Journal

Hand-Painted Tourists Sign

06.26.2013

Tourists sign

Although we all use the term “tourist” regularly, whether referring to ourselves on holiday or to hordes of vacationers invading our home towns, it is not so common to see signs on modern roadside establishments beckoning specifically to tourists.  In contrast, during the 1920s through the 1940s, beginning just after automobiles became ubiquitous among middle class families and highways were being established and improved, the word “tourist” was used to lure burgeoning road traffic into lodging establishments, gift shops, restaurants and dubious roadside attractions all across the country.

Tourist sign in Florida

Florida, 1941, U.S. National Archives

It is not surprising then, that most of the vintage tourists signs we acquire date from the 1920s-1940s.  The framed tourist sign that we have for sale (shown below) was made in the 1920s and came from the Catskills region of New York.  It was most likely attached to the top of another sign, as the legs are long enough to hold it aloft, but are not long (or rotted) enough to indicate that they were posted in the ground.

Tourists sign

This vintage photo taken in Louisiana shows the technique of layering signs to create the special effect of a place that gives you a lot for your time and money, making it irresistible for a traveler to pass by.

Signs in Louisiana

Louisiana, 1940, U.S. National Archives

Since running water, hot water, bathrooms, showers, heat and electricity could not to be taken for granted by tourists, these modern amenities merited special emphasis on road signs, whether layered as multiple signs, or painted all on the same sign.

Tourist signs

1938 in Ohio and 1940 in Maryland. U.S. National Archives.

While a lot of vintage tourist signs are simply painted in black and white, the one we are offering has multiple colors – green, ochre, red and black – which is not so common.

Tourists sign

The shadowed letters, arched word presentation, and flourish beneath the center indicate that this might have been created by a professional sign painter, although there is no signature.

Tourists sign

This sign is also double-sided and was definitely used outdoors, with the side that was presumably more exposed to harsh prevailing winds and driving rain being more weathered.

Tourists sign

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Canoeing Lithograph on Linen

05.23.2013

canoepill1

Illustrations of well-dressed ladies enjoying genteel sports, such as this lithograph on linen, accompanied a rise in popularity of sports participation among women during the final third of the 19th century.  After the Civil War elite women in the U.S., who had more time and energy for leisure pursuits than working-class women, began to participate more actively in croquet, archery, and tennis.

In the 1880s and 1890s upper-class women increasingly explored other physical sports such as horseback riding, bowling, rowing, canoeing, yachting, and skating.  Towards the end of the century, as the growing demand for female emancipation was leading up to the acquisition of voting rights for women, even bicycling and golf became possible pursuits for women.  (For additional historical details see “Women, sport and exercise in the 19th century” by Patricia Vertinsky in Women & Sport – Interdisciplinary Perspectives edited by D. M. Costa  & S. Guthrie, 1994).

closeup canoeing image on linen

This lithograph captures the spirit of the sporting woman at the turn of the 20th century.  She resembles a “Gibson Girl,” a stereotyped look popularized by the magazine illustrator Charles Dana Gibson from 1890 through about 1910.  Like the woman in this lithograph, Gibson Girls were always impeccably dressed, attractive, confident, and somewhat athletic (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gibson_Girl).  Similarly, this woman with her hair piled high, an hour-glass figure and fashionable clothing, projects enough confidence to steer her own boat, while still conveying appropriate social respectability.

We framed this print in a circa 1900 gold bead lined oak frame (~ 27” square) befitting its time period.

period oak frame

We have had several similar woman sporting pillow covers over the years which were likewise kept in storage or framed and never made into pillows.  The following examples help put into context the one in our current inventory for anyone considering starting a collection or simply interested in knowing more about this genre.

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Super Cool Aquaplane

04.29.2013

Arro-PlaneAnyone lucky enough to have grown up recreating on a freshwater lake may recognize this form of vintage water sports equipment.  It is a wooden aquaplane dating from circa 1930-40.

An aquaplane is “a board ridden by a standing person and pulled by a motorboat for entertainment” (www.lexic.us). This “Arro-Plane” was probably made by a water ski manufacturer, and has fantastic graphic appeal – painted with a long arrow shape that is crowned with an Indian head (think arrowhead) in strong red, white and blue colors.  The condition of the paint decoration with minor scuffs and wear indicates that the board must not have been used much.  In addition to being a cool piece of vintage sports equipment, this board has all of the attributes that are desirable in vintage trade signs.

Arroplane decoration

It is 71” long x 24” wide x 2” thick, and is quite heavy – about 35 pounds.

Thickness of arroplane

A rope harness would have been attached to the two side rings, and then a tow rope would have extended from the front of the aquaplane to the back of a motor boat.  The light blue patches near the back of the board are sand-painted to provide grip for wet feet.

Arroplane grips

This following rather comical vintage illustration shows aquaplaning technique during a thrilling ride behind what looks to be about a ten horse-power motor.

http://descowaterskis.com/desco_aquaplanes.htm

http://descowaterskis.com/desco_aquaplanes.htm

We also found a few 1924 vintage photos of aquaplane athletes that show the basic technique of board riding, as well as some fancier tricks.

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Decorated Birch Bark Container

03.21.2013

Sabattis Tomah birch bark wastebasket

This cylindrical container decorated with canoeing, hunting and camping images was made in the early 1900s by Sabattis Tomah, a Maine Passamaquoddy Indian who was the only son of Passamaquoddy chief and renowned birch bark artist Tomah Joseph (1837-1914).  Sabattis borrowed artistic birch bark techniques, themes and forms from his father, whose work is well-documented in the 1993 exhibition catalog History on Birchbark:  The Art of Tomah Joseph, Passamaquoddy by Joan A. Lester.

Book about Tomah Joseph

The bark of the white birch tree has been an important element of the material culture of Northern Woodlands Indian tribes since long before their contact with Europeans.  It was used for making such life essentials as wigwams, canoes, storage vessels, and even cooking pots. (As maple sugaring is in full swing here in New England, it is amazing to think that Woodlands tribes could make maple syrup by boiling sap with hot rocks added to sap-filled birch bark containers).

When birch bark was used as a raw material for making utilitarian goods, the flakey outer bark of the white birch tree was turned to the inside, while the interior bark formed the exterior of the object.

Birch bark wastebasket interior

This material is not only strong, pliable and water resistant, but the inner bark also makes an ideal canvas for decoration when harvested in the winter because that is when it has a solid maroon-brown rind.  When that darker rind is etched away, the inscribed design appears in the lighter bark layer just beneath it.

Design etched on birch bark

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Figural Crooked Knife

02.27.2013

(click photo to enlarge)

Crooked knives are multi-purpose tools that were made and used by Woodlands Indians as early as the 1600s.  They were documented by explorers, traders and missionaries as one of the most essential tools of “the Man of the North.”  Woodlands tribes include those in the Northeast (Maine and the Maritime Provinces) such as Micmac, Penobscot, Maliseet and Passamaquoddy, and those in the Eastern, Central and Western Great Lakes regions such as Iroquois, Huron, Cree, and Chippewa.

The circa 1880 Northeastern Woodlands Indian crooked knife pictured here has a handle carved in the shape of a curled human hand, exemplifying the blend of function and artistic expression that elevates embellished crooked knives beyond the status of an everyday tool.

An excellent book, “Mocotaugan:  The Story and Art of the Crooked Knife” (2003) by Russell Jalbert & Ned Jalbert (available as a pdf at mocotauganthebook.com), describes the crooked knife being used for everything from making wood shavings for fire starter to shaping ax handles, wigwam poles, storage vessel, snow shoes, canoe paddles, and birch bark canoes.  The unique angle at which the blade is set into the handle earned this knife the name “crooked.”   The blade is positioned so that the grip can be grasped with the thumb placed under the handle, allowing for a powerful stroke as the knife is drawn across wood towards the body.

Indians were adept at recycling useful materials, and often repurposed steel from a straight razor or a file to serve as the knife blade.  In our example, the knife is secured to the handle with a harness of inlaid lead or pewter, but often blades are held with leather or wire wrap.

Not all crooked knives were elaborately carved.  Utilitarian knives with simple handles would have been among the several crooked knives a woodsman typically owned.  This unpublished photo from circa 1880 of a group of Cree Indians in Quebec shows three men (sitting at far right, sitting center front, standing in back near the tent opening) using their everyday crooked knives to shape canoe paddles.

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Vintage Canoeing Photograph

01.31.2013

What motivates people to buy an antique photo? Serious photography collectors of course, seek high-value photos with historical or artistic significance due to the scene or person captured, the early photographic and printing methods used, or the photographer’s notoriety.

But people who are not specifically photography collectors are also drawn to vintage photographs for a variety of reasons.  These include attraction to the aesthetic richness of the image or appreciation for its inherent visual commentary that is thought-provoking or smile-inducing.  Or a photo might have a connection to a subject matter that relates to one’s broader areas of collecting or interest (e.g., railroads, dolls, barber shops).

Old photos can also remind people of a place or pastime they have enjoyed – an image of a person skating or an old farmhouse shaded by a maple tree need not be exactly identifiable to evoke nostalgia.  Finally, there are photos of an actual place that one knows well, but captured in an earlier era, thereby putting one’s experience of it into historical perspective; that is what attracted me (Jeff) to this photo.

Grand Lake Algonquin Park

The 7” x 9”  black-and-white image captures a circa 1910-1920 scene on Grand Lake in Canada’s Algonquin Provincial Park, a 2,946 square mile preserve of lakes and rivers established in 1893 which quickly became a desirable destination for wilderness canoe tripping.

Map of Grand Lake

I spent many summers canoeing, camping and guiding in Algonquin Park, and have paddled by this exact spot.  I found (and kept) a print of this image 15 years ago, so this one is now going to a customer for whom it also triggers positive associations with lakes and canoeing.

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Two-Bears Canoe Cup: A Woodsman’s Water Dipper

12.27.2012

Some antique rustic accessories – an elegant faux bois mirror, for instance – evoke refined indoor living, while others more strongly reflect the earthy lifestyles of outdoorsmen.  Canoe cups are a good example of the latter. 

Wooden canoe cups were a practical accessory that wilderness travelers used to dip drinking water from a lake or stream before water quality was a concern. They were typically made from a tree burl, often maple, that was hollowed out and shaped with a jackknife or crooked knife.  The naturally round portion of the burl served as the cup, while wood extending from the burl served as an integral handle.  The handle was usually punctured or carved with an open slot for fitting a leather thong, braided cord, or metal clip so that the cup could be attached to the traveler’s belt – thus the alternative name for canoe cups as “belt cups.”

burl canoe cupThe majority of canoe cups hail from Quebec, and less commonly from Maine and the Maritime Provinces.  The strong Quebecois tradition of crafting canoe cups has roots in the early fur trade as French voyageurs came into contact with Native tribes and adopted their practice of making drinking cups from tree burls.  While some cups found on the market today are unadorned (right), the more beguiling examples are decorated with carved and/or painted animals and landscapes of the northwoods and waterways. 

two bears canoe cupThe canoe cup in our current inventory is a good example of typical decorative themes and techniques.  Two bears with raised paws, perhaps depicting a fighting stance, are slightly relief-carved and painted, and a wash of paint at their feet represents tufts of grass.  The interior is carved to accentuate the natural heart-shape of the burl, which is also a fairly common treatment.  The varnished surface and metal snap clip help to date this cup to circa 1930.

The two-bears cup has painted initials, presumably of the person who made and owned it.  Some cups, however, were made by guides not for their own use, but to give as gifts to the “sports” who hired them – men of means from cities who traveled north to hunt and fish.  Images of hunting and fishing implements and game were a popular decorative theme, as seen on the cups from our past inventory, below.  The cup with the belt toggle carved in the shape of a canoe and a painted fish also displays the name of a well-known fishing river, the Mattawin.

canoe cup with fishcanoe cup with deer

    trout canoe cupcanoe toggle canoe cup 

 

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Keech Souvenir Canoe Paddles

12.01.2012

Keech canoe paddlesKeech paddles are well known to collectors of rustic accessories.  They are appreciated for their finely-detailed, painted scenes, as well as for the delicate quality of each carved paddle.  They date from 1890 to 1920 and can turn up anywhere in the U.S. and Canada, since they traveled home with far-flung vacationers who had visited upstate New York.

The maker of these paddles was Alpheus E. Keech (1855-1926) who lived most of his life near the St. Lawrence River in the 1000 Islands region of northern New York.  He descended from a long line of men whose lives centered around water navigation; he was even named after a ship captain uncle who died in a wreck on Lake Erie.

When he was 30 years old, while still making a living as a carpenter in the family’s boat-building business, Alpheus began focusing his talents as an artist.  In addition to producing large paintings of steamships, sailboats, and landscapes, he established a studio (pictured below) to make and sell small souvenirs, the most popular of which were his paint-decorated model canoe paddles. Keep Reading