JOURNAL — Assorted Thoughts RSS



America’s Great Storyteller

On this day in 1835, in Florida, Missouri, one of America’s great story tellers was born. Growing-up in Hannibal, MO, Samuel Langhorne Clemens—better known as Mark Twain—was immersed in the small town American life which would so richly inform his novels and stories.  His books are American Classics;  The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are considered amongst America’s finest, some 13 decades after being published.  His characters, their relationships, and the moral lessons they learn have kept Twain’s writings popular with each emerging generation of readers. But Twain had far from an easy-going life.  He bounced amongst professions (like mining and piloting Mississippi river boats) before settling on writing and lecturing.  He made good money in his lifetime...

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55 Years On

Fifty-five years ago today, our country was changed forever.  Today, let's recall and give thanks for America's true leaders—the presidents who brought out the best in our Nation and its people. Wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving.

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Vote for your Life!

It's easy to take one's democracy for granted.  Many of us think it's "a permanent part of the scenery."  But democracy hasn't always been a given—in fact, even today, many Americans struggle to cast their vote at the polls.   In modern world history, democracy has been taken away from people who couldn't imagine it happening; citizens in Germany, Spain, Italy, Chile, Hungary, and many Eastern European nations lost their political voices (and many lost their lives).  And lest one think that this only happened back in "the bad old days," the rise of anti-democratic factions is on the rise, worldwide. In America, though we are not immune from the Fascist manipulations of Nationalists, we do enjoy a history of embracing an...

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Feast of Saint Teresa

The Ecstasy of St. Teresa by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1647-52) Saint Teresa of Avila was born in Gottarrendura, Spain in 1515.  After a rather normal girlhood, Teresa lost her mother, plunging the 14 year old girl into profound sadness.  She developed a strengthened devotion to Mary but also took solace in “frivolous” books about knights, […]

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A Day for Painters

“Narcissus” by Caravaggio, c. 1597-1599 (Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica, Rome) 29 September seems to be a day for painters.  Venetian Baroque artist Jacopo Comin (aka: Tintoretto, 1518)), Milanese bad boy Michelangelo Merisi (aka: Caravaggio, 1571), and Parisian Rococo painter François Boucher (1703) were all born on this day. Sadly, artists have left us on this […]

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Seventeen Years On

Seventeen years on.  It's remarkable to ponder how much has changed—and yet, where has the time gone?  New York and the Nation largely have bounced-back.  Yet, for those who escaped with their lives—and for the survivors of those who did not—life will never be the same.   LEO Design's Greenwich Village store is now permanently closed.  While we contemplate our next shop location, please visit our on-line store which continues to operate  (www.LEOdesignNYC.com). Follow us on Instagram: "leodesignhandsomegifts" Follow us on Facebook: "LEO Design - Handsome Gifts"

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Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres

Self-portrait of the artist at the age of 24 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) On this day in 1780, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres was born to Jean-Marie-Joseph Ingres, himself a bit of an artistic dabbler and would-be Renaissance Man.  With his father’s encouragement, the son would develop his skill and eventually become one of France’s most […]

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Last Chance for LEO

Today’s the final day of Leo.  Tomorrow, the sun moves into Virgo, a sure sign that summer is running its final lap. Enjoy what remains of a beautiful summer and remember:  It’s always Leo at LEO Design.

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A Fiftieth State

On this day in 1959, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a proclamation dissolving the Territory of Hawaii and declaring that Hawaii was now admitted into the Union.  Congress had previously passed “An Act to Provide for the Admission of the State of Hawaii into the Union”—and the people of Hawaii voted (by 93%!) for statehood. […]

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A New Federal Holiday

On this day in 1870, Congress declared Christmas a U.S. Federal Holiday. With five months to go before the start of this year’s Holiday Season, LEO Design is already writing orders, traveling to build-up inventory, and preparing for another busy December.  Here’s a picture of a punched-tin Christmas sign which I just found in Western Pennsylvania and may […]

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Russia’s Great Léon Bakst

Lev Samoilovitch Rosenberg—later known as Léon Bakst—was born on this day in Grodno, Russia (which is in modern day Belarus).  He grew-up in Saint Petersberg where his grandfather was a skilled tailor whose service to the Tsar was rewarded with a large house and generous wage.  Though his middle-class parents didn’t encourage it, Léon was […]

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J. C. Leyendecker

If one artist is responsible for “inventing” the image of the American male in the early Twentieth Century, surely it was Joseph Christian Leyendecker, born on this day in 1874. Leyendecker was born in Montabaur, Germany and his family immigrated to Chicago when the boy was eight.  In time, he got work in an engraving […]

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“Il Divino”

Only one person can be “The Best Ever” and, in the world of art, that person is Michelangelo Buonarroti. Born on this day in 1475, Michelangelo was in the right place at the right time. Or, perhaps thanks to Michelangelo, his time became the right place and the right time. A sculptor, painter, architect, engineer and poet, […]

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Sir Henry Raeburn

“The Skating Minister” by Henry Raeburn (1790’s) Nat’l Gallery of Scotland On this day in 1756, Henry Raeburn was born in a small Scottish village, now a part of greater Edinburgh.  Orphaned very young, Henry was supported by his older brother for a while until being placed in Heriot’s Hospital, an orphanage founded by goldsmith George […]

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The Metropolitan Museum of Art Opens

Madame X (detail) by John Singer Sargent (1884) In 1870, a group of American businessmen, artists, and society types joined forces to establish a grand, new American art museum—its goal to bring art and culture to the American people.  Perhaps they also wished to show Europe that “the new country” had the taste, money, and wherewithal […]

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Louis Comfort Tiffany

On this day in 1848, Louis Comfort Tiffany was born in New York City.  His father, Charles Lewis Tiffany, was a jeweler and the founder of Tiffany & Co.  After military schooling, Louis studied art in New York City with a concentration on painting.  Soon, however, his interest was diverted by art glass and the […]

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Saint Valentine’s Day

Valentinus was a third century Roman priest living during the reign of Claudius II.  He aided other persecuted Christians—at a time when this was illegal—and was known especially for marrying Christian couples.  Eventually, he was captured and dragged before the emperor where it seems he made a good impression, for the ruler took a liking […]

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A King is Felled

While we’re talking about Tragic Monarchs, let’s turn to England’s Charles I.  On this day in 1649, King Charles I was beheaded after being convicted of High Treason. Born the second son of James I (who was already King of the Scots), Charles moved to England when his father acquired the English crown.  When he […]

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A Queen Ascends

On this day in 1891, in Honolulu, bells tolled and cannon fired as Lili’uokalani ascended the throne, succeeding her brother who had died days before.  She became the first queen to hold the Hawaiian throne by her own right, not as a “queen consort.”  But getting to the throne—and staying there—was not easy. She was […]

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The Lion Has Landed!

Today it becomes official:  LEO Design has a new and permanent “World Headquarters!” On a tree-lined street near the University of Pittsburgh, we have secured the house of our dreams—with space for an office and plenty of room for merchandise. In the basement, the wood-paneled Servant’s Hall will become my workshop and showroom for cleaning, […]

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What’s New is Old

Standing on the sidewalk before my (soon-to-be) new home in Pittsburgh, I marvel at this wonderful 1930’s Gothic Revival (and Art Deco-ish) architectural masterpiece, the University of Pittsburgh’s “Cathedral of Learning.”  Like the Empire State Building, it was opened in 1931—when it hosted its first class in one of its 2,000 rooms.  It stands 535 […]

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One Last Glance Out My Window

For the past 23 years—which is just a touch longer than LEO Design has resided in Greenwich Village—this has been the magnificent view which greeted me out my living room window.  It never got old.  Today I gazed wistfully at the scene one last time.  Just an hour before, we had closed the sale of […]

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Ending Where I Began

Twenty-two years ago, I opened a little shop on Bleecker Street.  I had no idea what I was doing.  I had little idea of what I liked.  And I had no idea how long this gambol would continue.  What I did know was what I wanted to do:  I wanted to sell “Handsome Gifts.”  I […]

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Time & Tide

Time and Tide wait for no man.  And the economic laws which lay-heavy on small shops (like mine) never lighten for a minute.  Like with gravity, one can fight the inevitable (for a while) but, sooner or later, Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” will knock you off the table. Tomorrow is our day.  It’s been a […]

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Epiphany

The Epiphany is a Christian holiday commemorating the revelation of Christ to the Gentiles, traditionally told through the story of The Three Magi.  The holiday is also called “Three Kings Day” and some Christian denominations exchange gifts on this day.  In England, the evening before Epiphany (5 January) is called “Twelfth Night” and Epiphany is […]

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Turn! Turn! Turn!

To everything there is a season.   And a time to every purpose under heaven. A time to build-up, a time to knock-down. A time to dance, a time to mourn.  A time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones together.   The season has passed—twenty-two of them, in fact.  And so, […]

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Happy New Year!

“Boy, am I glad that’s over!”         Today LEO Design will be open from Noon ’til 6:00 pm. See new merchandise first!  Follow us on Instagram: “leodesignhandsomegifts”

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Happy Thanksgiving!

Norman Rockwell:  “Freedom from Want” (1941-1943)   Based on President FDR’s speech. While this image does not look like most American families—it doesn’t look like mine—I believe all Americans can aspire to (and hope for) a Freedom from Want. Wishing our LEO Design customers and staff a Happy and Relaxing Thanksgiving.  We look forward to […]

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The Best and the Worst

Fifteen years on.  It was a day on which everything changed.  And, yet, some things have not changed at all. Is it possible that our worst day brought-out our best?  On that day—and perhaps for a few days that followed—Americans were united as one people.  But oh, what a price to pay for that unity.

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Lady Aprile Foulin

On this day in 1893, a secret meeting was convened at 121 Regent Street, London.  In attendance were some of Britain’s leading Arts & Crafts designers, artists and influencers: William Morris, John Ruskin, Christopher Dresser, Edward Burne-Jones, John Pearson, Archibald Knox and Charles Rennie Mackintosh.  They had not been informed of the purpose of the […]

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SNOW DAY!

Plenty of shoveling—and one intrepid customer (so far). As it gets colder, darker and deeper, we may close early.  Please call before coming (212-929-8466). And, by all means, stay safe. We’ll be open at Noon tomorrow.

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Happy Birthday, Benji Boy!

Today Benji turns three! For the past two-and-a-half years, little Benji has been making occasional appearances at LEO Design—greeting customers, inspecting new arrivals, and, basically, enhancing the Handsome ambience and color scheme of the shop.  When he’s not in-store, he remains at home at his other job: supervising my partner’s work as a stage scenic […]

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Wishes for a Sweet New Year!

Shanah Tovah to all and a good Rosh Hashanah!  May the year 5776 be a sweet one! The name, Rosh Hashanah, roughly translated, means “head of the year,” and marks the start of the Hebrew calendar. It is the first of the High Holy Days and the date which commemorates the creation of Adam and […]

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Long Live the Queen!

Today Queen Elizabeth II becomes the longest-reigning monarch in English history, surpassing the prior title-holder, Queen Victoria.  She is now also the longest-reigning female monarch in world history. Born Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor, she succeeded her father, King George VI, upon his death on 6 February 1952.  She was 26.  She came to the throne […]

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Emergency Services

In “the old days”—before direct-dial telephones—one would ring the operator and she would connect you to your desired party. In the event of an emergency, the operator (who was often local) would connect you with the fire department, police or a doctor (whom she happened to know was in-town at that moment).  As phones became […]

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Stonewall, Remembered

The Stonewall Inn was a restaurant and bar in Greenwich Village.  In 1966, three mafiosi bought the Inn and re-opened it as a gay bar.  It quickly became popular because management allowed dancing—despite NYC law forbidding men dancing together.  Indeed, it was illegal to even serve a drink to a “known homosexual.” The Stonewall had […]

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A Nine Month Facelift

After enduring nine months of scaffolding outside our shop, finally it has been removed, revealing a beautifully-restored nineteenth century brick building!  What’s more, new shop lights over our awning provide a rosy, nighttime glow.  We’re thrilled to be able to breathe again!  Please stop by to see “the improved location.”

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Passover

The Book of Exodus tells us the story of the Jews in Egypt—enslaved by Pharaoh—and how God freed them, to be lead-out of the desert by Moses.  In the story, God inflicts ten plagues upon the Egyptians, culminating with “The Death of the First-born.”  On the appointed night, the spirit of the Lord came over […]

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Gustav Reconsidered

Long considered the “gold standard” of the American Arts & Crafts Movement, Gustav Stickley is generating quite a buzz some seven decades after his death—and Stickley furniture collectors are none too happy about it! At last month’s “National Arts & Crafts Conference” in Asheville, North Carolina, the great grand nephew of Gustav Stickley was invited […]

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Retail Rising

In 1857, New York City merchant E.V. Haughwout (pronounced “How-it”) built a five story building at 488 Broadway (and Broome) to house his emporium of expensive luxury goods including antiques, silver, crystal, china, chandeliers, bronzes and other irresistible treasures. His carriage trade clientele included Mrs. Lincoln who purchased the White House’s hand-painted china at his […]

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The Other Great Snowfall

With two months of snow and freeze behind us—hopefully!—it’s worth looking-back on the poor NYC denizens of 1888.  On this day of that year, after a period of unseasonably warm weather, “The Great Blizzard of 1888” struck the East Coast, dumping 50+ inches of snow on parts of the Eastern Seaboard over a three day […]

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Heading Home

After a week of visiting my family on Kauai, I head back to New York today.  I’ve had a brief reprieve from single-digit temperatures and a chance to “stretch the legs” of my camera—which is so used to tight, up-close merchandise shots.  Above, a photo of Makaleha, visible from my father’s front deck.  Roughly translated […]

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Welcome in the New Year!

Shop dog extraordinaire, Benji—and the rest of the LEO Design staff—wish you a Happy New Year and look-forward to seeing you in the shop in 2015. From 26 December through New Year’s Day, LEO Design is open from noon to 6:00 pm daily.

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Boxing Day

In times past, English servants were required to work on Christmas—serving the family for the holiday.  Their special day was 26 December—Boxing Day—when they would receive their presents and have a day of ease. For me, I begin my next buying trip today.  As you read this, I am headed to Western Pennsylvania, West Virginia, […]

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Ukrainian Independence Day

The Ukrainian flag flies bright and crisp—a clear blue sky over a golden wheat field.  Today is Independence Day of Ukraine and it commemorates the country’s Declaration of Independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Celebrations are held throughout Ukraine, as well as in Brussels (capital of the European Union), Chicago, and (sometimes) in Russia. […]

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M. C. Escher

On this day in 1898, Maurits Cornelius Escher was born in Leeuwarden, capital of Friesland, Northern Netherlands.  Poor Maurits suffered poor health which affected his academics—he was always a poor student except when it came to art and drawing.  He was accepted into The Haarlem School of Architecture and Decorative Arts, where he studied architecture […]

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Dante Gabriel Rossetti

On this day in 1828, Anglo-Italian painter and poet Gabriel Dante Rossetti was born in London to a Sicilian father and half-Italian mother.  As a young man, enchanted with the literature, art and culture of Medieval Italy, he rearranged the order of his name to Dante Gabriel Rossetti—an homage to the towering 13th Century poet. […]

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Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux

Sculptor extraordinaire, Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, was born on this day in 1827, in the little French village of Valenciennes, near the Belgian border.  His father was a stone mason and the boy inherited his father’s talent for working with stone. Carpeaux is among the greatest sculptors of the Nineteenth Century, much-commissioned for Emperor Napoleon III and […]

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America’s Great Woodsman-Artist

On this day in 1785, Jean Rabin Audubon was born on the French colony of Saint-Domingue—now called Haiti.  His father was a French naval officer who owned a sugar plantation there;  his mother was the man’s mistress.  The senior Audubon was an “active man”; the young Audubon grew-up amongst a number of half siblings of […]

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The First Lady of Song

On this day in 1917, the world was graced with the incomparably-talented Ella Fitzgerald, America’s “First Lady of Song.”  A difficult childhood (and challenging final years) could not suppress Ella’s talents—or her legacy as one of the world’s greatest vocalists. Ella was born in Newport News, Virginia but soon was moved to Yonkers, New York […]

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The “Cathedral of Commerce”

On this evening in 1913, President Woodrow Wilson flipped an electrical switch in Washington, DC, thus lighting-up the Woolworth Building in New York City.  The world’s tallest skyscraper—dubbed “The Cathedral of Commerce—was officially opened! Begun in 1910, the building was originally conceived as a 20-story office building to headquarter the F. W. Woolworth Corporation.  Three […]

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Boston Patriots

The date 19 April 1775 marks the Battles of Lexington and Concord—the first two armed conflicts which began the American Revolutionary War.  And, since 1894, Massachusetts has commemorated the day as Patriots’ Day.  Costumed re-enactments are staged at Lexington Green and Concord’s Old North Bridge. And, naturally, a mounted horseman re-traces the route of Paul […]

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The Canterbury Tales

It was just before sunrise on this day in 1387.  A group of religious pilgrims gathered at the Tabard Inn in Southwark (part of modern-day Central London), about to begin their four day journey.  60 miles to the west stood their destination: The Canterbury Cathedral, specifically the shrine of Saint Thomas Beckett.  Beckett, who had […]

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A Host of Golden Daffodils!

I wandered lonely as a cloud That floats on high o’er vales and hills, When all at once I saw a crowd, A host, of golden daffodils! -William Wordsworth, 1804 On this day in 1802, English poet Willam Wordsworth and his sister, Dorothy, were enjoying a walk around Glencoyne Bay in the Lake District in […]

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Resting in Peace

In 2005, British Arts & Crafts collector Edward Smith decided he’d like to combine his two loves—his family’s (retired) Sussex, England farmland and his collection of Arts & Crafts pottery, metalwork, textiles and furniture.  In a clearing amongst the trees on his property, Smith has been creating a cemetery expressly for the remains of notable […]

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Beware the Ides of March

In the ancient Roman calendar, the “Ides” were the mid-point in a month—either the 13th or 15th, depending on the length of that particular month.  Each month’s Ides were celebrated in honor of Rome’s top deity, Jupiter, and a “scapegoat” was paraded and sacrificed to that god. The Ides of March—15 March—was extra-special since March […]

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An Artist is Born

Daumier’s The Third Class Carriage (detail) 1862-64 (MMA) On this day in 1808, French artist Honoré Daumier was born in Marseille.  Daumier’s father, a working class tradesman with dreams of becoming a poet, moved his young son and family to Paris in pursuit of his goal.  Young Honoré soon became interested in art and eventually […]

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Hagia Sophia

The Hagia Sophia as seen from The Sea of Marmara during my visit to Istanbul On this day in 532, Byzantine Emperor Justinian ordered that a new, grand cathedral was to be built in Constantinople.  The previous church had been attacked and burned to the ground not two weeks before.  Justinian was determined that the […]

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An Assassin Dies

We finish our three day detour through the lives of Tragic Monarchs with the death of a king’s would-be assassin, which happened on this day in 1606. Guy Fawkes was an English Catholic and part of a group who sought to restore the English throne to (in their view) its rightful, Catholic monarch.  They also […]

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Boxing Day

Today is “Boxing Day,” the day in England (and other Commonwealth Countries) when the staff are given their gifts and given the day off.  It is a public holiday in most of the British former-colonial countries. As LEO Design staff had yesterday off, we are open today: Noon ’till 6:00 pm. As for me, I […]

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Christmas Eve

It’s Christmas Eve and the season will be over in a few hours. LEO Design will be closing at 8:00 pm this evening.  Until then, we’re ready and happy to help you in-shop, by-phone, or on-line.  Please visit, call, or view the on-line shop. Wishing you a Merry Christmas!

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It’s Cyber Monday!

For those who know me, I was amongst the last of the Luddites.  I had to be dragged (kicking and screaming) into the on-line world. Two things precipitated my capitulation.  First, I moved my shop—two blocks and a world away—and wanted my established customers to be able to find me. Web Genius Brad Soucy and […]

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Happy Thanksgiving

I am thankful for the good things in my life.  My customers, my employees, and my shop certainly are amongst these blessings. Happy Thanksgiving! LEO Design is closed today as we complete our Holiday decorating.  We will reopen tomorrow at noon. Here’s wishing you a Happy Holiday Season.

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All Saints’ Day

San Francisco de Asis by Francisco de Zurbarán, c. 1660 The Triduum of Hallowmas is a three day observance in the Catholic (and the greater Christian) church:  All Hallows’ Eve (31 October), All Hallows’ Day (1 November), and All Souls’ Day (2 November). All Hallows’ Day (also known as All Saints’ Day) is when the church […]

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Heading Out . . .

Today I’m off on a European buying trip:  first stop, London.  I never know what I may find but I’ll post periodic updates from the road (or is it “the air”).  Keep checking-back.

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Henry Hudson

On this day in 1609, Captain Henry Hudson began exploring the river that would one day bear his name.  At the time, the area was yet-to-be settled by Europeans.  The Native Americans, however, had experience interacting and trading with whites in the past.  It was Italian Giovanni da Verrazzano who had discovered the mouth of […]

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Art and The Ballets Russes – part three

Nijinsky in Les Orientales (1910), costumes by Bakst (Photo: Druet) For all the acclaim and artistry of The Ballets Russes, the centerpiece of the company—on stage and off—was the dancer Vaslav Nijinsky.  Born in Kiev (at that time a part of Russia) to traveling Polish ballet dancers, young Waclaw Nizyinski, was trained in dance from a […]

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Art and The Ballets Russes – part two

Leon Bakst:  Costume rendering of Nijinsky in “Afternoon of a Faun” (1912) After relocating the company from Russia to Paris, The Ballets Russes continued to grow in fame and ambition.  Its captain, Sergei Diaghilev’s genius was in identifying and recruiting exquisite talent (dancers, composers, choreographers, and designers) and pulling from them new, wonderful, and (sometimes) shocking […]

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Art and The Ballets Russes – part one

Georges Barbier: Vaslav Nijinsky in “Afternoon of a Faun” (1913) Yesterday, in Washington D.C., I had the great fortune to see a wonderful exhibit at the National Gallery:  “Diaghilev & The Ballets Russes, 1909-1929: When Art Danced with Music.” Sergei Pavlovich Diaghilev (1872-1929) sampled many fields—law, music, art, publishing, art curation—before he discovered his great […]

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Remembering a Dream

Fifty years ago today, a 34 year old Georgia preacher mounted the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, took the microphone, and—before a crowd of more than a quarter million people—fixed his place in American history.  The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech is considered one of the most important—and successful—orations in […]

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The LEO in Art – part four

To wrap-up this little series on “Leos in Art,” let’s return to Venice—the city of St. Mark and his lion. Last month, my partner and I  ended our summer holiday with a few days in Venice. Having been there a couple of times previously, we steered-clear of the well-worn “highlights,” choked with summer tourists (including […]

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The LEO in Art – part two

In the “modern” world, the lion has maintained pride of place in art and architecture. St. Mark, the evangelist, is usually depicted as a winged lion.  He is the patron saint of Venice (at least since the Venetians smuggled his remains out of Alexandria, Egypt in 828 AD), therefore lions—winged or otherwise—are plentiful in that […]

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The LEO in Art – part one

As the sun moves-on—next week into Virgo—we have a final chance to showcase a few more Leos in art. Lions have been portrayed in some of the oldest artwork known to historians.  For years, the oldest were the Cave Paintings of Lascaux, France (15,000 years old) which depict a pair of lions mating.  Since then, […]

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My Favorite American Artist

Scuola di San Rocco (c.1902-04) by John Singer Sargent   In my opinion (for what it matters), “Art” is the accomplished manipulation of a medium. Some artists manipulate paint, others marble; some artists will manipulate words, while others manipulate vocal notes.  Great artists—by definition—are great at doing it.  On Sunday I witnessed a Master’s Class […]

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A New Start For LEO

Today is a landmark day. Today we launch our new (sales-capable!) website and journal. Today we’re grateful to be starting our 19th year of business. And today I celebrate my 50th birthday! Furthermore: Today is the first day of my favorite sun sign, Leo. 1995 seems like yesterday. I remember—very well—awaking on my birthday that […]

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