Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Greeks Did NOT Have a Word for It

You hear all sorts of nasty things about puns and making puns--from "The penalty for the Perfect Pun is Death," and "a Pun is the lowest form of humor." And so on. Trouble is, we still laugh--even if that laugh is preceded by a groan.

I have to admit it--my family was, and I suppose still is, loaded with folks who were masters at punning. Two of my father's brothers, Mark and Forrest, were particularly afflicted. Neither of them could resist any chance to pun. And yet, we still allowed them into our homes for holidays.

I don't remember any examples of Uncle Forrest's puns, but I do remember most of them were not the kind you had to stretch your credibility to believe in. No, though every other phrase he uttered might be a play on words, they were all witty and once you got over the shock, very apt.

Uncle Forrest, age four

Uncle Mark, now, was a published wit--he wrote for, among other papers, the San Francisco Chronicle, and he appeared in Herb Caen's famous column a lot as Herbert the Furrier. There was--and maybe still is--a real Herbert the Furrier, and he used to reward Uncle Mark with whiskey whenever an item appeared; it was always very good for business. Anyhow, Uncle Mark was the janitor in the building Herbert occupied, and chose him as his avatar for euphonious reasons. They became fast friends, of course, and that lasted until Uncle Mark died. I don't remember any specific puns in the Herbert series, but I know there were many.

Uncle Mark, age ten

My father was also a punster, and sometimes his puns made it into Herb Caen's column, too. One of those was the result of Father's trying to pay a compliment to Grace Sotomayor, the wife of the famous San Francisco artist Antonio Sotomayor. "My Dear," said Father bending over to kiss the lady's hand, "every leer you grow younger!" Father always insisted it was not a slip of the tongue. My favorite, though, was when Father remarked that a friend of his was training Collies to appear in the circus, and was raising them on a ferry boat so he could say he bred his cast upon the waters.

My father, David, age 14

I know. But please bear up--there's more.

I started off with a title that might seem surprising; after all, the Greeks had a word for everything else, didn't they? Well, apparently not--no word for pun in Classical Greek. Honest. I know this because I wrote a paper about a Greek pun that wasn't called a pun--we didn't get around to naming those double-edged bits of whimsy "puns" until the 17th century CE. So, while there has been a long history of the jokes themselves, we have been calling them puns for only four-plus centuries. But I digress.

Back in the dark ages, when my Mother and Father were not yet married, they were invited by a family friend to lunch at the Algonquin Round table. For those of you who may not know about this famous lunch group, it flourished at the Algonquin Hotel in New York City in the late1920's. Among the members were Franklin P. Adams, Robert Benchley, Dorothy Parker, and Corey Ford (the family friend). These august humorists were always trying to best each other in the pun department, and to this end they had devised a game where one would come up with a word, and someone else whose turn it was had to make a pun on that word. Well, Mother's adversary was Dorothy Parker, and she thought and thought about how to stump that famous lady. "Popocatepetl!" she said at last, certain a play on that word would be impossible. Dorothy was not daunted in the least. She remarked, no doubt with a triumphant smirk, "Give that po' po' cat a petal to play with--it's bored." Poor Mother--but she had a chance few others have had, and always spoke of the occasion fondly.

My mother, Anne, in 1925

That game, though, has been played in our family since. I remember one occasion at Uncle Mark's, when I was 12 or 13, when we played the game for hours, it seemed. My cousin Mark, who at that time (and forever after) was called "Little Mark" was a precocious lad of ten or so, and came up with a few dandies. One I remember was on the word "Cadillac"--"Cat'll act mean if you step on its tail." Oh, and "sunder"--" 'sunder the bed if you want it." And on and on. Pretty good for a little kid.

A variation on that game has to do with colors. For example, "What color is the bathroom on a French airplane?" Answer: Lavendeair. Or: "What color is the result of eating a heavy meal?" Answer: "Burple." But enough of that.

I have to admit, I have been guilty of my own puns. One I like to use on cards is "Greetings from the Great Northwet." Those of you who live in Seattle and environs will understand that one perfectly.

I will end this nonsense by going outside the family. Esther Birdsall Darling, author of the classic Baldy of Nome, was a family friend, and one day came to tea at my Aunt Quail's house where I was staying at the time. Mrs. Darling was telling us about a trip she had taken to Romania. In her hotel there was a lovely old tiled stove with a tall chimney, fondly referred to as "Marie." Mrs. Darling was practicing courtesies toward the stove in preparation for being presented to Marie, the Queen of Romania the following day. A large and beautiful Persian cat came and sat in front of the fire and watched her. "Oh," said Mrs. Darling, "this is too much!  The Queen of Romania AND the chat du Perse!" Now THAT, ladies and gentlemen, is a Perfect Pun!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Books, Books, Books

This time I thought I would share some of the books I have made and/or taught. A couple of weeks ago, my bookbuddy Pam and I taught a class about ancient Chinese book structures. Pam made a great handout with a lot of the history involved, and drew really clear pictures for the instructions I had made up. We chose two of the structures to teach the class to make, a version of the palm-leaf book (called a Pothi) that the Chinese made from bamboo strips knotted together, and a transitional book from the scroll to bound pages called the Whirlwind book. Here is a picture of the class holding their books.

Pam and I are on the left.

Everybody had a good time, and there were some really interesting papers the class used to back the bamboo strips we used for the Pothi. The paper for the Whirlwind was all the same, a lovely tan sumi-e paper with gold flecks.

I had to make up the instructions by looking at the pictures I found on the internet, and making samples that looked right enough. My husband helped by cutting the half-round molding we used for the Whirlwind book (in lieu of split bamboo rounds), and asked me when I had become an expert on ancient Chinese book structure. I truthfully answered, "Yesterday."

All the people you see in the picture above with the exception of me and the person in the blue shirt hiding her face with her Whirlwind, are wonderful calligraphers and will no doubt use their books for that. I can't wait to see what they do--I sure hope they will show me! Below is a photo of some of the books the class made.

These are all Pothi. The one on the left is backed with a map; the black one is backed with a recycled paper bag from a National Park gift shop; the one below that uses Italian paper; and the other three use handmade paper.

Here is a photo of my sample Whirlwind book.

I used some light brown handmade paper for the sample (hadn't gotten the paper for the class yet), and I used  some skinny brown wool for the tie. The button is a wonderful carved owl.

One of the calligraphy groups I belong to has an annual conference called Letters of Joy. It is usually held the first weekend in May, but the calendar fooled us this year, and it was held the last two days of April. I taught a couple of classes on the Australian Flat Piano Hinge Book. This is an interesting structure that has a flat piece of board inserted into an accordion fold which is passed through a slit in a folded page. It is easy to take a page out or put one in, and the structure was simple enough to finish in the allotted two hours for the class. Of course that meant I had to do most of the cutting--I needed 10 pages for each student, plus two cover pieces, plus the strips for the hinge. I decided to cheat and use craft sticks with the hinges, as they are already the right size for the 6 x 9 inch pages I was using. Well, I ended up with 22 students between the two classes, so there was a LOT of cutting to do! And I knew I would need extra, because people do make mistakes and need another piece to finish the project. I made kits, with the craft sticks--some colored, some plain wood, depending on the cover paper--the 10 sheets of watercolor paper, the hinge strip, and heavier scrapbook papers for the covers. I ended up with 36 kits and a few extra sheets of watercolor paper.

Here are some of my LOJ students, working hard on their books

And here are some of their books:

You can see in the front book how the flat piano hinge works. Someone asked me why it was called Australian, and all I could think of was, because the hinge was down under the page.

I took a class myself, from Patricia Glass (she owns Green Heron Books in Oregon). She called it the Slinky Book, and it certainly is! It has at least 50 pages, if it is to slink properly, and coping with them as you sew is sometimes challenging. I only got about fifteen pages sewn in the class, but I did finish the book. Here are some pictures of it.

Patricia had painted and cut all the pages to size, as well as the cover boards and papers and the length of ribbon. Fifty (or more) pages per student, and two classes--what a chore! And I was grumbling about ten pages!  But she is a wonderful teacher, and her efforts were much appreciated.

That's enough for now, I think--until next time, Nan

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Taking a Break from the Bags

Well, I made a big fuss over bags in my last post, so I thought I should actually look into some of them to see what could be put away. What a Concept! Ah--but away where? Every square inch is occupied. Still--I need to find my black and white Ranger enamel to finish off some fat book pages I am working on, so going through the bags just might be useful. I have so far emptied five bags, and have not found the enamel. Maybe I can just use clear glaze and be done with it. And I have managed to stuff things into their appropriate drawers, but it's getting close to full everywhere. Sigh.

My husband is off teaching gun safety today, at the big gun show at the Puyallup Fairgrounds. He called a while ago, to ask if I wanted this cool new blade sharpener he found--I am always on the lookout for good ways to sharpen my carving tools--and of course I said yes. Is there something wrong with me? I was positively thrilled about getting a new sharpener. Well, much as I may seem scattered and careless, I am pretty careful about my tools. I try to get the best, and then keep them in good order. (Some of you are snickering now, I am certain of it.) It's really hard to carve smooth edges on even the soft stuff I use when the tool is dull.

Carving stamps is great fun. I belong to a group that does a trade every other month, called Raplica. There are some awesome printmakers in that group! In August, I am teaching a class on carving stamps and using them with acrylic paint to make patterns on cloth. Here are some examples of what we might do. The ginkgo leaves were done with two different stamps of the same scale; the quatrefoils are an example of an allover pattern using two stamps of different scale; and the other one is of borders, one not joined and one joined. The joined looks hard, but is really easy is you mark up the back of the stamp to show where the joins are. One of the things to remember with hand printing is that often one gets blurry and uneven images. There are ways around this, but my feeling is, if you want it perfect, go to the fabric store and buy it. Otherwise, enjoy the obvious handmade look.

Well, bag to the bags! Until next time, Nan

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Aunt Nan's Initial Offering

I just had a birthday, and I got to thinking it was about time I had a blog. I have been noticing that I have too much to say in ordinary e-mails, and maybe it is time to enter the blogosphere. I consider my mind a tool of sorts, and these days it has been overactive in a whole lot of different directions, and it might be that some of the things that flit through are worth writing down in case my kids and grandkids should ever wonder what I've been up to.

I've been up to HERE. (That's me, pointing at eyebrow level, in case you can't tell.) I am learning all the time, and my latest venture is learning to crochet. I have a very patient and wonderful friend who is helping me through this phase, giving gentle instruction and trying hard not to laugh at my drunken spider productions. I am learning to crochet because there is this cool felted bag I want to make to hold my crochet projects. Yes, it does too make sense. If you want to do something that needs a container, then you need a container to keep that something in--stands to reason. Anyhow, maybe by Christmas I will have mastered crocheting enough to have actually started on the bag. In the meantime, I shall have to use whatever bag happens to be empty at the moment.

Ah, yes--bags. Bags are very important in my life. I use them to keep parts of ongoing projects together, to haul stuff back and forth from various meetings and arty parties, and to store stuff for classes. And for anything that needs to be stuck somewhere more or less out of sight. I have a lot of stuff, and so I have a lot of bags. Most of them are full most of the time, and so I am constantly in need of new ones. Empty an old one, you say, and use that? Ah, but you see, the old ones are usually filled with projects, art materials, paper, embellishments, and odd stuff. And yes, I need all that, because, as one of my friends put it, Art Requires Inventory.

Oh, I didn't mention that I am an, among other things, artist. I make art. I do this on paper, and on canvas and sometimes on whatever is handy. Like porcelain. I am a Master Porcelain Artist, and I have the certificate (and a pile of blue ribbons and some trophies) to prove it I also do water colors, make books, make collages, and do weird things with acrylics. And now, lately digital art has taken hold. Easier to store the equipment for that--a terabyte hard drive takes awhile to fill--at least I hope so. I shall doubtless inflict images of some of my art upon the readers, if any, of this blog.

Another thing I am is a writer. I have written an unpublished mystery, several chapbooks of self-published poems, a PhD dissertation, lots of 500-words-or-less Flash Stories, and articles for many newsletters for organizations I belong to. Some of my poetry has been actually published in literary magazines and journals, but these have now sadly disappeared from the world of journals. I also have edited a book called Art and Archaeology in the Mediterranean World (and did an article for it and most of the illustrations).

Oh, yes, I have done illustrations. My illustrations have appeared in thirteen books to date, and I will have some in a fourteenth coming out sometime late this year or early next year.

And would you believe, my husband and my kids somehow think I've never done anything. What I haven't done much of is housework--who had time?

Here is a self portrait taken in a mirror and photoshopped to get rid of a too busy background. I made myself look like a little old lady, too, while I was at it. I'm really a tall, gorgeous red head with great legs....oh, and the other picture is one my friend Charlie Nagel took at Clay Camp this year. He calls it Nan, Being Dignified.

Yes, I do have a Real Name. It is Anne Lou Hawkins Robkin. But you can call me Nan.