JOURNAL — Bookends RSS



Richard Wagner

Richard Wagner was born on this day in 1813, the ninth child in his family.  His father died when Richard was six months old and the boy grew-up believing that his stepfather, Ludwig Geyer (a playwright and actor), was his biological father.  Young Richard took music lessons and was enchanted with the theatre.  He participated in Ludwig's stage productions.  While he struggled with the technical rigors of piano exercises, he was able to write music and reproduce opera scores by ear.  He also pursued playwriting.  At 13, he began writing a tragedy which he hoped to musicalize. The next year, after he first heard Beethoven, he wrote a piano transcript of the composer's Ninth Symphony.  Mozart inspired him, too.  Wagner...

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Three Monkeys

Three charming monkeys remind us to "mind our P's and Q's." Nicely modeled bas relief primates pose within an architectural proscenium arch.  These cast iron bookends were made by Bradley & Hubbard in the Twenties or Thirties.  They still have their original golden finish.

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In the Beginning

Oh, for the good old days!  Wasn't life much simpler then?  No worries to bear.  No hunting for food.  No clothes to wash.  Well, we messed it up.  And our lives have never been the same. The bookends, shown above, capture Eve luxuriating against a date palm tree—well before The Fall.  No apple in sight.  And, lest you blame Eve for Adam's fall, please recall, in Genesis, God told Adam that he was not to eat of the forbidden fruit.  He never gave Eve such instructions.  Nevertheless, when God questioned Adam about eating the fruit, he immediately responded, "The Woman made me eat it!"  Such an outburst seems prophetic; for millennia to come, such "blame game" responses have echoed through...

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Aluminum Chic

Skyscrapers!  Angles!  Silvery-shine!  This pair of bookends screams "Art Deco!"  They were made in the Thirties or Forties by Russel Studios (Chicago), cast of their "Silverlite" alloy—a blend of aluminum and zinc. Aluminum has been used since the 5th Century BC.  It was especially important for dying fabrics and paint-making.  Although aluminum ore is plentiful, it still was enormously costly, due to the very complicated processes required to make it useable.  It was difficult to separate the pure aluminum from its compounds.  We are told that when Emperor Napoleon III of France (who reigned from 1852 to 1870) wanted to impress his dinner guests, he'd have the gold flatware removed and replaced with aluminum cutlery.   The six pound "cap"...

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Michelangelo Buonarroti

When it comes to the arts, I love it all: painting, music, cinema, literature.  Fine arts, performing arts, decorative arts.  But, of all these disciplines, I think that sculpting will always be my favorite—especially the sculpting of stone.  What art-creation could be more difficult, more physically taxing to produce?  How does an artist "release" a perfect, delicate work from within the confines of its constricting material?  To stand before a magnificent marble sculpture—a cold, dead piece of stone transfigured into a living, breathing human resemblance—is glorious to me.  And The Master of All Sculpting is certainly Michelangelo Buonarroti.   Michelangelo was a Florentine—born in just the right place at just the right time.  Florence, circa 1500, was Ground Zero of...

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The Twenties' Modern Woman

The Twentieth Century ushered-in a new conception of "The Modern Woman."  Even before World War One—at which time many men were sent-off to war and women filled their work world vacancies—change was already in the air.  Women were campaigning for the vote.  They were entering the workforce.  And they were mixing with men (socially and professionally) in more ways than they had in the Victorian era.  The Nineteenth Century stereotype of the demure, frail, house-bound woman was being replaced with images of the active, strong and (even) athletic woman.  Charles Dana Gibson's "Gibson Girl" was just such a modern woman.

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For the Want of Handcraft

One of the things I dislike about Modernist architecture is its lack of beautiful handcraft—those hand-fashioned details which are the evidence that a human artisan had touched and built it.  Masonry.  Stone carving.  Tile work.  Back in the Art Deco Thirties, architects and builders still honored the artistic craftsmanship which gives a building its soul. The builders of Rockefeller Center—constructed during the dark years of the Great Depression—still managed to fund the artwork, the human handicraft, which makes the building special.  Inside the building, frescoes by accomplished and famous artists decorate the public spaces: lobbies, hallways and stairwells.  Outside, inlaid, painted bas relief panels honor the spirit of industry, commerce, trade work and progress.  These exterior Art Deco panels are the aesthetic...

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Black & White Chic

While watching The Graduate for the umpteenth time, I was reminded just how popular (and chic) Black & White interiors were in Mid-Century America.  When I was a young boy, we had an ultra stylish neighbor down the street.  One of the neighborhood kids informed me that she was a divorcée.  Her daughter was a classmate and, on rare occasion, I was invited into their house.  Her mother had decorated much of the house—including the living room (which we were never allowed to enter)—in Mid-Century Modern Black and White.  Somehow, I began to associate Black & White interiors with "fast living" (whatever that meant to an eight year old boy).  This notion was confirmed, years later, the first time I saw The...

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Dante Alighieri

Dante Alighieri—Italy's most important poet and one of the all-time greatest writers of the Western World—changed the course of Western literature.  He affected the way we think of Heaven and the Underworld.   Dante wrote in the vernacular (not in Latin, the language of the educated elite).  Furthermore, Dante didn't write in "standard Italian"; he wrote in the dialect of his hometown, Florence. Alas, Dante found himself on the losing side of an ugly Florentine political struggle and he was banished, on pain of death, from his beloved home city.  It was in Ravenna that Dante wrote his greatest work, the Divine Comedy.  It was in Ravenna that Dante died and was buried (and where he remains to this day)....

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Good Horsekeeping

I raised horses as a kid.  I belonged to 4-H—"The Comancheros"—on the island of Kauai. Through the program, I learned important lessons about horsemanship, responsibility, sportsmanship, and competition.  Each day, after school, I had to bid farewell to my friends and head-out to the pasture to ride and care for my horse.  Seven days a week.  Exercising, grooming, feeding and watering (our pasture land had no plumbing—I had to bring water in numerous 5 gallon canisters).  Every couple of months, we had a horseshow which required three or four days of preparation and competition. On occasion, the routine was drudgery; much, much more often, it was incredibly fulfilling.  There is an extraordinary relationship which forms between a person and his horse—something...

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Sleepy Scholars

A pair of male nudes—young scholars—have fallen asleep, heads resting upon their still-open tomes.  They are bronze-clad, in which a sculpted "composite plaster" figure is electroplated in bronze.  This "bronze skin" can be finished—patinated, painted or both—as bronze would be.  Such bronze-clad items had the appearance of bronze but were much less expensive to produce.  Think of them as 1920's "poor men's bronzes," sold in gift shops or museum stores (where one might have just viewed the original work).  This handsome pair of Art Nouveau bookends appear to straddle the transition where Art Deco design was just around the corner.

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Beware the Satyress!

A Satyr is the Greek mythological "nature spirit"—bestial, feral, sexually insatiable.  Called Sátyros by the Greeks, they were semi-divine, often found accompanying Dionysius, the god of wine, music and randy living.  Satyrs lived in the wild—in forests or in the mountains—were always male and they were "perpetually tumescent."  These tricksters would interact with humans to make mischief or to seduce them.  Satyrs have been portrayed in evolving ways: originally as a man with a horse's legs and ears; later more typically human; and, eventually, a man with the legs and ears of a goat.  When Greek mythology started to inform and blend with Roman mythology, the satyr seems to have been conflated with Pan (a faun).  It was during the Roman...

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Mirrored Pairs

A "mirrored pair" of bookends is when the two mates—the two single bookends—are sculpted to face in opposite directions when placed on the shelf.  The pair above is a good example: one bookend faces right, the mate faces left.  This allows one to place them on the bookshelf, holding-up books, with each one facing-forward.  Most pairs of bookends—perhaps 95% of them—are composed of two of the exact same sculpture.  In such a case, when in use, one dog will be facing forward, the other will be facing backward (tail-out). Making a mirrored pair of bookends takes more effort and is more costly.  Firstly, the foundry needs to create two original sculpted models (and make two different moulds) for each pair...

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Just A Monk's Friends

Hooded monks stare-out from these polychromed, bronze-clad Gothic Revival bookends made by J. B. Hirsch in the 1910's or 1920's.  The company was founded in 1907, on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, by Joseph Hirsch, a Rumanian immigrant.  He hired designers to sculpt the original models for bookends, like the pair above.  To make bronze-clad bookends, first a model was sculpted.  From the original model, moulds would be made in which plaster "composite" duplicates were cast.  These plaster sculptures were then electroplated: hung in a vat of water mixed with bronze powder and zapped with an electrical current, during which the bronze powder formed a solid bronze "skin" around the plaster form.  Once the bronze skin was attached, the object...

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Fierce!

This fierce feline is ready!  Ready to guard your precious tomes. This pair of fierce lion bookends was made of cast iron in the Twenties or Thirties and still wears most of his original golden paint.  Beautiful, deep bas relief sculpting is well-aged by time—creating the perfect "high/low effect" on the patina, making the sculpture pop. Lions have been portrayed in the decorative arts for thousands of years.  And they have been a significant part of European heraldry since the Middle Ages.  In fact, every "attitude" (position or posture) of a heraldic lion has a specific name.  A lion rampant stands upon its back legs.  A lion passant is shown walking.  A lion couchant is lying upright, on its belly (like...

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Complex Reaction

Is it possible for one to have complicated feelings towards a pair of bookends?  Well, it seems, in this case, I do. The cast iron bookends shown here, are from the Twenties or Thirties.  The workmanship is terrific: handsome bas relief sculpting, ultra-crisp casting, and a beautiful bronzed patina.  The details of the unfolding scene—the distant mountains, the dust rising on the prairie, the scrub brush in the foreground—are conveyed with wonderful precision.  The bookends are an homage to romanticized Western life—handsomely executed and perfect for any American Arts & Crafts interior.

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Elephant, March!

When Cyrus the Great founded the First Persian Empire in 550 BC, it was the largest dominion in the world. Such a remarkable empire required cutting-edge defense—in this case, elephants!  True, elephants were difficult to train and costly to maintain. But they did provide a competitive edge (at least for a while).  When Alexander the Great came to conquer the empire in 334 BC, the elephant troops did cause him a moment of concern.  Eventually, however, Alexander figured his way around the elephants and annexed Darius III's enormous realm to his sprawling Macedonian Empire.

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Terriers

Terriers comprise a wide and diverse range of dogs, originally selectively-bred for particular working or sporting purposes.  Their sizes span from the smallest, at two pounds, to the largest, tipping-the-scales at 130+ pounds.  In earlier days, these purpose-built breeds tended to stay fairly well-isolated geographically—that is, genetically distinct, not interbred with other regional terriers too much.  The farmers, hunters and business owners who kept these dogs tended not to travel as far (with their dogs) as people do today.  Before modern transport, people (and their dogs) tended to keep within tighter geographic circles.  For this reason, in Scotland alone, we see many well-known varieties of terriers which were developed over the years: Scotties, West Highland Terriers, Cairn Terriers, Skye Terriers, Dandie Dinmont...

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Three Wise Monkeys

There is a very important shrine in Japan for Shinto Buddhists, namely, the Tōshō-gū Temple in Nikko, Japan.  Seventeenth Century wooden carvings by sculptor Hidari Jingoro depict the Three Wise Monkeys: Mizaru, Kikazaru and Iwazaru.  These monkeys (actually Japanese Macaques) wisely see, hear and speak no evil.  But 900 years earlier, in the Eighth Century, Buddhist writings from China made their way to Japan, conveying a similar maxim.  And more than a thousand years before that (during the 4th to 2nd Century BC), Confucius's writings (probably collected by his followers) advise us to "Look not at what is contrary to propriety; Listen not to what is contrary to propriety; Speak not what is contrary to propriety."  Monkeys—in Asia and elsewhere—are...

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Monarch of the Glen

The "Monarch of the Glen" stands proudly atop his rocky outcrop with this pair of oversized cast bronze bookends, made in the 1920's.  Besides their size (large), their material (bronze), and their handsome sculpting, they are also a mirrored pair—that is, the two mates face in opposite directions,  This allows you to place them on your bookshelves with both bookends facing forwards.  They would also look wonderful standing at opposite ends of a rustic mantelpiece—as a beautifully-sculpted decorative touch in your home or weekend cabin. Mirrored bookends required considerably more effort, time and expense to create. Because the two mates use different moulds, two original models needed to be sculpted. And different moulds required greater attention to detail—ensuring that a...

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On the Range...

This majestic Monarch of the Range stands atop a crisply-cast prairie—one can almost see the wild grasses rustling in the breeze.  And the animal, himself, is beautifully sculpted and cast, too. Despite the American Bison's status as an icon of America strength, independence and determination, they nearly were driven to extinction in the 1880's—a full five decades before these bookends were cast.  In the year 1800, an estimated 60 million buffalo roamed the Great Plains.  By the end of that century, all but 500 had been exterminated by overhunting.  Cattle ranchers attempted to breed their domesticated bulls with bison cows, though the results were poor.   The hybrids were generally weak and only the female offspring were fertile.  Luckily, today, about...

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Back to Abu Simbel

After my Summer's Trip of a Lifetime—to Egypt and Jordan—I am more committed than ever to collecting Egyptian Revival decor: bookends, paintings, desk accessories.  I love items, even Western items, which express the world's riveting fascination with Egypt's ancient treasures, some of them being rediscovered after centuries of being buried under sand.  The bookends shown here, made by Bradley & Hubbard in the Twenties, remind me of the Temple of Rameses II in Abu Simbel, Egypt (in "Upper Egypt," that is, in the South of the country, close to the border with Sudan).  While the artist-sculptor took great liberties with the arrangement of elements, here we see the temple entrance, flanked by seated likenesses of the pharaoh, Rameses II.  The "Winged...

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Back-to-School - II

Nothing illustrates the drudgery of academics quite like this pair of bookends, made by Bradley & Hubbard (Meriden, Connecticut) in the Twenties.  Cast iron bookends portray a bas relief studious monk, leaning sleepily over his book.  The bookends are finished with a bronze patina, the figurals in a golden bronze. Bradley & Hubbard started small—with six employees—in 1852.  They produced finely-crafted, decorative metal desk accessories and other household objects.  Bradley & Hubbard's design, style and quality was always very good.  But they did not have a carriage trade business like, say, Tiffany Studios.  Bradley & Hubbard's well-made product line was aimed squarely at the growing Upper Middle Class (and the aspirational Middle Class).   By the 1890's, Bradley & Hubbard...

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Back-to-School - I

By now the kids (small and big) are back-at-school.   These days, "hitting the books" may be an obsolete phrase.  But it shouldn't be.  All the best people love and collect books, don't they?  And, I don't mind adding, the cream of that crop of booklovers also need lots of bookends! Shown above, a pair of Arts & Crafts ceramic bookends made by R. Guy Cowan of Cowan Pottery.  They portray a sculpted monk bent over his tome.  The piece is glazed in a wonderful, organic dark green. The Cowan workshop was opened in 1912 in Lakewood, Ohio.  Initially, most of the production designs were the work of Cowan himself.  The studio closed temporarily while Cowan was serving in World...

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Cairo-Bound

After three years of cancelled vacations, we are finally enjoying a long-wished-for holiday: a visit to Egypt and Jordan.  We've already visited Cairo and Alexandria—two fascinating cities—ten years ago.  But we've never been further inland.  This time, we will get to see some important archeological sites along the Nile and visit the ancient city of Petra in Jordan.  By the time you read this journal entry, we should have touched-down on the African continent. Egypt holds a complex fascination for us.  For most of 2020 and 2021, my husband, Robert Perdziola, spent 18 hours a day hunched over his drafting table, designing the sets and costumes for the ambitious Nineteenth Century ballet, The Pharaoh's Daughter for the Mariinsky Theatre in...

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Last Days of LEO - Part I

We're in the last three days of LEO; Virgo is waiting in the wings.  Let's countdown the last days of LEO with an assortment of handsome feline gifts. Shown above, a pair of cast iron bookends with portraits of a regal King of the Jungle.  They were modeled by the talented sculptor Gregory Seymour Allen who was born in New Jersey in 1884 and died in Glendale, California in 1934.  Alas, I can find little biographical information about the artist or his life.  But I can see that he was a talented sculptor, judging by his work on this pair of bookends.

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The Dog Days of Summer - Part VIII

We are counting-down the last of the "Dog Days of Summer"—a forty day period scheduled to end on 11 August.  To commemorate these waning days of Summer, we'd like to share some of our favorite "canines" from the LEO Design collection.  Consider sending one as a gift to your favorite dog lover. Scotties—formally called Scottish Terriers or Aberdeen Terriers—were developed in Scotland as "ratters"—dogs bred to capture and kill rats around the home or on a farm.  The first reference to them was in literature published in 1432.  In the Seventeenth Century, English painter Joshua Reynolds included a Scottie in a portrait of a young girl.

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The Dog Days of Summer - Part VII

The Russian Wolfhound, despite its imperial bearing, is no palace lap dog.  In fact, they were originally developed to hunt wolves with their human masters—a grueling and dangerous activity, indeed.  The breed was developed in the 1500's, a cross between the Saluki and other European "Sighthounds."  A "sighthound" is a type of dog which hunts with vision and speed (as opposed to "scent hounds" which track game with their advanced sense of smell).  Russian Wolfhounds have a wavy top coat and a thick undercoat to keep them warm in the winter (which falls away in the warmer months). Russian Wolfhounds were so beloved of the Tsars that Russian subjects were not allowed to purchase one.  The only way one could...

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The Dog Days of Summer - Part VI

A "naughty dachshund" is featured on this pair of cast metal bookends, made in the Seventies.  A bronze alloy is moulded in this highly three dimensional figural—a stack of books, with the top volume being gnawed by the problem pooch.  They are finished with an antique golden bronze patina and stand ready to hold-up your collection of favorite tomes.

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The Dog Days of Summer - Part III

This pair of antique bookends—I've had a few of them during LEO Design's 28 years in business—has always been a customer favorite.  Handsomely sculpted, proudly alert, these Shepherds are noble, fit and fine.  They were made in the Twenties, the heyday of German Shepherd Superstar "Rin Tin Tin." Rin Tin Tin was a German Shepherd who appeared in 27 Hollywood films.  He was immensely popular, worldwide, and ignited an interest in German Shepherds as American household pets.  An American soldier had discovered him, his mother and four littermates in a bombed-out kennel in France (1918).  The soldier rescued the dogs giving four of them away.  But he kept one male and one female puppy for himself—eventually sneaking them aboard his...

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The Dog Days of Summer - Part I

We think of "The Dog Days of Summer" as those mid-Summer days—hot, humid and still—when we should follow the example of our canine friends: lie still in the shade and drink lots of water.  And, perhaps this is true.   But the origin of the term "Dog Days" actually refers to the "Dog Star," also called "Sirius." Sirius is the second brightest star in the sky (after our Sun) and is part of the constellation cluster "Canis Major."  The Dog Days begin when one can observe Sirius rising along the horizon at dawn (usually around 3 July).  The period lasts about 40 days (usually to around 11 August).

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Always Good Intentions

I remember Eighth Grade Shop Class quite well.  It was at Kapaa Intermediate School, on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, and we would rotate through the various "disciplines" quarterly: woodworking, metal craft, technical drawing and gardening.  If Mother's Day or Father's Day happened to coincide (even approximately) with the woodworking or metal craft interval, you could be certain that a "love-crafted gift" would be going home to the parent in question.  Now, 47 years later, I can still clock a shop class creation from across the flea market.  The piece always has good intention; it's the level of finesse which varies.  And I always spare a thought for the (poor?) parent who was required to "oooh and ahhh" at the...

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Not All Putti Have Wings

Let's start here: not all putti have wings.  Yes, some (like Cupid) are winged.  And, yes, Baroque churches and palaces often showed flying putti holding-up the ceiling or other architectural elements.  But putti need not be winged.  They are usually shown as chubby, naked, male toddlers. Another distinction: putti are not angels.  Cherubs got their start in pre-Christian mythology and were thought to be able to influence (or interfere with) human lives—for good or bad.  Cupid is one such cherub (known in Greek as Eros).  He is the little god of sexual desire and erotic passion, hardly the proper job description of an angel.  Angels, on the other hand, are intermediaries (or ambassadors) of God—often sent as a messenger or...

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Ready to Leap—Next Year

These handsome Art Deco gazelles are ready to leap!  But, for now, they will have to still their hearts; Leap Year is still eleven months away—29 February 2024. We think of a calendar year on Earth—the time it takes our planet to circle once around the Sun—as being 365 days long.  And this is close (but not exact).  The Earth's transit time around the Sun is actually just a little bit longer than that: 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes and  56 seconds.  A true year on Earth is 365.212490 days.  In 45 BC, the Emperor Julius Caesar's astronomer, called Sosigenes, advised his boss to mandate a leap year every four years.  This helped to keep the calendar synchronized with the...

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Presidential

The Twenties and Thirties are considered "America's Golden Age of Bookends."  It was during this period that American bookend production really took-off.  Why this period? Most importantly, it was because it was during the early Twentieth Century that America's middle class really began to grow.  Middle class families, with new-found disposable income, could afford to buy certain discretionary "luxuries" such as books.  In the Nineteenth Century (and before), books and libraries were typically only within reach of well-heeled aristocrats.  The vast majority of Americans, still confined to the working classes, might only possess a handful of books: a Bible, a cookbook, perhaps some poetry.  But not enough books to fill shelves.  Simply put, with few books in the average home, mass-produced bookends were...

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Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, the period of prayer, fasting and abstinence during which Christians prepare themselves for Easter, the greatest holiday in the Christian calendar.  Lent is forty days long—not counting Sundays—and corresponds to the forty days Jesus spent facing-down temptation in the desert.  Many Christian denominations, most prominently Catholics, hold special services on Ash Wednesday during which a cross of ash is imposed on the penitent's forehead while the priest or lay minister reminds him or her, "Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return."  This black smudge is not only a humbling reminder of one's mortality, it is a reminder that one has been created, by God, from the Earth—and that one's body will one...

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A Prayer for a Great Man

President's Day—which we celebrate today—naturally provokes a tendency to create lists, subjective rankings of the best and worst chief executives of all time.  I'm not immune to this tradition.  Typically, I restrict my analysis to those presidents in-position during my lifetime (Kennedy to Biden)—unless I am considering Lincoln, usually my all-time favorite. Now, back to my lifetime.  I have no doubt which man was the worst president in my lifetime (hugely); both the worst executive and the worst person.  I am likewise certain who my favorite president is (born 718 days and 1.7 miles from my birthplace). There is another president who holds a sacred spot in my heart—and I'm praying for him at this moment.  While in-office, President Jimmy Carter was dealt an extremely difficult hand.  Economics, geopolitics,...

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Dante Banished

On this day in 1302, the poet Dante Alighieri—Italy's greatest and one of the World's most important writers ever—was condemned to banishment from his beloved Florence.  Dante found himself on the losing side of a fierce Florentine political battle.  When his side, "The White Guelphs," lost the struggle, Dante was banished from his home city on pain of death.  He moved to Ravenna, about 75 miles away, where he lived-out the rest of his days.  And, by the way, it was in Ravenna that he wrote his most important works—works that changed the face of Western literature and influenced our perception of Heaven and Hell.  Dante was buried in the the cemetery of  the Church of San Pier Maggiore.

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Hit Those Books!

I've been taking classes at Carnegie Mellon University through the Osher Lifelong Learning Program.  Bernard Osher, a San Francisco businessman, left an endowment to create continuing education departments at various universities across the country.  The Osher Program is now represented at 125 American Universities (spanning the country)—and provides quality, affordable continuing education (and intellectual and social engagement) for people over the age of 50. The new semester began a couple of weeks ago and I'm already behind on my reading!  I'm taking a class on Shakespeare in which we are reading, studying and discussing Henry V (amongst other plays). While most of the courses I've taken at Osher do not require much (if any) reading, one cannot really study Shakespeare with...

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Guarding American Democracy

On this day in 1920, the American Civil Liberties Union was founded in New York City.  For 103 years, the ACLU has lobbied and litigated for the fair and equal application (to all people) of the rights and liberties guaranteed by the American Constitution.  The organization takes direct legal action in some cases and it also advises and supports the legal actions of other civil rights advocates.  The ACLU weighs-in with amicus briefs, when appropriate, and communicates with lawmakers as to the constitutionality (or not) of their proposed legislation.  Some people believe that the ACLU is a liberal organization, however, its history proves otherwise.  The ACLU has long advocated for free speech rights, even for right wing organizations like the Ku Klux Klan and and...

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Epiphany

The word "epiphany" derives from the Greek "epipháneia"—a manifestation or an appearance.  Today, common contemporary usage tends to think of an epiphany as "a realization; a sudden clarity of thought," and this is not incorrect.  But the original meaning includes a physical, visual connotation which is an important element to not forget.  An epiphany, in the original sense, is seeing something which leads one to believe something. The Christian holy day of Epiphany is celebrated today, 6 January.  In the Western Church, the Epiphany is associated with the story of the Magi who visit the newborn Jesus.  The "Wise Men,"—all Gentiles—see the baby and they experience an epiphany: God is now present on Earth, here in the form of the human...

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Two Cute

Before I founded LEO Design in 1995, I worked for eight years at a large clothing retailer, a company which designed and manufactured its own products.  My final position was working in the design offices, where I oversaw the Men's Shirting category.  During the customary "show-and-tell" meetings—where each product manager would share his or her latest creations—if my female colleagues would say, "Ooooh, that's cuuute!," then I would know that I had done something wrong.  My intention was not to create "cute" outfits for men.  "Sharp" was fine.  "Nice" was, well, nice.  And "Handsome"—that was the gold standard.  But their "cuuute" was too conventional, too trendy, too (can I say it?) girly.   Even now, three decades later, I still resist acquiring any product which one...

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Arts & Crafts Modernism

In some cases, the Arts & Crafts Movement can be viewed as the early stages of Modernism.  Simplicity of design and an aesthetic of functionality can be seen in many Turn-of-the-Century Arts & Crafts objects—such as the oak book trough, shown above.   Of course, the Arts & Crafts Movement spanned a wide range of countries and aesthetics (with each contributing a different "vocabulary" of design features and styles).  But the mission of "honest simplicity" which informed the Arts & Crafts Movement was clearly carried-onward throughout the Modernist school. This "book trough," made of thick planks of oak, is simplicity and elegance itself.  Six screws—three on each side—are the only joinery or decoration to be had, save the handsomely cut...

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Back-to-School - Part VII

While these sleepy Medieval Scholars might channel the soporific mood of late night study sessions, don't worry, it's not contagious!  And we really should cut these monks a little slack; they've been trying to stay awake for 100 years.  "Science" and "Study" personify the themes of age-old academia.  They are sculpted in bas relief fashion upon the faces of these heavy, cast iron bookends from the Twenties.  The monks, themselves, are dressed in a golden bronze finish.  The body of the bookend itself is finished with a classic, chocolate brown bronze patina.  They were made by Bradley & Hubbard (Meriden, Connecticut) the metals foundry which made so many handsome objects for Middle Class homes of the Victorian and Edwardian Ages.

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21 Years Ago Today

I opened my first shop, at 413 Bleecker Street, in 1995.  Within three years I had expanded to a second space, LEO Design Studio at 28 Jane Street.  This allowed me much needed space to buy and sell more furniture and other big pieces (including the occasional container from London).  It also provided storage and workspace for us to clean and prepare merchandise for sale in the original (and much smaller) shop.  But, with two monthly rental payments, more employees, and duplicate insurance, telephone & utility bills, my "monthly nut" became much harder to crack.   One of my customers, a woman who lived just around the corner, happened to be an astrologist.  She and I would talk about the name...

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The Dog Days of Summer - Part 4

At the time that these cast iron bookends were made, in the 1920's, one of Hollywood's biggest celebrities was Rin Tin Tin, a German Shepherd dog who starred in 27 films, making him a world-famous star.  The male German Shepherd had been rescued on a French WWI battlefield by American soldier Lee Duncan.  Back in The States, Duncan found work for his new pet whose career took-off—simultaneously making the German Shepherd breed very popular in America. In the Nineteenth Century, German farmers would selectively breed dogs for herding sheep.  They bred for strength, speed, intelligence, a keen sense of smell, and enough aggressiveness to protect the flock from outside predators.  Each village had developed a different type of dog, each...

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The Dog Days of Summer - Part 3

The Russian Wolfhound—more commonly called the "Borzoi" since 1936—was brought from Mongolia to Russia in the second half of the 13th Century.  It is a variety of "sighthound" which means it was bred to hunt by sight (rather than smell) and it was developed for periodic bouts of speed (rather than endurance).  The name "Borzoi" is derived from the archaic Russian word for "speed" as the dogs can sprint up to 40 miles per hour.  Russian aristocracy used Borzois to hunt prey, including wolves.  They were so beloved of the Tsars, that it was not permitted to buy one—they could only be received as gifts.  Properly socialized, Borzois can make suitable family pets.  Some people consider them "cat like" for they...

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The Dog Days of Summer - Part 1

Though we are—technically—well past the official "Dog Days of Summer," several more hot, sultry and lazy days of August remain.  The Dog Days (typically 3 July - 11 August) were recognized (and named) by astronomers thousands of years ago.  They represent the days when the brightest star, Sirius (the "Dog Star"), appears on the horizon and rises in the night sky.  Coincidentally, this period is also the hottest month in the Northern Hemisphere.  In Ancient Egypt, the rise of Sirius corresponded with the annual flooding of the Nile—an important life-sustaining event for Ancient Egyptians.  In Ancient Greece, Sirius was blamed for the hot weather and unpredictably sudden thunderstorms (poetically described in Homer's Iliad, written in the 8th Century BC).  Later,...

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Black Beauty

Yesterday we discussed Rob Roy, the horse who meets a tragic end in the 1877 novel, Black Beauty.  The horse is put-down, shot, after breaking his leg during a fox hunting jumping accident.  His rider, George Gordon, dies, too, having broken his neck in the fall. Black Beauty was written by English author Anna Sewell and it is her only published work.  It was written in the final years of her life and published a short five months before her death.  Sewell had been injured in an accident as a child and, due to poor medical treatment, was never able to walk again.  She spent much of her life sick and bedridden, though, when she was able to leave the house,...

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A Parade of LEOs - VII

Many artists develop a theme to their work, sometimes spending their entire careers focused on a very narrow field of subject matter.  One such artist was the Parisian animalier Antoine-Louis Barye (1795-1875).  An animalier is an artist who creates animal sculptures.  Barye is one of the greatest. He started his "working life" as a goldsmith apprentice, under his father.  He later worked in the studio of Napoleon's goldsmith.  But animals—sculpting animals—was his true artistic love.  Barye would spend hours at the zoo sketching wild animals in their natural "attitudes."  Eugène Delacroix (1798-1875) was Barye's artistic contemporary and his naturalistic sketches of wild animals inspired Barye to capture the energy and personality in his renderings of his subjects.  Barye would then...

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A Parade of LEOs - V

One might consider bookends a somewhat mundane form of art—if one considers bookends "art" at all.  Bookends were manufactured in quantity, made of a very humble material (often cast iron), sold for modest prices, and put to work at a highly-utilitarian task.  What the bookend makers—the foundries—often got right was their success in hiring wonderful sculptors to create the original models for their castings.  Some of these sculptors are anonymous.  But others were allowed (or encouraged) to sign their works.  What the foundry owners understood (perhaps an acknowledgement of their European artistic roots) was that a little extra money spent in the beginning (the model-making) would pay huge dividends for years to come—for the entirety of the production run.  

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A Parade of LEOs - II

Yesterday we presented a bronze sculpture of a heraldic Lion Statant Guardant—standing with four paws firmly planted on the ground and turning his head to look at the viewer.  Today we show a Lion Couchant Affronté, a lion on his belly, positioned to confront the viewer directly.  The discipline, art and science of heraldry requires each and every classic position (the "attitudes") to be properly named and properly used. This pair of bookends, from the Twenties, provide big attitude despite their modest size.  They are made of cast iron, finished with a rich bronze patina.  

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Fair Winds and Following Seas...

Many cultures have their own fond sayings and expressions of good tidings. Sailors are no exception.  The phrase, "Fair Winds and Following Seas" is used by sailors to wish a fellow sailor the best of luck—similar to the entreaty "Godspeed."  It's a blessing, of sorts, a wish that the fellow sailor should have the best possible sea conditions for an easy and successful journey, usually expressed before an important undertaking.  Literally, it's an appeal for perfect sailing wind and smooth waters—not choppy or difficult waves into which one must pound and struggle.  Although "Fair Winds" can be used as a general naval salutation, its wistful and poetic nature makes it especially appropriate when expressed before a critical departure: when a sailor is being...

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Summer Reading

Summer's here—the heat, the humidity, the bugs—and, boy am I glad that I will not be traveling this holiday weekend!  Instead, I'll pretty much carry-on with my regular routine: clean and shoot new merchandise, organize the papers on my desk, maybe wash and vacuum my car.  And one more thing!  I'll try to spend a few hours reading during the day.  At the moment, I have two books-in-process on my nightstand (atop two dozen more, yet to be started).  The only problem is that I read at night, after climbing into bed.  I can usually get through a couple of pages before I find myself getting drowsy, reading and re-reading (and re-reading) the same line over and over (and over)...

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Countdown to Father's Day - XIII

As we countdown the days 'til Father's Day, we have been sharing some Handsome Gifts ideas sure to please any Dad. For the monumental Dad: a pair of Neoclassical bookends commemorating America's 16th president.  Or, rather, a pair of bookends which commemorate the Lincoln Memorial—which commemorates the 16th president. Begun in 1914, with funds approved by Congress, the Beaux-Arts, Greek Doric Temple was designed by architect Henry Bacon and took six years to build. The exterior, built of Colorado marble, is surrounded by 36 fluted columns representing the 36 states of the Union at the time of Lincoln’s death.  The columns (as well as the exterior walls) slope inward ever so slightly—to avoid the optical illusion of the building “bulging” at the...

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Countdown to Father's Day - VIII

For the Dad who labors: a pair of heavy cast iron bookends from the McKeesport Steel Casting Company, made in the 1920's or 1930's.  The foundry, on the outskirts of Pittsburgh, was one of the hundreds of steel mills, metalworks plants or fabricators which dotted the banks of the Steel City's three rivers: the Monongahela, the Allegheny and the Ohio.  (Why these industrial companies needed to be placed right along the rivers could be the topic for another, more depressing, journal entry.) Most of the foundry's output was far more industrial—less "sexy"—in nature than these bookends.  In fact, they were not known for making end-consumer products.  McKeesport made heavy component parts for big industry: commercial boiler pipe fittings, freight train axels...

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Countdown to Father's Day - V

For the Dad in shining armor: a pair of bronze-clad bookends bearing a handsomely-sculpted bas relief image of Saint George Slaying the Dragon.  Made in the 1920's, the bookends began their lives as finely hand-sculpted, original models from which moulds were made.  The moulds were then used to cast the actual bookends in a "composite material"—that is, a fortified blend of plaster and other strengthening ingredients.  Then the bookends were placed into a liquid bath containing finely-ground bronze dust.  When electrical voltage was applied—zzzaaap!—the bronze dust clung to the composite, forming a thin bronze "skin" around the bookend.  After cooling, the bronze could be patinated or painted like any other "true bronze" sculpture.  At the time, such bronze-clad objects were...

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In Black & White - III

The Abingdon Sanitary Manufacturing Company was founded in 1908 in Knoxville, Illinois.  The company quickly distinguished itself by making superior "sanitary ware," that is toilets, sinks and water fountains.  Their high-quality clay blend (from England, Georgia and South Dakota) resulted in a very durable product.  Their satin glazes were also beautiful; Abingdon was the first plumbing fixture manufacturer to produce color-glazed options (in 1928).  Abingdon was tapped to produce all the plumbing fixtures for the Chicago World's Fair in 1933. But the Depression—and WWII to follow—was not easy on the building trades.  Orders for sinks and toilets (ummm...) went down the drain.  In the late 1930's, Abingdon made the dramatic decision to begin crafting small, decorative and gift items.  Using...

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The Chow-Chow

The Chinese Chow-Chow is amongst the oldest dog breeds in the world, one of the so-called "basal breeds" (that is, dog breeds which were developed for specific tasks centuries ago, before the modern era of canine husbandry).   Some historians estimate the breed may be 2000 to 3000 years old, beginning in the Arctic, migrating through Mongolia, and eventually settling in China.  Their sturdy bodies, ultra-thick fur, and fierce loyalty made them highly desirable as guard dogs or to work in difficult winter climates.  The fact that their fur forms a ruff-like "collar" around their necks—which gives them the appearance of a lion—made them even more desirable as palace guard dogs.  In the 13th Century, Marco Polo wrote his observations of seeing...

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Celebrating the Classical Past

The Art Deco Movement frequently "lifted" historical aesthetic themes from the past. Sometimes from the distant past.  Egyptian motifs were well-employed by Art Deco architects, decorators and designers.  So were Greco-Roman elements.  This reviving of the Classical Past lent an air of timelessness to the design—and a recognition of the Western World's intellectual, social and political roots. The polychromed bookends, shown above, are a sculpted bas relief representation of "The Graphic Arts."  Scribes bend-over their drawings, draped in hand-painted robes, sitting beside a hand-painted forest.  Sculptural elements, such as this, were often employed in Art Deco architecture and interior decoration.  A walk through and around Rockefeller Center in New York, for example, will provide numerous examples of  applied sculpted (or...

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Old Giza

The Great Sphinx of Giza is the oldest known monumental sculpture in Egypt, completed around 2500 BC.  It is also one of the most recognizable monuments in the world.  Two thousand years ago—during the Greco-Roman Period—rich and powerful citizens made the difficult journey to stand before what was at that point an antiquity. The Sphinx crouches along the West Bank of the River Nile, carved out of the bedrock under the plain.  The large mass of extraneous stone, removed during the carving, was intended to be used to build a temple surrounding the Sphinx (though this was never completed).  The Sphinx stands 66 feet high and 240 feet long.  It was originally painted, archaeologists believe, because traces of color have been found in...

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Technology Face-Off

Technology—and the corporate campaign to exploit it—transforms and adapts to satisfy the "needs and opportunities" of the times.  Sometimes a "face-off" ensues: as technology marches forward, new businesses blossom and grow while other businesses wither and fall-away.  Over the last 150 years, industry has responded (multiple times) to the way society reads and collects information. Let's close-out the month of March with this interesting bookrack, made shortly after the Turn-of-the-Twentieth-Century.  Before the Industrial Age, there were very few people in the Middle Class.  There were a handful of land and factory owners and a mass of people who worked for them.  Though people were taught to read, only the wealthy could afford to collect many books.  A private library was only within...

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Great Drama

Though it may be a cliché, it is often presumed that great artists lead troubled, tortured and turbulent lives.  In the case of the great German composer, Richard Wagner (1813-1883), this seems to be the case.  Two hundred years after his birth, his music works still electrify audiences—some of whom travel thousands of miles to see good productions of his masterworks.  And, yet, some of the troubling aspects of his life still hover over his legacy, perhaps promoting even more scrutiny as the decades mount. Wagner was the ninth sibling born to his family.  His father died when Richard was six months old and the boy grew-up believing that his stepfather, Ludwig Geyer (a playwright and actor), was his biological progenitor.  Young...

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The New Modern Woman

The 1920's marked the birth of a new Modern Woman.  During World War I, while many American men were at war in Europe, women joined the labor force as never before (often replacing men who had been sent-off to fight).  More women than ever experienced a taste of moving within the commercial working world and enjoyed increased independence, the result of earning their own wages.  After the war, some women did return to home and hearth.  But many more women seized the opportunity to reinvent their roles in society. Working outside of the home was one of the biggest changes.  But style and fashion underwent changes, too.  "Bobbed" hairstyles reflected the modern, sporty times.  Clothing was revolutionized: out went the corsets...

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A Clean Run

Four of my favorite things come together in this one sensational Handsome Gift: bookends, sculpture, horses and white pottery!  Abingdon Pottery (Knoxville, Illinois) was founded in 1908 and quickly made its name as a premier manufacturer of plumbing fixtures and other "sanitary ware."  They used very high quality clay—some of it imported from England—which was fired into "vitreous china" with exceptional durability and uncommon attention to finishing detail.  The Great Depression devastated Abingdon's incoming orders, so they began making smaller, decorative gift items (using the same clay) to keep the business afloat from 1934 to 1950.  During this short period, Abingdon made vases, bowls, bookends and other decorative household items which were discontinued when the demand for plumbing fixtures returned....

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For the Serious Reader

If there's a reader in your life—a real, serious bookworm—perhaps this pair of "British Poets" bookends will fit the bill.  They were made in the Thirties by Bradley & Hubbard (Meriden, Connecticut).  They celebrate two English writers of note, Alexander Pope and Edward Young.  Both men were influential in their time. Alexander Pope (1688-1744) had a difficult early life.  As a Catholic, he was not allowed to go to school due to the English "Test Acts" which banned Catholics from teaching, attending college, holding public office or going to Catholic grade school.  Little Alexander was homeschooled, for a time, and he later attended an illegal "underground" school.  When a law was passed disallowing Catholics from living within 10 miles of London,...

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A Monk the Very Best

The Gothic Movement, in my opinion, remains the high-water mark of architectural and decorative art history.  The original movement spanned the 1100's into the 1500's.  Later, in the mid 1700's, there was a Gothic Revival movement in England, followed by a bigger one (throughout the Western World) during the first three-quarters of the Nineteenth Century (sometimes called "Victorian Gothic").  When the Arts & Crafts Movement flowered (circa 1900 - 1910's), Gothic elements and themes were often adopted as decorative influences and embellishments.  I am likewise smitten by these later revivals, too. These bronze-clad, Monk's head bookends, made in the 1910's or 1920's, tap a heavy vein of Gothic inspiration.  In addition to the clerical reference, you'll find a triptych of gothic arches...

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All Elephants Are Lucky

I've sold dozens of elephant bookends over the years.  Elephants have always been a classic and popular theme in "bookshelf accoutrements."  I guess I also like the idea of promoting the welfare of elephants living today—both those in captivity and those in the wild. At some point—I guess it started with the Feng Shui trend of the Oughts—a minority of customers would refuse to buy any elephant unless its trunk was turned upwards.  "It is unlucky, otherwise," they would say.  Now, in truth, when dealing with items made 100 years ago, there was nothing I could do to change the direction of an elephant's trunk.  I would best remain happy to buy a nice elephant, regardless of the point of its proboscis....

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Untapped Potential

These handsome Scotty bookends were made just outside of Pittsbugh, in the little town of Verona, PA.  Not much history can be found of the manufacturer, which is surprising, considering how well modeled, cast and finished these bookends are.  The "coat" of each dog is deeply textured.  The Argyle bases are a wonderful Scottish touch.  The clean casting of the cast iron is superb. And the bronzy-copper finish, now aged, is rich and even.  With this exceptional attention to detail, one might think that the company would have grown and become a bigger player during "The Golden Age of Bookends" (the 1920s and 1930s).

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Le Penseur

In 1880, French Modernist sculptor, Auguste Rodin, was commissioned to produce a monumentally-sculpted main door for a planned Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris. The aesthetic theme and subject matter was left to Rodin's discretion, however, it was agreed that the door would be delivered five years later, in 1885.  Rodin worked on the commission (on and off) for 37 years, until his death in 1917.   Rodin, inspired by the great Italian Poet Dante Alighieri, selected the theme "The Gates of Hell," taken from The Inferno.  He designed the model for a massive bronze door, embellished (on and around the door) with 180 cast figures (the smallest being about 6 inches tall and the largest a little over three feet).  Rodin...

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"Il Sommo Poeta"

Dante Alighieri was born in Florence in 1265.  He is considered Italy's greatest poet and one of the most important writers in the Western Canon.  His most important work, The Divine Comedy, was groundbreaking in its day—and remains an artistic touchstone to this day. Dante's depiction of Hell, Purgatory and Heaven (Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso) exercised wide influence on many writers and artists (painters, sculptors, musicians) who came after him—through which Dante affected the popular conceptions of the afterlife for centuries to come.  He did not write in Latin, the language of the educated elites.  Instead, he chose to write in the vulgate, the popular language of commoners (which allowed more people to read and understand his writings).  The popularity of The Divine Comedy demonstrated...

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The Barbizon School

The Barbizon School of French painting flourished in the Mid-Nineteenth Century (approximately 1830-1870), an important and innovative movement before Impressionism entered the scene (later in the century).  The British painter, John Constable, was exhibited at the Salon de Paris in 1824.  His landscapes, naturalism and manner of painting directly from nature was an antidote to the more formal "Academic" French painting that had been en vogue—and some of the younger French painters were inspired by his fresh, soft, Romantic Realism.

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Anne Hathaway's Cottage

Anne Hathaway (1556-1623), wife of William Shakespeare, lived most of her life in and around Stratford-on-Avon, England. Her husband, the prolific playwright, spent much of his time working in London, leaving Anne in Stratford with their three children. As a girl, Anne grew up in a spacious twelve room Tudor farmhouse, about a mile from Stratford-on-Avon.  The house, now called "Anne Hathaway's Cottage," was built over 500 years ago and has been added-to over the centuries.  It sat on a farm of 90 acres.  The timber-framed house has a thatched roof and multiple fireplaces, the largest of which was used for cooking.

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Handsome & Useful

When there's a man around the house, things always seem go better when he's both handsome and useful. Likewise, these bookends will not disappoint. A muscular, fully-rigged ship plows toward the viewer, beautifully-sculpted with energy and intent—the ship seems to leap forward, off the bookends.  The iron castings have been dressed in a brass finish and supplemented with a verdigris patina.  They would make a handsome and useful addition to your library, office or bookcase.

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God Loves a Terrier!

Anyone who has seen "Best in Show" will never forget Catherine O'Hara and Eugene Levy singing, at their backyard cookout, "God Loves a Terrier (Yes He Does!)"  The movie also makes it clear that "Dog Show People" can get pretty picky about the specific and different varieties of dogs in the world—especially all those terrier breeds!.  The American Kennel Club identifies 30 terrier breeds while the for-profit United Kennel Club identifies 44 different types. With such specificity at play, I find it unusual that the sculptor who modeled these cast iron bookends (in the 1920's) would choose to feature two different, albeit very handsome, terriers-in-profile.  Surely a breeder or a terrier owner wants to see his or her specific breed featured in bas relief.  Showing two varieties, while...

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Fit for a King

World History is replete with great artists.  And I love many of them!  Yet, if nudged (even lightly), it's easy for me to name the greatest of all time: Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475 -1564).  He was a great architect: note the dome of San Pietro in Rome.  He was a great painter: note the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, also in Rome.  And he could really lay-out a square: note the fabulous Piazza del Campidoglio, yes, in Rome.  That's a lot of Rome for a Florentine!  But it makes sense, for Rome was pretty much the center of the world in Michelangelo's time.  He was brought to where the rich and powerful resided.  But don't feel too badly for Florence; he...

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Hitting the Sweet Spot

There was a brief decorative period in England—a "sweet spot" in which Art Deco and Modernism combined to create a soft, warm, hybrid aesthetic.  The look was streamlined without being hard.  Slightly Industrial without being cold.  Utilitarian, yet inviting.  Flat surfaces were softened with rounded corners.  One of London's great stores, Heal's, has (for 200 years) been an emporium of new design and good taste.  During the 1920's through the 1940's, they produced and sold many furniture designs which artfully blended Art Deco wooden furniture with a soft, progressive Modernism. I do not know if these bookends were made by Heal's, but they capture the spirit, color and attitude of the shop's wares between the wars.

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Summer School

If you thought this would be a kick-back summer, perhaps you'd better think again. "Science and Study" are the name of the game—at least according to the weary monks on these handsome bookends from the 1920's.  They were made by Bradley & Hubbard (Meriden, Connecticut) of cast iron and patinated with two bronze finishes: a traditional dark brown and a golden patina on the bas relief.  They are quite heavy—ideal for holding up those oversized illuminated manuscripts.  Or your physics, calculus and biology tomes.  

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A "New" President

Over the years, I've collected and sold many pairs of bookends.  America's 16th President—Abraham Lincoln—has always been a popular subject.  By now, I thought I was familiar with the various "Lincoln Designs" which had been made, mostly in the 1920's.  And then I found this pair, which I had never seen (nor owned) in the past.  They were made by Bradley & Hubbard and have the characteristic heft for which the manufacturer is known.  But, in this pair of bookends, the President's image, which includes his upper torso, is fully in-profile (not a three-quarter resemblance) and the sculpted portion is a bit smaller than most other renderings—creating a handsomely tasteful depiction.  To my eye, it looks a little more "old fashioned" than...

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Man(kind)'s Best Friend

Leonidas Hornsby had had enough!  Something had killed a few of the sheep on his Missouri farm and Hornsby vowed to kill the next dog or wolf who strayed onto his property.  Sadly, on 18 October 1869, Old Drum wandered onto Hornsby's land.  Hornby ordered Old Drum shot.  The dog belonged to his neighbor (and brother-in-law) Charles Burden.  Burden really loved Old Drum!  And he vowed that Hornsby would pay! Burden sued Hornsby for $100—what he believed was just compensation for the financial value of the dog plus the emotional loss incurred.  Burden argued that Old Drum was much more than a working asset or possession.  Indeed, Old Drum was a companion and valued family member.  The case was almost...

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Father's Day

These extraordinary bookends, made almost 100 years ago, celebrate a quiet moment of a father spending time with his son.  The father is President Abraham Lincoln and he is reading to his youngest son, Tad, who would have been about 10 or 11 years old at the time.  The bookends were sculpted by artist Olga Popoff Muller as a special commission for the New York Decorative Arts League in 1922.  She based the composition on a well-known photo by pioneering photographic portraitist Matthew Brady (taken in 1864).  I have not been able to find much information about the sculptress, Olga Popoff Muller—a surprise considering the quality of her work as shown in these bookends.  She was born in New York City...

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Countdown to Father's Day - IX

There is a lot of action packed within the bas relief sculpting of these bookends from the 1920's.  Saint George, astride his rearing horse, is delivering the coup de grâce to the Devil (here represented as a dragon who had been threatening a maiden).  These bronze-clad bookends tick the boxes for many "types" of fathers, including those who like: heroics, action themes, horses, Saint George, dragons, good sculpture, medieval mythology, armor, lances or (even) books.  

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Countdown to Father's Day - VI

Few animals are as impressive as a massive bull elephant—worked-up, stomping and ready to protect his family.  These majestic creatures will often live to the ripe-old-age of 65 or 70 when left unmolested in the wild, not that much different from humans.  And, yet, the animal is so improbably designed—with its heavy, lumpy body, thick, lumbering legs, ivory tusks, and ridiculously extended proboscis.  I'd love, someday, to see a group of elephants in the wild.  I'm sure it would be an experience I would never forget.

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Countdown to Father's Day - I

As we approach Father's Day, we'd like to share a few select items—perfect for that "Dad with Great Taste."  See them—and many other great gift options—in the on-line store at LEO Design. This very heavy pair of cast steel bookends were probably created to be given away by the foundry's salesmen—left behind on the desks of the purchasing agents who patronized the company, or perhaps sent as a holiday gift.  Handsome, yes.  Useful, sure.  But also a constant reminder that McKeesport Steel Casting Company was at-the-ready—always prepared to write-up that next important order.  They were made in the 1920's or 1930's in McKeesport, one of the many steel towns of Greater Pittsburgh, "The Steel City."  Because these were made for "promotional use...

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Perilous Waters

In recent weeks, Shakespeare has been called-out for having been insensitive to important issues of racial injustice, White privilege and colonial oppression.  British academics are reviewing The Bard's works to highlight the offensive language—and to adapt that which can be saved and cancel that which is unredeemable.  I am not writing an essay on cancel culture.  But I'd hate to see Shakespeare revoked.  Let me make six quick points:

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On the Hunt

I have never been a hunter.  Or have I? As an antiques dealer, I've frequently woken-up well before sunrise.  I've dressed for inclement, outdoor weather.  I've prepared my gear (cash, notepad, bubblewrap).  I've travelled long and inconvenient distances to "the best hunting spots."  And I've methodically stalked my quarry—sometimes in frenzied competition with my fellow hunters.  The goal: to make a "clean kill" (that is, a profitable purchase) after which I will "dress" (clean and prepare) the game, and drag it back to the shop (hoping it will someday feed my family).  Once in a while, I will keep a particularly prized specimen as "a trophy" for my collection.

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Revisiting History

Amongst the nicest—and heaviest—bookends I've ever carried, these stunners were made by Judd Manufacturing in Wallingford, Connecticut in the 1920's.  They are made of cast iron, but refined with a bronze finish, which provides a smoother, more sophisticated surface appearance.  And the sculpting is very well done.  The handsome chief, shown in full, feathered headdress, is modeled with great skill and attention to detail.

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Judd Manufacturing

Judd Manufacturing got its start as a blacksmith foundry in New Britain, Connecticut during the Revolutionary War.  It later reinventing itself as a harness maker, selling sleigh bells, saddles and other equestrian gear.  Over the years, the company grew, changed hands within the family, and even split into two separate companies—one moving to Wallingford, CT and the other moving to New York City.  In time, the New York City division prospered and bought-out the Connecticut factory.  In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Judd made decorative metalworks for household use: banks, doorstops, door-knockers, inkwells, animal sculptures and (most famously) bookends.  The company was purchased by Stanley Works (New Britain, CT) in 1954.

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Wisdom

Wisdom just isn't what it used to be. For millennia, scholars, writers, theologians, philosophers and kings have sung the praises of Wisdom—the ability to think and act with understanding, knowledge, experience, prudence and common sense.  The Old Testament devotes a book to Wisdom.  Solomon valued Wisdom above all other blessings.   Jesus preached about the wise steward, the wise builder and the five wise virgins (with their lamps).  Saint Thomas Aquinas called Wisdom "the father of all the virtues."  Even the word philosophy means "the love of Wisdom."  She (for Wisdom is always a woman) was personified: the Greek goddess Athena and the Roman goddess Minerva represented this most important virtue.  And artists through the ages have painted and sculpted...

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The King-of-the-Jungle

In nearly every world culture, the lion is admired (and equally feared) as a symbol of royalty, fierceness and brave leadership.  To "lionize" a person is rarely considered an insult. That's why the lion is called "The King-of-the-Jungle" and is often included in the heraldry of nobility wherever lions are known. In three short months, we'll be in the middle of the LEO sunsign (23 July - 22 August). Perhaps a handsome pair of bookends will make your favorite LEO happy?  This pair, made of cast iron in the 1920's, are graced with a regal bas relief portrait of a male lion.

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Japanning

With the increasing trade between Europe and Asia in the 1600's, Europeans got their first exposure to many Asian craft forms previously unknown in the West. Rich Europeans went wild! They loved the Asian ceramics, woodcarving and metalworks brought-home by merchants—and they spent big money expanding their collections.  One of these "new" crafts was lacquerware. Europeans couldn't quite figure-out how to duplicate the Asian laquer process (in part because the necessary tree sap did not grow in Europe).  Furthermore, European collectors began to suspect that Asian lacquer craftsmen were holding-back their very best pieces for their domestic collectors (which is not surprising).  So, in the 17th Century, the Italians developed a faux laquerware which came to be called "Japanning."  It did not use the proper Asian tree...

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Great Writers: Dante

Italy's greatest writer (indeed, one of the Western World's most important writers), Dante Alighieri, was born in Florence in 1265. Alas, he found himself on the wrong side of a political battle in his home city.  After supporting the (losing) White Guelphs, Dante was banished—upon pain of death—from his beloved Florence. After a bit of moving around, he settled in Ravenna, some 90 miles from Florence, where he died and is entombed to this day.   Dante's greatest work, The Divine Comedy, was written during his exile. It is considered one of the most important works of literature of all time, in any language.  And, unlike other important Medieval writers who wrote in Latin, Dante wrote in the vulgate, specifically the Italian Tuscan dialect.  After...

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Great Writers: Shakespeare

We don't know the precise date on which William Shakespeare was born.  There is, however, a church record showing that he was baptized on 26 April 1564.  He was probably born a couple (or a few) days earlier.  23 April has become a popular birth date speculation—which also happens to be the day he died in 1616.  Although Shakespeare's first days are shrouded in mystery, his works—poetry, sonnets and plays—are famously the most important body of work written in the English language. Through the astounding range of plays, characters and dramatic situations he crafted, Shakespeare distilled the essence of what it means to be a human—plays, characters and human situations which still resonate today.

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Great Writers: Longfellow

"The Song of Hiawatha" is an epic poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, published in 1855.  It follows a number of American Indian characters—notably the warrior Hiawatha and his lover Minnehaha—along the southern shore of Lake Superior.  It was an immediate success, selling over 50,000 copies in its first two years, and it created an indelible impression of Indian life and people in the popular imagination.  Critics condemn the poem as the romantic creation of a non-native writer.  Longfellow's source materials and understanding of real Native American culture have been called into question. Nevertheless, it is a monumental work of American Romantic literature and it played an important role in Nineteenth Century popular culture.

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Champ & Major

After four years without (live) animals in the White House, first family pets are back! Champ and Major are two male German Shepherds, the family pets of the Biden family. Champ, now twelve years old, was purchased by Joe Biden from a Pennsylvania breeder to fulfill a promise to his wife—that he would get another family dog if he and Barack Obama won the 2008 election.  Major is three years old and is the first rescue dog to live in the White House.  Joe Biden's father would sometimes call the future president "Champ"—and this nickname was passed along to the older dog.  The younger dog may have received his name as a tribute to Biden's deceased son, Beau, who was an Army...

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The Light of Asia

    Sir Edwin Arnold (1832-1904) was a British poet, journalist and educator.  He was sent to India in 1856 where he served as a school principal for seven years. While there, he was exposed to Buddhism, heretofore virtually unknown in the West.  After returning to England, where he worked as a journalist, he published The Light of Asia in 1879.  It was the first major exposure of Buddhism to the Western World.  The book was a great success and has been translated into 30 languages, including Hindi. The book takes the form of a poem and follows the life of Indian Prince Gautama Buddha, his renunciation of his formerly privileged life, and his pathway to Enlightenment.  Mahatma Gandhi, then a law student...

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Innocence

Before eating from the forbidden "Tree of Knowledge," Adam and Eve had a pretty sweet life. No hunger, no work, no trouble, no shame.  And a beautiful garden, to boot.  But such wasn't to last—and here we are now. This pair of cast iron Art Deco Bookends, made in the 1920's, show Eve luxuriating before a date palm tree in the Garden of Eden. Let them bring some stylish "Biblical Literacy" to your desk, den or bookshelf.

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From Russia, With Love?

WASHINGTON, 1 April  —  Assistant White House Press Secretary, M. Jess Kidden, reported to Reuters this morning that a year-old puppy had been left behind in the White House, possibly abandoned by the outgoing first family.  Members of the junior White House staff discovered the canine sleeping in a crate in the former Executive Chef's office. Facts are scarce, Kidden admitted, since none of the permanent household staff wishes to come forward with testimony, fearing they might be targeted for political retribution.  What is known is that an unnamed foreign ambassador quietly hand-delivered the Russian Wolfhound puppy during the summer of 2020.  A handwritten tag attached to the crate read, "Thank you for everything. I'll miss you. VP"  Advisors soon...

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Happy Presidents' Day

It's the third Monday in February, Presidents' Day!  Or is it President's Day?  Or, perhaps, Presidents Day?  The answer will depend on the mood of the writer (and which state s/he inhabits).  Congress established a federal holiday, called Washington's Birthday, in 1879, intended to honor only the first president.  The holiday was initially observed on 22 February, the first president's actual birthday.  Individual states have similarly made it a state holiday—sometimes calling it Washington's Birthday or Presidents Day or President's Day or Presidents' Day.  In 1971, Congress "regularized" many federal holidays, placing them on a certain Monday of a given month (thus, creating more three day weekends and not having strange, mid-week disruptions to the workweek). 

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