Ode to a Special 7-Year-Old

Today, Pigtails in Paint is 7 years old.  And thanks to a multitude of guardian angels, it has managed to survive this long bringing attention to a most valuable part of our society, a part that is all too often taken for granted.  Seven is not generally regarded as an important milestone in an enterprise, but given our subject matter, it is an age when a girl is arguably at the height of her charm: she still has the youthful animal spirits that conveys an intoxicating zest for life and yet, has developed sufficient language and intellectual capacity to be an engaging companion.  Below are a few original and historical pieces commemorating this very special anniversary.  -Ron

The first is an original work in the form of an acrostic by Pip Starr who also composed the image for this occasion.

Heaven above opened one wintry night
And birthed an infant on a beam of light,
Presented us with girlish genius,
Placed in our hands the key that would spare us
Years hence from mediocrity and shame,
Bestowing on the world a righteous flame
Invested with the power of her kind–
Revealed to all, she could not be confined!
Today we celebrate her seventh year,
How, counter to the odds, she still is here
Displaying for the world her many charms
And talents: welcome her with open arms!
Yet even now she giggles as she stands,
Pigtails and all, before her doting fans.
It cannot be denied this child has strength,
Given enemies go to great length
To silence her, to make her go away,
And still she’s here to taunt them to this day.
If any man should doubt her bravery;
Lest any view her as unsavory,
She has the answer to all disbelief
In moments such as these, so scrap your grief.
Now picture, if you will, this simple scene:
Present before us is a stage serene.
A spotlight shines down, and she enters there
Into the light, our angel sweet and fair;
Not seconds in, with impish grin, does she
Take off her dress and cry aloud, “I’m free!”

And how about a couple of songs about girls of the celebrated age to mark the occasion? First, Seven Years by Norah Jones. Then, Childhood Dreams by Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

As many readers may already know, Graham Ovenden was pleased with Pigtails’ coverage of his recent trial.  He learned of our impending anniversary and generously contributed this original poem, fresh off the presses.

Graham Ovenden – Lily age Seven Years (2010)

A FATHER TO HIS SEVEN YEAR OLD DAUGHTER

I look on you and marvel at your gift
so grateful given through our love.

You grow, the image of our dearest care,
a child both gentle as an angel fair
but equal, strong, determined as the fancy take
to fight all foes invention make.

Like flowers dancing in the air
or tree tip tops; their rhythms share
your gift of childhood’s grace …
Then turn the wild winds to a solemn pace.
Yes, follow on in Pan’s domain
cloaked by a cloth of leafy train.

A child of nature you have grown—
as yet no Earthly strife or passions shown
that turns your mind to Mammon’s lies …
Cloud Castles where the skylark flies
is your domain.

(Let ranting prophets keep their shame).
For innocence is held by you;
a sacred trust, both loving, true.

—Graham Ovenden

The accompanying image is from an original painting in oil on paper.

The next contribution is from Christian, whom you can thank for even having this commemorative post at all.

Mac Harshberger – illustration for “The Birthday” in The Singing Crow (1926)

THE BIRTHDAY
To Julie Bridwell

JULIE had a birthday,
Mother made acclaim;
Seven soulful candles
Waved their flags of flame.

Ferryboats were tooting,
Trying to be sweet;
Sets of verses scooted
Down from Henry Street.

Ev’ry place was happy—
Even New York Bay;
Sea Gulls flew in sevens,
Honoring the day.

—Nathalia Crane

This poem was printed in The Singing Crow and Other Poems published by Albert & Charles Boni, New York (1926) and illustrated by Mac Harshberger.

Graham Ovenden being an avid purveyor of literature also had a couple of suggestions for poems that fit the sevens theme.

THE SEVEN AGES OF GIRLHOOD

I.

At Two, she is a tiny lass,

And Joy she scarcer knows from sorrow;

She scarce consults her looking-glass;

She has no thought of sad to-morrow!

II.

At Four she is a merry maid,

And looks on aught but play as folly;

She can’t believe bright flowers fade—

That only sawdust is her dolly.

III.

At Eight, her troubles come in scores,

For oft she is perverse and haughty;

A pouting puss in pinafores—

Who’s sometimes whipped when she is naughty!

IV.

At Twelve, she is a saucy teaze,

Who knows full well her glances rankle;

Her petticoats scarce veil her knees,

And fairy frills scarce kiss her ankle.

V.

At Fifteen, she’s the pearl of pets,

And feels assured her pow’r is strengthened;

Her snowy school-girl trouserettes

Are hidden when her skirt is lengthened.

VI.

At Sixteen, she’s the sweetest sweet,

And dresses in the height of fashion;

She feels her heart ’neath bodice beat,

In earnest for the tender passion.

VII.

At Eighteen, p’r’aps she may be sold

Her lot to share, for worse or better;

She’ll either sell her heart for gold—

Or give it for a golden fetter!

—Joseph Ashby-Sterry

This poem was published in a collection called Boudoir Ballads (1876).  Although many poets have written about young girls, Ashby-Sterry distinguished himself by dealing almost exclusively with them.

Arthur Boyd Houghton – Poems by Jean Ingelow Illustrated (1867)

SONGS OF SEVEN

SEVEN TIMES ONE. EXULTATION.

THERE ‘S no dew left on the daisies and clover,

There’s no rain left in heaven;

I’ve said my ‘seven times’ over and over,

Seven times one are seven.

I am old, so old, I can write a letter;

My birthday lessons are done;

The lambs play always, they know no better;

They are only one times one.

O moon! in the night I have seen you sailing

And shining so round and low;

You were bright! ah, bright! but your light is failing—

You are nothing now but a bow.

You moon, have you done something wrong in heaven

That God has hidden your face?

I hope if you have you will soon be forgiven,

And shine again in your place.

O velvet bee, you’re a dusty fellow,

You’ve powdered your legs with gold!

O brave marsh marybuds, rich and yellow,

Give me your money to hold!

O columbine, open your folded wrapper,

Where two twin turtle-doves dwell!

O cuckoopint, toll me the purple clapper

That hangs in your clear green bell!

And show me your nest with the young ones in it;

I will not steal them away;

I am old! you may trust me, linnet, linnet—

I am seven times one to-day.

—Jean Ingelow

This poem is the first Canto in a much longer poem appearing in Poems by Jean Ingelow Illustrated published by Longmans, Green, Reader & Dyer (1867) and illustrated by Arthur Boyd Houghton.

Nymph or Nymphet: John William Waterhouse and the Ever-Shifting Definition of Pedophilia

There is no shortage of controversy these days over artworks featuring nude and/or eroticized children. Quite often these turn out to be massively overblown, and more often than not the “erotic” aspects of said art are purely in the eye of the critical beholder. But at least in most of those cases the art does feature an actual child. Recently a painting by Pre-Raphaelite painter John William Waterhouse, called Hylas and the Nymphs, was removed from display at the Manchester Art Gallery in a blatant attempt to create controversy where none previously existed.  This was supposedly done in order to “encourage debate” about the way the female body is represented in relation to the male gaze or something.  It’s not hard to see where this is going, right?

John William Waterhouse – Hylas and the Nymphs (1896)

This publicity stunt was in fact prompted by an actual controversy over Balthus’s painting Thérèse Dreaming (which does feature an underage girl in a somewhat provocative pose) at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.  Mia Merrill was the person who formally objected to the work, arguing that the Met was, “romanticising voyeurism and the objectification of children.”  On those grounds she presented the museum with a petition containing over 8,000 signatures in order to pressure the Met into removing the work.  To its credit, the museum refused to bow to such political concerns, and the work was left alone.

Balthus – Thérèse Dreaming (1938)

Nevertheless, this convinced Clare Gannaway, curator of the Manchester Art Gallery, to remove the Waterhouse painting temporarily.  Her reasoning was thus:

It’s not about saying these things can’t exist in a public gallery – it’s about saying, maybe we just need to challenge the way these paintings have been read and enable them to speak in a different way.

In other words, her plan was to generate some sort of larger cultural reaction to art on the whole, a #MeToo-like movement where we collectively reassess the youthful female form in art and shed light on how we have long taken for granted the male exploitation of the female form.  Now, I have no problem with challenging the paradigmatic conception of femininity in art, but the proper way to do that is not to play moral panic games with the public by introducing a pseudo-controversy into the dialogue.

People were asked to comment on this state of affairs, garnering predictably mixed results, with one or more of the commenters noting some supposed pedophilic aspect to Waterhouse’s portrayal of the nymphs.  Says Chris Taylor:

Not one of your correspondents seems to want to directly address Hylas and the Nymphs’s subtle, but surely unmistakable, paedophilic content. I can understand why the male spectator finds a peculiar difficulty in broaching this – there are always problematic moral considerations of the direct imputation of taboo motives for that male gaze (however expressed). But what of the female spectator’s gaze? Having lectured on British and French 19th-century art for many years, I have always been struck by the extraordinary art critical silence in discussing the ways in which paedophilic desire is often embodied in that century’s depiction of the female nude. Or have I simply misunderstood – is it the case that paedophilic desire did not exist before the 20th century?

It’s interesting that Taylor points out the painting’s unmistakable pedophilic content, since to my knowledge no one had, until this point, recognized it in any explicit way, or else every single viewer who saw it just ignored that part of it.  Or, could it be that it simply isn’t there?  As per usual, the modern feminist critic’s definition of pedophilia is very different from the clinical definition, which limits it to desire for prepubescent children only.  Whereas Waterhouse’s nymphs are, at the very youngest, 15 or 16 (with 16 being the legal age of consent in the painter’s native England then, as now).  While these nymphs are certainly young, as nymphs are traditionally meant to be, no one could accuse them of being prepubescent.

Nor is the context particularly exploitative or suggestive of pedophilia.  Far from being some sly old lech attempting to seduce a naive young girl, Hylas is himself clearly a youth, beardless and, from all appearances, rather reluctant to be pulled into the nymphs’ watery domain.  If anything, it is the females who appear to have the sexual upper hand here.  They outnumber the boy seven to one, and they are obviously the seducers, not the seducees.

But perhaps the biggest problem with Gannaway’s attempted attachment of the male admiration of the young female body in art to the #MeToo phenomenon is that it in fact minimizes the horror of actual sexual assault by muddying the waters with something much more innocuous, the flip side of which is a dangerous conflation of fantasy and reality in this era of “alternative fact.”  This was a badly conceived thought experiment that should have been nixed at the brainstorming stage.  If we’re lucky, this will be a minor blip soon forgotten.  Unfortunately, it may have as yet unseen repercussions which could conceivably do real damage to the art world before cooler minds prevail.

Maiden Voyages: February 2018

Expanding the Pipeline: There have been so many good leads coming in here and not enough time to produce them all. The efforts of readers to keep us up to date is much appreciated but there is also much duplication of effort.  The idea of ‘The Pipeline’ was to have a master index of what leads we have, what materials we have and what we still need.  In examining the current database and hardcopy sources, it is clear that ‘Films’ and ‘Artists’ subcategories will be huge and so will have dedicated pages.  Although there is not much to see at the moment, readers who keep up on this site will notice a major expansion of these pages in the next few months, beginning with ‘Films’.

The Cost of Bullying: Amy “Dolly” Everett, famous for being the face of Akubra hats at age 8 in Australia has committed suicide at age 14, after being harassed online. Everett’s father would not disclose the exact nature of the bullying or who was responsible, but urged the culprits to have the courage to attend her memorial service and witness first-hand the devastation they have caused. You can see more coverage of this story here and here and the full Akubra ad can be found here. Understandably, this has prompted debate about the dangers of social media and what measures are effective in stopping bullying.

An Iconic Ad?  A reader came forward with an interesting image advertising floor coverings in Mexico. The ad supposedly appeared in the middle of the 1980s, but he only got a blurry shot of it so readers are requested to come forward with a better copy.  Our copy of the image can currently be found at the top of the ‘Little Orphan Images’ page.

What a Drag: Recently, a 9-year-old drag queen who goes by the name Lactacia became the cover model for a gay clothing store called House of Mann. Predictably, conservatives went nuts (here and here). Pink News, a website covering LGBT issues, has this to say about it.

Standing Against Corporal Punishment: Children make themselves visible in a public demonstration while Wales votes on whether to ban corporal punishment, joining over 50 other countries.

Meet Ava Ryan: Ryan is a 7-year-old comedienne who has produced a number of cute and hilarious videos. Take a look here and here .

Why Little Girls?  I have been asked in a number of private communications why we focus only on girls. Isn’t there a segment of the population who finds boys fascinating? Or perhaps some find both genders equally interesting and are perplexed by our biased coverage. Well, I suspect my initial answer may seem like a cop out and it is this: because I am made the way I am and little girls are made the way they are! That is perhaps an overly simplistic way of saying that each of us has different perceptions, sensitivities and temperaments and so we react to stimuli differently and there is no talking us out of it by rational argument. It is interesting to note that this site very nearly did cover boy children. Pip founded this site in 2011 and thought he might cover both genders but, in examining his collected material, realized that much more of it featured girls and so placed his focus on them. And although we specialize in girls, whenever we cover an artist that does not have the same focus, we try to make it clear to our readers. Their coverage of girls or even children generally may have only been incidental and yet if it is interesting enough, it might be offered in a ‘Random Image’ post. As a result, I do not wish any boys (or their parents) to develop neuroses from our neglect. Indeed, these inquiries point to a need for someone with the drive and discipline to create a site that challenges and treats its subjects with dignity and good humor as we have. Should such a site come to pass, we would be delighted to inform our readers so they can experience that side of things. Girls and boys, even at very young ages, are not the same and those of us who observe and enjoy them tend to read different meanings into behavior and attitude just because of their “girlness” or “boyness”. These differences should be celebrated and not condemned simply because they fail to meet someone’s egalitarian standards. Managing this site is an ongoing personal exploration and I hope it is one that, in the sharing, can be appreciated by others as well. I will not claim to know all the answers and that is exactly why I remain involved with Pigtails in Paint. -Ron

The Soul Within: Christina Bothwell

Christian recently brought this artist to my attention. At first blush, many of the sculptures seem to show an idyllic and intimate scene of innocent little girls.

Christina Bothwell and Robert Bender – Secret Life of Girls (2014-15)

Christina Bothwell – Little Friends (2016)

Yet there is something eerie about these pieces as well. A survey of her other work reveals why. Most peculiar are a series of sculptures of a girl in the presence of her disembodied soul.

Christina Bothwell – When the body sleeps (2003-06)

Christina Bothwell – When You’re Sleeping (2007-09)

Since I was very young, I have been fascinated with the concept of the Soul… the idea that the physical body represents only a small part of our beingness. I am always interested in trying to express the that we are more than just our bodies …

Christina Bothwell was born in New York City, spending her youth in towns and cities until finally realizing that she needed to be immersed in nature. She now lives in rural Pennsylvania with her husband and three young children. She says glass gives her the same versatility of other sculptural media with the added feel of an “inner space” augmented by the special way it transmits light. She is currently exploring the idea of metamorphosis by incorporating one figure inside another as though the figure were “pregnant” with its own life affirming potential.

Christina Bothwell – Bow (2012-13)

Christina Bothwell – Bees (2014-15)

Bothwell considers nature the main source of her inspiration and finds it a constant reminder of the interconnectedness of life. This attitude is apparent in many of her pieces and the juxtaposition of human an animal elements give her work a mythic dimension.

Christina Bothwell and Robert Bender – Dream Within A Dream (2016)

Christina Bothwell – Sweet Candour (2014-15)

Christina Bothwell – Mermaid (2007-09)

Acrostics: A Double Collaboration

For a Renaissance Man, an acrostic is an irresistible pastime. It combines the qualities of a puzzle with poetry and so draws on one’s intellectual and creative faculties.

To me and, I expect, many other readers it must have appeared that Graham Ovenden disappeared from the face of the Earth after publishing his last well-known books in the 1990s. I was intrigued by a title I had not seen before owned by a serious collector who was liquidating his collection. It was Acrostics: Pictured in rhyme & colour (2003) published by Artists’ Choice Editions in Oxford. Over the years, I had met only a handful of people who knew of this work and its contents. I later learned that was because the commercial edition consisted of only 240 signed copies augmented with 24 specials and 5 “Exemplaries”.

Graham Ovenden and Brian Partridge – Acrostics (2003) (1a)

Graham Ovenden and Brian Partridge – Acrostics (2003) (1b)

Except for ‘Anouchka’ in the Artists’ Choice Edition version, images were printed in diptych form.  I am showing most of them as individual panels to make them more legible and to show off the detail of Partridge’s work.

In the course of researching this mysterious volume and background information on the artist for his original post, I learned that Ovenden is fond of collaborating with and encouraging other artists. Accompanying the images and poetry is the excellent decorative artwork of Brian Partridge. Partridge is an astounding artist and will be featured in a dedicated post to be published soon. He met Ovenden for the first time in 1982 while visiting him at Barley Splatt for a long weekend in the company of Keith Spencer, who published a magazine called The Green Book where his drawings first appeared in print.

The first acrostics to be published were in Ovenden’s monograph published by Academy Editions in 1987 featuring Daisy and Tilly. These particular examples were destroyed in a motorcycle accident near London while being carried by a courier.

Graham Ovenden and Brian Partridge – ‘Daisy’ from Graham Ovenden (monograph, 1987)

The next publication to include an acrostic from the proposed book was in ‘The Ruralists’ issue of Art & Design magazine (profile no. 23, Volume 6, 9/10 1990). This was a colored pencil portrait by Ovenden.

Graham Ovenden and Brian Partridge – Art & Design, Volume 6, (9/10 1990)

No other acrostics appeared in print until the finished Artists’ Choice Editions version in 2003. The book contains only 12 designs and accompanying text but was intended to have a half dozen more. Due to some mixup, those did not end up getting printed. The missing images did appear in the specials and exemplaries as those were hand-printed and assembled. ‘Amy’, ‘Eve’ and ‘Anna’ shown below were among the omitted items.

Graham Ovenden and Brian Partridge – Acrostics (2003) (2a)

Graham Ovenden and Brian Partridge – Acrostics (2003) (2b)

Renowned novelist Joanne Harris wrote the introduction for this book and others for Ovenden and, conversely, he illustrated one of her novels as well. Along with a brief history of this art form, she recounts a visit to Barley Splatt along with her husband and daughter.

I have been an admirer of Graham Ovenden for nearly twenty years, although we only met face-to-face in 2002, when I contacted him to commission a portrait of my daughter, Anouchka. Arriving (rather nervously) at Graham’s home, the legendary Barley Splatt, on a glorious summer’s day, my husband, my daughter and I were greeted by a serene and genial gentleman with a mischievous smile who immediately invited us to join him for a walk up the river. We accepted, little suspecting that up the river meant precisely that; a mile-long walk along the bed of a clear and fast-moving little river, while Graham, in boots, gaiters and floppy hat, glided ahead of us, impervious to rocks, brambles or the occasional stretches of deep water which soaked him to the waist. We took off our shoes and joined him; my daughter with the immediate, unquestioning glee of a puppy off the leash, my husband and I with a hesitancy that quickly—and rather to our surprise turned to pleasure.

I suspect it was a test; a means of determining if we had the spirit, the humour and the joie-de-vivre to cherish a work of art by Graham Ovenden. I suppose we passed; in any case, a few days later he presented us with an acrostic poem dedicated to our daughter, with a handwritten postscript, river-walking will never be the same again. -Joanne Harris, July 2003

Graham Ovenden and Brian Partridge – Acrostics (2003) (3a)

Graham Ovenden and Brian Partridge – Acrostics (2003) (3b)

Of course, the most famous examples of acrostics familiar to Pigtails readers are those of Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll).

A boat, beneath a sunny sky
Lingering onward dreamily
In an evening of July—
Children three that nestle near;
Eager eye and willing ear;
Pleased a simple tale to hear—
Long has paled that sunny sky:
Echoes fade and memories die:
Autumn frosts have slain July.
Still she haunts me, phantomwise,
Alice moving under skies
Never seen lo waking eyes.
Children yet, the tale to hear,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Lovingly shall nestle near
In at Wonderland they lie,
Dreaming as the days go by,
Dreaming as the summers die:
Ever drifting down the stream—
Lingering in the golden gleam—
Life, what is it but a dream?

I must concur with Harris that Ovenden seems a logical and worthy successor to Carroll in many ways.

For me, it is with Lewis Carroll—and his natural successor, Graham Ovenden—that acrostic verse has the most resonance and style. Both are artists who combine a strong visual aesthetic with a deceptive, childlike simplicity. Both are unashamedly eccentric, taking pleasure in the whimsical and the grotesque. Both are chroniclers of the photographic image, with a particular sensitivity to the transience of youth and beauty.

Both have a special, almost pagan reverence for children and Nature. Both share a deep nostalgia for a golden past that has never quite existed beyond the mystic state of grace represented by childhood. -Joanne Harris, July 2003

It is hard to account for all the variations in the images. Once Partridge submited his drawings, Ovenden might trim them to better show off the particular portrait. If, in hindsight, he was still not pleased with the final result, he would make further revisions for the special editions. For example, his original concept for Eve was fairly simple. But pleased with the results of one of his paintings of this model, Tess, he decided to use that instead.

Graham Ovenden and Brian Partridge – ‘Eve’ (original, 1985)

Graham Ovenden and Brian Partridge – Acrostics (2003) (4a)

Graham Ovenden and Brian Partridge – Acrostics (2003) (4b)

Ovenden’s original intent was to produce special drawings for each of the portraits, but this plan never materialized. Therefore, the images have a raw on-the-fly quality that reflects the creative impulse of the artist. These works were not planned from beginning to end, but were composed as the muse struck him. Thus an image could be based on almost any medium: photograph, painting, drawing or one of these modified on computer.

Graham Ovenden and Brian Partridge – Acrostics (2003) (5a)

Graham Ovenden and Brian Partridge – Acrostics (2003) (5b)

Juliette Liberty (what a wonderful name!) is Peter Blakes’ daughter. You will recognize this image from the ‘Fall from Grace?’ post.

Graham Ovenden and Brian Partridge – Acrostics (2003) (6a)

Graham Ovenden and Brian Partridge – Acrostics (2003) (6b)

In reviewing the history of this project, Partridge got motivated to better document the details. Although an enjoyable process, he did have an odd feeling of “curating my own past”. There are still a few examples that have yet to be used in any final pieces.

Brian Partridge – original drawing for prospective acrostic ‘M’ (1986)

The story does not end in 2003. Since this is a work of inspirational impulse, new pieces have been added. Although Ovenden’s original books were well-sourced and researched, he was not pleased with the production value of the images themselves. So he took it upon himself to learn the craft of printmaking and began publishing hand-printed books with museum-quality paper and bindings. These are fairly expensive volumes for a select clientele which created the impression that Ovenden was no longer productive. He began publishing under the name Garage Press, mostly expensive tomes with a few commercial productions thrown in such as Robin Hanbury-Tenison’s Echos of a Vanished World (2012). So since about 2015, there has been an updated hand-produced version of Acrostics available. Below is one of the new additions to the volume that now contains more than 20 diptychs.

Graham Ovenden and Brian Partridge – Acrostics (2015)

There is a lot more to the Garage Press story and efforts are underway to print more commercial productions that would be accessible to the general public. My next major post will be about this story and give an overview of the titles currently available and what arrangements can be made for the more serious collectors among you to purchase them. And as mentioned above, Brian Partridge’s long overdue post will follow shortly thereafter.

Frances MacDonald

Initially I started with a single image which Christian had sent me, wondering if I knew anything else about it. It was by Frances MacDonald, and I didn’t, but I did immediately notice its resemblance to the work of another artist frequently associated with both the Art Nouveau and Symbolist movements: Charles Rennie Mackintosh. This was no accident. MacDonald was a member of the Glasgow art collective known as The Four, which also included Mackintosh—easily the best known of them—as well as Frances’s better-known sister, Margaret MacDonald (who married Mackintosh) and Frances’ own husband, James Herbert McNair.

The men and women initially knew each other from being students at the Glasgow School of Art, where they quickly took up with each other. In examining the work of all four, it’s easy to see why Charles ultimately gravitated to Margaret while James favored Frances. Charles and Margaret’s work is characterized by tight expressive lines, bold geometrical patterns and intricate detail while James and Frances preferred a looser, muddier style which was, nonetheless, no less elegant than that of their more celebrated compatriots. This style arises most surely from their preferred medium: watercolors.  And all four were clearly influenced by the Celtic motifs of their native country of Scotland.

Of the four, it appears to be Frances’s art which most frequently makes use of children as subjects, girls especially, like those in the scenes below. The first, A Paradox, is the image I received from Christian. It would seem to be a wedding procession, with the nude young bridesmaids or flower girls parading close to the betrothed couple. The scene evokes or references antiquity, where small children often went without clothing up until about age 7 or 8 or so.

Frances MacDonald – A Paradox (1905)

Frances MacDonald – Child in a Rose Bowl

Frances MacDonald – Sleeping Princess (1909)

Frances MacDonald – Sleeping Princess (1909)(detail)

Unfortunately, only a fraction of Frances’s overall work still exists, as her husband destroyed much of it after her untimely demise at the age of 48. One wonders why he felt the urge to do such a destructive act. Was it out of grief, or something more base like jealousy? Perhaps she even requested he do this if she passed on before him, the same way Lewis Carroll requested of his relatives the destruction of the remainder of his photographic work. I simply don’t know, but whatever the case, the world was no doubt cheated of some truly wonderful art.

Note: citations for some of these images credit MacDonald under her married name, Frances McNair.  -Ed.

Maiden Voyages: January 2018

This is looking to be a banner year for Pigtails.  So many things are really coming together and I am refreshed and ready to get back on track.

Ode to a Special 7-Year-Old: Pip and I have often referred to Pigtails in Paint as a work of art in its own right with a kind of life of its own.  Christian recently suggested that we do a special post for the 7th anniversary.  This idea did not appeal to me at first since “seven” is not usually a landmark year.  However, given the subject matter of this site, it is apropos that we do something to commemorate our little girl reaching—what many of you will agree—is a particularly delightful age.  We will be featuring relevant poetry contributed by Christian and original poems written by Graham Ovenden and Pip Starr.  Since I like this site to be a communal effort, I would like to solicit suggestions from our readers and contributors.  Don’t forget: the anniversary date is February 15th.

The New Doomsday Book: For those who are unfamiliar, when William the Conqueror took over England, he had a detailed accounting of all assets in the country so he would know what property fell under his domain.  It got its name because of its thoroughness: that no thing of value could escape its accounting.  While Graham Ovenden was serving prison time, he was not just passing the time.  He did a lot of reading, writing and even got to do some painting.  Most notable though is his diary which is a meticulous accounting of the malpractices and injustices of the police, the media and Her Majesty’s courts and officials.  After Ovenden’s release, a barrister came forward to offer his services in suing the police, the media (excepting two companies) and the courts.  The full documentation of the details has actually been beautifully bound together in a book, complete with high-quality images.  Once this case begins to get public traction, it may be one of the most revealing exposés on the corruption rampant in these organizations.

The Latest Victim of the Censorship Police: Facebook does it once again.  After being blocked for one day for posting an Ilona Szwarc image, now Christian has been blocked for 3 days for posting a while back a painting by William Sargeant Kendall, Narcissa (1907). Christian says he will go on posting art until they throw him out.  The most disturbing twist is that Facebook wants to know who he really is.  When they learned that he was using an alias—not allowed according to the Facebook ToS—they suspended his account.  Account holders are required to give their real first and last name which is a real blow to freedom of speech, particularly in countries where people are subject to dictatorial repression.  So if Christian wishes to continue on Facebook, he will have to share information that would make it possible for various trolls and fascists to harass him at his home for expressing his unconventional views.  Christian says he prefers VK which has not censored him so far but it is used mostly by Russians.

Coming to the Defense: It is nice, for a change, to see a museum not kowtow to the lowest common denominator and refusing to take down one of Balthus’ paintings entitled Thérèse Dreaming (1938), depicting a young girl in a pose that leaves her underwear showing—quite usual for this artist..  The Metropolitan Museum of Art received an online petition with over 8,000 signatures urging the museum to reconsider its decision to include this painting.

Liberation and Pigtails’ New-Old Look:  Readers may have noticed a change in the appearance of the site. These new changes are actually old.  I liked the look of the posts in the original incarnation of this site first established by Pip.  When we were kicked off of WordPress, we had to start over.  I did not realize that selecting a new ‘Theme’ meant that we had to accept the accompanying typestyle and paragraph style.  For a while, I was at a loss on how to make this adjustment without a major overhaul until recently.  The heading font is called ‘Liberation’ which I think is quite appropriate.  I hope you will all agree with me that this look is much more suitable and reflects the proper artistic sensibility expressed in this site.  Also, the obstacle of including categories to the reference pages has been overcome as well and, in the next few months, readers will see a major expansion to ‘The Pipeline’, especially the list of artists and films.  This will make it easier to know which items we are aware of and what materials are still needed to do proper posts.

Domains and Extortion on the Web: When we switched to pigtailsinpaint.org, I thought it made sense to retire the old .com domain.  This seemed a good idea at first, but there was the problem of forwarding all the ‘legacy’ links from posts that were popular in the past.  Also, we had no way of controlling what a new owner might do with the domain.  Bad luck and naivete has now put us in a position of losing the domain.  Unbeknownst to us, the company who registered the domain for us went out of business and we were not informed.  When the domain expired, it was not renewed/updated as expected.  By the time we realized we had to deal with a new company, it was too late and the domain was sold to someone else.  We are still making an appeal to ICANN since we were not given a fair opportunity to renew and I do have a receipt showing that I attempted to renew in good faith.  A few days ago, I received an email from someone who claimed to be the new owner asking us for $1200 to get our old domain back!  I am told this is a common practice these days.  I will keep readers apprised as more details become available.

The Most Beautiful Little Girl?  The media’s incessant need for sensationalism continues.  This time, they insist on stirring things up by perpetuating the notion of six-year-old Anastasia Knyazeva as the “most beautiful girl in the world”.  This is a completely subjective moniker once given to Thylane Blondeau when she was the same age.  In particular, it seems this girl has been singled out because of her unusual doll-like appearance.

Adorable Braiding Video: A colleague forwarded a link to this French video called Tuto coiffure facile by Tape à l’oeil – La couronne tressée.  It is an instructional video demonstrating a particular braiding technique.  The especially lovely girl featured also narrates the video.

… and on a personal note: I know even my colleagues did not know this, but I have had more difficulty seeing due to rapid-onset cataracts.  I am pleased to announce that my surgery was successful and my vision is clear again.  As a result, it should be easier to review new material and produce posts from now on.  So this year, my sincerity in wishing you all a Happy New Year is especially heartfelt.  -Ron

Anthropomorphism and the Impossible Standard

For many of us, Christmas is a sentimental time.  During the holiday season, there is much preparation for gatherings of friends and family.  Anticipation is the most intoxicating part and children whet their appetites for the coming of St. Nicholas by watching the numerous animated specials produced over the years.  Particularly successful was a Rankin-Bass production called Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964), based roughly on a song by the same name.

A strange thing occurred to me while reviewing these classics this year.  First of all, as a grown-up I could appreciate what it was that made these special so appealing (or overrated) and secondly, I took a closer look at the role of Clarice, Rudolph’s girlfriend.  Strictly speaking, she is a reindeer, not a little girl; but it is clear that the intent was that all characters, man or beast, were really stand-ins for human roles.

Larry Roemer, Romeo Muller, Robert May and Johnny Marks – Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)

Using an animal stand-in not only makes the character more appealing to children, but they can sometimes be endowed with some superhuman feature associated with that species (loyalty of dogs, courage of horses, wisdom of owls, etc.)  I got to thinking how the role of Clarice informed my idea of the ideal little girl/girlfriend in my youth and how hard it is to shake this idealism when dealing with real women in the real world.  Wouldn’t it be nice if every misfit in the world had an unconditionally compassionate companion to encourage him/her while facing the harsh challenges of the world?

Native American Beauties: Part 2

The Indians of the Americas are admired for their freedom and independence.  Although their traditional culture based on hunting has disappeared from most of the Americas, its legend will always live on.

The first photograph is of a Southern Cheyenne girl holding a bow and arrows.  I estimate that the photo was taken in about 1890.  To put that date in context, here are some of the things that happened in that era:  by 1883 the great bison herds had been destroyed and the traditional life of the buffalo hunters was no longer possible; in 1890 the census bureau declared that the frontier, the border between the White-inhabited United States and Indian country, no longer existed;  in October 1898 the last official battle of the Indian Wars of the United States was fought at Leech Lake; and on 29 August, 1911 the stone age in the United States came to an end when the last surviving Yahi Indian came to “civilization”.  The demure little Cheyenne girl in the photo no doubt saw a lot of change in her lifetime.

Photographer unknown – A Southern Cheyenne Girl (c1890)

It may seem a little incongruous that the girl is holding a bow and arrows; we usually associate weapons with males.  While the photo is obviously a studio portrait, and the bow and arrows may be merely a photographer’s prop, it is not necessarily inappropriate for a female to be photographed with a bow.  It may be surprising, but a few of the Indian warriors were female.  Nonhelema, known to the Whites as “Grenadier Squaw”  first achieved renown as a Shawnee warrior during the Battle of Brushy Run in 1764.  During the Revolutionary War she was a chief, and one of the few Indians to support the American side.  Her service to the American Army as a guide, interpreter, and warrior were invaluable to the cause of American Independence.

The next two portraits are from the same era.  Both are of Lakota Sioux girls, and both girls traveled with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.  To a person in the 21st century, it may seem strange that Indians were honored performers in a popular show at a time when the Indian War was in progress.  It may also seem strange that the portrait of an Indian chief in a war bonnet was on U.S. one-cent coins during the Indian Wars.  (Actually the design of the Indian head cent was based on a drawing of a 12-year old girl wearing an Indian war bonnet.)

Photographer unknown – Lizzie, Daughter of Sioux Chief, Long Wolf (c1890)

Elliot and Fry – Wa-Ka-Cha-Sha (Red Rose) The Pet of the Sioux (1887)

The next four photographs are also Sioux girls.  The Sioux, more properly known as Dakota or Lakota, depending on the dialect they speak, are perhaps the most famous Indian nation in the United States.  The Sioux dress, as shown in these photos, is what most people envision when they think of “Indian”.  In the present, some tribes that wore quite different clothing formerly have adopted clothing based on the Sioux for ceremonial occasions.  Two of the photos are by well-known photographers, John Alvin Anderson and Edward Curtis.  The beaded swastikas on the dress of one of the Lakota girls represent a common symbol, widely used by many American Indian tribes long before the German National Socialist Workers (Nazi) Party made it infamous.

John Alvin Anderson – Katie Blue Thunder, age 8, a Brule Sioux (1898)

Heyn Photo – Her Know, Dakota Sioux (1899)

Edward Curtis – Daughter of American Horse (1908)

Photographer unknown – Lakota Girls (c1900)

The following five photographs are of girls of various tribes from the United States.  The first is a studio portrait of two Kiowa girls in fancy dress.  The second is a postcard portrait of a pretty Mesquakie (aka Fox) girl.  The third is a tinted postcard cute little girl of an unknown tribe.  The fourth is a Hupa girl of California wearing elaborate beadwork.  The Hupa are one of the few tribes to retain most of their land to the present time.  The fifth photo shows a Seminole mother and daughters in Florida.  The monochromatic image does not show the bright colors preferred by the Seminoles and related Mikasukis for their dresses.

C.C. Stolz– Kiowa Indian Girls (c1890-1907)

Photographer unknown – Mesquakie Girl (c1915)

F.A. Rinehart – Untitled (1905)

Patterson – The Fair Little Indian Maid (c1930)

Photographer unknown – Seminole Mother with Her Children Including Five Day Old Baby (1948)

The American Indians are the original people of the continents of North and South America.  So far, this post has only mentioned Indians of the United States.  The following photos are all of Indians outside of the United States.  The first is a portrait of a Stoney girl posed in front of Tipis in Banff, Canada.  The Stoney Indians are closely related to the Sioux, and speak a similar language.

Photographer unknown – Stoney Indian Girl (c1900)

The next photo is from Mexico.  It may be found on the official Mexican government site for The Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia here.  Although the girls are not specifically identified as Indians, they have Indian features.  Most Mexicans are either Indian or an Indian-White mix, and it is unlikely that girls of the Mexican elite white class would bathe outdoors in a river.  The girls’ pose seems a bit unnatural, and their facial expressions seem to imply they have been chastised.  I don’t know the story behind the photo, but this is my idea of what happened.  Scott, the photographer, was making a photographic record of life in the area.  Bathing in rivers is a typical part of life, so he felt that he must photograph the girls, perhaps when they were in the water so most of their bodies were not visible.  When the girls saw the photographer, they got out of the river and posed naturally.  Scott then reprimanded them for their lack of modesty, and instructed them to adopt the shy poses.  This is merely my personal interpretation of the photo, but it seems to fit the poses and facial expressions.

W. Scott – Niñas Bañistas en un Río (c1904)

The next photograph is a postcard from Brazil.  This photograph of an Indian mother and daughter was posed, yet appears much more natural than the previous photo from Mexico.  I was not able to find the photographer or date of the picture, but when researching it I found an image of the postcard with cancelled Brazilian postage stamps affixed.  This demonstrates that in Brazil, the postcard was respectable enough to be sent in the mail, in spite of the nudity of the subjects.  I wonder if the postcard would be acceptable to postal authorities in this country.

Photographer unknown – Brasil Indias Kamaiuras del Alto Xingu (c1965)

Perhaps there is a different attitude about such things in Brazil.  The following photograph of the Kuarup ceremony at the Kalapalo Indian village features nude girls dancing in the Kuarup ceremony.  It is from the official web page of the government of the State of Mato Grosso, Brazil.  The photo is published here.

Photographer unknown – Celebração do Kuarup no Parque Indígena do Xingu, na Aldeia Kalapalo (2006)