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

Friday, October 30, 2009

A Halloween Muse

This postcard shows a 1st-century Roman fresco of a frightful muse. I wonder if Stephen King, American author of a multitude of horror classics, is acquainted with her? We've all heard that one's muse is an inconvenient companion, coming and going at whim, yet I might have second thoughts about calling for her help to write my blog if she regularly arrived carrying a decapitated head.

The postcard is from the J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu, California, circa 1980.

Friday, October 23, 2009

In Another Life

Echos of Tienanmen Square.
This postcard's photo was taken by Michelle Barnes-Ness and printed by Alaskan Postcard Classics on environmentally friendly inks and paper. The card was a gift along with 24 other cards from friends Jan and Rick. They are serious garage sale folks and found the cards at an ongoing garage sale in Fairbanks.
The caption on the reverse side said this particular moose charged, kicked the locomotive, then jumped off the tracks. Fortunately for this moose the train was not moving. Usually their orneriness earns them a trip to oblivion.
This year more than 300 moose will be hit by trains in Alaska. That is not so much a prediction but a figure based on average strikes for the past 25 years. If the snow is heavy, more will die. Even though moose can weight up to 1,600 pounds, a freight train with several thousand tons of mass moving at 40 miles per hour with a steel cattle guard easily wins the battle of nature verses machine. It takes a fully loaded freight train nearly a mile to stop. Moose use the tracks to avoid floundering in the deep snow -- which in some areas can be eight feet deep. One year a train on a 712-mile round trip collided with 24 moose. The only good to come of this carnage is that some of the moose killed by trains are savaged for local food banks.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Tossed Alaskans, Part IV

I picked up this great postcard at my local grocery. It is a welcome addition to the other three blanket toss postcards I posted previously. This one, like the others, shows natives and tourists having a great time throwing people into the air. I like that all the folks in this shot have big smiles on their faces.

These blanket toss postcards are popular with my blog readers. It seems people are interested because of the obvious, it looks like fun, and it gives a glimpse into the traditional way of life most people never see. These photo postcards show a relatively new use for a traditional activity -- the sharing of a traditional hunting skill with tourists from outside the community. For eons, the blanket toss is used to spot game, usually during the spring whaling festival (see below).

These postcards show how gracious native communities can be in sharing their heritage. The cards also preserve a snapshot of that heritage for the world. It is obvious that not everyone can travel to Alaska nor live the subsistence way of life, yet everyone can be enriched by learning about these practices. I am grateful that when I lived in Western Alaska, native people openly shared their life and traditions with me. I gained survival skills during that time that served me well on several occasions. It also gave me a whole new perspective on native cultures based on the sometimes harsh realities of life on the coast.

Reader Rob Schmidt was kind enough to send some details about the blanket toss, which is part of the hunting festival called Nalukataq by the Inupiaq Eskimos. According to Ron, "Nalukataq is the spring whaling festival of the Inupiaq Eskimos of Northern Alaska, and is characterized most famously by the Eskimo blanket toss... It (the blanket) is made from several bearded seal skins sewn together in a circle or square. A rope extends from each corner, and is pulled tightly between four wooden beams using block and tackle. This raises the blanket to about waist height. Men and women circle the blanket and hold the edges, and pull out on the blanket to throw the blanket dancer in the air. Anyone may be thrown on the blanket, but traditionally the captains and their wives go first. Originally they threw out goods, such as clothing, tools, or food as a means of demonstrating their ability to provide, but today that tradition has evolved, and wives of the captains throw candy to surrounding children once airborne. This event is the highlight and namesake of the festival, and may last several hours. Following the blanket toss, everyone gathers for a traditional dance."

Rob makes the point that bearded seal skins are used as the material for the "blankets." Several of the postcards I posted earlier note that walurs skins are used. Both animals skins are used. From what I know of living in northwestern Alaska, natives peoples are not adverse to using whatever is available, especially for tourist demonstrations. There is no doubt that seal skins are used and even preferred, especially in the far north, but they are not used exclusively in every location. Many independent sources refer to the use of walrus skins.

For more details on the Nalukataq, see this link:

Rob Schmidt is the author of several blogs and a web site. His Pictographs and Newspaper Rock blogs are Rob's take on current affairs from a multicultural perspective. His web site, Blue Corn Comics, showcases his comic book publication Peace Party in which native comic characters are cast as superheros. It is also filled with links and commentary on Native Americans as they are misportrayed in pop culture. Rob's mission is to dispel stereotypes of Native Americans in mainstream society, especially in popular media.

For some great pictures and videos of the blanket toss, go here, Alaska-In-Pictures and here World Eskimo Indian Olympics.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Denver Zephyrs

The Zephyrs of the the Burlington (railroad) Route which passes through the American Midwest was once site of the world record holder for high speed trains. On October 23, 1936, the Denver Zephyrs set the record for long-distance non-stop runs from Chicago to Denver (1,017 miles) in 12 hours, 12 minutes for an average speed of 83.3 miles per hour. This particular run beat the previous record held by the original Zephyr, which began service in 1934, by 53 minutes. The top speed on the record run was 116 mph.

In an era of steam locomotives, these trains pointed to the future of rail power. They were diesel-powered and made of lightweight stainless steel. Their streamlined modernistic lines inspired a nation still hamstrung by the grip of the Great Depression. They pointed to a prosperous future. Yet, history intervened. World War II began six years later. Following the war, America invested heavily in automobile infrastructure and trains were placed on the backburner of public policy.

Reading a postcard price guide book the other day, I made a discovery that within my collection are several valuable postcards. The Denver Zephyrs two-color postcard above was valued at $8, according to Diane Allmen's book, The Official Identification and Price Guide to Postcards, published in 1990. Seeing that the book was published almost 20 years ago, I assume that valuation may have increased. If I wanted to sell it, which I do not, it might fetch $12 or maybe more. A quick search on line shows this train is very popular with collectors. Many views of the Zephyrs are going now for $35 and one for $395 here. The same search did not turn up my postcard, so maybe it is a rare find. Though I don't collect cards as an investment, it is always a delightful surprise to find out that my pack rat tendencies have some monetary value.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Dancing with the Gods in Taiwan

The incredible image came from Neil in Taiwan, a Postcrosser. The oversize photo postcard shows a dancer from a traditional ceremony called Dancing with the Gods. Neil explains that dancers decorate their faces and dance in front of temples. I'm sure there is more to this but a search did not reveal much. Again, a mystery.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Collage Postcard Art of Diane Glass

Northern California artist, Diane Glass was kind enough to let me post one of her original postcard art works today. She sent this card with some others in a beautiful greeting card with a note related to my blog this spring. We stop in to each other's blogs now and then and offer a comment or two.
You can find her blog Artstanding Stranger: Art with a Heart, here.
Diane's work speaks for itself but whimsical seems to suggest the tone for a lot of her work. Out of the clutter that is her studio, she selects with great skill the pieces necessary to satisfy her muse. The results are subtle pieces of art which, I think, transcends their own medium.

The collage postcard card above extols personal freedom as a key to having fun. "Fun is the ability to be free to be yourself," it says. How difficult that can be, but, as her piece shows, there are clues to this freedom of spirit. The card suggests there are tickets ("Good for One Admission") bold clothing, bare feet -- no doubt to walk on holy ground, and angel wings made of natural leaves. We also notice the background is chosen to accentuate one's attributes. Is this not an illustration for loosening up and putting some jazz in our step.
Diane does a lot of ATC or Artist Trading Cards or Art Cards. You can see examples of some of these at her blog or at Flikr here. Her recent Orange Scarf is fantastic. She also does jewelry. You can purchase Diane's work at Esty. I've got my eye on some of those Victorian Steampunk necklaces she recently made. I think one would look divine on my wife's neck.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Birchwood Postcard

This week the Ken Burns historical documentary on the U.S. National Parks is being broadcast on the Public Broadcasting Network, so I thought I would present this wooden postcard to remind people what a wonderful resource we have in the national parks. I also thought I might offer a note of caution to prevent my readers from getting burned while visiting the parks. Whether shopping, booking your bus tour or making lodging reservations, you need to pay close attention to details.

When I was a very small boy, my father used to remind me each time I walked out the door not to take any wooden nickels. At the time, I took that to mean don’t accept anything fake, including raw deals from shysters, overpriced goods from unscrupulous merchants or BS from friends or acquaintances. I still heed his advice and thought about it when I saw wooden postcards for sale this summer.

I have postcards made of tin, copper and cedar but did not have a birch wood postcard. Midway through summer, I saw some on a rack in one of the many tourist traps along what it known by locals as “Glitter gulch,” located just outside the entrance to Denali National Park. Though there are no glitter from lights or fancy architecture, the shops along the boardwalk-lined, rustic, boomtownesque, commercial village always advertise season ending sales in the midst of the tourist season, so I waited for the authentic 50 percent off sale, the second week in September, to pick up my cards. As a local, I do not like to pay tourist prices (wooden nickels). OK, I admit I am a cheap skate but my grandmother, who grew up during the terrible depression of the 1930's and fed my early appetite for postcards, would be proud of my savvy shopping skills.

This birch wood postcard is very well done and sports an image on canvas which is glued on the wood. The style and name of Mt. McKinley National Park show that it is a reproduction of an historic painted postcard. (The park's name was changed to Denali National Park in 1980.) The color contrast of the composition gives the white mountain, which is intended to represent Mt. McKinley, an almost three dimensional effect. Yet the image combined with the words take some poetic license. I do not mean to sound like the artistic police here but there are no tourist cabins in such close quarters to Mt. McKinley. In other words, if you see the card and think you can stay in a cabin so close to the "great one" you will have accepted a wooden nickel.

Perhaps the source of inspiration for this image are the cozy cabins at the Camp Denali & Northface Lodge located in the Denali National Park Wilderness Preserve in Kantishna, still some 30 miles from the mountain. The rustic yet elegant cabins (for which you will pay more than 4 c-notes a night) enjoys a spectacular view of the Alaska Range and Mt. McKinley's northface. Along with the Kantishina Roadhouse, Denali Northcountry Lodge, and the Aramark/Doyan Joint Ventures, Camp Denali & the Northface Lodge is one of a handful of authorized concessionaires that offer wilderness accommodations and transportation in and around Denali National Park.