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April 2012

ALICE AUSTEN: video interview with directors of Alice Austen House Museum


Alice Austen fans...great news. The Alice Austen House has a beautiful new website and Facebook page, and is proud to be one of the only museums in the US devoted to a Lesbian. Yes, that's right. They are proud of it. As they should be. Here's an interview with Alice Austen House directors Carl Rutberg and  Ann Marie MacDonald on New York City TV show, City Talk. 

You will note that they talk about Alice as a Lesbian, which is great, yay, and that they discuss the first time Alice was "outed" at the 1996 NY Public Library Stonewall Aniversary Exhibit. Now, we know this is not true, because DYKE magazine ran an article about Alica as a Lesbian in 1976. However, they filmed this interview before I posted the Alice article here at SeeSaw and  at the DYKE A Quarterly Annotated Online we forgive them for not knowing, right? Right. Because Dr. Rutberg got in touch with us immediately, and we have been emailing ever since. He now knows that we had the scoop on Alice. And as he said in a Facebook comment to me,  "We want to make sure the LGBTQ community rallies around Alice"

And we will. 

So go to the website and Facebook page, and if there's still time, you can vote HERE for the Alice Austen House to get a $100,000 grant from American Express.

THE TRIBE: What Barbie can show us about being Jewish today. Nu?


Barbie booklet 1958 pages. Photo © liza cowan

I have to see the movie, The Tribe. Tiffiny Shane, director, producer and Co-Writer. Ken Goldberg, Co Writer. Gil Gershoni , art director.

 Here's what the filmmakers say:

"What can the most successful doll on the planet show us about being Jewish today? Narrated by Peter Coyote, the film mixes old school narration with a new school visual style. The Tribe weaves together archival footage, graphics, animation, Barbie dioramas, and slam poetry to take audiences on an electric ride through the complex history of both the Barbie doll and the Jewish people- from Biblical times to present day. By tracing Barbie's history, the film sheds light on the questions: What does it mean to be an American Jew today? What does it mean to be a member of any tribe in the 21st Century?"

Could you just plotz?




ALICE AUSTEN, visionary 19th Century photographer

Here's a reprint of an article written decades ago in DYKE A Quarterly,  a magazine of history and social commentary.  I published with Penny House from 1976-1979.  Copies of the  magazines are now housed in the library at the Museum Of Modern Art in New York City, and also at The Schleisinger Library at Radcliffe College, which also has the collection of all the ephemera and collateral materials for the magazine that we kept over the years.


I know that you, my regular SeeSaw readers, will be particularly interested in this article about 19th Century pioneer photographer, Alice Austen. originally published in 1976.


Dyke No 3 p 34DYKE, A Quarterly. No 3. p 34.  1976. Alice Austen

By Penny House and Liza Cowan, written & published in 1976

Alice Austen was a Lesbian born on Staten Island, NY in 1866. She started taking photographs at the age of twelve and continued until the nineteen thirties. She was an enthusiastic athlete, excelling in swimming, cycling, boating, golf and tennis in an age when women were just being allowed to do any sports at all. She was an excellent mechanic who with her lover, Gertrude Tate, and other friends, took long car journeys in a time when there were almost no paved roads. 

Dyke No 3 p 35. Alice Austen and her dog PunchAlice Austen and her dog Punch. Alice leaving for the Chicago Exposition of 1893. Alice is holding the concealed bulb of the remote shutter release. DYKE A Quarterly No. 3 p 37

She thoroughly documented her own life and that of her friends, where were well-to-do young women, both Lesbian and straight, and who were straining against the last remnants of Victorian morality. She photographed extensively the immigrants and street life of the lower east side of New York City. The style of her photographs was unusually realistic for her time.

Alice austen photo of violet ward and her lover. Dyke a quarterly no 3 pAlice Austen Photo. Violet Ward and her lover. DYKE A Quarterly, no. 3 p 36

In 1929 she lost all her money. She and Gertrude supported themselves by selling their furniture, renting rooms in their home, running a tea room, and by the income from Gertrude's dance classes, which she taught until she was in her late seventies. They were finally forced to leave their home on Staten Island in the nineteen forties. They moved into a small apartment, but soon were forced to separate. Alice, 83 years old, suffered from severe arthritis and Gertrude had a difficult time caring for her. Gertrude's younger straight sister, who had long tried to separate the two, took advantage of Alice's ill health and the morality of the time which dictated a two bedroom apartment which they could not afford. Gertrude went to live with her sister and Alice to a nursing home. Gertrude visited regularly, bu they were both very lonely. Alice was kicked out of several different nursing homes for her too independent nature, and at 84 was admitted to the hospital ward of the Staten Island poorhouse.

Her plate glass negatives had been sold to the Staten Island Historical Society, and in 1951 were "discovered" by a photographic historian. He sold some of the photographs to magazines and turned the money over to Gertrude, who moved Alice to a pleasanter home Alice began to be recognized for her life long work as a photographer. A year later, in June of 1952, she died, sitting in her wheelchair in the sun. Gertrude lived on for ten years, and when she died her sister was unable to bury her next to Alice, as they had wished.

Alice Austen photo of Violet Ward and Daisy EliotViolet Ward and Daisy Eliot. Photo by Alice Austen. Violet was a childhood friend of Alice's. Daisy Eliot was a professional gymnast. Violet, an enthusiastic cyclist, invented a mechanism for bicycles that was universally adopted. Alice took the photographs for Violet's book, Bicycling for Ladies, published in 1896. Daisy was the model.

Alice Austen, Bessie Strong's Bedroom, in DYKE A Quarterly no 3, 1976.Bessie Strong's Bedroom. Bessie was a friend of Alice's. One of the special aspects of Alice's work is that she was interested in documenting the the intimate details of young women's lives, where few other photographers were willing or able to do so. Note Alice's photographs tacked up on the walls. DYKE A Quarterly No 3, 1976


Of the estimated seven to eight thousand glass plate negatives that Alice took, approximately one half are known to survive. Alice was a stickler for detail, often making her friends pose for hours and hours until she could get the exact expression, setting and light she wanted. She carefully marked the envelope for each glass plate with the time, date, place, exposure and lens type.


Alice Austen, newsgirl on NYC's lower east side from DYKE  A Quarterly no 3 p 40Alice Austen, Newsgirl on NYC's Lower East Side. DYKE A Quarterly No 3, 1976

Alice carried nearly fifty pounds of photographic equipment on her journeys. She always liked to have at least two cameras with her, as each camera could take only one size print. No enlargements were possible in those days.

"Alice luckily was a tall and strong woman, perfectly capable of carrying her own heavy camera, tripod, and box of plates...She spent hours on end in her closet -like darkroom, developing plates and 'toning' and 'fixing' her prints...Because there was no running water in the house when she was young, she carried [the plates] all downstairs and out into the garden to be rinsed in a basin under the hand operated pump, winter and summer. sometimes she changed the rinse water twenty five times, she recalled. Gertrude Tate attributed Alice's photographic success to a combination of artistic sense, the tirelessness of an athlete, and sheer stubbornness of will."

Alice Austen, portrait of Gertrude Tate, circa 1900, from DYKE A Quarterly, No. 3 p 41Gertrude Tate, Alice's lover, circa 1900. DYKE A Quarterly No. 3, 1976

"The originality of Alice Austen's work becomes strikingly clear when it is compared to that of other photographers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Women photographers in particular succumbed to the fashion of making photographs to illustrate romantic tales of childhood, and of colonial village life or popular works such as The Rubiayat of Omar Kayyam... Daily American life, if pictured at all, was sentimentalized beyond recognition. The children picked posies of wild flowers in sublime landscapes while their mothers struck classical poses in diaphanous flowing garments of some eclectic style...most photographers of her period did [their] best to prove that photography was a form of art by trying to disguise the fact that [their] pictures were made by mechanical means -the precise fact that Alice enjoyed about photography. Alice's work was out of tune with the fashionable dictates of her time.

Alice Austen, Gertrude Tate circa 1920. From DYKE A Quarterly No 3 p. 42Gertrude, circa 1920. DYKE A Quarterly, No 3, 1976

"Alice Austen...photographed people and places as they actually appeared, focusing her lens so sharply that every small detail of leaf or woodwork, facial expression or lettering on a sign, was recorded. She approached her subjects straightforwardly, without any attempt at the refinement, grace and decorative sense encouraged in the photographic journals of her most productive years...Pictorialists may have portrayed nymph-like young women floating apparently weightless in unruffled ponds and dancing on tiptoe effortlessly through flower filled fields: Alice Austen recorded her friends in the flannel skirts and woolen stockings of clumsy bathing suits calculated to impede the movements of the strongest swimmers, and she showed them doing  their daily gymnastic exercises to develop the strength their daily lives required. Alice Austen's women ride bicycles and horses, work in the streets and market places and are a vigorous and real as Alice herself."

Alice Austen and Gertrude Tate. from DYKE A Quarterly no. 3. p 43Alice and Gertrude. DYKE A Quarterly No. 3. 1976

Thanks to Ann Novotny for help, information and photographs. All quotations are from Ann's book, Alice's World - The Life and Photographs of An American Original: Alice Austen 1866-1952, which will be published this fall by Chatham press. Quotations printed with permission of the author.

Alice austen, that darned club, from DYKE A Quarterly no 3, 1976
Cover photo. Alice and her friends, Trudy, Julia and Sue formed a cooking and sewing club. "The four girls spent so much time in each others company that disgruntled young men referred to 'the darned club,' a name the members delightedly adopted." Alice is on the left, once again holding the remote control shutter release.

Ann is chairwoman of The Friends Of Alice Austen, who are trying to restore Alice's house and turn it into a museum of her life and work. They plan to have rotating exhibits of women photographers. Anyone who is interested or would like to help should write to Friends of Alice Austen, 315 W. 78 Street, New York, Ny 10024 #1,

Photographs courtesy of the Staten Island Historical Society.


Typewriter marks end of original story


See more about creating the cover for issue No.3. using Alice's photo That Darned Club, here

DYKE A Quarterly no 3, 1976 photo by Alice AustenDYKE A Quarterly, No. 3. Photo That Darned Club by Alice Austen. Design Liza Cowan


The Alice Austen House did come to pass. It is a National Historic Landmark on Staten Island. Ann Novotny died of breast cancer shortly after we wrote our story, but her work and passion lives on. Read about the Alice Austen House HERE.


kodak, woman photographer. 1898

For more on women and photography at the turn of the last century try this wonderful blog, Kodak Girl. Kodak invested heavily in marketing their cameras to women, quite successfully. 


Bicycling for Ladies, ME WardBicycling for Ladies. ME Ward. Maria Ward aka Violet. See more HERE

how to coast illustration ME Ward Bicycling for Ladies from photo by alice austen
How To Coast. Illustration from Alice Austen photo in Bicycling for Ladies by ME Ward.


Frances Benjamin Johnston 1Frances Benjamin Johnston, American photojournalist, took this self portrait with a bicycle. Johnston wrote What A Woman Can Do with a Camera for the Ladies Home Journal in 1897, a year after Bicyling For Ladies was published. Notice the painted on moustache.

The ladies did like to lark about.

And do check out the ALICE AUSTEN HOUSE WEBSITE   

and their Facebook Page, filled with images


Heinz ads from 1925, fun reproductions now available.

Did you know that Heinz used to make peanut butter? I didn't until I ran across this series of ads in The Saturday Evening Post from 1925. I bought a stack of the old magazines years ago and made copies of the ads. I've reproduced them, full size, and had Silver Maple Editions in Burlington  fine-art laminate them on high density wood. You can buy them at my online store.

Heinz peanut butter  saturday evening post 1925, Heinz Peanut butter. 1925. Ready to hang.

heinz peanut butter ad 1925 saturday evening post detailHeinz Peanut Butter, ad, Saturday Evening Post, detail

Heinz baked beans ad 1925 Saturday Evening Post Heinz Baked Beans, 1925 ad. Saturday Evening Post

heinz oven baked beans ad 1925 Saturday Evening Post detaildetail, heinz baked beans

Heinz pure cider vinegar saturday evening post 1925 small equals     Heinz Cider Vinegar, 1925 Saturday Evening Post. 

Heinz cider vinegar ad 1925 Saturday evening post, detail  detail, Heinz Cider Vinegar.

These are all available in very limited quantities  at the Small Equals online store. HERE

BIG CARTEL: finding a great online sales platform

 ©small equals online store at Big Cartel
Small Equals online shop at BigCartel. Screenshot. 

After I closed Pine Street Art Works, my bricks and mortar store, I had to figure out how to keep selling, but online. I was developing a line of products - wooden Keepsake Boxes - that I was excited about, and wanted to offer on the web. I did my research and decided on BigCartel as my platform. I considered Etsy because I know a lot of crafters and antiques vendors who are happy with it, but I thought about the tradeoff - possibly more visitors via the well known site vs. the ability to jump around once the shopper is inside the site. I decided I'd rather have a captive audience. And on BigCartel I can sell products made by other people or manufacuturers, like Seed Bombs by VisuaLingual, or Canetti Pure Acrylic Magnet Frames, two of my most popular items.

Screenshot small equals online sew to the moon keepsake box big cartel
Small Equals at BigCartel. Screenshot, product page for Sew To The Moon 

When I first started selling on BigCartel the design options were more limited than I would have liked. I don't know how to code but I have high standards. But that changed recently when BigCartel offered new design options for the coding-challanged. 


Screen shot small equals big cartel online store close up dogs rule keepsake wooden box
Small Equals online shop at BigCartel. Screenshot, Large image of Dogs Rule Keepsake Box.

 To have a beautiful storefront you have to start with a good, or at least a good looking, product, good pictures and a strong enough design sense. But that's a given. All of that takes a lot of work, and a skill set that takes time to develop. Once you have that, and have found your online platform, there's still the work of marketing. But it makes all the difference to have a good platform, and I have to say I'm hugely pleased with the folks at BigCartel.

I'm very happy that I can write as much text as I like about a product. Regular readers of this blog know that backstory and provenance mean the world to me, and I get to tell it on each product page. I've even included a video on some pages, of me showing the box. 

There's even an option for pages, including a page for your blog. I love this feature because the more a customer knows about the folks who make a product, the more personal it becomes. Story sells. And as a customer, I like to know who I am buying from. 


Screenshot small equals store at big cartel showing seesaw blog
Screen shot, Small Equals online store at BigCartel. Showing page for this blog.

The support staff at BigCartel is superb and that counts for a lot. Quick, friendly advice and help? I'm hooked. 

BigCartel even has an app that connects to my my small equals Facebook Page, for seamless shopping online.

Small equals facebook page screenshot with big cartel app
BigCartel app on small equals FaceBook page. Screenshot

My ancestors peddled door to door and then opened up one of the worlds' first catalog companies. It makes me proud to continue in the family tradition...but in a 21st century venue.

Find my online store HERE

If you are interested in using bigcartel as your online platform you can find them at

and happy shopping! Or selling.

PINTEREST: Heaven for the virtual flaneur.

Screen shot, results for flaneur
Pinterest: screen shot, search for "flaneur"  See also HERE

 Pinterest. Who isn't talking, blogging, face booking about it? Curators, editors, bloggers, students, designers and all kinds of businesses are in on the newest social media hit. As are oh so many folks, mostly women, for whom Pinterest is their newest hobby/obsession.  For those of us for whom a picture is worth a dozen words, Pinterest is a dream come true.

The dream can sometimes be a nightmare, and there  have been articles cirulating on the web about the dangers and pitfalls of Pinterest in terms of ownership of images, copyright, theft and the like. You can check some of them out here and here. This is not about that, however.


Pinterest, circus horses, carousel horses, liza cowan, small equalsPinterest. Screen shot. Small Equals (that's me) board, Carousel and Circus Horses.


I've noticed that there are roughly two types of pinners. The serious image collectors, and the casual "this is my life" type. The serious ones interest me.  The others less so, although I admit to reading through hundreds of recipes and household tips and it's true that for practical matters, Pinterest can be  a wonderful resource. People who post about how they want to color their fingernails, or the hairstyles they crave, or who post images for their upcoming nuptuals can expect me to give them a pass in a hurry. I understand that they want to keep a log, and I support them using Pinterest for that, but I really don't care.


Pinterest curried chicken recipies screen shotScreen shot for curried chicken search. This can be a great way to find a recipe in a hurry, and one of the most practical uses for pinterest. 

Pinterest orgainiza screen shotPinterest screen shot  for "organize" search. I've found some great ideas this way.

If Pinterest were only good for sharing household and cooking tips, it would be good enough. But it is so much more. For serious image collectors and curators it is a g*dsend. Because it is so easy, and because all the images can be sorted and resorted, each board becomes like a section in the library of your imagination. Interested in a topic and need a place to store your images in a way that is easily accessible and easy to rearrange? Yes. Pinterest. Want to see what others are collecting in the same idea range? Yes. Pinterest. Need to show something to  a client, a friend, or a reader? Yes. Pinterest. Easier to access than a website or a blog? Yes, Pinterest is easier even than Flickr or other photo sharing sites. Which is why so many people find it addictive.

Some of my favortite boards to follow are the very specific ones. I follow one woman, a seeming clothing historian, whose 104 boards include: "Doublet" "Robe a la Polonase" "Bretagene-Pays Bigouden." See her pins here. (linked with permission)

Pinterest screen shotRiding Habit 18th centuryPinterest, scren shot of 18th Century Riding Habits.

Another of my favorites is from a real-time friend, a museum director, whose gorgeous and insightful boards include "little structures" "text/image" and "cloth." I can spot her pins even in thumbnails they are so gorgeous and unusual.

With a curators like these two, and with the other visually knowledgeable and talented pinners, we are taken almost directly into their deepest imaginations. As with any well curated space, virtual or tangible, there is always something fresh and exciting to learn, something to stimulate the mind and the senses. 

Pinterest screen shot _text image_Pinterest screen shot from a board by a museum director.

 Unlike  bricks and mortar musuems, galleries or shops - bounded by space and time and budget - the speed and ease of curating images online allows for an almost endless supply of visual and historical information. Interaction is not only possible, but encouraged. Linking - both within Pinterest and to the original sources -  leads to an endless supply of visual material. The structure of Piterest invites and facilitates random meandering as well as purposful searches, making Pinterest heaven for the virtual flaneur.

Some Pinterest guidelines:

1) Always credit your sources. This is the number one problem with amateur pinners or those who do not respect visual /intellectual property. I try to end each pin description with "source" and a hyperlink to the blog, website or source where I found it. Just copy the url and paste it in, pinterst will automatically shorten it.

This should be mandatory, but it's not. Make it your priority! Even though clicking the image should take you to the source from which the image was pinned, this is not enough, particularly because not everyone gives credit to begin with. Tumblr blogs are notorious for leaving off credit (though many Tumbr bloggers are scrupulous) because it is so easy to reblog other people's images. Ditto Flickr. Do your homework. Find the original source and give credit where credit is due: right on your pin.


Pinterest screen shot small equals showing sourcePinterest. Screen shot, Small Equals. Showing hyperlink to source.


2) Do not remove credit and sources when you repin. I find this happens a lot. I have carefully credited my sources but when the image is repinned (you will get an email that something has been repinned) I find the source gone. I always leave a comment, with credit, and a reminder to include the credit. Sometimes people will thank me, usually they ingore me. This drives me nuts!

3) If the source you are pinning from doesn not have credit information, either do an image search to find the credit, or Do Not Pin. Do not pin any image you do not know the source for. 

4) Tip: when you find something you want to pin, you can highlight any part of the text you want to include - credit, information, descriptions- and copy it. That information will automatically be included in your pinterest description if you use the Pin It button.

4) If you are pinning your own work, take the time to put in  a watermark or sign it in some way. I didn't do this for the first five years I hosted this blog - I didn't think it was necessary - but now I find that folks have pinned images from SeeSaw without artist credit. I keep finding repins of pictures I made and also, and this really bugs me, pictures by artists whose work I showed in my gallery, Pine Street Art Works. I notify the pinners as soon as I find out, but sometimes things get repinned really fast. 

5) If you have a website or blog and want to see who is pinning from your site you can do this: (don't use "www" for your site, just the - or org or edu)

6) And here are some more articles on Pinterest: 

Here from Average Jane Crafter, 4 Tips for Happy Pinning.

From Alexandra Wrote at Blog-Her, My Thoughts on Pinterest's New Terms, HERE 

Pinterest and the Intellectual Property Conundrum by Alexandra Bolt also at Blog Her Here

You can find my Pinterest boards HERE

Happy Pinning