Crate of Curios part 49

It’s Monday again and in this Crate we take a jump from a happy clearly outlined Mexican Art Deco to moody and dark Cuban expressionism that rather than providing cheery aesthetic pleasure fulfills the viewer with a vague unease and a premonition of dark things that are yet to come. And as another point, I’ll turn the gaze again towards female creators of the area as I have come to a realization that besides the brilliant-yet-ubiquitous Frida Kahlo, I know no other South American woman artists. So… time to open this week’s Crate.

  1. The word ‘Cuba’ usually calls up a range of associations starting with the bearded figures of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, moving on to sun, rum, elegant vintage cars and salsa-dancing women in fruity headgear. The work of Antonia Eiriz‘ is the antithesis of all that – Goya rather than Carmen and ‘The Scream’ rather than sunsets between palm trees. At the age of 2 she caught polio, that left her left leg damaged for the rest of her life. Youngest of six children of poor Spanish immigrants in Cuba, Antonia learned various crafts as a child, but turned towards painting when she applied to San Alejandro National School of Fine Arts at the encouragement of her sister. During her student years, she joined the artist group ‘Grupo de los once’ (The Eleven), who rejected the earlier picturesque style in favour of a more expressive and abstract approach to painting. After an intensely prolific period of creation during the 1960’s, Antonia ceased painting in 1968 when the death of her mother and the announcement by the Cuban government declaring her work counterrevolutionary made her decide to withdraw from artistic circles. She spent the rest of her life teaching crafts and giving private art lessons in the neighbourhood where she had been born and raised and only resumed painting when she moved to Miami with her husband in 1993.

2. And, speaking of crafts, Mariko Kusumoto‘s transparent textile sea life shows just how thin the line between arts and crafts is.

3. Why it’s important to own books that you’ll never read? An antilibrary reminds us of the things we don’t (yet) know.

4. Do you know the three temperature scales? If not, here’s an easy way to remember.

5. How much can we trust our own minds? Not that much as this infographic of 50 cognitive biases shows.

6. And to finish off for this week, here’s the most tranquil little comic Nathan W. Pyle has ever created.

And that’s it for this time. Happy reading and until next week!

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Crate of Curios part 48

Another Monday, another Crate, celebrating the warm sensommer as this period is so elegantly called in Danish. Not yet the time for monochrome or minimalism or Weltschmerz – quite the opposite, in fact, as this Crate will continue the series on South American artists and infuse us with an explosion of life and colour.

  1. Ernesto Garcia Cabral, or ‘El Chango’ meaning ‘little monkey’ is to date the uncontested most prolific Mexican illustrator and caricaturist, having left behind between 25 and 30,000 drawings and sketches. Born in 1890, he is said to have published his first illustrations in the local newspaper at the age of 10. Later he studied art in Mexico City and was sent with government-sponsored scholarship to study art in Paris and Buenos Aires when his involvement in Mexican political satire publications was just about to get him in trouble. After his return to Mexico, he worked for a number of publications like ‘Revista de Revistas‘, where he created colorful art deco style illustrations. Later on, throughout 1940’s and 1950’s he became known for his expressive Mexican movie posters. And if you think that’s it, you’re much mistaken – Cabral was also an expert tango dancer having learned the dance in his student years in Paris, as well as a silent film and television actor.

2. Flexibility is good, both for the body and for the mind. Cognitive flexibility for instance, is the foundation for learning and creativity.

3. Wondering how to find the best books to read? Here is the ultimate reading list for all seasons.

4. Want to know if you have faith? A trip to Abuna Yemata Guh, the Ethiopian ‘Church in the Sky’ will surely provide the answer.

5. Having a job is something most of us cannot escape – are there even any good ones out there?

6. And to finish off for this week, a great explainer of the strained relationship introverts (like myself) tend to have with the telephone. (By lizandmollie)

And that’s it for this time. Happy reading and until next week!

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Crate of Curios part 47

Summer is slowly coming to a close, night temperatures are getting friendlier to sleeping and taking a cold shower actually leaves one shivering for a moment instead of instantly evaporating. All of this means that it’s time to inject some extra colour and vivacity into this newsletter and what better way to do it than to start a new series that looks at the art and artists of South America. So let’s get to opening this week’s Crate without further ado.

  1. Oswaldo Guayasamin did not have a start in life that would have immediately pointed towards an artist’s career. Born into a poor family in Quito, Ecuador, as the eldest of 10 children in 1919, having lost his mother at an early age, he’s nevertheless known to have been drawing and painting with watercolours since the age of 6. In 1932 he lost his best friend who was shot with a stray bullet at a demonstration. Never successful at school, Guayasamin eventually left in order to enroll in the School of Fine Arts in Quito and spent 7 years there, graduating with honors. His first personal exhibition was just a year out of art school, at the age of 23. After that he spent years travelling in South America, gathering experiences that culminated in his first formal series ‘Huacayñán. Deep involvement in politics and interest in themes of human suffering characterized his work throughout his lifetime and it earned him a UNESCO prize for “an entire life of work for peace”.

2. You’ve probably heard the saying ‘if you are so smart, then why aren’t you rich’? Well… turns out that these two have no connection whatsoever.

3. We all know that the Olympic Games are an exciting and uplifting spectacle. Now, imagine if they were held on the Central Asian plains 500 years ago…. I give you the….the World Nomad Games.

4. A chair is not just a chair. It might just be a piece of design history.

5. We’ve learned that there are three main trauma responses – fight, flight or freeze. However, there is also a fourth one – fawning.

6. And to finish off for this week, here’s a little scientific take on a fairy tale by Tom Gauld.

And that’s it for this time. Happy reading and until next week!

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Crate of Curios part 46 – Afghanistan special

Today’s Crate is yet again really late, but for different reasons than usual. It’s been a dark day in the news – Taliban has overtaken Kabul and all of a sudden a collective deja vu has taken hold of the media, suddenly we remember the Fall of Saigon as the scenes from old movies and news clips seem to repeat themselves on the screen. History feels close to one in these moments even though it’s happening thousands of kilometres away. So, although I had already prepared a Crate for today, I decided to gather a new one from scratch, in order to take a look at the sides of Afghanistan that we might not see again for a while. And without further ado, let’s open this Crate.

  1. The first things that come to mind when one thinks about Afghanistan are probably somehow related to war. However, besides that, Afghanistan is also a home to some of the richest archaeological sites ever found. One of them is Tillya Tepe (meaning “Golden Hill”) in Jowzjan province in Northern Afghanistan that was excavated in 1978. The Soviet-Afghan team of archaeologists led by the Greek-Russian Viktor Sarianidi literally struck gold. The hoard found from six burial mounds consisted of over 20,000 ornaments, coins, etc items made of gold, silver, ivory and other precious materials. And the story of the Bactrian Gold doesn’t end here. It was considered lost for years, until it dissipated that in 1988 the current president of Afghanistan, Mohammad Najibullah had ordered to have it locked in a safe vault underneath the National Museum of Afghanistan in Kabul. The keys were distributed to five keyholders (tawadars) who were sworn to secrecy. In 2003, the vault was discovered and almost ordered to be cracked open by force… but the five keyholders successfully assembled just in time.

2. Fashion is another thing not usually connected with Afghanistan. Fatimah Hossaini, fashion photographer and activist, has made it her purpose to show it to the world.

3. Afghan rugs are probably the art form best known in the West from the area. However, it’s not that widely known that they have different names and origins.

4. Contemporary Afghan art has had to adapt to greatly varying conditions in the recent decades. The 2018 collective exhibition ‘Afghan Art: A Land in Conflict and Hope’ in New Delhi, provided a glimpse into the local art scene.

5. Where there’s streets, there is also street art. Meet Shamsia Hassani, the first female graffiti artist in Afghanistan.

6. Just about 33 miles north from Kabul, there is a small town that’s been known for its pottery and skilled craftsmen for centuries. It’s called Istalif.

And that’s it for this time. Happy reading and until next week!

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Crate of Curios part 45

Yet another week with a day’s delay of publishing this week’s Crate, and considering the number of views last week’s one got compared to pretty much all the previous ones, I’m considering moving it permanently to Monday evening. After all, one is vain and wants this little weekly collection to be seen and read by as many eyes as possible. That said, this time I’ll start with someone who was able catch their contemporaries’ eyes both by their looks and their extraordinary work. And now… it’s time to open the Crate.

  1. Lee Miller was born in New York in an upper-middle class family, but had for several reasons for the lack of a better word, a rather complicated childhood. A chance encounter with the magazine publisher Condé Nast on Manhattan led to her becoming a model for Vogue in 1927. However, Miller’s inner restlessness and desire to create led her to move to Paris in 1929, at the age of 24 to become an apprentice of the Surrealist photographer Man Ray. The Paris phase in her life is fascinatingly described in Whitney Scharer’s “The Age of Light”. By 1939, she had moved to London owing to a relationship with a Surrealist artist and sculptor Ronald Penrose, and started to work as a photographer and contributor for Vogue. In 1942 she got her accreditation as a war photographer and left for Europe to report on the horrors of WWII. After the war she seems to have suffered from heavy post-traumatic stress (which went non-acknowledged at the time), leading her to periods of depression and bouts of drinking. In 1947 Miller, her now-husband Penrose and their newborn son Anthony moved to Farley’s House in Sussex where she lived until the end of her life. She stopped working as a photographer, reinventing herself instead as a gourmet cook and never showed her earlier work during her lifetime. Her son Anthony found the archive of her photographs containing thousands of images, in their attic after her death. The photograph used for illustration is Lee Miller taking a bath in Hitler’s bathtub.

2. Video games always seem to be full of action… except for this one that lets you “do nothing in particular in a suburban Russian tower block”.

3. Is it a treasure chest? Is it a rainbow? No, it’s just Linda Miller Nicholson’s rainbow pasta.

4. Ever wondered how strong is the bite of different animals? Time to find out.

5. I’ve mentioned Austin Kleon in this newsletter before and I’ll undoubtedly also do so in the future. This time around it’s his piece about reading first and writing after that resonated with me.

6.  And to finish off for this week, here’s Freud’s little secret of giving a good lecture.

And that’s it for this time. Happy reading and until next week!

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Crate of Curios part 44

This particular Crate is coming a day late due to a lovely long weekend away from the big city – I thought about preparing it beforehand and posting it on Sunday evening as usual and then… I decided against it. Sometimes holidays should really be holidays. However, now, as I’m returning to everyday life for a few days, the Crate is due and this time we’ll start with a look at an unusual and tragic figure from the Victorian age. Let’s get to opening it without further ado.

  1. Mary Ann Bevan started exhibiting symptoms of acromegaly soon after her marriage to Thomas Bevan in 1903. In her case it meant developing abnormal facial growth, migraines and problems with sight – however, as the disorder, that’s now known to be caused by excess growth hormone produced by the pituitary gland was not known or understood at the time, it continued unchecked. Thomas Bevan died suddenly in 1914, leaving Mary Ann and their four children without a sufficient income. Having read an American circus agent’s ad looking for the ‘Ugliest Woman on Earth’, she had her first photograph taken and sent it in. She won the competition and moved to the United States in 1920 to perform in Coney Island’s Dreamland sideshow and Ringling Brothers’ Circus freakshow, touring in the US for the most of her remaining years.

2. It’s a well-known fact that cats love boxes. It might be less well-known that big cats love them too.

3. Can slime be intelligent? Turns out that in some unusual ways it can.

4. Do you know how many autonomous areas there are in Europe? Find out with the help of this very cool map.

5. Absinthe has had a murky reputation for over a century – but does it deserve it?

6. And to finish off for this week, a little comic about language skills and confidence by Itchy Feet.

And that’s it for this time. Happy reading and until next week!

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Crate of Curios part 43

After all the last weeks spent in the company of Bauhaus, now it’s time to turn our attention to something completely different. So today let’s take a tour to the rockabilly era and get acquainted with “the female Elvis” who rocked a platinum blonde pompadour together with slacks and Hawaiian steel guitar like nobody’s business. Introduction done, let’s get to opening this week’s Crate without further ado.

  1. Sparkle Moore who was born in Omaha, Nebraska in 1936 as Barbara Morgan started playing rockabilly at local venues at about 1955 and quickly gained local fame. Her style was compared to James Dean and her musical style to Elvis Presley – however, unlike Presley, Sparkle Moore only released two singles before settling down to start a family and disappearing from the wider music stage.

2. Debt as a question of morality has been a polarizing discussion topic since the economic crisis started in 2008. However, its meaning has changed a lot since the days of the 18th century American colonists, who regarded it from the position of its utility.

3. Birds are supposedly known by their song. But how to you know a bird whose song is mimicking everything around it? Meet the lyrebird.

4. What makes conspiracy theories attractive for some people? Turns out it has something to do with a number of specific psychological biases.

5.. Ever wondered how people in other countries start their fairy tales? In somewhat similar yet rather different manner…

6. And to finish off for this week a little meditation comic by Judy Horacek.

And that’s it for this time. Happy reading and until next week!


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Crate of Curios part 42

Today is a special day – not only because it’s a lovely hot day in July, but because today is the day when I conclude the Bauhaus series that’s spanned over the last five Crates. In today’s Crate as a final step on the road, let’s take a look at the ‘children of Bauhaus’ – the new institutions it spawned all over the world after its closure in 1933, when its staff and alumni spread around the globe like dandelion seeds. So, without further ado, let’s get to opening this week’s Crate.

  1. The direct descendant of Bauhaus, the New Bauhaus was founded in Chicago in 1937 as The Institute of Design at Illinois Institute of Technology led by the former Bauhaus Master László Moholy-Nagy. IIT had first approached the former headmaster Walter Gropius who, however, was about to teach at Harvard and recommended Moholy-Nagy instead. A visionary educator, Moholy-Nagy modified the original Bauhaus system of segregated crafts and replaced them with three departments – product design, architecture and light workshop (advertising arts). And the Chicago New Bauhaus wasn’t the only chip off the old block – besides that, Bauhaus alumni and staff went on to establish a number of art schools like Ulm School of Design, Nieuwe Kunstchool in Amsterdam, Black Mountain College in North Carolina and several others.

2. Scared of the dentists’ drill? There might be a brighter future in sight, one where cavities can be fixed with no drilling at all.

3. I have talked about curious small islands before and here’s another one for the collection – Isola del Garda that in the course of times has housed pirates, monks, Dante Alighieri and San Francesco d’Assisi.

4. If one were to follow the media coverage it would be easy to get the impression of humanities as a useless pastime. But that’s not the whole story. Meet Project Cassandra – a plan to use literature to predict potential future wars.

5. Is the axe still the same axe after you’ve changed the handle and the head?

6. And to finish off for this week a little princess-frog comic from Wrong Hands.

And that’s it for this time. Happy reading and until next week!


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Crate of Curios part 41

As we are approaching the end of the Bauhaus series, let’s continue to look at the heritage of this short-lived and yet disproportionally influential school. In the last Crate I touched upon the influence of Bauhaus that through its former staff and alumni reached all the way to Japan. This time, let’s turn our gaze towards another side of the world – South America – more precisely Argentina – and find out how the avantgarde approach of Bauhaus found its way over there. So let’s get to opening this week’s Crate without further ado.

  1. Grete Stern started out studying graphic design in Stuttgart and working as a freelance graphic designer in Wuppertal, but her way to Bauhaus began with photography lessons with Walter Peterhans in Berlin in 1927. There she met her lifelong friend and collaborator Ellen Auerbach, with whom she went on to establish possibly the first female-owned photography studio ringl+pit. Peterhans was called to teach photography in Dessau (where Bauhaus resided at that point) in 1930 and Stern followed him there in order to continue her studies, whilst Auerbach kept the studio going during her absence. At Dessau, Grete Stern met the Argentinian photographer Horacio Coppola, who she eventually married. After the closure of Bauhaus in 1933, the couple emigrated first to London and later to Argentina, where they co-presented the first modern photography exhibition in Argentina. Today they are both regarded as two most important Argentinian photographers.

2. Are you a non-native speaker dreaming of a successful career as a fiction writer in English? Yes, you can. However, the key is to embrace the authenticity of your non-native English.

3. Change is scary – but once done, it’s also what makes you content with your life.

4. Call your pasta with the right name and know your ‘priest stranglers’ from your ‘seashells’.

5. Can rot be stunningly beautiful? It absolutely can, especially if you leave it up to the artist Kathleen Ryan.

6. And to finish off for this week, let’s have a little work comic by Simkaye to celebrate the holiday season.

And that’s it for this time. Happy reading and until next week!


If you want to receive the Crate to your mailbox, you can subscribe here at Substack.

Crate of Curios part 40

Still continuing with the topic of Bauhaus and its heritage, now it’s time to examine the influence it had far away from its birthplace in Weimar. After its closure in 1933, the staff and alumni of Bauhaus, emigrating from Germany and settling all over the world, disseminated its founding ideas like dandelion seeds. Today, let’s have a look at a Japanese couple that brought Bauhaus design ideas back to Japan with them – so let’s get to opening this week’s Crate with no further ado.

  1. Japanese architecture and aesthetics had been an inspiration to several Bauhaus teachers, including its founder Walter Gropius and colour theory teacher Johannes Itten. Moreover, in 1925 when Takehiko Mizutani joined the school, Bauhaus gained its first student from Japan. Iwao and Michiko Yamawaki studied at Bauhaus from 1930 until 1932, when mounting political pressure on the school motivated them to return to Japan. Iwao, being a trained architect, focused on architecture classes at first and later changed to photography, whereas Michiko studied at the weaving workshop. After their return, Iwao taught photography at the school known as the ‘Japanese Bauhaus’ (School for New Architecture and Design – Shinkenchiku kōgei) – an establishment that brought together the Japanese Bauhaus alumni and had great influence in establishing Japanese modernism. The most famous work of Iwao Yamawaki is, however, his photo collage aptly called ‘Der Schlag gegen das Bauhaus‘ (The Attack on the Bauhaus).

2. Could we communicate with plants? Apparently.. yes – and they could have a lot to say to us.

3. Indigenous peoples, no matter where they live, value ceremonies. Photographer Jimmy Nelson has gone around the world to document them.

4. Van Gogh loved his pigments and out of all pigments he loved the blues the best.

5. From a religious symbol to exotic headpiece to the symbol of feminism – the history of a turban is unexpectedly colourful.

6. And to finish off for this week – a little creation comic by Owlturd.

And that’s it for this time. Happy reading and until next week!


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