Monday, July 19, 2010

Some of what I love about Dover books

(The bearing this video has on the text will be revealed in a few paragraphs...please read on.)

My introduction to Dover books, in the early 70s, came about as I began my short-lived career as a dollmaker. From their Pictorial Archives collection of vintage, copyright-free graphics, I found a suitable border for a business card. What followed was a year of round-the-clock sewing, orders from legendary places such as the Craft and Folk Art Museum in Los Angeles, a mention (with photo) in the LA Times Sunday magazine and a lot of stores that didn't pay their bills.

What brought the publisher to mind was the stack of Dover titles lurking under our dining table. In preparation for a store demonstration on techniques for visual journal pages, I'd selected a few titles for photocopying, to have available for backgrounds, transfers, collage, and it was considerably past time to re-shelve them.

They included The Solotype Catalog of 4,147 Display Typefaces by Dan X. Solo; The Noah's Ark A.B.C. and 8 Other Victorian Alphabet Books in Color, edited by Ruari McLean; Borders, Frames and Decorative Motifs from the 1862 Derriey Typographic Catalog by Charles Derriey, and Andreas Feininger's New York in the Forties: 162 photographs.

In his introduction to the book, John von Hartz said:

"As an artist and reporter, Feininger transmits the innocence of the age and the humanity of its people. His clean, uncluttered photographs catch the city with unabashed honesty. His portraits of people - ethnic shopkeepers, a newsman in Chinatown, arm-wrestlers in Harlem, bootblacks and their patrons - are real human beings preserved in their place and time. Even when documenting the dark side of the period - the unemployed, the neglected, the lost - his portraits reveal the compassion of a humanist."

I've only been to New York once; I know it better from the movies than from life but those wind-chilled February days of my visit did nothing to slow its pulse. The friend who was my guide had been born there, spent a portion of her childhood in an apartment above the Cherry Lane Theater and led us, back in the days when we could manage with little sleep, through every neighborhood we could reach, some before the sun rose.

Feininger's images seem to be in motion; steam pours from factory windows in the garment district; tickertape rains on Lower Broadway; sunbathers and strollers hum with anticipation at Coney Island on July 4, 1949. Marquees blaze on Times Square and shirtwaisted women squint against a brilliant sun as they shop on 34th Street.

Among the blogs I follow are several on which the photos and text vie for which may be considered the most extraordinary element. I cannot say which sings to me more loudly; I am a fool for words and pictures.

For affordable collections that offer the world as it was, Dover stands alone. What better use of the blogger's stage than a shout-out for our favorite things.

Video from Rangefindergeneral, part of a 1983 BBC series of interviews with great 20th Century photographers


Kass said...

Ah, a kindred spirit! I feel the same way about words and images. Thanks for sharing this.

Erin in Morro Bay said...

I've often wished that when one goes into a travel agency, not only a "where" could be picked, but a "when" as well. And one of the "where and when" combinations I've always dreamed of is post war New York. I must get my hands on this book! Thanks for the shout-out as Lynne would say. And, of course, Dover is and always has been simply the best.

Robert the Skeptic said...

I love the designs from the 1940's, particularly Art Deco. It was integrated into more than architecture into streamlined locomotives, coffee pots and other housewares and light fixtures.

I really love the Mid-century Modern period of the 50's. We were looking to find a MCM house recently - we had to settle for something else.

I can see why they call today's architecture "McMansions".

Penny said...

"You get respect of Nature" Feininger said at the end of the video. I like that.

I will have a look at the book - thanks for this, Marylinn.

Sultan said...

I used to have a lot of old chess and math books from Dover: a happy gateway to another era.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Kass - You're welcome...let's not even get started about fonts and type and...

Erin - I think you will have a dreamy vacation in this version of New York. Have you read Jack Finney's novel, TIME AND AGAIN? I love the notion of selecting place AND time for a journey.

Robert - The 34th St. photo of the shopping women shows the fashion of the era up-close. Los Angeles had some glorious Deco buildings...even the salt and pepper shakers then had such style.

Penny - I'm glad this had something to offer...I found there was so much information in that short video and it is easy to get lost in the book.

Laoch - Their editions of everything from Proust and Kipling to the Sears catalog...yes, an affordable gateway.

TC said...

We've always loved Dover books around here.

"I am a fool for words and pictures."

That makes two of us (at least), Marylinn!

Marylinn Kelly said...

Tom - I believe we have a lot of company is this foolishness.