Deliberation of Art or Fraud

James Stephen George Boggs was born in Woodbury, New Jersey on January 16, 1955.

James Boggs began drawing currency in 1984, sitting in a Chicago diner the artist began drawing on a paper napkin as he consumed his breakfast. He began with sketching the number 1, easily recognized on the $1 denomination. Boggs then transformed the image into a piece of art similar to the dollar bill. Eagerly, his waitress offered to buy it. Mr. Boggs refused, but instead payed for his 90 cent tab with the drawing and the waitress gratefully handed him 10 cents in change. Needless to say, at that very moment an idea sparked that would change the path of his life. His drawings of currency, illustrating only one side of the note, came to be known as “Boggs notes”. James Boggs notes were considered to be art. He would tell a collector where he spent the note and the details of the transaction, but he would never sell the notes directly. The buyer would then hunt down the person in possession of the note in order to purchase it. Boggs noted that after the initial transaction the notes would be resold for much more than their face value, it is said that one Boggs notes resold for $420,000.

One of his well known pieces are a series of bills done for the Florida United Numismatists’ annual convention. Denominations from $1 to $50 (and perhaps higher) feature designs taken from the reverse sides of U.S. currency, making minor changes to captions such as: “The United States of America” is changed to “Florida United Numismatists” and the denomination wording is occasionally replaced by the acronym “FUN”. Also changes to the imagery; the mirroring of Monticello on the $2, the Supreme Court building, as opposed to the U.S. Treasury, on the $10 and an alternate angle for the White House on the $20 bill. They were printed in bright orange on one side and featured Boggs’s autograph and thumbprint on the other.

 Boggs viewed his “transactions” as a type of art, but the authorities often viewed him and his work with speculation. Boggs wanted his audience to question and investigate just what it is that makes “money” valuable in the first place. 

“I create images that say things and ask things,” Mr. Boggs said in the 2013 Discovery Channel documentary “Secret Life of Money.” “I take them out into the real world and try to spend them, not as counterfeits, but as works of art that ask us about the nature of money.”

He firmly denied that he was a counterfeiter or forger, but rather maintained that a good business model between informed parties that this performance was certainly not fraud, even if the item transacted happens to resemble currency. Boggs was first arrested for counterfeiting in England in 1986, and was successfully defended by the human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson QC & Mark Stephens and acquitted. As detailed in Geoffrey Robertson’s book The Justice Game, all Bank of England notes now carry a copyright message on the face as a direct result of Boggs’s activities, the idea being that if they cannot secure a counterfeiting charge, then they can at least secure a copyright violation. He was arrested for a second time in Australia in 1989, acquitted and awarded the equivalent of US$20,000 in damages by the presiding judge. Boggs home was raided three times between 1990 and 1992 by the United States Secret Service on suspicion of counterfeiting. Resulting in the raids, 1300 items were confiscated, although no legal case was brought against him. In September 2006, Boggs was arrested in Florida and charged with possession of methamphetamine, possession of drug paraphernalia, and carrying a concealed weapon. He failed to appear in court a few months later.

Police bust Boggs at the Young Unknowns Gallery, London, 1986

“They said I was a counterfeiter,” an indignant Mr. Boggs told The Associated Press in 1992, when agents in the counterfeiting division of the Secret Service raided his apartment near Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, where he was an artist in residence, and took possession of more than 100 of his artworks. “They don’t understand the difference between art and crime.”

With the immense talent he held, it is no wonder prestigious museums sought after this work. Some of the artwork can be found in numerous places, including the Art Institute of Chicago, Smithsonian Institution, Babson College, Wellesley, Massachusetts, Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, Florida Tampa Museum of Art, Tampa, Florida Spencer Museum of Art, Lawrence Kansas and the British Museum in London, England. Boggs died on January 22, 2017 in Tampa at the age of 62, but his story will live on forever through his work and his legacy.

N. C. Wyeth

Newell Convers Wyeth, known as N. C. Wyeth to the public, was an American artist and illustrator. He learned from artist Howard Pyle and became one of America’s greatest illustrators. During his lifetime, Wyeth created over 3,000 paintings and illustrated 112 books. The first of these books, Treasure Island, was one of his masterpieces and the proceeds paid for his studio. Wyeth was a realist painter and the camera and photography would compete with his craft. Sometimes seen as melodramatic, his illustrations were designed to be understood quickly.


One More Step, Mr. Hands by Wyeth, 1911, for Treasure Island

Wyeth was born in Needham, Massachusetts and was an ancestor of Nicholas Wyeth, a stonemason, whom came to Massachusetts from England in 1645. Later ancestors of Wyeth had prominent participation in the French and Indian Wars, the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and the American Civil War, passing down rich oral histories and tradition to Wyeth and his family. Many of this stories provided great inspiration for the subject matter of his art. His maternal ancestors came from Switzerland, and during his childhood, his mother was acquainted with literary giants Henry David Thoreau and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. His literary appreciation and artistic talents appear to have come from his Mother.

He was the oldest of four brothers and as children they spent much time hunting, fishing, and enjoying other outdoor pursuits, and doing chores on their farm. His varied youthful activities and his naturally astute sense of observation later aided the authenticity of his illustrations.

His mother often encouraged his early inclination toward art; Wyeth was notably excellent at watercolor paintings by the age of twelve. He went to Mechanics Arts School to learn drafting, and then Massachusetts Normal Art Schoo, where painting instructor Richard Andrew advised him to become an illustrator, and then the Eric Pape School of Art to learn illustration, under George Loftus Noyes and Charles W. Reed.

When two of Wyeth’s friends were accepted to Howard Pyle’s School of Art in Wilmington, Delaware and Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, Wyeth was invited to join them in 1902. Pyle was the “father” of American illustration, and Wyeth immediately meshed with his methods and ideals. Pyle’s teachings often included excursions to historical sites and impromptu dramas using props and costumes, meant to stimulate imagination, emotion, atmosphere, and the observation of humans in action—all necessities for his style of illustration. Wyeth’s exuberant personality and talent made him a standout student. He admired great literature, music, and drama, and he enjoyed spirited conversation. Pyle in his teaching would stress historical accuracy and tinged it with a romantic aura. But where Pyle painted in exquisite detail, Wyeth veered toward looser, quicker strokes and relied on ominous shadows and moody backgrounds.

N.C. Wyeth in his Studio

On February 21, 1903, Wyeth’s first commission as an illustrator appeared on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post. That year he described his work as “true, solid American subjects—nothing foreign about them.” It was a spectacular accomplishment for the 20-year-old Wyeth, after just a few months under Pyle’s tutelage. In 1904, the same magazine commissioned him to illustrate a Western story, and Pyle urged Wyeth to go West to acquire direct knowledge, much as Zane Grey had done for his Western novels. In Colorado, he worked as a cowboy alongside the professional “punchers”, moving cattle and doing ranch chores. He visited the Navajo in Arizona and gained an understanding of Native American culture. When his money was stolen, he worked as a mail carrier, riding between the Two Grey Hills trading post and Fort Defiance, to earn enough to get back home. He wrote home, “The life is wonderful, strange—the fascination of it clutches me like some unseen animal—it seems to whisper, ‘Come back, you belong here, this is your real home.'”

On a second trip to the West two years later, he collected information on mining and brought home costumes and artifacts, including cowboy and Indian clothing. His early trips to the western United States inspired a period of images of cowboys and Native Americans that dramatized the Old West. His depictions of Native Americans tended to be sympathetic, showing them in harmony with their environment, as demonstrated by In the Crystal Depths (1906).

Upon returning to Chadds Ford, he painted a series of farm scenes for Scribner’s, finding the landscape less dramatic than that of the West but nonetheless a rich environment for his art: “Everything lies in its subtleties, everything is so gentle and simple, so unaffected.” One of his paintings,Mowing (1907), created during this time, was among his most successful images of rural life.

In 1908, Wyeth married Carolyn Bockius of Wilmington and settled in Chadds Ford to raise a family on 18 acres near the historic Brandywine battlefield. By then commissions were coming in quickly. His hope had been that he would make enough money with his illustrations to be able to afford the luxury of painting what he wanted; but as his family and income grew, he found it difficult to break from illustration.

Wyeth created a stimulating household for his talented children Andrew Wyeth, Henriette Wyeth Hurd, Carolyn Wyeth, Ann Wyeth McCoy, and Nathaniel C. Wyeth. Wyeth was very sociable, and frequent visitors included F. Scott Fitzgerald, Joseph Hergesheimer, Hugh Walpole, Lillian Gish, and John Gilbert. According to Andrew, who spent the most time with his father due to his sickly childhood, Wyeth was a strict but patient father who did not talk down to his children. His hard work as an illustrator gave his family the financial freedom to follow their own artistic and scientific pursuits. Many of his children and grandchildren carried on lives of art and success.

By 1914, Wyeth loathed the commercialism upon which he became dependent, and for the rest of his life, he battled internally over his capitulation, accusing himself of having “bitched myself with the accursed success in skin-deep pictures and illustrations.” He complained of money men “who want to buy me piecemeal” and that “an illustration must be made practical, not only in its dramatic statement, but it must be a thing that will adapt itself to the engravers’ and printers’ limitations. This fact alone kills that underlying inspiration to create thought. Instead of expressing that inner feeling, you express the outward thought… or imitation of that feeling.”

By the 1930s, he restored an old captain’s house in Port Clyde, Maine, named “Eight Bells” after a Winslow Homer painting, and took his family there for summers, where he painted primarily seascapes. Museums started to purchase his paintings, and by 1941, he was elected to the National Academy and exhibited on a regular basis.

One of Wyeth’s many illustrated books

In 1945, Wyeth and his grandson (Nathaniel C. Wyeth’s son) were killed when the automobile they were riding in was struck by a freight train at a railway crossing near his Chadds Ford home. At the time, Wyeth had been working on an ambitious series of murals for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company depicting the Pilgrims at Plymouth, a series completed by Andrew Wyeth and John McCoy.

Significant public collections of Wyeth’s work are now on display at the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, and in Maine, at the Portland Museum of Art and the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland. The Brandywine River Museum offers tours of the N. C. Wyeth House and Studio in Chadds Ford. The home and studio were designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1997. The home and studio are open to the public for tours. His studio is set up as if he has just left — the palette he used on the day of his death sits by his last canvas.

Edmund Dulac

Edmund Dulac was a French-British magazine illustrator, book illustrator and stamp designer. Born in Toulouse he studied law but later turned to the study of art at the École des Beaux-Arts. He moved to London in the early 20th century and in 1905 received his first commission which was to illustrate the novels of the Brontë Sisters. During World War I, Dulac produced relief books and when after the war he turned to mainly magazine illustrations. He designed banknotes during World War II and postage stamps, most notably, during the beginning of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign.

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“She had read all the newspapers” from “The Snow Queen” London, Hodder & Stoughton, Ltd., 1911

At 22 Dulac was commissioned by the publisher J. M. Dent to illustrate Jane Eyre and nine other volumes of works by the Brontë sisters. He then became a regular contributor to The Pall Mall Magazine, and joined the London Sketch Club, which introduced him to the book and magazine illustrators of the day. Through these connections he began an association with the Leicester Galleries and Hodder & Stoughton. The gallery commissioned illustrations from Dulac which they sold in an annual exhibition, while publishing rights to the paintings were taken up by Hodder & Stoughton for reproduction in illustrated gift books. Books produced under this arrangement by Dulac include Stories from The Arabian Nights (1907) with 50 colour images; an edition of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest (1908) with 40 colour illustrations; The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (1909) with 20 colour images; The Sleeping Beauty and Other Fairy Tales (1910); Stories from Hans Christian Andersen (1911); The Bells and Other Poems by Edgar Allan Poe (1912) with 28 colour images and many monotone illustrations; and Princess Badoura (1913).

During World War I he contributed to relief books, including King Albert’s Book (1914), Princess Mary’s Gift Book, and, his own Edmund Dulac’s Picture-Book for the French Red Cross (1915) including 20 colour images. Hodder and Stoughton also published The Dreamer of Dreams (1915) including 6 colour images – a work composed by the then Queen of Romania.

 

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1910 Shakespeare’s Comedy of The Tempest Illustrated by Edmund Dulac

After the war, the deluxe edition illustrated books became a rarity and Dulac’s career in this field was over. His last such books were Edmund Dulac’s Fairy Book (1916), the Tanglewood Tales (1918)  and The Kingdom of the Pearl (1920). His career continued in other areas, including newspaper caricatures (especially at The Outlook), portraiture, theatre costume and set design, bookplates, chocolate boxes, medals, and various graphics (especially for The Mercury Theatre, Notting Hill Gate).

He also produced illustrations for The American Weekly, a Sunday newspaper chain in America and Britain’s Country Life. Country Life Limited (London) published Gods and Mortals in Love (1935) (including 9 colour images) based on a number of the contributions made by Dulac to Country Life previously. The Daughter of the Stars (1939) was a further publication to benefit from Dulac’s artwork – due to constraints related to the outbreak of World War II, that title included just 2 colour images. He continued to produce books for the rest of his life, more so than any of his contemporaries, although these were less frequent and less lavish than during the Golden Age.

Dulac also designed postage stamps for Great Britain, including the postage stamp issued to commemorate the Coronation of King George VI that was issued on 13 May 1937. The head of the King used on all the stamps of that reign was his design and he also designed the 2s 6d and 5s values for the ‘arms series’ high values. As well he contributed designs for the sets of stamps issued to commemorate the 1948 Summer Olympics and the Festival of Britain.

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Dulac Designed 1953 Coronation Stamp

 

Dulac was one of the designers of the Wilding series stamps, which were the first definitive stamps of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. He was responsible for the frame around the image of the Queen on the 1s, 1s 3d and 1s 6d values. His image of the Queen was rejected in favor of a photographic portrait by Dorothy Wilding to which he carried out some modifications by hand. He also designed the 1s 3d value stamp of the set issued to commemorate the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II but he passed just before it was issued.

Dulac designed stamps (Marianne de Londres series) and banknotes for Free France during World War II. In the early 1940s Dulac also prepared a project for a Polish 20-zlotych note for the Bank of Poland (Bank Polski). This banknote (printed in England in 1942 but dated 1939) was ordered by the Polish Government in Exile and was never issued.

Halfway through his final book commission (Milton’s Comus), Dulac passed away of a heart attack on 25 May 1953 in London. He is forever remembered as a prominent illustrator of the 20th century.


If you’d like a 1910 copy of The Tempest illustrated by Edmund Dulac check out our Ebay Store

An Engravers Story… Feat. Jerry Morales

 

 

 

27073032_556199321405762_5310278992521876335_n.jpgJerry Morales, a man of music and creativity; a talented  engraver and family man. His career in engraving all began while teaching guitar in a music store and working part time in an instrument repair shop in downtown San Antonio. He had many tasks there from restringing instruments, set ups to repairing electronics. Having access to various shop tools and learning about sharpening the edge of blades, chisels and scrapers slowly by hand from head of guitar tech, Casey Jones; Jerry began to familiarize himself with said tools. Having devotion for music, Jerry became curious, only to begin creating picks out of coins in his down time…

 

30738449_596142180744809_2870257589432614912_n.jpgAs a guitar player and new husband, priorities and employment changed. Time went on, responsibilities and obligations grew, pushing Jerry to start creating more guitar picks to sell on eBay, rather than keeping them all for his personal use. He would make coin picks from coinage all around the world, but one day stumbled upon something incredible… Skull engravings on coins! In his mild astonishment, he realized that others were literally defacing coinage to skeletonize their facial features. It was mind-bending to him that some artists were replacing the minted images with their very own. Thanks to the wealth of information available on Facebook in previous posts from the coin carving and engraving communities, he was able to increase his appreciation for the skill of tooling and it added fuel to the dimly lit flame inside him for pursuing coin carving and he fell in love with the skeleton style himself. Seeing the vast selection of skull carvings in the eBay market, it almost seemed  to be the cliche thing to do to make money quickly, but that did not hinder his joy for engraving. Jerry is continuously experimenting and sharpening his skills, he is currently starting to dabble in more than just skull influenced carvings, he has branched out to different subjects such as different objects and faces.

 

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An engraving he created of Tim Rathjen, CEO of The Stamp and Coin Place

 

“With a little research and digging on the Internet, I’m sure I ended up where all eager newbies end up, the YouTube videos of the great Shaun Hughes; full of tips, tricks and DIY how-to goodness.” – Jerry Morales

“ I am very grateful for everything Shaun Hughes has freely shared as well as the experienced carvers/engravers on Facebook, without them I would probably given up after a handful more crude skull carvings.” – Jerry Morales

 

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42425538_716389752053384_3484543577546031104_nLate at night when his family sleeps, Jerry will spend his time doing all of his coin related tasks. Typically, a few hours after that he will wake up and head off to his day job at the county medical examiner’s office. (The morgue) His commitment to the hobby is very clear, and by the immense skill that he possess it is only excitement we feel to see what he will create next. Jerry Morales started taking progress photos so anyone interested in this hobby can see the steps it takes to make one of his coins. He was influenced greatly by Shaun Hughes’s how-to/DIY attitude to share with everyone interested. Jerry welcomes questions about carving on his Facebook posts and is more than happy to help out those in need. There are many active carvers  also producing skull conversions or skull/death related themed coins, so there is plenty of knowledge and tips to go around. Support is a huge part of this hobby, and like anything else in life… The more support and familiarity you have in something, the better you become.

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Thank you for sharing your story Jerry, your work is inspiring!

Carving Out Time To Master An Art

 

 

Coin engraving is an expertise that takes incredible patience and precision. It also, like any other art form, has  many different styles and levels of experience. Steve Adams, a Pennsylvania man that has been an engraver for 35 years first learned to hand-cut steel dies with a hammer and chisel, although other techniques were used along the way, it is the hammer and chisel that he uses most frequently for sculpting in steel or coin engraving.

 

 

26904768_767303523463228_3652555532116882464_n.jpgSteve’s vast amount of artistic skill is remarkable to put it mildly. From bas-relief sculptures, die engraving and coin carving, hand forging of metalware, creating his very own engraving tools, steampunk guns and sculptures, woodworking and even landscaping; it is a wonder how he has mastered such an impressive number of things. When asked where he has received the most inspiration, he simply stated that his work ethic was instilled in him by his beloved grandfather “Pap” and the creative inspiration he has been given came from the many engravers, artist and sculptors that he has met along the way in his artistically specialized  journey; picking up a little from every creative person that he encountered.

 

 

Steve Adams realized that this expressive style of living was his rightful path after college when he was hired by a hammer and chisel die engraver. The man who employed him was an Italian master engraver, and working along side the engraver was his son. After a short amount of time, the father sought out to start his own business, and Steve was then given the opportunity to work in company with the master engraver’s son. The son was old school and didn’t share much other than showing Steve how to make chisels. Weeks after the son’s father had left, the son decided to resign from the business as well. Leaving Steve unnerved and on his own, he began picking up the craft rapidly. Learning three weeks later that he not only had the tenacity to get the job done, but his work became transcendent. To this day he continues to expand his knowledge… and his passion is clearly showcased through his work.

 

 

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With the wide-ranging skills that he possessed, he made the transition to hobo nickel carving. He discovered the hobo nickel art form on eBay in 2000 and soon after chose to partake in the hobby of hobo nickel engraving. At that time there were less than half a dozen active carvers on eBay and designs were more traditional. To his surprise, the early carvings were profitable and began to flourish both on eBay and by commission. Needless to say, he has stuck with this lucrative venture.

 

 

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“With the influx of many master engravers in the hobo nickel craft, you have to engrave something really unique to make a mark now.  We’re fortunate that most engravers are supportive of each other and collectors help to support the craft. Though the art form began with the use of buffalo nickels as a canvas, the introduction of larger coins, such as the Morgan silver dollar, have added new dimensions to the craft. Although I make my living as a die engraver and sculptor, I mostly enjoy the creative process of coin carving.” -Steve Adams

 

 

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Through practice and persistence, anything is possible…

Stars and Stamps

 

 

One of 2016’s most popular Forever stamp sets was the National Parks set, with the stunning view of star paths over Mount Rainier being the stand-out image; this beautiful photograph made the cover of the official USPS 2016 Forever Stamp Yearbook. Astrophotographer and astronomy educator Matt Dieterich, who took the photo, talked to us about how this beautiful stamp came about.

 

 

Past and Present (PP): First of all, tell us a little bit about how you got started with astrophotography.

 
Postmaster General Dedicates National Parks Stamps: Special Dedication Ceremonies at 14 Locations Including Simultaneous Live Webcast from MD/VA Assateague Island National Seashore. Matt Dieterich, photographer of Mount Rainier National Park Stamp.Matt Dieterich (Matt): I began taking astrophotos in 2007 as a 16 year old in high school. My curiosity for the night sky was jump-started after taking an astronomy class in high school, thanks in part to a passionate and motivating teacher, Mrs. Batson from North Hills Senior High in Pittsburgh, PA. Even though my grades weren’t the best in her class, I was eager to learn about the constellations and night sky in the planetarium we had at school. That year in high school, I received a small telescope from my parents, but I wanted to show people what I was seeing through the telescope. I learned that connecting a camera to the telescope was a great way for me to share astronomy with others.

 

 

PP: How did you get started in astronomy education and outreach? Why is astrophotography an effective form of outreach for you?

 
Matt: For the last 10 years, the goal of my photography has been to use the images as astronomy education tools. I shared the photos with friends, family, my teachers, and on various astronomy forums online. I loved showcasing beautiful objects in the night sky that the human eye cannot see. For me, astrophotography is an incredibly effective outreach tool because it gets people excited about science. I am thrilled seeing how inquisitive people are about the photos, especially kids, during outreach presentations. Simply put, astrophotos spark creativity, curiosity, and inspiration for learning. As a firm believer in education by hands-on activities, astrophotography is a perfect way to get kids involved in science.

 

 

PP: How did this photo go from your camera to being on a stamp?

 
stamp setMatt: When I took my camera out after teaching an astronomy program at Mount Rainier National Park in June 2015, my goal was not to capture an image for a stamp. I drove down to Reflection Lake and setup my camera, tripod, and shutter release cable to capture a timelapse video. The Northern Lights were active that night, a rare event which happens maybe once every couple years at Mount Rainier. Weeks later I edited the timelapse video into my first star trails photo. This type of image is a great beginner way to capture the stars. I joke now realizing that my astronomy teacher in high school told me to try that technique 10 years ago when I started astrophotography… I guess I am glad I waited to create my first star trails under the right circumstances!

 

Serendipity connected me with a person in Washington D.C. looking for a national park night sky photograph to be on a Forever Stamp collection celebrating the upcoming National Park Service 100 year anniversary. My boss forwarded me the email from that person seeing if I had any astrophotos to submit to her that I shot from Mount Rainier. I gave her a link to my online gallery and she immediately fell in love with the Northern Lights star trails over Mount Rainier. A few days later I had confirmation that my photo would be on a stamp, which I had to keep a secret for 8 months until the official USPS press release.

 

 

PP: We are based in Washington, so of course we’re thrilled to see one of our most recognizable parks featured on a stamp. What was your favorite part of working at and photographing Mount Rainier National Park?

 

Matt: My favorite part about working at Mount Rainier National Park was sharing the natural resources with visitors. Everyone I was able to spend time with at the park was enthusiastic and connected to nature, which for me is a huge aspect to living a healthy life. Having lived in a big city my whole life, I very much enjoyed how quiet the park was as well. One joy of the National Parks is that they are preserved regions where nature can be observed and experienced with minimal impact of humans.Thanks to the quiet nature of Mount Rainier, time seemed to slow down and I was able to live fully in the present moment, a certain kind of peace I have been striving to find.

 

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Photo credit Matt Dieterich

As a photographer, living inside the park for 3 months helped me connect to the landscape. I was able to plan certain shots and wait for the weather to create the conditions that made for a unique photo. For instance, being at the park allowed me to create my first Astronomy Picture of the Day photo of the Perseid Meteor Shower from Sunrise, and of course the Northern Lights display seen in my Forever Stamp at Reflection Lake. In my experience, landscape and astrophotography require “being in the right place at the right time,” which means being on location at Rainier for months helped me create some incredible photos.

 

 

PP: Do you think it’s significant to have astrophotography represented on something as ubiquitous as a stamp? How does that advance your goals for education and outreach?

 

Matt: Having astrophotography represented on a stamp is huge. In today’s society, we have lost our connection to the night sky because city lights block out faint starlight. Sharing images that spark curiosity about what the night sky looks like away from bright city lights is something I care deeply about. I have used my stamp to help advocate for the protection and conservation of dark night skies during all my outreach programs. Most importantly, I showcase my work to raise awareness for reclaiming the night sky if we properly light our cities at night. I want my work to spark an emotional connection in the viewer. If we are not emotionally connected to the night sky like our ancestors were, will we want to become stewards of that resource?

 

 

PP: Finally, what’s it like to see your work on a real US stamp, and then on the Forever Stamp Yearbook?
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Matt: For me, seeing my work on a stamp is humbling, but I know there’s more I need to pursue via photography. Having my photo on a stamp taught me that the public views astrophotography as art, something they want to hang on their wall and enjoy for years to come. Little did I know a hobby of mine that started in high school would turn into a lifelong pursuit of sharing my passion for science and the outdoors with others through astrophotography.

 

Ironically, my I had no clue my stamp made the Forever Stamp Yearbook cover until a week ago. My high school chemistry teacher who I stay in touch with sent me the email link. I was shocked, and of course humbled again by the fact that the image is so well received.

 

 

You can find Matt’s work online here, complete with prints to order. He is also on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

The Man Who Saved London’s Treasures

 

For over forty years, George “Stoney Jack” Lawrence used cunning, generosity, and a network of lower class workers to find some of the greatest archeological treasures in London.

 

George-Fabian-Lawrence--300x272The early half of the 20th century saw some of the most excavations done in the city, to make way for new buildings that needed deeper foundations. However, since large-scale earth-moving equipment was still decades in the future, the digs were done by shovel, allowing for the discovery and preservation of historic objects as the workers dug through layers of past civilizations that had not been seen in centuries. Lawrence made a habit of befriending the “navvies,” the lower-class laborers who did the hard manual labor of excavation and building. While buying them drinks, Lawrence would let it be known that he would be happy to purchase any oddities they might come across during excavation. In some cases, he even offered “rudimentary archaeological training” so that his friends would know which sorts of objects were most valuable. He kept half-crowns (about $18.50 each in today’s money) in his pockets in order to instantly reward contacts, and word soon spread that Stoney Jack was the one to go to when anything unusual was unearthed. Many of the navvies found their way to his shop on Sundays, since it was the only day they could smuggle larger items away from the excavations.

 

cheap1.jpgThough the provenances for Stoney Jack’s historic wares were often dubious at best, few museums could resist the chance to own some of his more spectacular finds. Lawerence himself worked for several museums at various points during his career. While Lawrence’s methods were unethical (and the removal of historical objects from their archaeological context resulted in a loss of possible knowledge), he was also known for being exceptionally fair to the laborers who brought him their finds. If a museum bought a piece for more than he had expected, he would track down the navvy who had brought it to him, and give him his increased share of the profit. He also never sent a contact away empty-handed; if an item brought to him had no value, he gave the finder enough money for a beer at a nearby pub.

 

Despite his eagerness to buy and sell these finds, Lawrence never seemed to be motivated by profit. Journalist H.V Morton wrote about him, “He would hold a Roman sandal—for leather is marvelously preserved in the London clay—and, half closing his eyes, with his head on one side, his cheroot obstructing his diction, would speak about the cobbler who had made it ages ago, the shop in which it had been sold, the kind of Roman who had probably brought it and the streets of the long-vanished London it had known. The whole picture took life and colour as he spoke. I have never met anyone with a more affectionate attitude to the past.” His store in London was frequented by schoolboys, who marvelled over the strange assortment of historical odds and ends. Morton writes, “He loved nothing better than a schoolboy who was interested in the past. Many a time I have seen a lad in his shop longingly fingering some trifle that he could not afford to buy. ‘Put it in your pocket,’ Lawrence would cry. ‘I want you to have it, my boy, and–give me threepence!‘”
cheap3.jpgThe greatest find to ever come into Stoney Jack Lawrence’s possession was the Cheapside Hoard: approximately 500 pieces of gemstones, rings, and other jewelry. It was excavated from a cellar just prior to WWI, and is the greatest set of Elizabethan and Stuart era relics ever found. It’s uncertain exactly where and when the hoard was uncovered; Stoney Jack frequently changed details to keep the owners of property where finds were discovered from making a claim on the find. Like many hoards, most of the jewelry and gems were massed inside a large lump of clay, with many of the individual pieces bent and twisted. The navvies who uncovered it thought it was a set of children’s toys. Accounts differ as to how much Lawrence was offered for his find; some say it was as little as £90, while Morton claims it was £1000 which he split with his navvy contacts.

 

Lawrence’s methods are certainly debateable. There’s no doubt that he intentionally kept landowners from making claims on the finds he profited from, and his methods of collecting via the navvy network ensured that finds made their way to him in bits and pieces, destroying the archaeological context in which they were found. At the same time, had he not had his network in place, most of these items would simply have been dumped on junk barges and sent down the Thames to the Erith marshes and lost to history forever. Some of history’s greatest treasures were saved by an untrained history enthusiast and a network of manual laborers.

 

(Cheapside Hoard photos courtesy of the Museum of London.)

Hobo Nickels

Although the Buffalo Nickel had it’s fair share of issues during it’s time in circulation from 1913 to 1938 (see our previous entry), one arena where it found nothing but popularity was among artists.  One form of art as unique as the individuals that made them are Hobo Nickels.  Created mostly by transient people, Hobo Nickels were essentially coins turned into pieces of folk art.  Engravers would alter the obverse (face) of the coin,  to resemble their own face or that of some other character, and then change the reverse of the coin to resemble an animal. This type of art is not only extremely unique, but it encapsulates a period of time defined by struggle, hard work, creativity and survival.

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Coin engraving dates back all the way back to the 18th century, when engravers used to turn any of the Seated Liberty coins into “potty coins” by modifying lady liberty so that she appeared to be sitting on a chamber pot.  Most of this art was found outside the US in counties like Britain, France and South Africa.

The arrival of the Buffalo NIckel in 1913 brought this form of art to the United States.  The nickel was the perfect medium because it was thicker and harder than other coins in circulation and the Native American’s head was much bigger than the faces on the other coins.  This gave engravers more room to work and allowed for finer details.

In the 1930’s, as a result of the depression, this form of artwork flourished.  Thousands of men were out of work and spent their days traveling the railroads, looking for work.  These people, commonly called “Hobos”, considered themselves far different from the “bums” and “tramps” of their time.  Hobos were a nomadic group of people who worked hard when work was available, stayed out of trouble and considered themselves to be free spirited.  They were also called “knights of the road.” The small, round pieces of art they created were often traded for food, shelter or other necessities.

Creating a hobo nickel was no small feat.  It was not uncommon for a single piece to take up to 100 hours to complete.  Artists used things like nails. chisels and knives to carefully construct these pieces of art.  No one coin looks the same.

Although most of the hobos creating these nickels preferred to stay anonymous, a few names have surfaced over the years. Probably the most famous of these was George Washington “Bo” Hughes.  A nomadic man from an early age, Bo met a man by the name of Bert during his stay at a “jungle” (the term commonly used to describe a hobo camp).  Bert was a craftsman and taught Bo the art of engraving and altering coins.  He caught on quick and began churning out coins left and right.  His coins stood out among the many being created at the time because his designs were more innovative than other artists and he was not afraid to experiment with his technique.

In 1957, Bo Huges had an accident involving a chisel, rendering his hand nearly unusable.  That combined with years of hard, physical labor brought his career to an end. He did continue to carve Hobo nickels to the extent that he was able until his death in 1982.

It is estimated that around 100,000 hobo nickels were created during their hay day, by various artists. On average, original Hobo nickels sell for between $100 and $400, but a few have sold for as much as $3000.

Today, artists continue to create Hobo Nickels, although their history is not the same. Power tools have replaced nails and knives and the subject matter has changed to include popular modern characters and themes.  It is estimated that the number of modern Hobo nickels (created after the 1980’s) will quickly surpass the number of classic ones. They are no longer traded for goods or created by the idle hands of hard working men out of work and travelling the railroads.  The art form lives on, but the story has changed.

The World’s Fair | A History

The World’s Fair is a large public exhibition embedded in rich cultural tradition.  Originating in Paris with the industrial revolution, these grand expositions soon spread to continental Europe and the United Kingdom before making their mark across the world.  The grandfather fair, reverently referred to as the “Great Exhibition” was Prince Albert’s proposal to model regionally manufactured products in order to induce international trade and relations, buoy tourism and propagate art and design education.  The structure and ideology of this 1851 fair offered a clear precedent for the World’s Fair and it has continued to attract millions world-wide today.  The 2015 World’s Fair is being held in Milan, Italy.

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While culture sharing has always been and remains vital, the development of the World’s Fair can be distinguished in three Eras of characteristic evolution: Industrialization, Cultural Exchange and Nation Branding.

The Industrial Era, which lasted roughly from 1800 to 1938 focused heavily on trade and boasted technological inventions and industrial design in a rapidly advancing technological world.  Modern technologies were brought together from all over the world marking momentous occasions in historical information sharing.  Expositions such as the Philadelphia 1876 Centennial Exhibition with the debut of Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone and Chicago 1893 Fair presenting the early dishwasher became landmarks of advancement, procuring a progressive image of the World’s Fair.

During the Era of Cultural Exchange, beginning with New York’s 1939 World Fair, themed “Building a Better Tomorrow”, expositions took on diverging cultural themes, anticipating a bright future.  The focus of fairs became less about specific technologies and more about intercultural communication for the exchange and growth of innovation.  As cultural recognition and societal strength became of greater importance, the Era of Nation Branding began.

Countries began to use the World’s Fair as a platform to strengthen their national images through branding and architecture.  Great pavilions were erected and stand today as representations of great nations such as Japan, Canada, Finland and Spain.  Stunning architecture and nation branding required solid financial investment and thus, several nations shied away from hosting Expositions, fearing that the cost would outweigh the benefits.  The 2000 Dutch Exposition pavilion cost an approximate €35 million, but is thought to have brought in €350 million in turn for a thriving Dutch economy.

The World’s Fair has seen much evolution over the course of two hundred years and today embodies the characteristic of all three Eras.  Each fair presents the newest technologies including art and architecture while fostering cultural networking and bolstering a reputably positive national image. One of the few lasting, globally impacting traditions of our Earth, the World’s Fair is a magnificent opportunity for individuals, communities, cultures and societies to reach out as a part of an ever-evolving humanity.

Porcelain Dolls

The hype surrounding porcelain dolls is seen everywhere from classic literature to modern horror films.  Every little girl has looked with shining eyes at a pretty little porcelain doll at one point or another, admiring her perfect curling locks and dress stitched with care.  Produced since 18th century, thousands of porcelain dolls are manufactured yearly today.  Where did this fascination begin?

The first porcelain dolls, china dolls were manufactured predominantly in Germany starting in 1840.  They were made of white glazed porcelain with hand-painted features, stockings or boots and molded hair.  Often, these “old-fashioned” dolls were made to look like women, rather than children, with a body of cloth or leather and porcelain extremities.  Produced in large quantities reaching into the millions, these china dolls were soon replicated in America and China.  These original dolls differ from successors in their characteristic glossy appearance.

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Soon to follow, parian dolls gained popularity with their unglazed porcelain faces and inset glass eyes from the 1850’s onward.  As the porcelain doll developed through World War I, they took on more complicated features and were given goat or human hair atop their porcelain heads.  As their reputation grew, every young affluent girl wanted one, necessitating industrial manufacturing of clothing and accessories for these fashion dolls.  Sometimes, Paris companies such as Jumeau and Bru would design the bodies while German companies manufactured heads.

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A large shift in the industry and intended audience occurred as dolls were created to represent children, rather than grown-ups.  By the late 19th century, child-like figures overtook the market.  The most notable of these porcelain dolls were French bebes which grew in popularity between the 1860’s and 1880’s.  Made of the highest quality material and with great skill, these dolls weren’t produced for long before cheaper German imitations drove French bebes to a lesser quality and production cost.  The original bebes dolls are worth thousands of dollars on the collector’s market today.

With lower prices and increased production, porcelain dolls found their way into children’s hearts across the world.  Smaller unarticulated bisque dolls called penny dolls were popular into the early 1930’s when the United States began production.  Up until this point, porcelain dolls were viewed as toys rather than as collectables.  Artists such as Emma Clear first envisioned the porcelain doll as an elaborate and delicate collectable as hobbyist reproduction began in the United States.  By 1980 the hobby grew to include Europe, Australia and Great Britain and was of such great interest that large scale seminars were held by companies such as Seely’s and Wandke.  Many of these original dolls were created for an adult collector’s market.

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Because so many variations of porcelain dolls have been in circulation, their value is contingent upon time period, location, material, manufacturer, quality and condition.  The most expensive doll ever sold was a rare and unique Kammer & Reinhardt bisque doll that sold for the hefty price of $373,417.  Desirable characteristics for collectors include consistent tone and slight translucency, artist craftsmanship, attention to detail and articulated bodies with wooden joints.  Most 1860-1890 fashion dolls go for at least $2,000 and can easily be worth more than $20,000 if from a well-known source such as Bru and Huret, while later, cheaper dolls might be worth only a few hundred dollars.

No matter the price, these fragile little ladies have always engendered wondrous fascination.  Still produced in large quantities today in China, they’re here to stay for little girls and collectors worldwide.