Sunday, September 28, 2014

"Family of Champions" by George Ford Morris

Note: Previously on this blog, I've written about a number of 20th century equine artists, including Paul Brown, Wesley Dennis, Sam Savitt, and Gladys Brown Edwards.  You can scroll down to the bottom of this page to find links to those posts.

I found a somewhat hidden treasure at an estate sale yesterday.  In a bedroom closet, in a box, underneath a bunch of mass-produced prints "suitable for framing" (that no one ever bothered to frame), was an old matted picture of three horses: a stallion, a mare, and a foal. They were extremely well-drawn.

Even though I'd  never seen this particular work before, the name of the artist popped into my head almost before I could think:

George Ford Morris.

And indeed the picture was signed, in pencil, on the lower right, next to the colt.

The picture is a lithograph called "Family of Champions" by American artist George Ford Morris (1873-1960).  Morris has been described as the foremost American equestrian artist of his time.  He was mostly self-taught; his original art today commands serious prices.  One blogger notes:  

In his day there was no finer American equestrian artist than George Ford Morris. By painting horses, riders and their owners, Morris captured on canvas the ever-changing world of "Town and Country" Americana.

Even though many breeds were represented in his work, George Ford Morris is perhaps most associated with the American Saddlebred horse.  And this picture of the "Family of Champions" is an early 20th century equine equivalent of an official court portrait of William, Kate and baby George.

The stallion in the lithograph was the famous show horse and sire Bourbon King, a chestnut American Saddlebred stallion foaled in 1900.

Here's a photograph of the real-life Bourbon King.

The gray mare was Princess Eugenia, foaled in 1909.

Here she is, in real life.

George Ford Morris took this headstudy of Princess Eugenia.

And the chestnut colt was King's Genius, foaled in 1924.

King's Genius grew up to be quite a handsome fellow, a champion show horse and sire of champions.

Before I found this lithograph at the estate sale, I'd never seen any of George Ford Morris' work in person, although I have spent many hours looking at reproductions of his art in books.  You can click on some of the links below to see other works by this talented 20th century artist.
Here's a link to an art gallery website with a short biography of George Ford Morris:

Ed and Sheri Alcorn have a wonderful website with pictures of many pieces of art they own by George Ford Morris.  It's also a very useful resource for information on ceramic animals produced by Hagen-Renaker, Inc.

Here's an article on the history of the American Saddebred:

As promised, here are blog posts about other American equestrian artists:

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Sending the War Letters Back Home

Save for his first name, I'm going to make the American soldier who wrote these war letters anonymous in this blog post.  It's enough to read what he wrote, and see how he captured his war experience through art.  

I think it's also important, whenever possible, to track down surviving members of soldiers' families and offer to send them the old war letters that turn up at estate sales (or copies of them, if they're not interested in the originals).  That's what happened with this unique batch of letters from one soldier to another, after they returned home from World War II.

The war letters I find at estate sales are usually hand-written or typed.  Occasionally the writer will add a little doodle or sketch, or tuck a newspaper clipping or cartoon into the envelope, to entertain the reader.

But I'd never seen illustrated war letters like the ones from Reese to his buddy Bill.  I found them at an estate sale a couple of weeks ago.  Both of these American soldiers had been stationed near Sydney, Australia during World War II; both had been sent back home.

I did a double-take when I first opened this letter. That's an original pencil drawing at the top!  

March 6th, 1945

Dear Bill,

...The little picture at the top is from a sketch looking out from the door of our tent at Parramatta, the soldier is heading for the mess hall where you and the boys used to come for dinner when you were on duty at Sydney.

That camp was located on ground belonging to Henry Ford, he had intended building a plant there but gave it up for some reason.

The ground was very level there and were were flooded after a big rain of 16 inches in 24 hours, remember it?...

I believe it was in the first part of April I came up to Warwick Farm one Sunday morning and saw the boys marching out on their way to the 32nd Div. and points north, since then those boys have covered a lot of territory and did some hard fighting....

When he returned home, Reese worked in a shoe factory that had a defense contract.  Bill worked at a hospital in another state.

Even though the letters continue into 1946, past the official end of World War II, I consider them all to be "war letters" because in them, Reese describes his experience as an American soldier stationed near Sydney, around 1943.

Reese's handwriting was elegant and precise.  And fortunately for us, he reminded Bill what each piece of art represented.

George River at Warwick Farm, ‘43

May 6th, 1945

Dear Bill:

Received your letter of April 2nd and your card a few days later, must say that I envied you that trip, for, for some unexplainable reason to me, nature in the raw is like food to a starving man when I view it, and I always want to put it on canvas or paper so I can keep it for always.

For some reason, Bill, I have an idea that all of our boys are out of Australia now and once more the Aussies can enjoy their horse races, and take their girls down to the spot pictured above where you and I have whiled many a weary hour away and sitting in the shade of those trees [writing] letters to the loved ones at home.

Across the river two homes, a vineyard, a peach orchard, and a chap who had home-made wine, did you get any of it?

We did not have the ice cream cone type store in our tent there at Rosehill but the other boys with me did have them, we located and swiped a regulation stove form the Signal Corps and we also had a floor, an actual wood floor, and we just confiscated it.  The other boys did not have floors and when it rained it was miserable for them, after we went North we were quartered in a grandstand for a while and then into tents, as far as Army life is concerned we had an ideal camp, good stoves, wood floors, a writing table and stool, a shelf and coathangers beneath, and believe it or not, a linoleum rug my buddie got someplace, and best of all only four to a tent, we also had a 150 watt lamp too.  I never liked Army life at all until we were sent up there and as far as that sort of living goes it was O.K., but, boy, a real home makes that sort of life seem like something out of a bad dream....

Sure am glad to hear that it is about over in Germany, or I might say over, for it will be by the time you get this letter – I hope.

We will not celebrate VE Day [at his job], we will continue working as the Army has asked us to do, after Japan is licked I will feel like celebrating for we had something to do with their defeat.  I would rather they would wait until all the boys are home, then in each city have a gigantic military parade of the boys to honor them, and after the parade every one break loose to celebrate their return.  I don’t think it is right for civilians to celebrate by themselves for it would be much nicer to have all the soldiers home to take part for they are the ones who have earned the right to celebrate victory in the two hemispheres.

If they have a parade in LA let me know about it and believe me I sure would like to be there to march again with you....

Above is an original pen-and-ink sketch of a bridge in Sydney, Australia, that adorns the top of another letter, from 1946.  Note the boats beneath. 

Dear Bill,

Once again you see "the bridge," and as dusk falls the lights of Sydney wink on and Luna Park attracts the boys in suntans and their girls from Down Under.

Electric trains at Town Hall, Windward Station, Kings Cross, Parramatta, and Warwick Farm, gee, Bill, it all came back to me as I made this pen and ink sketch, and the first night we were there, standing by the rail of the transport watching the search lights go on in different parts of the city until they at last located the plane which glowed in the evening sky like a giant moth when all the lights were on it.

...They were very patriotic [at his current job location] and bought a flag which was hung in our department, one of the fellows who stayed at home was standing looking at it last week when an ex-GI, who had been a prisoner, barked, "Stop looking at that flag you damned 4F,you did not think enough of it to fight for it and you don't know what it means."  Some of these days it will end in a fight and I hope that I will be around when it happens, might be exciting....

Another letter shows an original painting of an old train that ran through the town of Parramatta, Australia, near the place the American soldiers were stationed.  

Dear Bill,

While you are taking time out for a much deserved rest in Milwaukee I will also take time out to write a decent letter and also paint a little water color of that quaint little train we saw at Parramatta.  Quite a difference in that ancient locomotive and its open carriage to the trim, sleek lines of El Capitan.  I expect you saw it several times when you can from Sydney to Rosehill Camp for dinner.

It came past us one evening when were going to Parramatta, puffing and laboring along and we stopped to watch it, an old Aussie seemed very proud of that little train, said it was the first one in Australia and it was more than 104 years old, we didn't say anything but I thought we kept antiques like that in the Smithsonian Institute....

The final piece of artwork in Reese's letters is my favorite:

It was 1946; he and his wife were building a new home.

Fortunately I've been able to locate Reese's grandson and other family members through, and I've sent the letters to them.  They are good custodians of their family history.  Copies of the letters will be going (with the family's permission) to the Center for American War Letters at Chapman University.

(I wonder what it would feel like to see not only letters, but artwork, from one of your ancestors?  What a joy, to be able to provide that experience for a family.)

Monday, September 22, 2014

Program for Disney's Snow White Premiere: December 21, 1937

It was a very important moment in the history of film: the premiere of the first feature-length animated film. Walt Disney's  Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was first screened the night of December 21, 1937, at the Carthay Circle Theatre in Los Angeles.

Someone -- I don't know who -- went to the event and brought home a copy of the program for that night.  

I found it at an estate sale the other day. It was stacked in a dusty garage with a bunch of old magazines.  

This program was a witness to film history, so I was very careful as I handled it to take pictures to show you here.

The program is in good shape for being over 75 years old.  The inside centerfold is printed on silver foil:

Other pages provide facts about the film, interspersed with congratulatory ads from local businesses and others in the film industry.

Walt Disney wrote a note of thanks to his staff.

A massive marketing campaign accompanied the debut of the film. I. Magnin & Co.'s ad in the opening night program showcased Cartier's 14k gold Snow White bracelet, a narrow gold link chain with charms representing Snow White and all seven dwarfs.  Cost: $100.  Suggestion: Christmas gift.

The program gave the history of the story of Snow White, a "paragon of girlish virtue" in Disney's version of the tale.

There were several ads for local businesses.  This one is for the Melody Lane, "the most beautiful cafe' in Los Angeles."

There was a page in the program devoted to the music of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.  

And more congratulatory ads from local businesses.  It must have been tricky to print on silver foil.

Technicolor took out a full-page ad.

I wasn't able to find out the name of the person who went to the premiere of Snow White, on that December night so long ago.  Tickets were notoriously hard to come by.  Did the original owner of the program work for Walt Disney, or know someone who did?  She or he must have been aware, at some level, that the premiere was making history.  

In retrospect, we know that making Snow White was a massive gamble for Walt Disney.  There had never been a feature-length animated film before this one.  It cost a fortune to make; production took three years and the talents of 750 artists.  Hollywood gossips called it "Disney's folly." America was still reeling from the shock of the Great Depression.  Would people pay to see a full-length cartoon?  Would the dark themes in the film be considered too frightening for children to see?

The build-up to the premiere was intense. The 1500 tickets sold out quickly; the audience included Hollywood luminaries from Shirley Temple to Cary Grant to Charlie Chaplin.  Several hundred Disney animators who worked on the film bought tickets so they could see how the finished product came out.

It was reported that more than 3o,000 people who couldn't get tickets for the premiere packed the streets anyway, just to be part of the event and get tickets for later showings.  Bleachers were set up to accommodate them, and extra police were brought in for security.

The premiere of Snow White was accompanied by a number of special exhibits and activities. One was the outdoor "Dwarfland" diorama created along Wilshire Boulevard, a couple of blocks from the Carthay Circle Theatre.  It featured actors dressed as the Seven Dwarfs, complete with cottage, a working water wheel, and diamond mine.

Here's a YouTube video clip of the premiere event:

There are several blogs dedicated to All Vintage Things Disney.  Perhaps the most comprehensive source for information on the premiere of Snow White is the blog Filmic-Light.  Here's its report, complete with lots of pictures, on the premiere:

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs lived up to, even exceeded, its hype. The website summarizes:

The stunning success of “Snow White” marked a turning point in the career of Walt Disney, and established him among the world’s most celebrated filmmakers. The quality of its animation, voiceover work and musical score set a high standard for all future animated features made by Disney or any other studio. 

And the old program I found at an estate sale, was there at the premiere.

(Yes, I know.  This original program needs to be in the hands of a real collector of vintage Disney. I'm sure one will come forward, once I post this piece on the blog.)

Additional resources:

Filmic-Light (above) also has a Facebook page that features Snow White memorabilia.

Here are more web pages related to the premiere of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs:"

The Disney Family  Museum website tells about the opening:

As does the official Disneyland blog:

(Sidebar: I remember that my mother did a dandy impersonation of Snow White singing, "I'm wishing {echo: I'm wishing} / For the one I love...." and "Someday My Prince Will Come." Mom was a little girl when the film first came out, so she had plenty of time to practice her coloratura voice before her kids were born. "Whistle While You Work" and "Hi-Ho" were easier to remember, though.

Collected Stories for the 75th Anniversary of the Start of World War II

September 2014 is the 75th anniversary of the start of World War II.  The war began when Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939.  

I remember as a child being surprised that  the war had not started on Pearl Harbor Day, December 7, 1941 -- it had been raging in Europe for more than two years before the United States officially got involved.

When I go to estate sales, I seek out war letters and photos to send to the Center for American War Letters at Chapman University.  Reading wartime correspondence, and seeing original photographs taken by soldiers, gives us a different perspective on what war is all about, than "official" histories.

To commemorate the soldiers and their loved ones on the home front, here are some links to previous blog posts I've written with a World War II theme.

War Letters: Your Unknown Admirer

For D-Day: Untold Stories of the Third Army

War Letters: The Yankyettes

The Tiny Tea Set, During a Time of War

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Pyrex Bowls and Pumpkin Pie

September marks the start of autumn, so to celebrate a few days early, I decided to make a pumpkin pie using sweetened condensed milk (the thick kind that comes in a can, containing added sugar) and an old recipe for pie crust.

To start, I needed mixing bowls.  I'd found this set of four stackable Pyrex mixing bowls at an estate sale.

I'd also found a copy of a 1951 women's magazine with an ad for this set of bowls at the estate sale: the original owner paid $2.95 for the set.

Next, I needed to decide which recipe to use for pie crust, so I consulted the Good and Easy Cookbook, first published in 1954 -- which I also found at an estate sale.

I selected a recipe, got out the largest, yellow, Pyrex mixing bowl, preheated my oven to 425 degrees, and set to work.

Recipe for Single Pie Crust (8 or 9 inches wide)

1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup shortening
3 tablespoons water (I used ice water)

Mix the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl; cut in the shortening.  Sprinkle with water and form into a ball.  Place the ball on a floured flat surface -- in this case, the cloth pastry frame I found at another estate sale.

Put some flour on the rolling pin and roll the dough flat from the center outwards (roll from the center to the top, then from the center to the bottom, center to right, center to left, and so on until the crust is the desired size and thickness).

Roll the dough until it's about an inch larger than the pie pan you're going to use.  Carefully lift the dough and place it in the pie pan, then cut off the jagged edges and flute the edges crust in the pan with your fingers.  

I used a pale yellow Fiesta Ware pie plate.

What to do with the extra pieces of pie crust?  Place them on a flat baking sheet and sprinkle them with cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice and sugar.  You've already preheated the oven to 425 degrees, so while you are making the pie filling, bake the crust shards until they are golden brown.  Remove them from the oven and let them cool.  This gives over-eager pie aficionados something to snack on while the pie itself is being baked.

For the pumpkin pie filling, combine in a mixing bowl (your choice of colors, but one of the larger ones):

1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin
1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
2 eggs
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
A pinch of black pepper

Beat the ingredients together thoroughly and pour into the prepared pie crust.  Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue baking the pie for another 30-40 minutes or until a knife inserted near the center of the pie filling (about an inch or so from the center) comes out clean.  Remove the pie from the oven and let it cool.  Serve warm or chilled with whipped cream or a small scoop of ice cream.  Refrigerate any leftover pie.  (I'm told that pie is also good for breakfast.)

Food tradition: My grandmother always added a tiny amount of black pepper to recipes that called for cinnamon, ginger and/or nutmeg.  She said the pepper helped bring out the flavors of the other spices.

Food history lesson: Sweetened condensed milk was patented in 1856 by a Mr. Gail Borden, of dairy fame.  He (and others) developed canned milk in response to the fact that fresh milk didn't keep very long, back then.  Adding sugar inhibited bacterial growth.

And there it is: an old-school pumpkin pie, baked with love and some help from things I found at estate sales.

Here are some more food-related blog posts on The Estate Sale Chronicles:

A recipe for sugar cookies from the Good and Easy Cookbook:

The cloth pastry frame:

Here's a link to an article on the history of canned milk (regular and sweetened condensed):

And a website devoted to the love of Pyrex: