Posting vignettes based on great postcards found in my mail box and elsewhere.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Plowing into the new year

Printed on the back of the card:
Rotary snow plow in action at Moraine, Mile post 7.1 on the Whittier Branch of the Alaska Railroad. In this area, 100-mile-an-hour winds are frequent, causing heavy drifting of snow.
Published by Ellis Post Card Co., Arlington, Washington

This year I'm thinking of New Years a little differently. I can't help but think that some sober meditation is in order. This train slogging its way through drifts of snow is an appropiate image of what the new year has in store for most of us. The proverbial tracks we run are not always clear but we will get through what seems like insurmountable obstacles by persistence and determination.

Each year the Alaska Railroad publishes an art print commemorating the work and beauty of Alaskan trains. For 2009, Alaskan artist Taffina Katkus won the print competition with her work "Clearing the Way." See an image of the print at her blog Post Cards from Alaska. She used as her subject a rotary plow very similar to the one shown on this post card, photographed several decades earlier in Whittier, Alaska.
The best to you and yours in the New Year!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Sled dog inspiration

A friend created this cloth post card as a Christmas gift a couple of years ago. It is one of a pair. My friend is very crafty. She often makes handmade crafts to give as gifts. The card is made of fabric, paint and bordered with sled dog fir. One of a kind.

Every time I see the card I think of my sled dog Tipper, who died three years ago at age 17. Tip was a 65-pound female that led my Iditarod and Yukon Quest teams for four years. She was an outstanding althete who ran two other Iditarods with a friend. She was a true command leader -- able to run in single lead and pull even a reluctant team into deep snow. Her only fault was that she refused to accept a male for breeding. I never found or raised another leader of her caliber and eventually lost interest in racing without another dog like her.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Merry Vintage Christmas

This embossed "Raphael Tuck & Sons "Wonderful White Winter"" Post Card is labeled number 513 in a series. The reverse side also says "ART PUBLISHERS TO THEIR MAJESTIES THE KING AND QUEEN," and has an emblem with a lion and a unicorn. The card is divided for address and message, so it probably dates to the Divided Back Era (March 1, 1907 to 1915), sometimes known as the Golden Age of post cards. (I will add an image of the back when I get my scanner operational.)

I love this card. It reminds me of an old water color painting. Though it belongs to series called, "Wonderful White Winter," their isn't one little drift of white snow. The scene seems to be in either a warm climate or a different season. My guess is a different season altogether in that the trees are abundant with leaves.

As with many cards in my collection, I do not have a clue where or how this card came into my collection. For all I know it is a Christmas miracle.

Monday, December 15, 2008

An Angel of the Lord

This is a "Whitney Made, Worcester, Mass" antique card from the golden age of postcards. I thought it was a fitting card for the Christmas season. It recalls the biblical story of the angel announcing the arrival of the Christ child. Though in the biblical account the glory of the Lord shines around the angel, in this image the angel glows in pastel colors, accompanied by a couple of children or maybe cherubs.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said to them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

In other words the angel scared the hell out of them. This is a reasonable reaction to meeting otherworldly beings. “Fear not,” is usually the first words out of any self respecting angel’s mouth, especially those of a biblical variety. These angels were not cute, instead they terrify, thus the need to reassure their human audience with some reassuring words. In some ways I think the bible was the first instance of alien encounter narratives -- otherworldly beings communicating directly with humans on earth. Like anyone who wishes to communicate effectively, you must quell your subject’s fear before you can gain trust to impart a message.

In the twentieth century art and popular culture angels and heavenly beings generally get a cutesy make over. In recent years a few American films have helped to reestablish the fearsomeness of the angelic presence. Movies like Constantine and The Prophecy have restored fearsomeness to the angelic host.

While this image shows a rather cute angel, there is a wolf in the picture too. The shepherds’ focus is transfixed on the angel. Meanwhile, the wolf runs between them and the flock. Perhaps the unknown artist has made an allegory of the twentieth century church. While the shepherds are mesmerized by a sentimental vision, the wolf (a popular symbol of Satan or Satan’s son) picks out his prey on earth. Another possibility is that the wolf is frightened also and hightails it out of the picture.

(I am at a loss as to the words at the bottom of this card. I thought it was German but can not seem to get a translation on the Internet. Maybe someone could help. I apologize for the print quality of images on this blog. I hope to purchase a scanner soon.)

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Remembering Pearl Harbor

The USS Arizona sunk on December 7, 1941, in less then nine minutes after an armor-piercing bomb from a Japanese war plane penetrated its forward deck and exploded the ship's ammunition store. The surprise attack by the Japanese Air Force and Navy at Pearl Harbor resulted in over 2,000 American souls, including 68 civilians, killed. More than half of the casualties (1,177) were Navy sailors and Marines on the Arizona. Today the National Park Service oversees the memorial over the sunken remains of the battleship Arizona.

My grandmother received this card from a friend in April of 1971, the year I graduated from high school. At the time I wasn't collecting cards actively but my grandmother would give me a handful of cards whenever I visited.

On the reverse side is an eight cent Einstein stamp. The message reads: "Greetings -- wonderful trip -- beautiful weather, etc. Waiting now to see Kodiak snow. See you soon -- Love, Ruth"

The composition of the card is unremarkable except that it was obviously taken from a moving boat. You can see the wake of the craft as it pulls away from the monument on a partly sunny day. Many times over the years I've looked at this image and not seen its significance, yet it's mundane image holds a hidden treasure.

The memorial sits over the remains not only of the sunken navy ship Arizona but also over the remains of the men who died on that fateful day. The fact that the photographer took the picture moving away from the memorial, rather than approaching it, speaks to our relationship to all who have died. Though these men are remembered and honored, we must by necessity of time itself move away from them. This is the cruel nature of time itself , let alone our faltering memories.

It is good that there are memorials made of marble. It is also good there are postcards and postcards posted on the Internet. Each saves a valuable memory, at least for a time, from loss.

The World's Largest Living Christmas Tree?

My children are all enthused by the Guinness Book of World Records. They love to read about the tallest, the oldest, shortest and fattest person. I like to school them with a little healthy skepticism by reminding them that these records represent a limited sampling range -- largely people who lobby the book's editors for inclusion. Out of the billions of people who live on this earth can we claim to know who holds any record? These boasts are rather adolescent, yet the book does show the incredible curiosity about unusual and sometimes bazzar human milestones.

I am skeptical of the claim on my postcard "The Largest Living Christmas Tree" from Wilmington, North Carolina.

First its not the largest by any stretch. Second its not an evergreen. (For me a Christmas tree has to be an evergreen but I won't be a stickler on that score, since I know its just my northern prejudice.) The third problem is it can't hold up its own lights. It seems the old tree is showing signs of its age.

This will be the 79th year the good folks in Wilmington have draped 4000 bulbs on this old oak with lights to celebrate the Christmas holidays. My post card says the limb spread is 110 feet and is 55 feet high. That's big but actually kind of squat for a Christmas tree. I prefer cone shaped Christmas trees.

My card also says the tree is three hundred years old. A current news story on the tree claims the tree is 400-450 year old. It seems to have aged 100-150 years in the twenty years since my post card was made. Maybe that sudden aging is why one observer said the tree it looking a bit ragged these days.

Anyway, it looks like someone half a world away has done the Wilmington tree one better. There's always someone who stands on top of a hill and yells, "I'm king!" In this case, its tree huggers from down under.

In Styx Valley, Australia,

activists lit up an enormous 400 year-old tree with Christmas lights to draw attention to its plight. They are trying to save what they call the world's tallest Christmas Tree on a tract of ancient forest in Tasmania. The tree is 84 meter (276 foot) Eucalyptus scheduled to be chopped up into bits for a Japanese paper company. The activists are living in the tree to protect it from being cut down. So it's not merely the king of Christmas Trees (its got the Wilmington tree by height and total volume), it is the Christmas tree with the most life in it. And its an evergreen to boot.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Thankgiving Day at the Reagan Ranch

This is the first post card I've ever bought over standard retail price (two dollars) with the intention of adding it to my collection. I found this gem the day after Thanksgiving in an antique store in my neighborhood. I bought it because the reverse side had a connection to Thanksgiving and was a vivid image of a well known love story between former president Reagan and wife, Nancy. It is an endearing image.

I have a hunch it was circulated as evidence of the a robust president, who survived an assassination attempt eight months earlier. The Reagan's and the nation had a lot to be thankful for Thanksgiving Day 1981, as do we today after electing the nation's first black president.

This is a quote from the reverse side: "Here we see the gallant President assisting wife Nancy in dismounting from "No Strings" after their Thanksgiving Day ride. November 26, 1981."

Today, you would be hard pressed to find a narrative on the back of an American post card using the term "gallant." We seem to have done away with such terms of chivalry in favor of a tyranny of equality in speech and manners. This is unfortunate. Any time one person gets a lift from another they should be seen as gallant or, at the very least, polite.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A post card sampler

I feel like a new kid on the block. Somewhat timid at setting out in my new neighborhood, yet thrilled to see what new sights (sites) I might find and the new acquaintances I might make. This blog will display some of the cards in my collection and some comments on the cards, on collecting and on popular culture.

The post cards in the image above represent several eras of cards during the first half of the twentieth-century. They also show varied themes and subject matter typical in the U.S. and Europe.

At the bottom left is a card commemorating the surrender of Confederate Gen. Roberts E. Lee to Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, April 9, 1865. Of all the cards in the sampler it is the most modern, most likely produced in the 50's or 60's. It is a photo of an unidentified painting. The card at the top of the sampler of the two lovers is the oldest. It is a black and white photo with hand painted highlights. These were typical of cards of the first decades of the 20th-century.

The black and white photo card to the right of the lovers was copyrighted 1940. It was an advertisement for the Renfro Valley Barn Dance, a radio show broadcast Saturday nights "from a real barn" in Renfro Valley, Kentucky, back in the day. I found that the barn dance is still going strong down in Renfro Valley.

The characters pictured are A'nt Idy and Little Clifford. The message on the reverse side says, "After this picture was taken A'nt Idy asked the photographer for the head-rest used in posing Little Clifford. She claimed it was the only thing that had ever kept him still for any length of time."

I'll reveal more about these and other cards in the coming days. I hope to be able to feature one card a week.