September 2013

Posted by Ellen

It's gotta be that shredder sitting by the windowsill, just to the right of the desktop.

This is Ted's new office in Washington, DC.

Posted by Ellen

It must have been Oscar Wilde who said that you could never be overdressed or overeducated. In fact, he may be saying it just now, as he contemplates the world outside his childhood home in Dublin's Merrion Square, dressed to the nines from the neck down and wearing a becoming shade of snark across his face.

Sculptor Danny Osborne was as much prospector as artist for this project. He found the jade for Wilde's smoking jacket in extreme northern British Columbia, near the Yukon border. The pink collar and cuffs are from manganese-rich veins of zoisite in Norwegian shale.

The shimmery trousers are larkivite, also from Norway, a coarse-grained rock rich in anorthoclase feldspar, mined in Oslo Fjord. The well-polished shoes are black charnockite, from southern India; they get their shine from a distinctive kind of pyroxene known as hypersthene.

The 35-ton boulder that Wilde lounges on is Irish, but it's not in situ; Osborne found it in the Wicklow Mountains outside of Dublin.

The statue was sponsored by the Guinness Ireland Group and dedicated in 1997, ninety-seven years after Wilde's death at age 46.

It seemed appropriate, even necessary, to end this posting with a Wildeism. Settling on a single passage, however, proved ridiculously difficult, and it is certainly unfair to the man to reduce him to well-dressed witticism. But this line may do as well as any: "Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future."

Or this: "Being natural is simply a pose."

Posted by Ellen

The railing on the stoop in front of this Rittenhouse Square dentist's office is held up by wrought iron wings and drumsticks.

Posted by Ellen

According to the good people at Life magazine in 1937, no animals were harmed in the production of this and the many hundreds of similar pictures that comprised the life's work of photographer Harry Whittier Frees, "the most famed U.S. photographer of dressed-up animals."

"No animal protective socities have ever accused him of cruelty to animals," said the Life article. "Some have praised and admired his work." Frees, for one, insisted that gentleness with his models was the secret of his success.

Still and all, in the twenty-first century, we kinda wonder.

It all started one evening in 1906 at the Frees dinner table in Audubon, Pennsylvania. Somebody had brought a silly paper hat to the table, and it was passed around from head to head with plenty of giggles and wisecracks. And then somebody put the hat on the head of the family's pet kitten, Boots, which led to even more giggles but also to an epiphany for Harry Frees: he would take a picture of the cat in the hat and see if he could sell it.

A postcard printer bought it and begged for more; a career was born. Frees spent the next forty years dressing up baby animals that he rented from the neighbors and posing them in human sorts of activities. The postcards and children's books now sell for about $20 each on ebay.

Most of the costumes were sewn by Frees's housekeeper, Mrs. Annie Edelman, who contrived stiffeners to keep the animals posed somewhat upright. In his studio, Frees worked hard to keep his models' attention; bunnies were the easiest to work with, he said, because they were so timid they didn't move much. Piglets were the most difficult to handle; when unhappy, they tended to close their eyes tight and squeal.

But Frees's bread and butter were kittens and puppies doing everyday sorts of things that people do. And for what it's worth, note that the clothespins here are made from a single piece of wood, not the spring-loaded pincer kind of clothespin, which would have been difficult to manipulate without opposable thumbs.

Posted by Ellen

Japan's Mount Fuji, just before dawn.

This is a pretty spectacular photo, with the features of an iconic landscape dwarfed by a skyful of stars and clouds and hints of daylight. Modern cameras can capture this sort of scene more or less routinely if they are set up to stare into the night, lens wide open, without blinking or moving for, in this case, twenty seconds.

The human eye could drink it in at a glance, if only we were there. But we weren't there, sadly. This morning, we must make do with the picture, and fortunately it's a picture that rewards a slowly wandering eye with pleasant little discoveries in the realms of shadow and glow, detail and hulk, pattern and emptiness.

Posted by Ellen

Back in June, baby Summer was a four-pound preemie whose days blurred into nights tethered to the beeps and wires of an apnea monitor.

But by mid-August, when she left Philadelphia to begin life with her adoptive family in a village 50 kilometers north of Amsterdam, Summer was fat and happy and paying attention to the world. That's what a summer on Kater Street will do for you.