This week, for the first time, our blog does not centre upon instances of graphic design redolent of an avant-garde of the early twentieth century. Instead we’re catching up with a current magazine which has delighted us for years now, namely, Zelda (“The Magazine of the Vintage Nouveau”). Named, in part, for Daisy, the unattainable, lethally dangerous heroine of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jazz Era novel, The Great Gatsby (Daisy’s problematic energies being somewhat modelled on his wife, Zelda), this inspired publication is the labor of love of two bright and heart-warming New Yorkers, Diane Naegel (taken from us at a shockingly early age) and her partner, Don Spiro. (Diane’s legacy lives on thanks to her loving friends  devoted to what is involved in the sense of Zelda.)

Shown above, our ad, which we’re proud to add to the amazing contents.   Continue reading

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 Allan Line Royal Mail  c.1910;To and From Canada;James S. Mann;40”x25”;A-,P

Before aviation hit its stride, but after sailing ships were retired, steamships (designed with great care) were the main link between Europe and North America. In this blog we’ll narrow the subject even further: ships carrying passengers to Canada from Britain, in the decades just before World War II–considered in view of the drama of their history and designs.

The Allan Line had been transporting passengers and products (prominently including mail) from Britain to Montreal since about 1820; but here we have a coal powered behemoth (18,000 tons) leaving Liverpool in the years directly before the company was taken over by Canadian Pacific Steamships in 1917. The design, especially as shown in the profile at the top of the poster, was eager to portray a sleek configuration with cosmopolitan black and red color statements. The design also juxtaposes the ship with lesser vehicles to imply that Allan was the smart line to deal with. The jaunty lettering for the letter C in the word Canada would evoke a going concern. (The data at the bottom indicates that the company was about emigration as much as shipping and round trips.)    Continue reading

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We recently did some work with the R.W. Norton Art Gallery in Shreveport, Louisiana. This, we have found to our delight, is a remarkable collection of American and European painting, sculpture, decorative art, vintage graphic art and vintage books (historical and illustrative), with an emphasis upon historical and individual recognition and exploration.

Making this even more exciting, is the importance to me of Shreveport as my means of getting started with the special magic of modern music. How so? In the 1950s, Winnipeg winters were super-cold, and they were good for one thing—jacking the 50,000 Watt power of Shreveport radio station KWKH! Hunkered down with frost and ice an inch thick on the window pane, I stumbled upon that bundle of elemental cool, flowing out like a supernova in a dark void. One Saturday night I heard a guy named Elvis Presley on a live show called “Louisiana Hayride.” That same night, as always, the many hours of country/western programming was followed by a show of blues recordings by the likes of Howlin’ Wolf, as presented by DJ, Frank “Gatemouth” Page.   Continue reading

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The British periodical known as The Sketch (1893-1959) took upon itself the project of showing “aristocracy” in a positive light. In addition to its coverage of expensive events and pampered heirs and heiresses, it was able to attract illustrators and–most remarkably and unusually—photographers of so high a calibre (as able to count on deluxe paper stock) that the upshot was an impression of a more comprehensive and profound sense of aristocratic energy.

The young women in the photo above are captured in their readiness for life and society transcending their débutante status and certification by royalty.     Continue reading

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The Art Gallery of Ontario has transported the opportunity to display a few dozen drawings by Michelangelo into a most stimulating embrace of the ancient-god-like artist’s enduring significance. Its exhibition strategy boldly maintains the parity of that giant’s architectural projects with the far more renowned and revered paintings and sculptures.  So it transpires that the heart of the event is a slide show of the Biblioteca Laurenziana. Michelangelo’s creation of a library in Florence for those over-achievers, the Medicis’ in the early 16th century, was, it now dawns on us, despite being commissioned by a Pope (a Medici family Pope), not about the vision of a pious, ascetic geek being brought to fruition by a pious, ascetic artist, but instead about a Ponderosa of a family wanting to show off its collection of rare books and manuscripts in order to prove it had become super-refined.

Shown here, the reading room, provided with pews. But more significantly the linearity of that feature folds into an ensemble of formal progressions along the windows in the service of focusing light through self-disciplined endeavor. Continue reading

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Back for a closer look at the design package that kicked off this blogsite (on September 3, 2012), we’re especially drawn to an ad (from the January, 1931 issue) for office furniture. The furniture itself is totally lacklustre. But the concept is riveting!

“What executive of a few decades ago would have dared admit that beauty and fine taste had their part in a world of dollars and steel and hogs and wheat? But the conception of business has changed. Office surroundings are becoming human, livable, comfortable. Men find that they can think more clearly, work more easily—have broader vision—obtain the accord of others more harmoniously in the hospitable atmosphere of a room such as they would choose to occupy in their club or their home.”

Fortune is not, when all is said and done, a dose of business news and manufactures. But instead, it is a first flush of design excitement on the part of the nouveau riche. Thereby we can fully appreciate the care and expense going into the publication by realizing that we are not dealing with a swatch of design connoisseurs but pragmatists enlisting visual excitement for the sake of money, but also something they would not care to define.

The inside front cover (printed, therefore, on the most color-friendly paper stock) conveys the value of a gasoline additive by way of the vitality mustered by porpoises trailing “your favorite liner.”     Continue reading

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Salo de Creacions 1935;Gerard;19 ¼” x 13 ¼”;A, L

Fall fashions and Halloween come together where we live, due to most of the population being intent on playing out (every day, every season) some variant of Road Warrior—a bit odd when you realize that almost everyone is a pedestrian. Today we’ll glance over some Fall inspirations, perhaps not up to date, but showing common cause with the issue of sombre.

No one does sombre like the Spaniards; and our vintage poster image here is further pressed into darkness by the Civil War era in which it emerged. And yet, such a sense of the magic of understated sizzle! Continue reading

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Antwerpen Anvers

Exposition Internationale Coloniale (Antwerp) 1930;Anonymous; 16″ x 23″

The notion of the “modern” in creative output became compelling near the end of the nineteenth century. At that time industrialization and its drastic reconfiguration of urban socioeconomic life had reached proportions carrying inescapable consequences to the inhabitants of cities. This change in the air launched a long and variegated march of envisioning life as marked by audacious departures from guileless ways. Consequently, Europeans and North Americans were inundated by a rapid succession of new trends in architecture, and also industrial design and fine art. This was the zone of intense movements of taste like Art Nouveau, Constructivism, Cubism, Dada, De Stijl, Futurism, Bauhaus and Surrealism, to name major players. It was also a time of tempering the cutting edges of those thrusts in terms of attention to a sleek and salubrious possibility of deploying such inventive and innovative choices of the look and feel of daily life. What was often called Moderne (and in retrospect seen as Art Deco) opened hitherto unthinkable harmonics of chic and adventure to those who could afford their deluxe materials. After World War II, this premium upon clean lines and breezy moods became democratized. It is this more modest sense of the modern that we want to explore today. Continue reading

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This bustling locomotive, in addition to being a rare and somewhat oddly satisfying vintage poster, is a cue to looking closely at the varied and intriguing means of putting across motion (that delicious phenomenon) in eye-and-heart-catching visual advertisements. It may come as a surprise, but it is not the subject of the piece that primarily gets things moving, but is instead its surroundings. Here, the stream issuing from the plunge evokes motion in the opposite direction. Also, quite amazingly in my opinion, there is something about that shining crafted machine, as adjacent to the still and stately pines, which suggests a dynamic power in effect. Then there is the angle of the flash, cutting past us at a palpable bite. Continue reading

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This past Saturday night in Toronto was the occasion for the annual display of installations (hopefully wild), called Nuit  Blanche (White Night,12 hours non stop til 7 a.m.). We start with a dolled-up sales center to suggest how far this commotion penetrates into the general public. The club aura speaks to the very young prevalent demographic. Art here has to have shock features. (That’s not so bad.) Continue reading

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