Category Archives: friday ephemera

Friday Ephemera: “Degenerate Art” and Hipster Hitler

On this day in 1938, the Third Reich officially banned and voted to confiscate all “degenerate art,” which apparently meant all art of the 20th century that didn’t depict halo-ed portraits of the fuhrer or creepy blonde children frolicking in the Jew-free German countryside. A year before the official vote, however, Hitler’s Minister for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda (a more absurd and truthful title has never been given), Joseph Goebbels, organized a bizarre anti-art exhibit in a political move that was more or less the inverse of wearing an airbrushed Destin, Fl t-shirt that you found at the thrift store in an effort to achieve Coolness Through Irony.

Shame on you, Hipster Hitler. (Click the image to read the webcomic)

The exhibit was snappily titled “Entartete Kunst” (“Degenerate Art”) and premiered in Munich on July 19, 1937. Inside the exhibit’s temporary partitioned walls were over 650 modern art sculptures, paintings, prints, and books seized by the Reich Culture Chamber from various German museums and re-displayed in this scarlet letter, public flogging sort of scenario.

Hitler views his handiwork, probably accuses Goebbels of "not getting it."

Among some of the black-listed artists on display were modernist masters Paul Klee and Paul Kleinschmidt, along with hundreds of lesser known but no less threatening German “Bolshevists,” as they were called, among many other things. Visitors to the museum were invited to climb a narrow staircase, at the end of which was an oversized sculpture of Jesus nearly blocking the way to the exhibit–symbolism that I’m sure earned Goebbels a fist bump from the fuhrer. The rooms were grouped according to theme: the first was “works demeaning to religion,” the second was “works by Jewish artists,” the third was “works insulting to German women, soldiers, and farmers,” and the last was “miscellaneous abominations.” (Okay I made that last one up, but it might as well have been.) the art pieces were purposefully crowding each other, often tilted and hung by cord with sarcastic slogans painted over them. This schizophrenic art criticism included gems such as:

“Insolent mockery of the Divine under Centrist rule”

“Nature as seen by sick minds”

“The ideal–cretin and whore”

“Revelation of the Jewish racial soul”

Advertisement for the Degenerate Art exhibit, mocking a modern art sculpture. Note the quotation marks around the word kunst (art), foreshadowing many a PBR-soaked bar conversation to come

The exhibit’s opening coincided with the nearby unveiling of the Great German Art Exhibition, a Nazi-approved art exhibit featuring more or less hundreds of versions of this:

Nazis really liked the countryside. And braided pigtails.

The general idea was to pull a little switcheroo on the German public, with a little word association on the side: “This modern art stuff? BAD! Yucky, awful. And…and Jewish! Yeah that’s right. All kinds of Jews up in that art. Now this lovely Adolf Wissel masterpiece, now there’s some art for you! See how he captures the warm glow of far-off air raids? And those expressions of total soul-crushing compliance? Superb!”

As you might have guessed, the Degenerate Art Exhibit proved to be far more successful than the Museum of Ringlets and Fear, drawing in almost three and a half times more visitors during its four-month run. Hitler’s grand scheme failed to take into account what any freshman psychology major will tell you–that by making something taboo, you instantly make it more desirable. I guess it also helps when the thing you’re making taboo is art born out of true freedom of expression rather than propaganda enforced on pain of death. In any case, irony trumped irony like a brightly-colored bike chain ripping through a kafiya scarf.

I think my favorite part of this story, however, is how in trying to crush Germany’s spirit and turn its citizens into little Aryan robots, Hitler actually summoned the inner fighting tiger of Germany’s art community, with German artists such as Edgar Ende and Emil Nolde remaining in their home country even though they were banned from teaching in universities or even from buying paint at an arts supply store, often continuing to work on their art in secret. Despite several public burnings and much theft by high-ranking Nazi officials, some anonymous Germans, who can only be concluded to have loved art and freedom enough to risk their lives for it, buried a small remnant of degenerate sculptures in the cellar of a private house, where they were finally discovered in 2010 by workers building a subway line. You can see some of the sculptures in their new home at the Neues Museum in this article.

I’ll leave you with a few art selections that Hipster Hitler didn’t want you to see. Or rather, that he wanted you to see and then call Jewish try-hard slop and then go listen to his new poetry-core band. And that, kids, is why censorship and Buddy Holly glasses don’t pay.

To learn more about Degenerate Art, Expressionism, and the Reich Culture Chamber, visit:

Culture in the Third Reich: Overview

Blog post on German Expressionism

Degenerate Art – A Teacher’s Guide to the Holocaust



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Friday Ephemera: How Campbell’s Soup Got Its Gold Medal


In some ways I’m very much an true American at heart. I have always been interesting in product brands and logos: the fonts they choose to use, the emotions they evoke, the way they evolve over time, and how they reflect the time period that they come from. In fact, I’ve often thought that if I had it to do over again, I may have chosen to study graphic design, but then I realize that such a career veers way too close to the Jobs-And-Hobbies-That-Require-Me-To-Draw zone, which I have successfully avoided ever since trying to do a charcoal sketch of Bette Davis in 11th grade and realizing she looked more like the witch from Disney’s Snow White.

My point being, when I stumbled upon this little piece of history about the Campbell’s soup can label, I was fascinated. But I’m getting ahead of myself. In order for you to be equally fascinated, I suppose I need to set the stage a bit first:

If you were forced to name an era to associate with Campbell’s soup, chances are you’d name the 1950’s (or, if you’re an Andy Warhol fan, 1968.) Campbell’s conjures up images of mid-century suburban Cold War America, when those darling little Cabbage Patch Kid precursors had just enough time to dip their grilled cheese in a bowl of tomato soup before diving under their desks for a bomb drill.

Someone should call McCarthy. There's an awful lot of red going on here.

In actuality, though, the Campbell’s company is quite a good bit older than that. It was started in 1869 by fruit merchant Joseph Campbell and icebox manufacturer Abraham Anderson (a match made in heaven!) in New Jersey. At first, the company mostly canned tomatoes, vegetables, soups, and jellies, but everything changed with the persistence of one stubborn whippersnapper intern, 24-year-old John T. Dorrance. Dorrance was the general manager’s nephew and a chemist who was so determined to make a legacy for himself in soup that he agreed to work for a piddling $7.50 a week and purchase all his laboratory equipment out of pocket. With the soundtrack to Fame playing mysteriously in the background (or at least that’s how it goes in my head), Dorrance struck paydirt in 1897 when he invented condensed soup on the principle that by reducing the amount of water used in the recipe, he could lower production and shipping costs and therefore make a more affordable product.

what a show-off

Dorrance’s ideas did more than just make the company (and himself) filthy rich. Occurring right on the cusp of the turn of the century, this major innovation in mass-produced vegetable soup must have been fresh in minds of the coordinators of the 1900 World Fair in Paris, because the humble little tin can received a gold medal, alongside such exhibits as the diesel engine and refracting telescope.

Cambell’s executive Herberton Williams debuted the can’s new color scheme at the Fair–the cherry red and white that soon became its trademark. The image of the medal was added after, and those elements combined to form a product design that became larger than life, so much so that Mr. Warhol used it in one of his most famous series to make a statement at once both humorous and ominous, comforting and unnerving.

And what, may you ask, ever became of our enterprising Mr. Dorrance? He went on to become president of the company from 1914-1930 and buying out the Campbell family. So there you have it, kids. The moral of this story is: Interns, never give up! One day you could own that place.



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We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming…

So, I regret to say I won’t be posting my usual Friday Ephemera today, but I do not at all regret that it’s because I’m throwing the house into a tizzy trying to get ready to leave for Birmingham this afternoon, where I will help my middle school BFF Chelsea shoot her little sister’s wedding tomorrow. Macey has come a long way from tagging along on Chelsea and I’s mall adventures to find the perfect “costumes” from Rainbow to perform our homemade music videos (yes, evidence still exists…no you may NOT see it), and come to think of it, so have we.

Well, sort of. I don’t shop at Rainbow anymore, but I’ve developed a recent guilty obsession with Glee, which is kind of like living vicariously through fictional people’s homemade music videos. I try not to overanalyze it.

I’m going to go vacuum ALL THE THINGS now so there’s a fleeting chance that the house will not be a train wreck when I get back home on Sunday. There will be lots of pictures to share, I’m sure, and I’ll try to snag some internet at a coffee shop while I’m there to post a few.

Until then, I’ll leave you with a mini Friday Ephemera with no explanation.

When you’ve got that one figured out, let me know.



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Friday Ephemera: Lydia the Tattooed Lady

Upon first glance, this may appear to be simply a portrait of a respectable Victorian woman. Look a bit closer, though, and you’ll realize that what seems to be some kind of lace pattern covering the young lady’s chest and arms is actually a complex design of tattoos. The woman in question is Miss Irene Woodward, otherwise known as La Belle Irene, and she is widely considered the first documented tattooed lady of the circus sideshow tradition.

La Belle Irene showing off her ink

I’ve always been fascinated by tattooed ladies for much the same reasons as I am enthralled with flappers; that is to say, I love learning about the men and women who, in a time in history as uptight as the Victorian era, chose to alter their appearances so radically that it would put them on the fringes of society forever. In my fiction writer brain, I wonder about character motivation: What drove them to do it? What was the appeal?

Nora Hildebrandt, who worked with Le Belle Irene in New York's Bowery dime museums in 1887

During the late 1800’s, when Le Belle Irene got her start in New York, the British Empire had been expanding steadily for almost 100 years, filling the white Western minds of its countrymen with lavish images of all the exotic and fascinating lands it was subjugating. People entertained their notions of “savages” and their “uncivilized ways” with a morbid mix of horror and curiosity, and it didn’t take the dime museums long to capitalize on it.

Tattooing is a centuries-old practice in many non-Western cultures, and pretty soon men and women alike were displaying their exotic body art in sideshows across the country. The backstories of how they got their tattoos ranged from the mundane to the utterly fantastic. My favorite is Nora Hildebrandt, who claimed that she and her father were kidnapped by the Sioux Indian tribe, headed up by none other than Chief Sitting Bull himself. During more than a year of intense psychological torture conjured up by those inhuman savages, the Indians forced Nora’s father to tattoo her skin until he finally broke his own needles in an act of defiance (which he paid for with his life, of course). Nora was rescued and discovered by circus owner Adam Forepaugh who heard her tragic story with pity.

a tattooed lady advertising poster that promotes the idea of skin as a canvas for idea ahead of its time

When they weren’t making up extravagant backstories for themselves, the early tattooed ladies were often very enterprising and independent women. Some of them had incredibly successful careers on the sideshow circuit, and many of them became tattoo artists themselves. As for Irene, she eventually joined P.T. Barnum’s Greatest Show on Earth and toured through England, France, and Russia, performing for heads of state and royalty alike.

There are a lot of photographs of tattooed ladies to be found on the internet, but not a whole lot of real information about their day to day lives, leaving my character motivation question somewhat unanswered. I suppose the draw of possible fame and fortune was enough for many of these women to tattoo themselves, but I have to wonder if, at least for some of them, there wasn’t something more to it than that. As an increasingly tattooed lady myself, I want to believe that Miss Irene genuinely loved her tattoos, that she found meaning and satisfaction in having art etched onto her skin, even at the cost of most of society’s respect. I want to find in these women a type of courage to tap into whenever I visit my friend in Alabama and get tons of stares in a restaurant or have to face the quiet judgment of my grandparents at family gatherings. Looking at these photographs inspires me to continue being myself and reminds me that, if all else fails, I can always join the circus.


To learn more about tattooed ladies and dime show museums, check out:

Lydia and Friends

Dime Museums – The Dead Media Archive

The Smithsonian History of Tattooing

The Human Marvels


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Friday Ephemera: How Two Teenage Cousins from Cottingley Duped Sherlock Holmes

Okay, so technically they duped the creator of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but I think that counts as besting him by proxy. In any case, allow me to set the scene for you: It’s 1920. Photography as we know it has only existed for 85 years, and has been in wide use as a part of the average person’s life for less than 60. There is no Photoshop. There is no “airbrushing.” You open the December edition of The Strand and see an article written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a famous Spiritualist in the John-Travolta-Scientology tradition, and you see these:

Frances Griffiths (left) and Elsie Wright, the teenage cousins who produced photographs that they claimed they took of the fairies they visited in the glen near their house in Cottingley

What would you think? In this Victorian version of the Bat Boyof Piggly Wiggly checkout lanes, would you accept the seemingly impossible? Or would you dismiss the images as a hoax, even if you couldn’t figure out how it would have been done?

The English public was divided over the photographs. Novelist and poet Maurice Hewlett joked that “knowing children, and knowing that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has legs, I have decided that the Miss Carpenters [Elsie and Frances’s alias] have pulled one of them.” On the other hand, several photography experts gave the negatives their stamp of authenticity, with one saying “the two negatives are entirely genuine, unfaked photographs … [with] no trace whatsoever of studio work involving card or paper models.”

Of course, that expert was hired by Edward Gardner, a leading member of the Theosophical Society , who saw the Cottingley photographs as portending this rather 2012-ish line of thought, way before 2012 was cool: “The fact that two young girls had not only been able to see fairies, which others had done, but had actually for the first time ever been able to materialise them at a density sufficient for their images to be recorded on a photographic plate, meant that it was possible that the next cycle of evolution was underway.” It was Gardner’s interest and promotion of the photographs that led them to be seen by Doyle in a Spiritualist publication called, ironically given the nature of photography, Light.

Doyle arranged for Gardner to visit Elsie and Frances’s home, where he encouraged the girls to take more pictures, resulting in the second pair of mystical photographs:

Doyle’s response was ecstatic: “My heart was gladdened when out here in far Australia I had your note and the three wonderful pictures which are confirmatory of our published results. When our fairies are admitted other psychic phenomena will find a more ready acceptance … We have had continued messages at seances for some time that a visible sign was coming through.”

It wasn’t until 1983 that Elsie and Frances admitted publicly that the photos were fakes, using cardboard cut-outs from illustrations in a children’s book called Princess Mary’s Gift Book and propped up with hatpins. Interestingly enough, though, Frances maintained to her death that the fifth and final photograph was real:

In a television interview in 1985, Elsie said that it was their embarrassment over fooling such a brilliant man as Doyle that kept them from revealing the truth sooner. In the same interview, Frances gave a statement that I think is the most profound tidbit of this entire fascinating story, and says so much about human nature and imagination:

I never even thought of it as being a fraud – it was just Elsie and I having a bit of fun and I can’t understand to this day why they were taken in. They wanted to be taken in.

Magically yours,



To learn more about Spiritualism, fairies, and fakery:

The Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Society on the Cottingley fairies

“The Secrets of Two Famous Hoaxers” in the New York Times

Photographing Fairies

The History of Spiritualism


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Friday Ephemera: The Kingfish’s Favorite Cocktail

As promised, this week’s Ephemera is extra-special because it combines several elements of this blog in one tall, chilly glass. It’s one part roaring twenties intrigue, one part New Orleans cultural history, one part handcrafted artistry, and ten parts alcohol. Specifically, gin.

Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to the Ramos Gin Fizz:

holy smokes, I want one right now.

Developed by its namesake in 1888, bartender and owner Henry C. Ramos, the Ramos gin fizz has been a treasured staple on New Orleans area cocktail menus for well over a century. The drink is a frothy, creamy concoction of heavy cream, whipped egg whites, orange water, club soda, and of course a very dry gin declared by one loyal patron to be “like drinking a flower.”

The cocktail skyrocketed to fame when Ramos started serving it up at his bar, the Imperial Cabinet, on the corner of Carondelet and Gravier St. downtown. During Prohibition, the Roosevelt Hotel bought the rights to the glass-o-deliciousness from Ramos and trademarked the name.

Serving up the Ramos Gin Fizz did much to secure the loyalty of the Roosevelt’s Sazerac Bar enthusiasts, but it found a particular soft spot in one professional drinker’s heart, the Louisiana governor that only John Goodman could play, Mr. Huey P. Long himself.

Governor Long went crazy for this drink, and it went down in history as his all-time favorite cocktail, as evidenced by this famous anecdote taken from the Sazerac Bar website:

During one of his many political trips to New York, Long stayed at the New Yorker, a hotel that boldly claimed to be the home of the Ramos Gin Fizz. After taking one sip of the New Yorker’s Fizz, the Kingfish picked up the phone and called The Roosevelt New Orleans with orders “to send his best gin fizzer on to New York by plane so he could teach these New York sophisticates how and what to drink.”

The next day Sam Guarino, head bartender at The Sazerac Bar, arrived and spent the next three hours schooling his northern counterparts on the proper way to make Long’s beloved libation. From then on out, Huey could enjoy 8 oz. of New Orleans even when he was thousands of miles away.

Huey Long watching New Orleans bartender Samuel Guarino give the Yankees what for.

I had heard of the Ramos gin fizz many times, but I had the supreme pleasure of trying my first one last week–at the recently refurbished Sazerac Bar, nonetheless. Watching the bartender make the drink was like partially like watching Macbeth’s witches churn their lethal brew and partially like witnessing Frank Lloyd Wright build Fallingwater right in front of my eyes. It was a sight to behold and a delight to sip.

Although I disagree about the flower comparison. To me, it was like drinking a sunrise. Or an alcoholic orange julius.

Below is a recipe for a bonafide Ramos Gin Fizz, although bartenders still argue over whether the two drops of vanilla extract should be included. I’ve also added a cool video of a New Orleans master bartender making the drink, although it breaks my heart a little bit that it’s shot in a different hotel.

Marc and I plan to revisit the Sazerac Bar the weekend of our one-year anniversary (April 10th), and when we do I’m going to be sure to bring my camera this time and snap some photos of my new favorite beverage.

Bottoms up, ya’ll!



The Kingfish’s Ramos Gin Fizz

  • 1 tablespoon powdered sugar
  • 3-4 drops orange flower water
  • 1/2 lime — juice only
  • 1/2 lemon — juice only
  • 1 jigger dry gin
  • 1 white of egg
  • 1 jigger heavy cream
  • 1 squire seltzer water
  • 2 drops extract vanilla (optional)

Mix in a tall barglass in the order given; add crushed ice, not too fine as lumps are needed to whip up the froth on the egg white and cream. Use a long metal shaker and remember this is one drink that needs a long, steady shaking. Keep at it until the mixture gets body — “ropy” as some experienced barkeepers express it. When thoroughly shaken, strain into a tall thin glass for serving.

– from New Olreans DRINKS and how to mix ’em by Stanley Clisby Arthur. HARMANSON, Publisher 333 rue Royale, Nouvelle Orleans; 1937

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Friday Ephemera: Tonight at the Cotton Club

Have you ever heard that old Righteous Brothers song that says, “If there’s a rock and roll heaven, you know they’ve got a hell of a band”? Well if there’s a jazz and swing heaven, and if that heaven ever once existed on earth, and if that heaven was actually an incredibly ironic monument to racial discrimination, than the Cotton Club in the 1920’s and 30’s would be it.

Owney "The Killer", I'm not making that up.

Originally called Club De Luxe, the Harlem venue located at 142nd and Lenox Ave. was renamed the Cotton Club when Owney Madden, a famous New York gangster and bootlegger, took it over in 1923 (while imprisoned in Sing Sing, nonetheless). Drawing largely on the exploding jazz and swing scene as well as the nearly infinite talent pool of artists, actors, and musicians creating a little revolution called the Harlem Rennaisance just down the block, Madden created a Depression-proof sensation by showcasing the country’s most talented and influential black artists firmly within the context of contemporary racial prejudices.

Aside from the not-so-subtle name of the place, the Cotton Club capitalized on their white-only audience’s fascination with blacks as foreign “others.” The deep, booming drum beats and ecstatic rhythms that characterized swing styles like the Lindy Hop and the Balboa took on a whole new meaning when housed in Madden’s “exotic” revues. Duke Ellington, who was the Cotton Club’s house orchestra leader from 1927 – 1931 (succeeded by Cab Calloway), was told to write “jungle music” for white patrons.

Therein lies one of the many complicated relationships between the Club and its black musicians–while Madden’s expectations were undeniably demeaning to Ellington, with no regard for his capabilities or vision as an artist, the openness to exotic music coupled with hundreds of national radio broadcasts allowed Ellington the freedom to experiment orchestrally and the media exposure to solidify his career as one of the most important musicians of the 20th century. Eventually, his popularity was so great that it gave him enough influence to make the Club relax its whites-only policy, if only slightly.

the Cotton Club in 1936

Here’s a short list of Cotton Club headliners: Ella Fitzgerald, Louie Armstrong, Cab Calloway, Count Basie, Bessie Smith, Dizzy Gillespie, Nat King Cole, Fats Waller, Ethel Waters, Adelaide Hall.

Oh, and a 16-year-old chorus dancer named Lena Horne.

I’m fascinated by the Cotton Club, both for the sheer number of musical legends that have performed on its stage, and for the tragedy that such an institution could exist in the middle of Harlem while people like Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston were practically two doors down paving the way for every civil rights advancement that’s happened in America since.

I think the best way I could wrap this post up is with a really cool video I found of Langston Hughes’ poem “Weary Blues” set to jazz music and footage of various jazz performances from the 1920’s, including Mr. Calloway.

Hope your weekend is the bee’s knees, everyone!



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