Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Lancaster Station Christmas

As Lancaster's train station decks itself out for Christmas with a large tree, balls and even a little radio that blares holiday music, a set of 12 panels have been hung on the walls. They tell the good old Night Before Christmas story. Like many things in Lancaster, they have a timeless eerie quality that Ben Leech used to record in Old Weird Lancaster. If I knew more about the history of popular prints, this might not be such a mystery, but I'm intrigued by the inability to fix the panels to any art-historical meaning. They have a vernacular feeling to them. They most likely date to the 1970s (or is it the 1930s?) but act out a primitive style appropriate to the 1822 setting. Lancaster Station is terribly unkempt with threatening water damage and deterioration. The panels testify to the building's instability. They, too, are stained and distorted.

I wish I knew more about the particulars of this ephemeral collection of material culture. They represent the activities of the local community to particularize the building and resist the neglect of its owner: Amtrak. Other installations throughout the station testify to this local care (the photographic history of the station, installed by the local historical society, for instance). Whatever their ultimate origin, habit and meaning might be, I felt compelled to document the whole series and through them celebrate the weirdness that is Christmas in America. The panels are presented clockwise, starting from the NE. Six of them hang on the E wall and six hand on the W wall. I transcribe the text below each panel.

T'was the night before Christmas and all through the house, Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that Saint Nicholas soon would be there.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds. While visions of sugarplums danced in their heads.

And Mamma in her kerchief and I in my cap. Had just settled down for a long winter's nap.

More rapid than eagles his courses they came. And he whistled and shouted, and called them by name: "Now Dasher! Now Dancer! Now Prancer! Now Vixen! On, Comet! On, Cupid! On, Donner and Blitzen! To the top of the porch, to the top of the wall. Now, dash away, dash away, dash away all!

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow, gave a luster of midday to objects below, when, what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a miniature sleigh and a tiny reindeer; with a little old driver, so lively and quick I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky, So up to the house-top the courses they flew With a sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too.

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf. And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself. A wink of his eye, and a twist of his head, soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work. And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk
And laying his finger aside of his nose. And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle, and away they all flew like the down of a thistle. But I heard him exclaim 'ere he drove out of sight,

"Happy Christmas to all and to all a good night!"

A Visit from Saint Nicholas, by Clement Clark Moore (1823)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Grecian Main Street 1930

Time Magazine (Feb. 3, 1930)

"Grecian Main Street. In 160 A.D., Corinth, classic city, throve lustily. Pausanias was its Baedeker. He described a street running from the market place to the theatre. In 396 A.D., Alaric the Goth devastated the city. Ancient Corinth disappeared under tons of debris and earth. Little by little the old town is being unearthed. Theodore Leslie Shear, one of Princeton's archaeologists, has returned to the U. S. after four years of digging there. He announced the discovery of the Pausanias-chronicled street, the theatre with seats for 20,000."

Monday, December 13, 2010

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Kephallenos ABCs

Yannis Kephallenos illustrated a children's alphabet book in 1932 that was on display at the MIETS exhibition in Athens and Thessaloniki. The exhibit also featured a mock-up below.
I'm not sure whether graphic design has been critically studied for Greece beyond a few monographs. The culture of letters is fairly intense in Greece, with people caring deeply about letterforms and the history or printing the Greek word. After all, it's countries where linguistics is deeply entangled with politics that you find a sophisticated literary culture among the general population. But graphic design is a little bit different; it requires visual literacy. And I've always felt that Greece has been in the literary avant-garde (Cavafy, Seferis, Elytis) but in the visual backwaters. The situation is exactly the opposite in Spain and Italy, where the visual avant-garde overshadowed the literary avant-garde. Whatever the case may be, Greece's visual modernism is for the most part derivative. That does not mean that Greece's modernism is any less interesting. Since the 1990s, art historians have convincingly elevated the provincial avant-gardes (not French, German, Soviet or Dutch) into the canon. Czech and (to a lesser extent Balkan) avant-gardes make a good case.

Yannis Kephallenos is definitely a landmark in the history of Greek graphic design both as a producer and as a teacher. I'm not certain that he can stand up to the masters of letterforms from Europe and the U.S., from whom he learned. Kephallenos' letterforms for the textbook by Delipetros, Doukas and Imvrioti illustrates an streamlined elegance married with the concerns of "Ellinikotita" evident in the archaizing fonts of the 1930s. At a superficial level, Greek archaizing fonts carry connotations of dictatorships. Cultural trends and artistic strategies developed by the Metaxas regime (1936-40) were picked up again by the junta (1968-74). Italian modernism bears a similar burden to the extent that the 1930s are inseparable from Mussolini. Whereas private enterprise and the marketing of desire were motivating factors in the development of graphic sophistication in the U.S., the venues of graphic expression available in Greece had a limited marketing potential. Directly or indirectly, the state was central as was the concern over the state's fate.

Nevertheless, Kephallenos' design is vital. His diagonal letters CHILDREN overlap in the same way that his BESIEGED SLAVES did back five years earlier. I thank John Stathatos for also seeing an unresolved crampedness in the latter. CHILDREN is better resolved, although difficult to read. The tension between the geometrical and the figurative show the influence of Bauhaus sensibilities on the one hand and social realism on the other. Like the case with American graphic design of the 1930s, Greek tastes are caught in a battle between rarefied elitist modernism and popular social realism. The "grotesque" result (as it has been referred to by American cultural historians) is more interesting than its pure manifestations.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Kephallenos: 1930s Letterforms

Every once in a while, I read the subject heading of this blog, and I remind myself of my commitment to Mediterranean archaeology. Reading my posts during the last few months, Greece has completed receded behind concerns over swing, letterforms, and American history. So, last weekend, I asked myself, "how about 1930s Greek fonts"? And I had a few minutes at Van Pelt Library for a first search, where I discovered the work of Yannis Kephallenos (1894-1957).

Kephallenos was born in Alexandria (and knew Cavafy). He studied art history in Paris, where he met other Greek luminaries like Kostas Varnalis. In 1931 Kephallenos became professor of printmaking at the School of Fine Arts in Athens, where he taught a number of influential artists. One can read more about Kephallenos' life here. My introduction to the artist's letterforms is Emmanuel Ch. Kasdaglis, "The Theocritus of Yannis Kephallenos: A New Type-Cutting," in Greek Letters from Tablets to Pixels (New Castle, 1996), 163-73, from which I sketched the two letterforms shown here (figs. 17, 6)

The letterform above comes from the Citation of the Union of Greek Banks (1938). It exhibits similar dramatic strategies (fattening-thining of elements) as the English 1930s fonts that I've been writing about. Here Kephallenos has gone back to Byzantine letterforms for inspiration, specifically to the 6th-century Purple Codex. Thirty-three sheets ended up at the Monastery of St John is Patmos, where Kephallenos may have seen them. A couple of sheets are currently displayed at the Byzantine Museums of Athens and Thessaloniki. Kephallenos' appropriation of the Byzantine tradition for a modernist calling fits well arguments about Byzantium and modernity that I've made in different contexts.

Earlier in his career, Kephallenos also illustrated Kostas Varnalis' Besieged Slaves (1927). In this book-cover, Kephallenos takes an interesting strategy of angularizing the letters by tightness and overlap.

I have not yet seen the authoritative monograph on Kephallenos' engraving, see Emmanuel Kasdaglis, Giannes Kephallenos, I: O charaktes, II: Allelographia-Keimena. (Athens, 1991). For a shorter introduction, see Kadsaglis

Finally, an interesting exhibit on Kephallenos' art was up in Thessaloniki last summer, showing his contribution to the design of Greek schoolbooks, see here: "Ο Γιάννης Κεφαλληνός και οι μαθητές του στα αναγνωστικά," at MIET, the Cultural Institute of the National Bank (Μορφοτικό Ίδρυμα Εθνικής Τραπέζης).

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

1930s v 1920s

So, what is the difference between the 1930s and the 1920s? I asked my Orange Notebook.

1936 datestone, Keiper Liberal Arts Building, Franklin & Marshall College, William Lee
1922 datestone, Franklin Field, University of Pennsylvania, Charles Klauder

But Amelia Rauser gave a better answer in just two words "Letty Lynton"
and Jennifer Redmann gave the answer (via Facebook) in the form of two films:

"For me (German lit/culture person), the difference between the 20s and 30s is embodied in 2 films: "Das Kabinett des Dr. Caligari" (1920) and "M - Die Stadt sucht einen Mörder" (1931). In Caligari we find a topsy-turvy world in which reality and fantasy are indistinguishable, but by M, that has given way to sober hyperrealism - our world is being poisoned destroyed by sick, insane forces, and the "state" needs to take action to put a stop to it."

Monday, December 06, 2010

1930s Jazz Fonts

Thinking about 1930s fonts, I made some references to the effects of neon lights in the exaggeration of letter elements (the thick-and-thin). I hope that the image below will clarify this added three-dimensional factor that neon lights introduced. Although the particular font comes from a recent restoration, the building is a movie theater at Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. I was out there last Friday to organize a traveling venue for the Peschke show (the meeting went well beyond my greatest expectation). I will have more to say about this building -- since it was designed by the architect who shaped Franklin & Marshall's 1930s identity (William Lee is to F&M's 1930s what Charles Klauder is to F&M's 1920s).
So, neon lights came to the U.S. in the 1920s and took over the night-time urban landscape in the 1930s. Since it is "Franklin" that got me started on period fonts, let me turn to another Franklin case study, not Franklin Field, or Franklin & Marshall College, but Franklin the jazz nightclub in New York. I saw the Franklin's marquee while previewing Ken Burns' Jazz (2001) documentary, Episode 4: The True Welcome (1:12:29 min). What I tried to show with the sketch below is the placement of the letters against the neon tubes (shown in red).
Period photos of nightclubs like the Savoy, show the use of jazzy fonts to advertise performances. Look at the font below used at the Brooklyn Paramount to advertise "DUKE ELLINGTON and His Cotton Club Orchestra IN PERSON," also from Ken Burn's Jazz (Episode 4, 1:17:23 min).
I wouldn't want to argue that swing directly influenced typography. The swing nightlife, however, had a profound graphic effect in advertising shows and grabbing the passer's-by attention.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Astaire Shoes

In addition to the projected triple shadows, Fred Astaire's Bojangles dance in Swing Time (1935) has psychoanalytical potential from the point of view of shoes. I feel that this must be mentioned, in order to clarify Kevin Brady's recommended readings from Zizek, quoted below. The dance routine begins with a gigantic personification of Bojangles through the bottom of Astaire's shows. Above, we see the stage sets for the soles, the bow-tie, the collar, the hat, and the racially exaggerated lips. In the background, a model of Harlem can also be seen. As the dance progresses, Astaire spreads his gigantic legs to reveal his striped pants that lead to his crotch. The dancers spread his legs open, and the viewer realizes that they are superhuman props.

I've followed up some of the racial tensions of Astaire's Bojangles to encounter a critical impasse. Some critics find Astaire's blackface intolerable, while others see in this performance an honest commemoration. Astaire's "Bojangles of Harlem" is here paying direct tribute to a historical figure, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson (1878-1949), one of the most popular African-American dance performers. At one level, therefore, we must acknowledge that Astaire is paying direct tribute rather than stereotyping. He acknowledges Bill Robinson's contributions to dance innovations. Hence, in the racially offensive scale, Astaire is somewhere in the grayer zone.

Going back to shoes, I quote the Zizek passages that Kevin Brady sent me, along with a most recent conversation:

Hi Kostis,
I re-read your new blog post about Astaire and Bojangles. Something that strikes me about the illustrations you provide (- besides the odd (bizarre? anamorphic?) - in any event, a floor-up perspective in which all lines converge on crotch (genitals and anus): from that viewpoint, we're as far as possible from the humanizing (& subjectivizing) features of the face, and the heads-up, feet-down "architecture" of the human figure is subverted (recalling here surrealist photography of toes and upside-down faces - Man Ray 1920s?). The identification of the movie screen itself with the dance floor - the mediating surface between the audience and film worlds - is interesting - horizontal is vertical, as if to say, this is one kooky, topsy-turvy world!
Kevin Brady, December 6, 2010 10:06 AM


"Andersen's fairy tale The Red Shoes, an impoverished young woman puts on a pair of magical shoes and almost dies when her feet won't stop dancing. She is only saved when an executioner cuts off her feet with his axe. Her still-shod feet dance on, whereas she is given wooden feet and finds peace in religion. These shoes stand for drive at its purest: an 'undead' partial object that functions as a kind of impersonal willing: 'it wants', it persists in its repetitive movement (of dancing), it follows its path and exacts its satisfaction at any price, irrespective of the subject's well-being. This drive is that which is 'in the subject more than herself': although the subject cannot ever 'subjectivize' it, assume it as 'her own' by way of saying 'It is I who want to do this!' it nonetheless operates in her very kernel." From “Love Beyond Law” by Slavoj Zizek, a paper was first published in the Journal for the Psychoanalysis of Culture and Society 1 (1996), 160-61, as a review of Bruce Fink's The Lacanian Subject: Between Language and Jouissance (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995).

"The fascinating thing about partial objects, in the sense of organs without bodies, is that they embody what Freud called “death drive”. Here, we have to be very careful. Death drive is not kind of a Buddhist striving for annihilation. I want to find eternal peace. I want… No. Death drive is almost the opposite. Death drive is the dimension of what in the Stephen King-like horror fiction is called the dimension of the undead, of living dead, of something which remains alive even after it is dead. And it’s, in a way, immortal in its deadness itself. It goes on, insists. You can not destroy it. The more you cut it, the more it insists, it goes on. This dimension, of a kind of diabolical undeadness, is what partial objects are about. The nicest example here for me, I think, is Michael Powell’s Red Shoes, about a ballerina. Her passion for dancing is materialised in her shoes taking over. The shoes are literally the undead object." From Slavoj Zizek, The Pervert’s Guide to the Cinema.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Astaire and Zizek

Friend and F&M colleague Kevin Brady sent a great response to my earlier posting on Astaire's Swing Time, suggesting psychoanalytical trajectories and Zizek readings:

Dear Kostis
You might find this interesting - on a note tangentially related to your blog post about Fred Astaire, projected shadows, fonts and Robert Longo (all fascinating, by the way) - Your description of Fred Astaire standing aside to watch his own triple projection dance dovetails nicely with Slavoj Zizek's various film illustrations of Freudian-Lacanian desire vs. drive, and "death drive" in action (see two texts from Zizek, attached) - and in that regard, your use of the word "subject" in the blog is spot-on (desire is subjectivized, drive isn't).
The "projected" self, in Lacanian lingo, is the subject "barred" upon entering the socio-symbolic order (i.e. culture and language). The fact that Fred Astaire stands aside to watch three magnified selves dance autonomously can be related (I would think, speaking as a psychoanalytic amateur) to several other film motifs - e.g., Mickey Mouse in The Sorcerer's Apprentice (1940), where the broom is a nightmare evocation of the Lacanian "partial object" (autonomous body part); the young woman in The Red Shoes (1948), who in the original story has to cut her feet off, because they won't stop dancing; Peter Sellers' "Heil Hitler" arm/hand in Dr. Strangelove (1964); even Forrest Gump's crazy running legs (1994, he can't stop himself, and his running always follows upon some loss or tragedy - in a word, drive takes over from desire). Zizek would add Fight Club (1999), where the main character can't stop his own autonomous fist from beating him up.
I haven't read much about Robert Longo, only seen images; but the psychoanalytic patterns suggested here (drive vs. desire, partial objects, symbolic castration or dismemberment in the socio-symbolic order) would probably readily apply - people flattened almost violently in their 1980s corporate costumes. It's significant that the three Longo figures are facelesss, de-subjectivized - possibly more traumatized than "dancing"? Has anyone related these images to crime scene photography?
Thanks for the thought-provoking blog piece!
Kevin Brady, December 4, 2010 9:42 AM

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Bojangles in Harlem 1936

I thank Johanna for commenting on the Top Hat font and sending me to Fred Astaire's Bojangles in Harlem in Swing Time (RKO Pictures, 1936). The scene is aesthetically rich, if the viewer manages to pass over the highly offensive blackface. At the end of the scene, Astaire dances behind a triple projection of his own silhouette (sketched left). I send readers to my earlier thoughts on 1930s silhouettes here, elicited by the portraits that Georg von Peschke drew while excavating in Corinth. Incidentally, I got a chance to see all 20 of the Peshcke silhouettes in Athens this summer, but I must leave them for a future posting. Astaire's silhouettes elucidate the popular 1930s font, which pitch a thick line against a thin line in each letter. High contrast, thick-and-thin, large-and-small are in some ways the product of illuminated projection and the electricity of film and signage. I will show in a future posting that neon lights contributed to the development of fonts in the 1930s. Neon lighting has a three dimensional quality. The solid letter in the background is illuminated by a neon tube in the foreground that replicates the letter in form a few inches in front of the letter. The neon light does not occupy the same plane as the letter which it illuminates because physical contact would burn the letter from the tube's heat. A physical gap between neon and letter backdrop introduces perspectival variation as the viewer moves around the sign. Perspectival variation is what distinguishes Astaire's three shadows, since they are generated by three lights positioned around a circular platform to the right, center, and left of the real Astaire.

Like the black shadow of Fred Astaire, typography and neon tubes engaged the viewer in a game of projection. The high-contrast of shadows cultivated a minimalist aesthetic on a fertile black-and-white screen. But the dialectic of dancer vs. shadows supersedes simple mechanical replication the moment that Astaire's shadows disengage from Astaire and take on a life of their own. Astaire stops and observes his triple body move without his volition behind him. He stops being the generator of motion, or the object of projection, and he turns into a subject. He watches himself, as we watch him. His triples become his dance partners.

Astaire's black silhouettes are also interesting in light of Robert Longo's 1979 "Men in the Cities" series. Longo's involvement with the post-punk New York scene makes "Men in the Cities" the most iconic artistic expression of 1980s New Wave. It was one of the first images in Sympathy for the Devil: Art and Rock and Roll since 1967, a groundbreaking exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago in 2008. Fortunately for me, the Archaeological Institute of America's annual meetings in 2008 were in Chicago and I got a chance to see the show; see catalog, here. As with the staging of Astaire's dance, Longo's dancers were displayed as a triptych (see photo of Dominic Molon, curator, in front of Longo's series here).

Whether intentional or not, I love the visual affinity solicited by Astaire's iconic dance. After all, punk archaeology begins in the 1930s, as Lewis Erenberg has convinced me in "The Crowd Goes Wild: The Youth Culture of Swing," Swinging the Dream: Big Band Jazz and the Rebirth of American Culture (Chicago, 1998), 35-64.

Ultimately, both Astaire and Longo are the descendants of that famous Nude that Descended the Staircase in 1913 at the Armory Show. Unlike the male-gazing Duchamp, the American artist of the 1930s and 1980s is interested in a dressed male body, a suited figure that does not descend but ascends.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Top Hat 1935

Previewing Top Hat (RKO Pictures, 1935) on my way home, I noticed that the opening credits use the same font as noted on yesterday's posting. This Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers film is a candidate for a lecture on Art Deco in Hollywood. The sets include a stylized classical hotel and a Venetian fantasy. The Gay Divorcee (RKO Pictures, 1934) is another possibility. The dynamics of the fonts in Top Hat are complemented by the sudden movement of the camera (as soon as the credits are finished) that reveals an actual person wearing the hat above. The next calligraphic delicacy is a zoom into a sign hanging on a wall: "SILENCE must be observed in the Club Room." The fonts here are traditional and Gothic and set a foil to Fred Astaire's uncontrollable desire to break the silence through dance.

Being a bit silly on my late train ride, I considered how my name would look like if I was an RKO actor in the 30s and a protagonist in Top Hat. Not very attractive:

Monday, November 29, 2010

Franklin Field Illustrated 1920s

Franklin Field, the stadium at the University of Pennsylvania, was designed by Charles Klauder. The stadium opened in 1922, a few years before Klauder was given the commission for Franklin & Marshall's Master Plan. I was the University of Penn bookstore last night, browsing potential readings for my 1930s seminar in the Spring. I was reviewing, for instance, tales by H. P. Lovecraft, E. L. Doctorow's novel World's Fair: A Novel (1985), and James Mauro's new popular book, Twilight at the World of Tomorrow: Genius, Madness, and Murder at the 1939's World's Fair at the Brink of the War (2010). But what caught my attention was a 2011 sports calendar illustrating 19th- and early-20th century posters from Franklin Field Illustrated. Two posters from 1924 and 1927 utilized the above font, which I love. One pen stroke is dramatically thicker creating cinematic jazzy excitement. Although Franklin Field is Georgian in style (like Klauder's F&M master plan), the font of the era is progressive. I had to transcribe it. Contrast the font above with the font used in 1919, which is a stylized Roman font, stately and traditional (although equally attractive):

Thursday, November 18, 2010

1930s Domestic Fetus Burial in Los Angeles

I haven’t had much time to do anymore research on “Fleshing Out the Byzantine House,” the paper that I presented at the Byzantine Studies Conference in October, but a news story from Los Angeles makes me ponder diachronic issues on domestic fetuses burials. Three months ago, a woman clearing out the basement of an apartment building (left) found a locked trunk that contained the mummified remains of a fetus and a full-term baby from the 1930s. The mother, who presumably buried her children in the trunk, was Janet Mann Barrie (1897-1994). Although not confirmed, Barrie may have been related to James M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan. The apartment building was located at MacArthur Park, a glamorous neighborhood during the 1930s. Forensics has not been able to determine the cause of death, but this is clearly a case of infant burial in a domestic context. The associated goods in the trunk, moreover, provide an interesting archaeological assemblage:

“In mid-August, two women cleaning the basement of an apartment building in a historic neighborhood bordering MacArthur Park found a dusty steamer trunk and broke its lock with a screwdriver. Inside were two doctor’s bags, each containing the delicate, flaking corpse of a baby wrapped in issues of The Los Angeles Times from 1933 and 1935 … The trunk held diamond and pearl necklaces and wedding photographs in other drawers. One picture shows Ms. Barrie in a dark coat with white fur trim beside a shiny automobile with the scrub-brush hills of Southern California behind her (left). Near the bodies were antique books, two tickets stubs from the 1932 Olympics and a certificate for the Peter Pan Woodland Club with ‘Jean Barrie’ written at the top.” Rebecca Cathcart, “Mysteries of Tiny Bodies from 1930s Will Linger,” The New York Times, Nov. 17, 2010, A19)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Cram's Curve

Ralph Adam Crams' Walled Towns (1919) is a fascinating fantasy from the pen of America's most resolute medieval revivalist. Crams has been relegated to the "uninteresting" category of architectural theorists a favorite of quaint antiquarians, seminarians and reactionaries. Cram never tackled modernity's principle problems (technology, mechanization, labor) and, therefore, offered no viable solutions. Compared to manifestos like Towards An Architecture by LeCorbusier (1923), Walled Towns seems marginal. But I would argue that it needs to be re-read and we need to look at Cram not as a reactionary but as a radical. Consider his pseudo-social-scientific graph above that tries to prove that monasticism is an accurate register of civilization. This is fabulous stuff.

A nice essay that situates Cram in the history of architectural history is Peter Fergusson, "Medieval Architectual Scholarship in America, 1900-1940: Ralph Adams Cram and Kenneth John Conant," in The Architectural Historian in America (Washington, D.C., 1990), 127-139. The volume rose out of a symposium held at the National Gallery to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the founding of the Society of Architectural Historians. As a collection of essays, it is not entirely comprehensive -- for instance, there is little attention on the German refugees of the 1950s -- nevertheless, it is a great primer on the history of architectural history in the U.S.

Fergusson summarizes Cram's social agenda as follows:

"Reactionary as this sounds [Cram's critique of democracy and endorsement of Jacobean monarchy], Cram's utopian views reveal a figure who was much more a rebel than a reactionary, a passionate critic of the status quo. These qualities explain other causes he pushed with equal ardor. Some appear directly antithetical to his monarchist views, like the strong advocacy of 'socialist ideas,' as he recalled them. If The Decadent examined this theme at the start of Cram's career, at least five books dealt with it during his middle years, their pitch discernible from such titles as The Nemesis of Mediocrity (1917) and The Sins of the Fathers (1918); he returned to it again in his last book at the close of his life, The End of Democracy (1937). All of these volumes are marked by a pervasive pessimism and a sense of imminent cultural crisis. Democracy has failed, big government is evil, bureaucracy intolerable, modernism corrupting, Roosevelt imperial. The short-term solution lies in the amendment of the American constitution through the reconfiguration of the then forty-six states into five or six provinces or commonwealths. The long-term ideal remains a constitutional monarchy, complete with orders of knighthood. These prolonged forays into political theory are particularly hard to digest today. But they are important." (131).

This is crazy cool stuff (crazier than the Tea Party). And we must remember, Cram was not a political theorists, but one of America's most productive architects that also happened to publish dozens of books. Fergusson reminds us that, unlike utopian medievalists like Philip Morris, Cram had no personal fortune to rely on. The early interest on churches was driven by "an entrepreneurial opportunism" and his writing was surely profitable.

My 1930s seminar will read Cram and make up its own mind. The chart from Walled Towns may have absolutely no relevance to the 21st-century student. In my architectural history classes, I often start the discussion of monasticism with an image from 1969 (left), showing three F&M students bidding farewell to single-sex education. The students have here set up a tombstone for "Monas T. Cism, 1787-1969," right next to Old Main (where Nevin unveiled his radical liturgy). The college's seminarian roots make monasticism relevant. The joke was understood in 1969, but when I ask my students about monasticism in class, most have no idea at all. Cram would place 2010 at the bottom of the cultural/monastic curve, but I would hope that he places 1969 at the top.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Demuth & Williams No. 5

Among the rain
and lights
I saw the figure 5
in gold
on a red
to gong clangs
siren howls
and wheels rumbling
through the dark city.

Charles Demuth, The Figure 5 in Gold (1928), Museum of Modern Art, New York
William Carlos Williams, "The Great Figure," Sour Grapes (1921)

Friday, November 05, 2010

Five House Thoughts

In the spirit of Bill Caraher's Friday Quick Hits, I will list five inspiring ideas that emerged last week from lectures and readings

1. Housing Refugees in Lancaster

The Ware Institute for Civic Engagement at Franklin & Marshall has become one of my favorite connectors. One of the Ware Institute's initiatives is to engage F&M students with refugees living in our community, many placed in housing next to our college. This week's Common Hour was organized by the volunteers who assist these refugees and it was very inspiring. I have decided to add a component of architectural analysis on the construction of transient dwelling by these community and engage students in my architectural history classes on first-hand investigations, interviews, analysis, etc. I have been brainstorming with Ware Institute dir. Susan Dicklitch on the right recipe for such a project or internship. Common Hour convinced me of the amazing potential of a refugee architectural angle. In my Spring seminar, Lancaster: Architecture of Faith, I hope to explore new cultural identities in Lancaster through places of worship. In other words, I hope to focus part of the seminar on the role of faith in contemporary transient communities like our Iraqi and Burmese refugees right on College Avenue. I've started to read up on the architecture of camps, see Charlie Hailey, Camps: A Guide to 21st-Century's Space (2009) and I've been following the horrendous refugee housing issues in Greece for a few years.

2. Housing College Women

The third installment of the lectures series that I organized at F&M was devoted to the architecture of women's colleges in Victorian England and the United States: Margaret Vickery "Buildings for Bluestockings: Architectural Design Strategies for Women's Colleges in the 19th Century." Women's colleges stressed a domestic architectural identity and tried hard not to resemble the monastic paradigms of male colleges. While men's colleges were designed around cloisters with free access to individual bachelors, women's colleges were heavily monitored by corridors. Vickery's lecture gave us an opportunity to think about contemporary notions of domesticity in our College House system. Those interested in these issues should read Vickery's The Architecture and Social Space of Women's Colleges in Late Victorian England (1999) and Smith College: The Campus Guide (2007).

3. Housing the Accumulation of Objects

Thanks to the New York Times Home and Garden section, I have discovered a new favorite photographer. Corine May Botz has been photographing the collection of stuff in people's homes. For her M.A. thesis, she photographed the houses of agoraphobics. Monacelli Press has just published another project devoted to Haunted Houses (2010). Botz's most current work explores The Secret Life of Objects and can be previewed in her blog. For the introduction to Botz's work, see Penelope Green, "Documenting Accumulation and Its Discontents," NYT (Nov. 3, 2010). I was thrilled to see reference to architectural historian Anthony Vidler, whose work on the Uncanny has heavily inspired my last paper "Fleshing Out the Byzantine House." My friend Michael Clapper, who works on houses and the ordinary art that people habitually collected (including Kincaid) will surely love Botz, too. Maybe we can invite her to speak at F&M.

4. Housing in Global Highrises

Domestic vistas--psychotic or voyeuristic--also come through global perspectives. Take a peak at the Highrise Project. Click here and see Katerina Cizek's "Out My Window," 360 degrees of vertical domesticities across the world.

5. Writers' Windows

Matteo Pericoli is well known for his long architectural drawings of Manhattan. Pericoli began a new series featuring views out of the windows of well known contemporary writers throughout the. Four installments have been published in the New York Times, views out of the apartments of Orhan Pamuk in Istanbul, Daniel Kehlman in Berlin, Andrea Levy in London, and Ryu Murakami in Tokyo.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Train Wave

The main decorative motif at Pennsylvania Station in Lancaster is a stylized wave that runs around the entire waiting room. Although Pennsylvania Station in Philadelphia is sparsely decorated, the same motif is visible inside the marble door frames. Here is a sketch of Philadelphia's train wave (1930):
... and Lancaster's train wave (1929).
I do not know enough about the Pennsylvania Railroad company to identify the wave as a corporate logo. But I do find it very evocative of the notion of movement through space, the blowing of steam and the rolling wheels articulated through the static language of classical architecture. Lancaster's station replicates the wave throughout the station, on the wooden seas and on the exterior facade:

Location: 40°03'25.70"N, 76°18'27.60"W
53 McGovern Avenue, Lancaster, PA 17602

Monday, October 11, 2010

Fleshing Out the Byzantine House

Yesterday morning, I gave a paper at the 36th Annual Byzantine Studies Conference. My paper included archaeological data from Athens, Corinth, Chersonesos, Sicily and Egypt and focused on fetuses buried under house floors (not uncommon). The introduction and the conclusion of the paper were formally written but the case studies were extemporaneously presented from the slides. The paper was just the beginning of a longer article that I hope to write soon, but I offer the draft here. One can cite the paper as, Kostis Kourelis, "Fleshing Out the Byzantine House," Byzantine Studies Conference Abstracts 36 (2010) 117-118, where the following text is published. I should also note that this paper originated from this blog, see Byzantine Children Burials (Aug. 28, 2008). I want to thank all of you who responded in person or by email to that posting. It illustrates for me the value of blogging and the free exchange of ideas.



The mutable nature of domestic architecture has guaranteed the disappearance of most houses from the extant material record visible to the architectural historian. Thanks to commemorative and ritual functions, on the other hand, churches survive in greater numbers and are deployed to tell the whole story of Byzantine architecture. Recent efforts to fill this domestic gap have produced a corpus of houses excavated with greater sensitivity towards anthropological rather than formal architectural questions.

New archaeological evidence allows us to, literally, flesh out the Byzantine house through its engagement in precise ecologies, its inclusion of organic matter and even its incorporation of human bodies. A softer archaeological lens reveals soft tissues of domestic architecture less evident under the harder lens of architectural studies. We look at three categories of artifacts. First, we consider the burial of family members within the house floors. Fetus burials from Athens, domestic family tombs from Chersonesos, or hospice burials from Corinth highlight the Byzantine practice of in-house burials. Second, we consider other living forms involved in the construction of Byzantine houses. A geological study of mortar samples from the Peloponnesos reveals the incorporation of organic material in the making of the walls, typically collected from the community’s own trash heaps. Such organic inclusions complement our knowledge of animal sacrifice during foundation rituals. Third, we consider the ecological niches that different Byzantine settlements engage and the environmental exploitation evident in the houses, from the woods used in construction to the woods used in firing the hearths.

If we admit all this organic evidence into the discussion, we can stipulate an anthropological tension between hard and soft architectural entities. Walls, floors and ceilings formed the physical envelope of Byzantine life. Houses prescribed social life (eating, sleeping, working, playing, praying, procreating) but also embodied deceased organic life. Investigating this type of flesh more broadly allows us to challenge our assumptions of architectural meaning in Byzantium. Masonry was not an inert as the modern scholar would have it. Masonry lived, breathed, listened and occasionally spoke.

Houses are a paradigmatic building type that cannot be separated from the processes of developmental psychology. From early childhood, houses articulate the distinction between animate and inanimate powers that culture proceeds to formulate. To use Sigmund Freud’s terminology, our notion of home incorporates its correlate, “the unhomely” or “uncanny.” Contemporary architectural theory has embraced Freud’s canonical essay on (“Unheimlich,” 1925) in the postmodern armature. Marrying the theoretical uncanny with new archaeological data sheds light on the Byzantine house and throws a wrench (perhaps a toy-wrench) into the stony assumptions of Byzantine architectural history.

My Powerpoint presentation had 60 slides but, unfortunately, I cannot include it here because much of what I showed is still unpublished. The image above is an Early Byzantine doll excavated in Karanis and now at the Kelsey Museum, see E. Gazda, Karanis: An Egyptian Town in Roman Times (Ann Arbor, 1983) 29, fig. 52, reprinted in Maguire et al., Art and Holy Power in the Early Christian House (Champagne Urbana, 1989) 228, no. 146.

I was thrilled to be included in a wonderful company of papers. The panel was not organized in advance, but was selected from blind abstract submissions. Good job to the program committee and the speakers for a truly thought-provoking morning. Stay tuned because we might be podcasting all the papers.

Session VIIC: Sunday, Oct. 10, 2010, 9:00-11:30

Chair: Ida Sinkevic (Lafayette College)

Fleshing Out the Byzantine House
Kostis Kourelis (Franklin & Marshall College)

The Past is Noise: Architectural Contexts and the Soundways of Byzantium
Amy Papalexandrou (Austin, TX)

The Materiality of Medieval Monastic Spaces in Egypt
Darlene L. Brooks Hestrom (Wittenberg University)

Cave-Cells and Ascetic Practice in Byzantine and Crusader Paphos
Nikolas Bakirtzis (The Cyprus Institute)

Miracle and Monastic Space: Hermitage of St. Petar of Korisa
Svetlana Smolcic-Mkuljevic (Faculty of IT, Belgrade)

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Train Track Classicism

Pennsylvania Station at 30th Street is one of the greatest monuments of Beaux Arts classicism in Philadelphia. Louis Kahn insisted that every visitor to the city enter through this monument (rather than by car or airplane). The building was part of an ambitious urban development project unrealized because of the Great Depression. Its architects, Graham, Anderson, Probst and White were the survivors of Daniel Burnham's firm, founded in 1912 after Burnham died. Burnham is one of the most important urbanist in the U.S., best known for his 1893 Chicago World's Fair, the City Beautiful Movement, the 1901 Washington D.C. Plan, etc. A couple of years before he died, Burnham had also designed the Wanamaker Department Store in Philadelphia (1910). His firm continued his urbanist ideas in 30th Street Station and the Terminal Tower Complex in Cleveland (1916-34). Both projects explore the movement between town and suburbs, made possible by regional rail lines. For a short overview of this historical moment, see "System and Flow," in Dell Upton's textbook, Architecture in the United States (1998), pp. 197-206.

I have been looking at 30th Street Station for years, but I recently noticed a thought-provoking detail, two pairs of horizontal lines set against the canonical Corinthian base of the exterior facade. They ran along the piers and the exterior wall, across the bases of the 10 large columns that frame the west and east porches. These four lines are the only protrusions in the otherwise flat facade. At one reading, they should be read as streamlined projections of the Ionic and Corinthian spira. Looking at my drawing above, you see that the large Corinthian bases have two scotia and an exaggerated spira in the middle (with two protruding bands). The double scotia is picked up on the wall across from the column base. Interpreted outside the learned rules of the classical orders, however, the four lines are literal translations of tracks, lifted 90 degrees from plan into elevation. They graphically represent the ingoing and outgoing rail lines visible on the ground. Once you recognize them, you find these bands throughout the station. Placed at the level of the human body, moreover, the bands illustrate the rushed passage that travelers take through the station on their way to their train track above or below.

The detail, thus, speaks multiple languages, traditional, modern and phenomenological. This is what I love about 1930s American architecture. It is caught in the tension between traditionalism and modernism, which is usually swept over in the heroic narrative of modernism (thanks to Siegfied Gideion). I hope to illuminate more tensions of this sort in a seminar that I just proposed for the Spring, "The 1930s: Building American Modernity."

Location: 39°57'20.16"N, 75°10'57.47"W
30th & Market Streets, Philadelphia, PA 19104

Friday, September 24, 2010

African Spiritual Healing in Athens

Walking back from the ACS courier service office near Vathi Square, Athens, an African immigrant handed me this small sheet of paper, advertising his office of spiritual healing. The leaflet is a testament to the multicultural realities of modern Athens and the availability of African spiritual practices to the desperate economic times. By posting it on my blog, I hope to rescue it from historical oblivion and offer it as a primary source for Greek history. We need to all be collecting the ephemera of globalization, which is wonderfully undigital. This text is as low budget as texts can get. It is printed, distributed and discarded and along the way, its author hopes, two people would have made a contact. This piece of paper is a textual medium that will bring together a Greek native and an African immigrant. The advertisement reads as follows (in English and Greek):


Over 20 years experience no matter what your problems are I can help you solve the most difficult once in the fastest way than any one does even when you have been disappointed by other spiritualists. I can bring the loved once more than they are before. I can bring unknown one in love. I also give powerful talisman for protection. Impotency sexual court case exams carrier. Successful business depression and many other things."


Πάνω από 20 χρόνια εμπειρίας ανεξάρτητα από το ποια είναι τα προβλήματα σας. Μπορώ να σας βοηθήσω να λύσετε τα δυσκολότερα από αυτά στον μικρότερο χρόνο από οποιονδήποτε άλλον ακόμα και αν έχετε απογοητευθεί από άλλους πνευματιστές. Μπορώ να κάνω άγνωστους μεταξύ τους ανθρώπους να ερωτευθούν. Επίσης δίνω πανίσχυρο φυλακτό για προστασία. Λύνω σημαντικές δικαστικές υποθέσεις σεξουαλικού περιεχομένου. Επιτυχίες Επαγγελματικές συμβουλές και πολλά άλλα."

One of the most fundamental transformations of Greece happening this very moment is the globalization of its citizenship. Anyone that has walked around Omonia, Kypseli, Patissia and other 1960s middle-class neighborhoods cannot fail to notice the minority of Greeks. The demographics have affected the political discussion, sometimes toward intolerance (the right) or old-school labor naivete (the left). What we might now call "inner city" public schools tell an amazing demographic story. Practically every year, I direct American undergraduates in archaeological projects in Greece. The multicultural reality is the first thing that they notice. Nevertheless, American programs in Greece have failed to capitalize on the sociological potential. Arcadia's program is a noteworthy exception, which incorporates an element of civic service, beyond the traditional grand tourism.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

1915 Lombardic Letters: Evans Building

I have marveled at the medieval script used in The Thomas W. Evans Museum and Dental Institute, School of Dentistry, University of Pennsylvania (1915). The less formal eastern entrance employs Lombardic letters (seen here) while the more formal southern entrance uses Gothic black letter. This historical incongruity illustrates a degree of interpretive freedom. I have only sketched the top line of the inscription. Drawing it, rather than photographing it, is the best way that I can understand it. The font is lively with curving serifs and squeezed round volumes. I was also intrigued by the three-dimensional contrast in the four capital letters of the inscription. Whereas all the other letters protrude from the surface of the wall, the capitals are recessed. The three limestone blocks illustrated in the drawing above measure ca. 6 1/2 ft. by 13 in.

I direct you to historical photos of the entire complex, including a view of the southern portal, see Harold D. Eberlein, "Two Dental Buildings in Philadelphia and Boston," Architectural Record 37, no. 6 (June 1915) 517-534.

Although not very well known, the architect of the Evans Building was John Windrim, who designed over 200 buildings in the Philadelphia area, including the Wanamaker Memorial Tower (1908) next to Saint James the Less (1846), the most important Ecclesiological building in the U.S. and many Bell Telephone stations. John Windrim inherited his father's firm, the office of James Windrim, who designed the Masonic Temple across the street from City Hall (1873), and my favorite bridge over the Schuylkill, the metal Falls Bridge (1895). For more information on the building and projects of Windrim, see the Philadelphia Architects and Buildings database.

Thomas W. Evans (1823-1897) is buried just a few blocks southwest of his dental foundation at Woodland Cemetery. His grave is one of the grandest monuments, a towering gray obelisk.

My F&M colleagues will be interested to know that Evans started his dental career in Lancaster. He made his fortune, however, by settling in Paris, introducing gold tooth feelings to Europe and becoming the dentist and adviser to Napoleon III. According to his obituary, he attended the teeth of Europe's royalty from Queen Victoria to the Ottoman sultan.

Location: 39°57'07.15"N, 75°12'11.34"W
40th & Spruce Streets, Philadelphia, PA 19104

Friday, September 17, 2010

Time Definite Services

I was riding behind this truck on the Schuylkill Expressway and I was really overtaken by the graphics of this company from Illinois, Time Definite Services, Inc. The logo shows an analog clock with its circumference growing in thickness. The hands end with an airplane and a truck. I especially liked the truck pictogram for its clarity, and its economical perspective. I admit that part of this sketch was done while driving.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Main Line

Pictorial notes -- looking out of the window -- Main Line train ride from Amtrak 30th Street Station (top left) to Overbrook (bottom right)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Main Line

Quick drawing, view from train, rolling out of 30th Street Station on Main Line. Drawing on arbitrary homework assignment in hand

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Masons of the Morea

Dimitri Nakassis asked me about secondary literature on architectural labor in vernacular Greece, so I’m taking the opportunity to gather up a few thoughts. Although the study of vernacular architecture in Greece begins ca. 1925, early folklorists and architectural historians were more interested in the formal principles of houses and their decoration rather than the labor that produced it and its organization. For the early studies, see Demetris Pikionis, Angeliki Hadjimichali, Anastasios Orlandos and George Megas. The 1920s generation set up the educational infrastructure of research at the Polytechneion, where every graduating architect and engineer went out into the rural provinces and produced painstaking documentation of the surviving stock. It was not until the 1960s, that attention turned onto the sociology of architectural labor.

In summary, architectural labor from the 18th to the early 20th century was organized in itinerant groups of masons. They would specialize on the finer aspects of construction, such as the corners, quoins, the windows, openings and roofing and would hire local work for the unspecialized work, such as building infill walls. Itinerant masons typically came from mountainous villages that had little access to agricultural land. The best known masons of the 19th century were Albanians. With no work at home, they would be gone for most of the year, leaving behind the womenfolk to raise the family. They would return to their villages for one or two months every year and, if lucky, succeed in impregnating their wives. Itinerant masons occasionally migrated to new territories where there was demand, thus, creating a new local tradition. For instance, Albanian masons settled in Peloponnesian mountain villages, like Langadia in Arcadia, turning those new villages into “mason villages” (μαστοροχώρια). It’s a bit ironic that during the 1980s and 1990s, a new wave of Albanian masons found themselves as the new builders of the countryside given the shortage of male hands. What is different with this immigration wave, however, is that Albanian workmen were exploited by Greek contractors. Although the new Albanians retained a lot more knowledge of stone-masonry than the 1980s Greeks, they had undergone a transformation. Isolated geographically by the Iron Curtain, they lost the labor market that had allowed them to perfect their art. New material, like concrete, had already transformed the Albanian building trades. Sadly, the typical Albanian stonework of the 1980s-2000s is characterized by goops of concrete rolling between stones. Much of this Albanian stonework is decorative stone applied over a concrete structure.

By the early 19th century, the Peloponnesian masons were in such great demand that the new nation-state would explicitly recruit them to build the new capital of Athens. The pride of Peloponnesian stonemasons working in Athens can be seen, for instance, in a mason’s graffiti on the Temple of Sounion from ca. 1920s. The life of the itinerant stone mason was tough. The group was hierarchical according to seniority and expertise. The masons also developed their own language and technical vocabulary. Since these groups of men spent so much time together, they filled their workday with talk. And in order that the local populations not understand exactly what they were saying, some anthropologists argue, they developed their own code. This code language has been well documented. As one might expect, a lot of it is gender specific and sexist. One of the mason’s vocabulary that made it into modern Greek usage is “boulouki” which describes the social group. With the advent of reinforced concrete (beton arme), traditional building crafts and their organization disappeared. Since this happened so much later in Greece than in the industrial European north, Greece offers a good case study. Certain specialized crafts, like plasterers were still needed to decorate the concrete frames. They survived well into the 1960s and 1970s (and Miltiadis Katsaros is documenting them). Marble working specialists were artificially resuscitated with the opening of the Penteli quarries for the building of Neoclassical Athens in the 19th century. Interestingly enough, the staggering resources devoted to the restoration of the Acropolis (one of the longest uncompleted projects) has also sustained a group of stonemasons from the islands of Paros, Naxos and the islands with marble quarries.

And now a few words about the secondary literature. While documenting vernacular architecture in Eleia and Achaia, the Morea Project conducted a few interviews on the mason traditions. Mary Coulton (folklorist at Oxford) supervised that part of the project. Unfortunately, we have not published this adequately, but see Frederick A. Cooper, Kostis Kourelis et al. Houses of the Morea: Vernacular Architecture of the Northwestern Peloponnese (1250-1950) (Athens, 2004). On the Greek side, the absolutely best starting point on the architecture of vernacular architecture is Giannis Kizis publication on the construction of houses in Mount Peleion. Kizis teaches at the Polytechneion in Athens. Unlike his predecessors (Pikionis, Orlandos, etc.) who were interested in formal features and the expression of Hellenism, Kizis has brought Greek vernacular architectural studies to the standards of international scholarship. The study on Mount Peleion is an exemplary synthetic work, see Giannis Kizis, Η Πηλιορείτικη οικοδομία. Η αρχιτεκτονική της κατοικίας στο Πήλιο από τον 17ο στον 19ο αιώνα (Athens, 1994). Since the 1990s, Kizis has turned into a restorations dynamo, and some have complained that his professional practice has overtaken his scholarly focus.

On the anthropological study of the traditional masons, my favor author is Chrestos G. Konstantinopoulos, who has done a lot some serious data gathering, see Οι παραδοσιακοί χτίστες της Πελοποννήσου. Ιστορική και λαογραφική μελέτη (The Traditional Masons of the Peloponnese: Historical and Ethnographic Study) (Athens, 1983), and Η μαθητεία στις κομπανίες των χτιστών της Πελοποννήσου (Education in the Mason Companies of the Peloponnese) (Athens, 1987). The latter includes a very amusing glossary of the masonic code language. Although problematic with its methodology, Melissa’s Παραδοσιακή Αρχιτεκτονική στην Ελλάδα (Vernacular Architecture in Greece) is still pretty informative. One of my favorite recent studies about the transformation of building labor under colonialism is Michael Given’s study of Cyprus under the British, see The Archaeology of the Colonized (London and New York, 2004), photo above from National Geographic (1928).

I'm sure there is so much more to say about the scholarship of Greek vernacular masons, but these are the first thoughts that come to mind.

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States