Saturday, May 31, 2008

Children's Books that Were - The Joy Street Annuals

There is a single shelf in my bedroom where I keep my favorite children's books -that is, the favorites that are also "collectibles;" those that I love as much for their quality as objects as for their content.

Gladys Peto, about whom I and others have blogged much in the last little while, was the writer and artist who got me interested in the children's books of the 1920s and '30s, especially English ones. Those books are too old now, and too fragile for general use by the kids (who aren't particularly interested in this vintage of book anyway). I have decided that now that Mme. Peto is getting her due in the Blogosphere (see in particular Jeanette Payne's website, link to your right) I should do my bit by swinging my Blogger spotlight over another nearly forgotten and obscure but very worthy bit of children's literature; the Joy Street annuals.

These are contemporary with Peto's heyday (the 20s and 30s). I have the first four, I think there are about 15. Since the "collectibles" shelf is full (and my wallet is empty) I am not trying to complete the set. It is enough for me to take down one or two from my little collection from time to time and admire them. I occasionally find a story that suits my 21st century kids. The writing is great, really clever and interesting, but most of it is not very accessible to kids today (I am impressed at what was expected of kids in the 20s and 30s!). Each time I get back into these volumes, as I did today, I am amazed at their quality. I think the editors must have taken a lot of pleasure in putting together these books; they feel as though they have been "crafted" rather than merely published. I also imagine that the editors would have had a lot of fun in working with the artists and writers who contributed; it was quite a group of luminaries - although I have not found that Mme Peto was among them. It may be well and truly said that they don't make 'em like this anymore.

I learned about the Joy Street Annuals from the Cambridge Guide to Children's Books in English by Victor Watson, which I bought some years ago thinking it would help with Peto research. There was no Gladys Peto article (maybe in the second edition...?) I did learn the following, however:

Joy Street British miscellany for children published by Basil Blackwell (Oxford) [and by Appleton of New York in the U.S.] in the 20s and 30s, unusual for it editors' commitment to high standards for design printing and bookbinding, and for its policy of publishing stories and poems by the best-known children's authors. Number One Joy Street (1923) contained original work by Walter de la Mare, Eleanor Farjeon, Hilaire Belloc, Laurence Housman, Edith Sitwell and Rose Fyleman. Contributors to subsequent volumes included G.K. Chesterton, A.A. Milne and Compton Mackenzie. There were few adventure stories, few school stories and no non-fiction articles; the emphasis was on fantasy, magic, humor and poetry. What helped make Joy Street distinctive was the unusually high standard of artwork; in the early issues the colour plates were tipped in on special paper and the black and white drawings were of a very high quality, providing your readers of the day with an alternative to the poorly designed but less expensive annuals such as Chatterbox. Although the 13th issue was superstitiously entitled 12a Joy Street, publication unluckily came to an end in the early 1940s [Article by Victor Watson].

The Joy Street books are not hard to find (I recommend the AddAll Used Book search engine - link to your right - if you have any interest in picking up a few of your own). They are also not terribly expensive; they usually go for just a few dollars on ebay when they turn up. Frankly, I don't believe the demand is what it should be, but that makes it nice for those who do want to do a little collecting. I managed to get a few scans done this afternoon and so, I am sharing. All of the above come from Numbers 1 and 4 Joy Street. I could have spent hours at the scanner and still not have copied out half of the things that are worthy of another look and some admiration in just these two volumes.

Each book is cloth bound (some, at least, originally had dust jackets but I haven't seen one complete). They are chunky and the paper is heavy. The tipped-in illustrations are full color. Some of those are a little ho hum but others are very frameworthy (not that I would cut one up for the pictures unless the book was a complete loss). The black and white drawings are often brilliant.

So, here for your viewing pleasure are a few of the treasures of a couple of the volumes of Joy Street from the 1920s. (My copies are the English versions; I believe the American printings were just about identical, however).

Note the proto tele-tubby that appears to the far right here.

"The Rules of the Game" at the Last House

Two weeks ago, I borrowed the DVD of the famous Jean Renoir film, "La Regle du Jeu." I got it from the beautiful Goodrich Memorial Library in Newport, Vermont (the pinnacle of high culture here in the back of beyond). The photo above was taken in one of the library's rooms and the link is below. I think I saw the film (we must not call it a "movie") as a 20-something student. I managed to watch most of it again this morning (on my son's twin bed on the excuse I was cleaning his room). I had to try to see it today because it was a week overdue and in my experience libraries typically charge a dollar a day for overdue DVDs. It had to get the thing back to the Goodrich but also get my money's worth out of it!

I am happy to report my total fine was 60 cents. I felt bad enough about it that I bought a couple of pictures of the library (a fundraiser) and, last of the Big Spenders, I also let them keep the change from my dollar. In any case, the film is a critic's darling and, even with my kids bursting in and demanding to be tickled or otherwise attended to, it is obvious why. I am a better age now to appreciate the farce and the genius of the photography than I was at 21. Here's a link to the cool trailer for the good Criterion Collection DVD, which is the version I was able to borrow for so long:

Puppy Update
In other news, our Maisy has settled in so well it's spooky. (Look back a couple of posts for a picture). She's as sweet as she looks. Only one pee in the house so far! And no crying at night either. I am touching wood...

Friday, May 30, 2008

More Consumer News and Reviews - NPR Music- Gavin Bryars

I am trying to write a complicated legal argument. I like doing this sort of thing and it takes me back to law school (which I actually enjoyed, unlike most of the lawyers I know). Being in that law school frame of mind, I need some wordless music in the background to keep me in my chair and working. I did a little looking around and found a concert at the National Public Radio website. It was recorded in January 2008 by WNYC for its "Wordless Music Performance." The Sinking of the Titanic by Gavin Bryars (1969) is the first of three pieces that have been made available there. I have just gotten through that and I think it's great. I did a little quick checking on Mr. Bryars and can see I have a lot more to hear. If you want to check it out, here's the link: href="">

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Today's Big Event: Meet Our Maisy

Here she is; just arrived at the Last House a few hours ago from the North Country Animal League shelter in Morrisville, Vermont: Miss Maisy McTavish Velk.

Maisy was Born March 12, 2008 and is a native Vermonter. Her mother arrived at the shelter pregnant (to everyone's surprise since she was really still a puppy herself). The mother was sent to a local breeder of Cairn Terriers to be fostered. She (Maisy's mom) was, I am told, a shelter favorite and the breeder liked her so much she adopted her. The puppies(7)went to the shelter last week to find homes of their own. Two of Maisy's sisters remain. It was hard to break up the group but I think the others will have homes soon. Puppies are a bit of a rarity at the shelter and especially those that are likely to grow into small adults (the right thing for our little house).

I considered the breeder's adoption of Maisy's mom quite a recommendation. (I talked with the breeder's daughter today). The breeder is said to be a great dog caregiver, so Maisy's mother was well cared for during the pregnancy and the pups well socialized among the Cairns (hence the Scottish middle name; "McTavish" is also the name of one of my favorite streets in Montreal). So, at last, here is our new little mutt; the first dog I have had since I was about 10. WHusband needed a lot of persuading. Kid 1 & 2 are over the moon. Here's hoping we all get some sleep tonight...

Monday, May 26, 2008

Hay Wagon Fugitives...

Nelson Rockefeller, erstwhile governor of New York and famous patron and collector of modern art, was embarrassed by the slums of Albany back in the 1960s, when he had to drive through them with the Queen of the Netherlands. This Plaza was his answer. (Albany is the state capitol, by the way). Goodbye slums; hello monument to Rocky. The art critic and historian Robert Hughes's famously commented that the place was terrifying and he could imagine a swastika on the top of any of these skyscrapers. I have been coming here my whole life, and now, although I can't really argue with Hughes, I like it. The sunshine helps; of course. We had the whole freakin' place to ourselves this Saturday when we went to visit the fabulous New York State Museum located here (a museum every weekend, that's us). The day was perfect; Kid 1 had a new outfit (so Rhoda Morgenstern); it was just time for a photoshoot; time to unleash my inner surrealist, who has so little play in Vermont. (You may think that's a good thing after viewing the video.) If you have forgotten de Chirico from your art history class, here are some refreshers. I never go to this place without thinking of him.

Giorgio de Chirico, Nostalgia for the Infinite (ca. 1911). From

Giorgio de Chirico. Piazza d'Italia. 1913. Oil on canvas. Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, Canada. Image from

Here's a snippet from the Wikipedia article about him:

De Chirico is best known for the paintings he produced between 1909 and 1919, his metaphysical period, which are memorable for the haunted, brooding moods evoked by their images. At the start of this period, his subjects were still cityscapes inspired by the bright daylight of Mediterranean cities, but gradually he turned his attention to studies of cluttered storerooms, sometimes inhabited by mannequin-like hybrid figures.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Woolfooting Through Old Schenectady

General view of the General Electric Plant in Schenectady, New York. From the Library of Congress Digital Images collection; Anonymous c. 1907

(Sorry to go all autobiographical on you but this happens when one goes to one's old hometown...)
I am at a borrowed computer some five hours from the Last House; my Dad's computer, to be exact, at the home he shares with my Stepmother and their two terriers in Albany County, New York.

I was born a few miles from where I now sit, back in darkest 1965. I entered this world at the Albany Medical Center Hospital, where my 23-year-old mother had recently completed her nursing training. I was Kid 2 for my (unbelievably) young parents (Kid 1, my sister, is two years older). Dad was working on his PhD at RPI in nearby Troy, New York when I arrived. After he finished that (still in his mid 20s) we moved to Syracuse, New York so Dad could work with General Electric there. We all came back to the Albany area, however, when I was nine and Dad took it into his 30-something head to go to medical school. (It was one tourist hot-spot after another for our family!) He chose Albany Medical Center (I remember visiting New York University, another place he was considering, but someone told him during his interview he could never afford to send his kids to private school in NYC and he wouldn't want us in the public schools). So, back we came to one of the amorphous suburban towns that characterize this part of New York state.

Dad did his MD and continued to work for GE, like about half the dads in the "town" where I then grew up. (Niskayuna, New York). Town is in quotation marks because Niskayuna is, and was, mostly a collection of subdivisions with a few old farms near the Mohawk river: no main street or town center to speak of. My parents split up when I was 12 and Dad moved to downtown Schenectady; a place with a real identity (even if it is mostly as a gag line for old Vaudevillians). I spent a lot of my growing up years in the midst of this iconic rust belt town and it will always have a place in my heart. It is different now, as I discovered again driving around today. I think it is both worse and better than it was when I was hanging out with Dad in his various apartments in the historic part of the city called "the stockade." There are some new buildings downtown, including a big movie theater, (the downtown peaked around 1940), but there are more scary people, too. GE is still here; toujours GE.

I dragged the kids on a tour around the Old Lady today; pointing out, like a budding old person myself, where we had the ceremony when I graduated high school; the bookshop me and Grampy used to go to all the time; a building that isn't there anymore where I used to work. They appeared to be mildly interested, but not very. A guy on Erie Boulevard in a hotdog suit holding a sign for Dinky Dogs was a much greater source fascination than any landmark I tried to explain. I don't fault them.

One of the old glories of the town, Proctor's Theatre; a survivor from 1926.

You can't go home again and I don't want too. (Thank You Know Who for Vermont!) But may You Know Who bless old Schenectady as well. As during my whole childhood in the 70s and early 80s, it is obvious that Schenectady still needs all the help she can get. For those who are trying, really trying to lift the old broad up again, and those who have kept faith with her all dark years; I salute you. Loyalty counts for a lot.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Old Postcards - Those Wicked Tempters!

I recently divulged my favorite Vermont antique store: M. Lewis in Waterbury.

Six months ago, when I discovered her store, I spent a happy hour or two looking through some of her big boxes of postcards at the back of the store. The last thing I need is to start another collection of things not very useful and infinitely available. I couldnt help acquiring at least a few. Some miscellaneous favorites appear above - western scenes, the Flat Iron Building in New York; a French Chateau, a watercolor of Venice. The real temptation was a set of Raphael Tuck postcards of England, unused, perfect and about a hundred years old. Someone else made their big trip to England, no doubt, and not having a digital camera came home with these. I bought them just before I made my big trip. See below. If you recognize them it may be because I posted them some time ago in my "Romantic England" post.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Very Best Place in Vermont; Or, More About Rich People Behaving Well

Continuing with my theme of superlatives (see "The Single Most Beautiful Teacup in the World" a few posts back), I return now to tell you about the Shelburne Museum, an international treasure tucked between Route 7 and Lake Champlain in the tidy, inviting village of Shelburne, Vermont.

We (kids and I) hauled down there from the Last House yesterday (only 90 miles from our house but a world away culturally). We went partly because it was "lilac day", or whatever the musuem marketing people called it, and because, like almost all Vermont children, my kids love it there and the lilacs made as good a reason as any to go again. There are hundreds of lilac trees on the grounds of the Museum and they are just about at their peak right now. It must be smelled to be believed. And as if that weren't enough, well. I'll let the pictures do(at least some of) the talking.

One Room (of many) in One Building (of many) at the Shelburne Museum in Shelburne, Vermont

This Summer, the Museum has a display of 19th century carousel animals in the Round Barn Where You Buy Tickets (Vermonters Get 1/2 price tickets - Thank You Mrs. McClure.Another Vermont benefactor putting her money to good use)..

Oh the Pottery! So many place settings and so much Staffordshire on display all over. Here's Blue Tea Pot extraordinaire picturing Lafayette at Benjamin Franklin's tomb (ca.1820). It's on display this summer at a minty little exhibition on Old/New, called Design/Rewind in the Vermont House. Jenny, are you paying attention?

The Shelburne Museum is the creation of Electra Havemeyer Webb (more on her below). Mrs. Webb had buildings of historical interest moved from where they were and reconstructed on the grounds of her museum. Every building, at least those that aren't serving as art galleries, is full of artifacts appropriate to the building.

Does anybody else remember that Werner Herzog movie, Fitzcarraldo? Klaus Kinski plays a European megalomaniac who forces South American Indians to drag a steamship over some mountains. I was forced to watch it in a film class in college. (That's what you get for taking film classes, I guess). Well, the Ticonderoga, which is an enormous and real old steamship, was dragged miles from Lake Champlain over specially built train tracks to rest on the grounds here. I was actively hostile at 20 to Herzog after Fitzcarraldo, but I have gotten over it. (I heard him interviewed about Grizzly Man a couple of times and he was so intelligent, but that's another post). Mrs. Webb was right to save this boat which is truly beautiful and a great favorite of us all.

I have been to the Museum many times but I always passed this little place by, until yesterday. It's called the Stencil House - see the interior shot below. Mrs. Webb saved it from demolition in Sherburne, New York. The stencilling is amazing. The nice white-haired lady who was staffing the place explained that itinerant artists some times came back year after year to finish a job (for a few dollars and room and board). There was an unusual chair in a bedroom that I remarked about. She explained that it was an "invalid chair" and that its sturdy construction with a high, barrel-shaped back and substantial arm rests could be used to tie in an old person who might not be able to sit up or might wander... The things you learn about history at a museum.

There's a nice, readable Wikipedia article about E Havemeyer Webb from which I culled the following:

Electra Havemeyer Webb began to collect "in earnest" in 1911, more than a decade before the founding of Colonial Williamsburg and nearly a half century before authentic American antiques would return to the major rooms of the White House. When she began to gather the remnants of an earlier America there was no National Register of Historic Places. Americans had yet to understand that their heritage was interesting and worthy of preservation. Before there was Henry Francis Dupont's Winterthur, Henry Ford's Greenfield Village, or even the American Wing at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Electra Havemeyer Webb was an ambitious and well-known collector of Americana. She worked with the finest antique dealers of the era, including Edith Halpert and Harry Newman, to assemble encyclopedic and irreplaceable collections of American material culture. The honesty of everyday objects spoke to Mrs. Webb, and she used her significant resources to ensure their preservation. Today the museum's Americana collection is one of the world's finest.

Portrait of Mrs. Havemeyer and Her Daughter Electra. 1895. Pastel on paper, Mary Cassatt. This picture is on view at the EHW Memorial Building on the grounds of the museum and the photo comes from the EWH link at St. Michael's College to the right.

A few months ago I wrote here about my admiration for Paul Mellon and the National Gallery. Mrs. Webb had a pedigree as good as his and the money to match. Like him, she had a gift for collecting, which is its own kind of art form and not one that many can practice the way they did. (Oh, how I would love the chance!) They didn't collect the same things, which is probably a good thing for the museum-going public. (Remember MTV's celebrity smackdown with claymation figures? Havemeyer Webb v. Paul Mellon? I would laugh at it anyway).

OK. Kid 2 is clamoring for Club Penguin. Superlatives continue next time when we take up a discussion of the two best movies ever made, and, the two best scenes in the two best movies ever made. I can hardly wait.