Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘vintage’

02 MARCH, 2012

The Seven Lady Godivas: Dr. Seuss’s Little-Known “Adult” Book of Nudes

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What Peeping Toms have to do with failure and the expectations of genius.

Theodor Seuss Geisel, better-known as Dr. Seuss, was a legendary children’s book author, radical ideologist, and a lover of reading. Among his many creative feats is a fairly unknown, fairly scandalous one: In 1939, when Geisel left Vanguard for Random House, he had one condition for his new publisher, Bennett Cerf — that he would let Geisel do an “adult” book first. The result was The Seven Lady Godivas: The True Facts Concerning History’s Barest Family, which tells the story of nudist sisters who, after their father’s death, pledge not to wed until each of them has “brought to the light of the world some new and worthy Horse Truth, of benefit to man.”

Geisel wrote in the foreword:

A beautiful story of love, honor and scientific achievement has too long been gathering dust in the archives.”

The humorous story is based on the Lady Godiva legend, according to which in 1037 the Earl of Coventry’s wife rode naked on horseback through the streets of Coventry, protesting against her husband’s unfair taxes. The citizens of Coventry were ordered to remain indoors, shuttered, as she rode. But one man, Peeping Tom, peered out and was then struck blind.

The book, however, was a complete flop. Ten thousand copies were printed on the first run, and only about 2,500 were sold. The Seven Lady Godivas eventually went out of print, causing Geisel to later say:

I attempted to draw the sexiest babes I could, but they came out looking absurd.

Absurd as they might be, and oddly unerotic despite the nudity, the illustrations are a treat, perhaps in that so-bad-it’s-good kind of way, or perhaps because they offer endearing reassurance that even genius can falter.

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01 MARCH, 2012

“In March, Read the Books You’ve Always Meant to Read”: Gorgeous Vintage PSA Posters, 1939-1941

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Dickens, Dumas, Austen, Tolstoy, Eliot, Clemens, Hawthorne, Thackeray, Scott.

In 1935, in an effort to elevate the nation from the grip of The Great Depression, President Roosevelt launched the Works Progress Administration — a New Deal agency enlisting millions of ordinary citizens and unskilled workers in carrying out public space and service projects as diverse as art murals, road work, and building construction. With a government investment of nearly $7 billion, the WPA provided some 8 million jobs and soon became the largest employer in the country, in the process producing a wealth of public service announcement posters — a treasure trove of mid-century design.

Among the WPA’s design output were a number of gorgeous vintage posters for various literacy projects:

'In March read the books you've always meant to read'

March 25, 1941, WPA Art Project Chicago

'The vacation reading club - join now at your public library'

March 25, 1939, WPA Iowa Project

'A book mark would be better!'

Dated between 1936 and 1940, WPA Art Project Chicago

So, in March, what are you reading? A good place to start:

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29 FEBRUARY, 2012

Sparkle and Spin: A 1957 Children’s Book About Words by Iconic Designer Paul Rand

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A mid-century lens on the relationship between language and image, shape and sound, thought and expression.

As a lover of children’s books and mid-century design, I have a particular soft spot for vintage children’s books by iconic mid-century designers. After last week’s look at Saul Bass’s only children’s book, here comes Sparkle and Spin: A Book About Words — an utterly, perhaps paradoxically, delightful 1957 children’s book illustrated by legendary designer and notorious curmudgeon Paul Rand, and written by his then-wife Ann.

(I came across the book in the excellent Children’s Picturebooks: The Art of Visual Storytelling, a treasure trove of seminal vintage children’s books.)

With its bold, playful interplay of words and pictures, the book encourages an understanding of the relationship between language and image, shape and sound, thought and expression, a lens we’ve also seen when Italian novelist and philosopher Umberto Eco introduced young readers to semiotics in the same period.

Though the cover of the 2006 reprint, with its all too literal glitter gimmick, would have likely sent Rand into a vapid fury, the book is an absolute treasure, one I’m happy to see survive the out-of-print fate of all too many mid-century gems.

Sparkle and Spin is part of a Rand trilogy, including Little 1 (1962) and the out-of-print, incredibly hard to find Listen! Listen! (1970).

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