Wednesday, December 28, 2011


Djuna Barnes’s extraordinary career as a journalist and illustrator deserves revisiting primarily because she made an important contribution in the development of 20th century English language modernist writing. She was born in a log cabin in 1892 and lived through the Deco years and became one of the key figures in 1920s and ‘30’s bohemian Paris and fulfilled a similar role in Greenwich Village. Though her upbringing in an unconventional household was fraught with incest, rape and hardship, Barnes developed an outsider’s perspective on ‘normal’ life that served her well as a writer. As a woman determined to succeed much of Barnes’s journalism was subjective and experiential. An early twentieth-century advocate for women’s rights Barnes also wrote interviews, features, theatre reviews, and a variety of news stories, often illustrating them with her own drawings.
Newspaper Fiction: The New York Journalism of Djuna Barnes, 1913-1919, an exhibition of 45 objects including drawings, works on paper, documentary photographs, and stories in newsprint by the celebrated writer Djuna Barnes will be presented in the Herstory Gallery of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art from January 20 through October 28, 2012 at Brooklyn Museum, 200 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, New York.
GREENWICH VILLAGE Barnes’s liberal sexuality fit in perfectly with the bohemian lifestyle of Greenwich Village and, later, the lesbian expatriate community in Paris. From her first articles in 1913 until her departure for Europe in 1921, she specialized in a type of journalism that was less about current events and more about her observations of the diverse personalities and happenings that gave readers an intimate portrait of her favorite character-New York City. Attempting to capture its transition from turn of the century city to modern metropolis, Barnes developed her unique style of “newspaper fictions,” offering impressionistic observations and dramatizing whatever she felt to be the true significance of subtexts of a story. Prior to publishing the modernist novels and plays for which she is now remembered, such as Ryder (1928), Nightwood (1936) and The Antiphon (1958), which present complex portrayals of lesbian life and familial dysfunction, Barnes supported herself as a journalist and illustrator for a variety of daily newspapers and monthly magazines including the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, McCalls, Vanity Fair, Charm and the New Yorker.
THE BOHEMIAN LIFESTYLE In 1915 Barnes moved to a flat in Greenwich Village, where she became part of a thriving Bohemian community of artists and writers counting among her social circle Dadaist artists and poets. One supporter was Guido Bruno, an entrepreneur and promoter of published magazines and chapbooks out of his garret on Washington Square. He was willing to risk prosecution by publishing Barnes’s 1915 collection, The Book of Repulsive Women, with its explicit poetic descriptions of sex between women, at a time when lesbianism was virtually invisible in American culture. Barnes was unusual among Villagers in having been raised with a philosophy of free love, espoused both by her grandmother and her father. She retained sexual freedom as a value and had a number of affairs with both men and women during her Greenwich Village days.
PARIS SOJOURN (1921-1930) Barnes first traveled to Paris on assignment for McCall’s Magazine, where she soon became a well-known figure on the local scene; her black cloak and her acerbic wit are remembered in memoirs of the time. She was part of the inner circle of the influential salon hostess, Natalie Barney, who would become a lifelong friend and patron, as well as the central figure in Barnes’s satiric chronicle of Paris lesbian life, Ladies Almanack, which was published under the pseudonym “A Lady of Fashion.” However, the most important relationship of Barnes’s Paris years was with the artist Thelma Wood, a Kansas native who had come to Paris to become a sculptor. Driven by Barnes’s influence Wood took up silverpoint instead, producing animals and plants that one critic compared to Rousseau. By 1922 they moved in together in a flat on the Boulevard Saint-Germain. In 1928 Barnes dedicated Ryder and Ladies Almanack to Thelma Wood the year that both books were published and the year that she and Wood separated.
NEW YORK CITY AGAIN Barnes published little journalism in the 30s and was largely dependent on the largesse of the art patron, Peggy Guggenheim. Barnes was constantly ill and drank more heavily. After an attempted suicide Guggenheim funded hospital visits and doctors, but finally lost patience and sent be back to New York. During her Patchin Place years, Barnes became a notorious recluse. E.E. Cummings, who lived across the street, checked on her periodically, other put roses in her mailbox. It is at this time that Barnes stopped drinking in order to begin work on her verse play The Antiphon, that drew heavily on her own family history, the writing was fueled with anger. Although Barnes had other female lovers, in later years she was known to claim, “I am not a lesbian; I just loved Thelma.” BARNES WAS ELECTED TO THE NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ARTS AND LETTERS IN 1961. SHE WAS THE LAST SURVIVING MEMBER OF THE FIRST GENERATION OF ENGLISH-LANGUAGE MODERNISTS WHEN SHE DIED IN NEW YORK IN 1982.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

STAMPS OF APPROVAL Honors Pioneers of American Industrial Design By Polly Guerin

A traveling exhibition featuring the work of American Industrial designers, who helped to shape the look of everyday life in the 20th centurym have been given their due recognition by the U.S. Postal Service in a new series of Forever stamps.
The exhibition, organized by the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, will continue on to the Philbrook Museum of Art in 2012.
It was an era of modernism characterized by horizontal lines and round shapes projecting an image of speed and efficiency and emerged as a profession in the United States in the 1920s. Industrial design gained prominence during the Great Depression and evoked the streamlined sensibilities of a new era, often referred to as Art Deco.
The stamps include:
Walter Dorwin Teague’s 1934 “Baby Brownie” camera was made of black Bakelite with Art Deco details on the box-shaped box. Teague viewed industrial design as both an art and an integral part of contemporary life, and was one of the founders of the American Society of Industrial Designers.
Peter Muller-Munk’s 1935 “Normandie” pitcher’s simple curves and form were characteristic of the streamlined modern style. The pitcher was constructed of chromium-plated brass, an alternative to silver that was easier to care for and more affordable.
Frederick Hurten Rhead’s 1936 “Fiesta” pitcher, from the widely popular dinnerware transformed the look of domestic interiors across America. Introduced by the Homer Laughlin China Col, the ceramic tableware was moderately priced and available in brightly colored and durable glazes.
Henry Dreyfuss’ 1937 Model 302 Bell telephone set the standard for telephone design in the U.S. Dreyfuss was among the first to apple the principles of ergonomics to product design and considered the user to be the center and focus of his work.
Norman Bell Geddes’ 1940 “Patriot” radio featured a red-and-white grille representative of the American flag. Geddes was a noted champion of streamlining and created visionary new looks for cars, trains, planes and building, in addition to everyday objects.
Russel Wright’s 1951 “highlight/Pinch” flatware featured an organically shaped handle and no applied ornament. Wright created affordable modern furniture and tableware characterized by minimal but elegant forms.
Greta von Nessen’s 1951 “Anywhere” lamp featured a tubular aluminum base and an adjustable shade made of enameled metal. The versatile lamp could be mounted on the wall, suspended from the ceiling or used on the table.
Eliot Noyes’ 1961 “Selectric” typewriter for IBM, for whom he designed buildings, interiors and a range of office equipment, encouraged corporate clients to adopt long-lasting design principles, rather than changing a product’s design each year.
Other designers honored as “Pioneers of American Industrial Design” are Dave Chapman, Donald Deskey, Gilbert Rohde and Raymond Loewy.
The groundbreaking work of these designers transformed the look of homes and offices across the country and celebrates the integral role these industrial designers played in American manufacturing and daily life. Modern design became still more popular after World War II, when manufacturers again turned to industrial designers to focus on mass production for the American consumer.
The stamps were dedicated June 29, 2011 at a ceremony at Cooper-Hewitt. Pioneers of Industrial Design Forever stamps are available at most U.S. Post Offices or online at

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