers. We thought about how we could use images or pictures in a more creative way. We thought about what the picture was saying about the music and how we could use that to sell the record. And abstract art was getting popular so we used a lot more abstraction in the designs—with jazz records especially but also with classical when there was a way for it to fit, like with the more modern composers."

See the whole interview here

And here's a taste of Steinweiss:

 "Louis armstrong, earl hines, alex steinweiss, jazz album cover,
1940 Alex Steinweiss design for Columbia Records. Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines

Addendum: March 10, 2010

Here's a fascinating  review of Neil Fujita's 1968 book, Aim For a Job in Graphic Design. Review in

 S. Neil Fujita, Aim For A Job in Graphic Design, 1968,
S. Neil Fujita, Aim For A Job In Graphic Design, Cover. 1968, Richard Rosen Press

Cardboard wish tree at The White House

This year The White House has 26 Christmas trees. One of them is made of cardboard. Not just any cardboard, but recycled cardboard made into a Wish Tree. Who made this cardboard wishing tree? My friends at Cardboardesign in New York City.



"white house wish tree" "white house cardboard Christmas tree" "cardboardesign"
Cardboard Wish Tree at The White House by Cardboardesign mfg. & design


I spoke with  David Rosenzweig, sales and marketing director at Cardboardesign to get the skinny on the tree.  So how did it come about? Something like this: The White House (pardon the metonymy) decided to do a Green Christmas. White house social secretary Desiree Rogers knows design superstar Simon Doonan (be still my heart - Doonan is one of my heroes.)  Doonan was hired to oversee the Christmas decor and design at the White House. Doonan knows  Rosenzweig.  Et Voila. Doonan asked Cardboardesign to make a special order Christmas wish tree.



Christian Serratos, white house christmas, white house cardboard tree, cardboardesign, simon doonan, twilight star christmas Dec. 29th.Christian Serratos at the White House adding her wish to the tree.


Mrs. Obama and her daughters, Sasha and Malia, made a Christmas presentation at The Children's National Medical Center, and when someone asked about the trees at the White House, here's what they said:

SASHA:  What about the wishing tree?

MRS. OBAMA:  Well, there's one -- you want to talk about the wishing tree, one of the trees?

SASHA:  One of the trees is called the wishing tree, and it is made out of cardboard.  And so you can write down a wish and you roll it up and then you can put it one of the holes and it might come true.

MRS. OBAMA:  So that's a new tradition at the White House.  So what we want you all to do next year is to come to the White House, because you can see all of them.  It's open to anybody who wants to come.  (Bo barks.)  You, too.  (Laughter.)

All right, you promise me that next year you'll come by the White House and see for yourself?  Okay.


The tree and the rest of the White House Christmas decor will be on HGTV on Christmas Eve, or you could probably find it at the HGTV website after the broadcast, so be sure to check it out.







UPDATE Jan 7th - Simon Doonan writes in The New York Observer about his experiences with the Christmas White house:

"Last spring, Desiree Rogers, the glamazon White House social secretary, invited me—are you sitting down?—to help decorate the White House for the holidays!!! I felt honored and stunned but not, if I am to be honest, totally surprised. This may sound arrogant, but if not me, then whom? With more than 35 years of Holiday decorating at Barneys and elsewhere, I am, après tout, one of the most experienced elves in the land. Why, conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart (more on him in a moment) was still in diapers when I began practicing my craft.

My accumulated holiday savoir-faire did not stop me from being utterly terrified by this fabulous project. The responsibility! The gravitas! The White House! What would happen if I screwed it all up? What would happen if it all turned out looking all horrid and naff? What would happen if some self-appointed Web luminary blogged about some infinitesimally small aspect of my holiday décor, thereby setting off of a gruesome and hostile Internet fatwa? But let’s not get ahead of ourselves." More here


"cardboardesign" "liquid cardboard" "tabletop sculpture" "recycled cardboard sculpture" Liquid Cardboard tabletop sculptures by Cardboardesign. A best seller here at PSAW.

More on Cardboardesign

Pressed metal dollhouses

When Oprah Winfrey interviewed President and Michelle Obama on December 13, she asked the First Lady what had been her favorite Christmas gift as a child. Mrs. Obama said it was a tin dollhouse with plastic furniture.

Hello! I have four of them in the store, and several times each day customers tell me what fond memories they have of their childhood tin houses.

 Marx tin dollhouse, dollhouse exterior
Pressed Tin Dollhouse by Marx Toys. Circa 1950's. PSAW collections.

Not all pressed tin dollhouses were made by Marx Toys but many were. Mine were. Louis Marx was a hugely successful toy manufacturer, who started his company in 1919. A German Jewish New Yorker, he went into business with his brother David with the company slogan  "Give the customer more toy for less money."

The dollhouses weren't the major part of the Marx inventory, but for many women of a certain age, and no doubt some men as well, they are the products we remember best.

 Marx Metal Doll house Box
Metal Dollhouse Box, "completely furnished with unbreakable plastic furniture"

These houses are now highly collectible. When I started my collection I could pick them up at yard sales for a few dollars. Now they sell on eBay and Ruby Lane from about $75 to $300, depending on their condition, scarcity,  and how much of the plastic furniture is left.

 Marx Colonial metal doll house box
Modern Colonial Metal Doll House by Louis Marx & Co.

I know of several photographers who use the dollhouses as backdrops for rather bizarre doll antics. I don't have access to those pictures at the moment, but I might at some point. Meanwhile, here are some relatively non bizarre interior photos.

 Marx tin doll house, dollhouse bedroom
Marx tin dollhouse , furnished bedroom. Photo courtesy Michael and Sharon of (a Ruby Lane shop) This house is sold.

 Marx tin doll house, doll house living room, doll house logs in fireplace, dollhouse currier and ives
Same dollhouse, this one is mine. Check out the logs in the fireplace.

 Marx tin doll house, dollhouse living room, dollhouse furniture, ship and guns, dollhouse television,
Marx tin dollhouse Living Room with furniture. Photo courtesy of Sharon and Michael from

 Marx tin house, statue in room
Marx tin dollhouse, living room with white statue. Photo and statue by Liza Cowan.

 Marx tin dollhouse, dollhouse micky mouse room, dollhouse alphabet
Marx tin dollhouse. Micky Mouse kid's room. The Micky Mouse makes this one of the rarer and more expensive of the Marx series. PSAW collections.

 Marx tin toy, US Army Headquarters Training Center, photo Liza Cowan
Marx tin doll house. Headquarters US Army Trading Center. PSAW collections. Cowan photo.

So, if you are at a yard sale and see one of these houses for a reasonable amount of money, and if you can afford it, and if you love it, buy it. These things are not going to go down in value and they are great to have around.

some interesting related links:

Paint by number: anonymous work from mid-20th century America

Paint By Number, the craze of the 1950's, swept the nation in the era of Eisenhower, Levittown, post war prosperity and a post war concept of leisure time.


 Paint by number, paris in the rain
Paint By Number, Paris In The Rain

Most of the Paint By Number sets of the fifties and early sixties depicted nostalgic scenes, historic and pastoral landscapes, adorable or noble animals, sentimental glimpses of "exotic" cultures as well as copies from the canon of romanticized European figurative art. Critics at the time were disgusted with the mechanized mass produced nostalgia.

 Paint by number mona lisa
Paint By Number, Mona Lisa

But now, with our vantage point from the 21st Century, these vernacular, anonymous painting have acquired the patina of age and distance. Have they have acquired the aura that Walter Benjamin wrote about in his famous  1935 essay  "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction." Or are we just  nostalgic for the more innocent nostalgia of the 50's. Are we caught up in second or third order nostalgia. Probably both.

 Paint by number craftint color set original box
Paint By Number, original box, Craftint color set. Photo Liza Cowan


In August 2007, Pine Street Art Works held an exhibition of over 100 Paint By Number paintings. It took months to acquire them, mostly on eBay. In addition to enjoying the paintings, I was fascinated by the subversive allure - the tension created between the pleasure of viewing the work, and the original and ongoing horrified responses by the gatekeepers of High Culture.

 Paint by number, exhibition postcard, norman rockwell clown, design by liza cowan
Paint By Number, Exhibition at Pine Street Art Works. Postcard design Liza Cowan. Paint by Number set based on a painting  by Norman Rockwell.

Although Paint By Number has been the subject of a show at the Smithsonian (as well as here at PSAW) and show up regularly in design magazines and blogs, there is still the vacillating response: are we allowed the pleasure we get from looking at, or making, these paintings?

 Paint by number mad magazine sept 1958
Mad Magazine, September 1958, spoofed the craze with a PBN of Alfred E. Newman. PSAW ephemera collections.


 Paint by number farm by river
Paint By Number, Farm By The River.


 Paint by number, bull fight, torreador, red cape
Paint By Number, Bullfighter


 Paint by number exhibit pine street art works
Paint By Number exhibition at Pine Street Art Works. August 2007

All the paintings in this post were in the 2007 exhibit. All are sold.

Paint by number as seen on seesaw



Figures from life: Walter Foster and Robert Duflos

Walter Foster ran his How To Draw empire from his home in California in the 1950's. I came across a stash of his older books at a yard sale several years ago and was impressed not only by the clarity of the instructions but also by the beauty of the illustrations.  This book is Figures From Life, with art by Robert Duflos.

 Figures from life, walter foster, robert duflos, cover 

Figures From Life, Robert Duflos and Walter Foster

Duflos was an early to mid 20th Century French decorative painter, whose pastel nudes command modest prices at auction these days. He is probably most famous for his work with the Walter Foster Series.

It's not high art, but that's what always intrigues me - work that straddles the barriers of high and low. As always, it's the distance of time that allows us to view things that were once quotidian, low art, populist art, in a new light. That's why I -and I'm not alone - have been obsessed with Paint By Number paintings.

 Figures From LIfe walter foster, Robert Duflos, page 4 

Figures From Life, p.4 Walter Foster, Robert Denos

I mean, Foster just breaks it down for you. Draw this kind of line, use this kind of brush. The thing is, the illustrations with the instructions are far more interesting and, to me, visually pleasing, than the plain originals.

 Figures From LIfe, walter foster, robert duflos, p 6
Figures From Life, Walter Foster, Robert Denos p. 6

Text on this page: "The more you know about drawing the easier these step sketches will be for ou, as well as the finished picture. You can do it in Oils, Water Colors or Pastels, whichever you have on hand or just sketch in with pencil for practice. The side view like this is good to start on. You can make the figure more slender or lengthen the legs if you want. The original to most of Mr. Duflos' paintings which are in Oils are twice the size you see them here. Study carefully and take your time."

With four illustrations breaking it down for you,  this page has visual punch.

 Figures From Life, Robert Duflos, Walter Foster p 7
Robert Denos painting from Figures From Life. Page 7

Whereas this painting is a bit, well, dull. I mean, this guy was living in France at the same time as Picasso and Matisse. There's nothing at all exciting about the color, the composition, the point of view. This was not a problem at all for publisher Walter Foster, in fact it probably helped. How you gonna break down a Matisse? I've tried and it's a lot harder that it looks. That's what's so wonderful about Matisse. Looks simple but the experience, vision and practice that went into that beautiful line is something hard to do.  Here's what Foster said  in his introduction:

"No one starts out in art much ahead of the next fellow and you will get ahead much faster if you do not try to rest on the fact that your folks thing you are a Michelangelo of the 20th Century. Just be yourself and get pleasure out of your drawing and painting. Join an art class, evening or day, or start one. The meeting of kindred souls is very good, yes, a wonderful tonic"

I love that. A tonic. Indeed.

"As you can see by by Robert Duflos' painting, not all Frenchmen in Paris have gone so-called Modern. I wanted Robert to do this entire book and to have the directions in French and English, but the language barrier seemed to have stopped that idea, even between the two of us, so another beautiful dream became a cropper so you will find many of my drawings also in this book."

Figures From Life, Robert Duflos and Walter Foster p.26

This is my favorite picture in the book. It's so unclear if the brushes are part of the picture: is an invisible hand painting the actual model, since they are represented in the same medium...or are we supposed to pull ourselves out of that imaginary plane and recognize that we, the viewer or student, is the one holding the brush against a drawing of the model. It's a drawing of a drawing with drawings of the studio equipment drawn onto it. Divine.

You can find vintage Walter Foster books on eBay or Ruby Lane at reasonable prices. Or, if you are lucky, you might run across some at a yard sale.

Your comments are always welcome.