The Definition of Gymnastics: Ernst Vollmar and Ludwig Hohlwein

In contemporary society, students find it surprising that the word “gymnastic” comes from the Greek meaning to train or exercise naked. Further digging would reveal the ancient Greek ideal of the nude masculine form, the foundation of the Classical Nude in sculpture. The peculiarities of that culture relegated women and children to second-class status except in those few instances when a young boy happened to catch the fancy of a powerful older patron. In today’s more complex world, children feel more iconic of the notion of free spirits than those “free” and chauvinistic citizens of the ancient city-states.

A wonderful book has come to my attention that I felt ought to be shared right away. It is a photographically illustrated book on children’s gymnastics published in 1925 called Kinder Gymnastik im Spiel (Children’s Gymnastics in Play), written by Alice Bloch and published by Dieck & Co.

Ludwig Hohlwein - Kinder Gymnastik im Spiel (cover) (1925)

Ludwig Hohlwein – Kinder Gymnastik im Spiel (cover) (1925)

The cover illustration was painted by Ludwig Hohlwein (1874-1949), a well-known illustrator of posters. Lamentably, he did not do any other work featuring children in this style. The photographs were by Ernst Vollmar. Practically nothing is known of him except that he was a contemporary of Lotte Herrlich, Carl Lepper and Genja Jonas who also did much work with German naturists. The first two images set the stage showing everyday scenes and some pagan-inspired rituals commonly associated with these communities.

Ernst Vollmar - from Kinder Gymnastik im Spiel (1925) (1)

Ernst Vollmar – from Kinder Gymnastik im Spiel (1925) (1)

Ernst Vollmar - from Kinder Gymnastik im Spiel (1925) (2)

Ernst Vollmar – from Kinder Gymnastik im Spiel (1925) (2)

The book was not meant to be the kind of serious exercise guide that would become ubiquitous later in the more regimented and rigorous Nazi regime. It is as the title suggests—playful. The names of the exercises are clearly light-hearted or fanciful: Sounds of Spring, Clapping to the Beat, Blowing Trumpets, Leapfrog, Rocking Horse, Ostrich, Somersaults and Scurrying Like Mice. Quite a few of them required interaction with a partner. The first illustrates some mock flute blowing.

Ernst Vollmar - from Kinder Gymnastik im Spiel (1925) (3)

Ernst Vollmar – from Kinder Gymnastik im Spiel (1925) (3)

The next shows two children forming an arch or gate.

Ernst Vollmar - from Kinder Gymnastik im Spiel (1925) (4)

Ernst Vollmar – from Kinder Gymnastik im Spiel (1925) (4)

These children appear to be hopping like rabbits. I remember an incident when eBay refused to allow a seller to post an image of a girl in such a pose even while wearing a swimsuit! I suppose Playboy has spoiled the sweet innocence of the bunny for many of us.

Ernst Vollmar - from Kinder Gymnastik im Spiel (1925) (5)

Ernst Vollmar – from Kinder Gymnastik im Spiel (1925) (5)

It is interesting how stereotypes and language change. The caption calls the next image “Greeting Like a Mohammedan”. Mohammedan is an old-fashioned term for Muslim, but perhaps the American term “Sitting Indian Style” is more appropriate as this meditative posture was in wide use in northern India well before the advent of Buddhism or Islam.

Ernst Vollmar - from Kinder Gymnastik im Spiel (1925) (6)

Ernst Vollmar – from Kinder Gymnastik im Spiel (1925) (6)

These girls are demonstrating “Flying Like a Bird”.

Ernst Vollmar - from Kinder Gymnastik im Spiel (1925) (7)

Ernst Vollmar – from Kinder Gymnastik im Spiel (1925) (7)

Different stages of this “Clock-Flower” are illustrated in the book.

Ernst Vollmar - from Kinder Gymnastik im Spiel (1925) (8)

Ernst Vollmar – from Kinder Gymnastik im Spiel (1925) (8)

Here are two illustrations of the “Flying Jump”.

Ernst Vollmar - from Kinder Gymnastik im Spiel (1925) (9)

Ernst Vollmar – from Kinder Gymnastik im Spiel (1925) (9)

It is hard to say what these girls are doing, but it appears to be some kind of alternating stroke motion.

Ernst Vollmar - from Kinder Gymnastik im Spiel (1925) (10)

Ernst Vollmar – from Kinder Gymnastik im Spiel (1925) (10)

There are many scenes of these girls skipping rope.

Ernst Vollmar - from Kinder Gymnastik im Spiel (1925) (11)

Ernst Vollmar – from Kinder Gymnastik im Spiel (1925) (11)

It should be pointed out that naturism was very popular at the time. A demonstration of this was the fact that Hitler and the Nazis initially wanted to ban these practices, but thought better of it and instead incorporated them into special events promoting their notions of racial supremacy.

I have been informed by one of our readers that some of these images also appeared in a book called Book of Nudes (2007) by Alessandro Bertolotti but in a smaller format.

Climbing Mt. Ambition: Brooke Raboutou

It is easy to underestimate what children are capable of when given the right encouragement. A short while ago, a friend turned me on to a video about a rock climber named Brooke Raboutou. The video is one of a series about prodigies produced by @radical.media and aired on the THNKR channel on YouTube. At the time of production, she was 11 years old and had broken a number of age records for climbs with the highest difficulty ratings—climbs that only a minute fraction of adult climbers have tackled.

@radical.media - Prodigies: Brooke Raboutou (2013) (1)

@radical.media – Prodigies: Brooke Raboutou (2013) (1)

I was at first tempted to produce a somewhat perfunctory post about this remarkable girl, but as it happens, I know a little about rock-climbing. My mother’s second husband was an avid climber and turned her on to the sport and I have accompanied them on a few simple climbs. Climbing is often misunderstood by outsiders who assume that it is simply a matter of strength and endurance. In fact, the most important attributes are balance, flexibility and a degree of creativity. Strength and endurance complement these skills to produce the best climbers in the world. The remarkable swiveling moves Brooke makes is hard to convey in a photo still and the video needs to be seen to get a sense of it. One of her climbing coaches says she has almost baby-like flexibility. Indeed, after learning of this story, Ray Harris at The Novel Activist—doing research on child prodigies for one of his novels—decided he had better beef up his heroine’s superpowers!

@radical.media - Prodigies: Brooke Raboutou (2013) (2)

@radical.media – Prodigies: Brooke Raboutou (2013) (2)

A climbing wall is like an ordinary household appliance in the Raboutou home and theirs was built by Brooke’s father, Didier Raboutou—an exceptional climber in his own right. There is also a practice ledge for maintaining finger strength, a prerequisite trait for handling “hanging” climbs. In the shots above and below, we see Brooke exercising with her mother and coach, Robyn Erbesfield.

@radical.media - Prodigies: Brooke Raboutou (2013) (3)

@radical.media – Prodigies: Brooke Raboutou (2013) (3)

As with all prodigies, a bit of luck is involved. Talented children need to be given the right environment in which to express their talent. The Raboutou family has encouraged athleticism in their children from a very early age.

@radical.media - Prodigies: Brooke Raboutou (2013) (4)

@radical.media – Prodigies: Brooke Raboutou (2013) (4)

@radical.media - Prodigies: Brooke Raboutou (2013) (5)

@radical.media – Prodigies: Brooke Raboutou (2013) (5)

Her mother points out that Brooke is quite driven in her ambitions and the family have never had to push her in this regard. Many a time, she could be found trying and retrying a climb until she was satisfied—even after dark. With great ambition, comes great disappointment and I was impressed by the inclusion of one scene where Brooke lost her grip and fell. You can hear her cry as the reality of her slip hit her. It was brave to include this for it shows us her humanity and is not just another showcase for her talents.

@radical.media - Prodigies: Brooke Raboutou (2013) (6)

@radical.media – Prodigies: Brooke Raboutou (2013) (6)

I don’t mean to be a killjoy, but I feel it important to point out some things about climbing that accounts for some of this virtuosity. As mentioned before, strength and endurance are important in the most challenging climbs, but for a climber, lean muscle tone is paramount. I am reminded of the movie Cliffhanger (1993) starring Sylvester Stallone. Anyone who knows this actor of Rocky fame knows he is quite muscle-bound. When training for the movie, his coach reported that he had the greatest difficulty doing what is considered the simplest maneuvers simply because he has the wrong physique to be a skilled climber. By the same token, a child with sufficient discipline actually has an easier time because of the lighter body. Once adequate finger strength is developed, the child climber has a huge advantage over adults with much more experience. Another fact of which most non-climbers are unaware is that the spacing of footholds and handholds are critical in the difficulty rating of a climb. For a shorter person, reaching the right combination of holds can be a radically different experience for someone with a different center of gravity. Therefore, it might be argued that the rating of some of these climbs is really inappropriate for Brooke (and other children). Instead, what I feel is most impressive about Brooke is not her ability to break records, but her tenacity in pursuing something challenging she really enjoys; she follows her bliss.

In researching this story, I found there was little information after a couple of years ago. The only current information can be found on Brooke’s own Facebook page. She still loves climbing, but I expect that she began to take on other interests and more and more her ambitions will be focused elsewhere.

And I Bring You . . . Falles

Catholicism is not without its raucous holidays and celebrations, with quite a few of them being largely local affairs.  The most prominent one in the U.S. is Mardi Gras, which has an analog in Brazil’s Carnaval.  Both are festivals of decadence and indulgence leading up to the weeks of fasting and austerity called Lent, and there are similar events throughout the realms of Catholicism.  Although celebrated around the same time, the Valencian holiday of Falles, which officially begins on March 15th (that’s right, it starts in only a few days) and ends on March 19th, is not associated with this cycle.

Basically, Falles (a Valencian word meaning ‘torches’) is a five-day-long outdoor party held in honor of St. Joseph in which each successive day is given over to progressively bigger and more involved pyrotechnic displays, culminating on the last evening, the Night of Fire, with La Cremà.  This final spectacle is where the holiday gets its name, for during La Cremà immense wood, paper, wire and paint constructions–the falles themselves–are set alight in the streets and squares of Valencia.  What makes this so fascinating, I think, is that the falles aren’t the sloppily built towers of cheap wood you would expect them to be; no, they are in fact elaborately and carefully crafted sculptures planned, designed and constructed for months prior to Falles.  In fact, the appreciation of these disposable artworks has become an affair unto itself, with the casal fallers competing to be recognized for the best falla.

These sculptures are more often than not satirical or humorous in nature, sometimes even bawdy.  Nudity is not unusual, nor is ripping off famous or distinguished sources, which is where the satire comes in.  Keep in mind that, although there are toned-down versions of these for small children, called falles infantil, which are burnt earlier in the evening, children attend the burning of the falles major as well.

In 2013 one of the falles submitted for judgment was created by artist Manuel Algarra; it was titled Futuro a la vista! (Future in Sight!) and was a giant sculpture-in-the-round featuring toddlers engaged in a variety of occupations.  Although it was never identified as the inspiration for the piece, I immediately recognized one of the toddler figures as based on a J.C. Leyendecker-illustrated cover for the Saturday Evening Post.

J.C. Leyendecker - Saturday Evening Post - January 4, 1936 (cover)

J.C. Leyendecker – Saturday Evening Post – January 4, 1936 (cover)

I have since encountered another cover with one of the other babies–the boy with the cuckoo clock–as the central figure, and I discern, based on the consistency of their style, that all of them are actually based on Leyendecker’s work.  The final falles design can be seen in a flat conceptual form (I couldn’t find a larger version of this image, so if anyone out there has this just a bit bigger, it would be appreciated):

Manuel Algarra; J.C. Leyendecker - Futuro a la vista!

Manuel Algarra; J.C. Leyendecker – Futuro a la vista!

And here are photographs of the actual falles taken from a variety of angles:

Manuel Algarra - 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (1)

Manuel Algarra – 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (1)

Manuel Algarra - 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (2)

Manuel Algarra – 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (2)

Manuel Algarra - 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (3)

Manuel Algarra – 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (3)

Manuel Algarra - 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (4)

Manuel Algarra – 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (4)

Manuel Algarra - 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (5)

Manuel Algarra – 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (5)

Manuel Algarra - 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (6)

Manuel Algarra – 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (6)

Manuel Algarra - 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (7)

Manuel Algarra – 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (7)

Although the following image focuses on a boy, I am sharing it because it really demonstrates the amount of detail that goes into the creation of these pieces.

Manuel Algarra - 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (8)

Manuel Algarra – 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (8)

Manuel Algarra - 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (9)

Manuel Algarra – 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (9)

Manuel Algarra - 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (10)

Manuel Algarra – 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (10)

One can see in the background of this next photo, just behind the rocking horse, the standing pigtailed girl.  I tried to find a close-up image showing her from the front but was unable to locate one on the web.

Manuel Algarra - 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (11)

Manuel Algarra – 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (11)

Manuel Algarra - 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (12)

Manuel Algarra – 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (12)

Manuel Algarra - 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (13)

Manuel Algarra – 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (13)

Manuel Algarra - 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (14)

Manuel Algarra – 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (14)

Manuel Algarra - 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (15)

Manuel Algarra – 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (15)

John Coulthart’s Alice Calendar

And now, for this month’s ‘Eye on Alice,’ we take a look at the art of the incomparable John Coulthart.  I discovered Coulthart through his work for the controversial British publisher Savoy Books, particularly his cover designs for the eye-popping comics collection Fuck Off and Die (featuring a little perverse girl named La Squab who would give all those Japanese Lolitas a run for their money), by David Britton and Kris Guidio. Their work really should be better known, and so should Coulthart’s. The guy is hands down one of the best graphic designers working today. The following illustrations were created for an Alice-themed calender. I think you’ll agree that they really capture the surreal and psychedelic spirit of Lewis Carroll’s books. The calendar was originally published in 2009, but it was reprinted for 2012—you can order it here. You know you want one. And, oh yeah, he just did one for ‘Through the Looking Glass’ too. Awesome.

John Coulthart – Psychedelic Wonderland (cover)

John Coulthart – Psychedelic Wonderland (1)

John Coulthart – Psychedelic Wonderland (2)

John Coulthart – Psychedelic Wonderland (3)

John Coulthart - Psychedelic Wonderland (4)

John Coulthart – Psychedelic Wonderland (4)

John Coulthart - Psychedelic Wonderland (5)

John Coulthart – Psychedelic Wonderland (5)

John Coulthart - Psychedelic Wonderland (6)

John Coulthart – Psychedelic Wonderland (6)

John Coulthart - Psychedelic Wonderland (7)

John Coulthart – Psychedelic Wonderland (7)

John Coulthart - Psychedelic Wonderland (8)

John Coulthart – Psychedelic Wonderland (8)

John Coulthart - Psychedelic Wonderland (9)

John Coulthart – Psychedelic Wonderland (9)

John Coulthart - Psychedelic Wonderland (10)

John Coulthart – Psychedelic Wonderland (10)

John Coulthart - Psychedelic Wonderland (11)

John Coulthart – Psychedelic Wonderland (11)

John Coulthart - Psychedelic Wonderland (12)

John Coulthart – Psychedelic Wonderland (12)

Atelier Coulthart: Art and Design by John Coulthart (Official Site)

A Face of Hope: Christina Taylor Green

Today is, of course, the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, DC which destroyed the World Trade Center and part of the Pentagon.  I considered finding a work of art that featured a girl standing in front of the WTC, but I decided to approach this from another angle, by celebrating the life of a girl who had a slightly different connection to the event but whose end was no less tragic.  Her name is Christina Taylor Green and she was born on September 11th, 2001, only to be murdered in the horrific shooting in Tucson, Arizona in January of this year, when a lunatic opened fire at a speaking event featuring Democratic representative Gabrielle Giffords.

Because of her birthday Christina was one of many babies featured in the book Faces of Hope (hence the title of this post).  By all accounts she was an amazing girl who was fascinated by politics.  Thus, when a neighbor agreed to take the nine-year-old girl to see the congresswoman speak, she was very excited.  She had recently been elected to the student council at her elementary school. But she was also interested in things many girls her age were interested in: swimming, ballet and horses. Moreover, she was the only girl on an otherwise all-boy baseball team. In other words, Christina, with her big chocolate eyes and cherubic smile, was a true all-American girl.

Christina’s image appears on page 42 of Faces of Hope. If you’re a fan of Douglas Adams, you’ll know the significance of the number 42: it’s the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything. However, the joke is that the actual question to which this number is the answer is unknown (and probably unknowable).  I don’t mean to imply that Christina’s life was a joke; far from it. I simply wish to point out that, if there is some ultimate reason why tragic things happen, why humans are born seemingly to suffer, then we are not privy to it. I think the best we can do when facing situations like this is realize that ultimately all we have is each other, and that is the best reason to set aside our differences, to try and make this a better, safer, less violent and more tolerant world.

RIP Christina Taylor Green

(Photographer Unknown) – Christina Taylor Green (1)

(Photographer Unknown) – Christina Taylor Green (2)

(Photographer Unknown) – Christina Taylor Green (3)

(Photographer Unknown) – Christina Taylor Green (4)

(Photographer Unknown) – Lindsey Lummus, 10, wearing an angels wings, watches as the funeral hearse carrying the casket of nine-year-old Christina Taylor Green arrives at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church, Thursday

Tracy Knauss - I Want America to Be as Good as She Imagined It (2011)

Tracy Knauss – I Want America to Be as Good as She Imagined It (2011)

Wikipedia: 2011 Tucson shooting

Comments:

From V.E.G. on June 28, 2012
There is another version like Christina Taylor Green: Scott Calvin Dieter. He was the adoptive son of former United States Army Captain Craig Brian Eric and Beth Ann (Laufer) Dieter. Scott was born in Russia and was shot dead by the gunman and the gunman himself was shot to death (justifiable homicide) by Officer Ben A. Campbell. Campbell said, “I am not a hero. I am just a policeman.”

The Sun Tarot (and a Few Others)

I’ve long held a fascination with the Tarot, particularly the Major Arcana.  Although there is a generalized agreed-upon symbology with the Tarot deck, it is not always adhered to in the designs of the various decks.  Nevertheless, one card that tends to change very little is Arcanum 19: The Sun.  Considered by many  the best card in the deck, it almost always features one or two children as the central figure(s), along with the anthropomorphized sun itself.  When there are two children represented, they are usually male and female, often nude.  I’ve never found it particularly surprising that this card has developed as it has over the ages, with happy naked children under a blazing sun representing all that is beautiful and magnificent about life and the best aspects of mankind. Here’s a pretty good summary of all that this important card represents to Tarot readers.

I don’t know the artist or the original deck from which this first card is taken, but I know it is an old one and has been reproduced many times.

unknown-the-sun-tarot

(Artist Unknown) – The Sun (1)

A digital version of the card above:

(Artist Unknown) - The Sun (2)

(Artist Unknown) – The Sun (2)

Angie Mason - The Sun Tarot

Angie Mason – The Sun Tarot

I like the rough woodcut-like design here:

(Artist Unknown) - The Sun (3)

(Artist Unknown) – The Sun (3)

(Artist Unknown) - The Sun (4)

(Artist Unknown) – The Sun (4)

Bea Nettles’ Mountain Dream Tarot is notable for being the first tarot deck to use photographic imagery.  If anyone has a better/larger scan of this, I would love to have it:

[151016] Ever since I first read this post, I was fascinated about this odd niche of tarot art.  I also learned something of the personal story behind this particular deck and purchased it to offer you better quality scans.

Bea Nettles - Mountain Dream Tarot (Sun)

Bea Nettles – Mountain Dream Tarot (Sun)

Bea Nettles - Mountain Dream Tarot (Star)

Bea Nettles – Mountain Dream Tarot (Star)

In a short message, Nettles shared additional background information which gives context to the deck.  The new deck available at her website has changed slightly over the three editions. The models are all the same except for the Pages of Cups and Swords who are are her son and daughter, and the Page of Wands who was a young student at Penland. With the introduction of PhotoShop, she was tempted to retouch and modify elements that had been very difficult to create in a conventional darkroom. Each time the cards were reprinted, the format changed to become a bit longer and narrower. This was due to the box design, an element outside her control and thus the cards are now the “standard” tarot size. Given the human interest story behind this deck, it was suggested that it be accompanied by a story board, telling some of personal details and anecdotes.  Most of the models are her family and friends and a few willing Penland craftspeople that she had met.  Penland is a crafts school in North Carolina where most of the deck was shot. -Ron

The Alchemical Wedding Tarot by Dave Aronson is one of my favorite decks overall. You gotta love that sun:

David Aronson - Alchemical Wedding Tarot - The Sun

David Aronson – Alchemical Wedding Tarot – The Sun

MichelleX - Savage Tarot - The Sun

MichelleX – Savage Tarot – The Sun

A few from DeviantArt:

Exiled Chaos - Dreampunk - Sun Tarot

Exiled Chaos – Dreampunk – Sun Tarot

Mako-fufu - The Sun

Mako-fufu – The Sun

Niamh O'Connor (Sive) - The Sun Tarot

Niamh O’Connor (Sive) – The Sun Tarot

Leister - The Sun Tarot

Leister – The Sun Tarot

The rest of these sun cards are all from unknown artists and decks.

(Artist Unknown) - The Sun (5)

(Artist Unknown) – The Sun (5)

(Artist Unknown) - The Sun (6)

(Artist Unknown) – The Sun (6)

(Artist Unknown) - The Sun (7)

(Artist Unknown) – The Sun (7)

(Artist Unknown) - The Sun (8)

(Artist Unknown) – The Sun (8)

And here’s an assortment of cards other than The Sun featuring girls:

(Artist Unknown) - The Devil

(Artist Unknown) – The Devil

David Aronson - Alchemical Wedding Tarot - The World

David Aronson – Alchemical Wedding Tarot – The World

(Artist unknown) - The High Priestess

(Artist unknown) – The High Priestess

Angie Mason: Playful Vision Art (Official Site)

SpiralUpward: Mountain Dream Tarot by Bea Nettles

David Aronson: The Alchemical Wedding (Official Site)

MichelleX [creative] (Official Site)

DeviantArt: ExiledChaos

DeviantArt: Sive

Art of Embarr: The Art & Designs of Niamh o’Connor (Official Site)

DeviantArt: Mako-fufu

Mako-fufu (Official Site)

DeviantArt: Leister