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 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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Crate of Curios part 39

For yet another week we’ll continue the voyage into the phenomenon of Bauhaus. Having thus far dealt with the women of Bauhaus represented by Anni Albers and its connection to Greece, exemplified by Jan Despo (Ioannis Despotopoulos). Today we’ll have a look on the tragic side of Bauhaus, as not all of its teachers survived WW2. So let’s get to opening this week’s Crate without further ado.

  1. Friedl Dicker-Brandeis was born in Vienna in a working class family and lost her mother in an early age. Having studied graphic arts and joined the school of Johannes Itten in Vienna, Friedl and a number of other students followed Itten to Weimar after he moved there to teach in Bauhaus. Her interests tended to gravitate towards painting, color theory, theatre stage design, and art pedagogy that she started practising already whilst in Bauhaus. Her involvement with the Communist Party led her to move to Czechoslovakia later on, and despite having obtained a passport to Palestine, before the eve of WW2, she remained there, as her husband Pavel Brandeis was unable to get one. In 1942 both of them were sent to Terezin (Theresienstadt) concentration camp. There Friedl Dicker-Brandeis spent the last 2 years of her life teaching art to hundreds of children using a modified Bauhaus system, designing theatre sets and painting as much as available supplies allowed. Two years later, she was sent to Auschwitz and gassed. After her death over 5,000 drawings of her students were found – most of which are now if the Jewish Museum in Prague.

2. Occasionally intimidated by the requests for ‘native speakers’ of a language in any capacity? Apparently you shouldn’t be. When it comes to communication, the non-native speakers actually have an advantage.

3. How well do you actually see color? Take this test to find out.

4. When it comes to relationships, there are in fact not two but three kinds of people – takers, givers and matchers. (by Ness Labs)

5. When you look at the supermarket shelves these days, it’s easy to get an impression that there are only about 5 kinds of apples in existence. However, there used to be hundreds.

6. And to finish off for this week, here’s Tom Gauld’s take on Princess Bookworm and Count Dracula.

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

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Crate of Curios part 38

As promised in the previous Crate, I’ll continue to explore the personalities connected to the legendary school of Bauhaus as well as its legacy – and considering just how much in terms of artistic movements and developments has sprouted from there, I’m flush with material for weeks to come. This week I’ll direct the gaze closer to home and take a look at the direct link binding Greece and Bauhaus. So, let’s get to opening this week’s Crate without further ado.

  1. Bauhaus was an international establishment by design and the its founder Walter Gropius made a point of inviting teachers to join from all over Europe. Ioannis Despotopoulos (Jan Despo) back then still an architecture student, also moved to Weimar in order to join the establishment. There seems to be some doubt whether he was actually ever a registered student at Bauhaus, but it is certain that he was in contact with many of its prominent members during the two years he lived in Weimar. It is also without doubt that the spirit and ideas of Bauhaus influenced him deeply, as witnessed by his writing “The Organic City” («Η Οργανική Πόλις») and numerous other papers that to large extent have remained unpublished. It does not seem to be widely known that Jan Despo is the architect behind The Athens Conservatory that was in 1959 originally intended to be a part of the Cultural Center of Athens. Unfortunately, the Athens Conservatory was the only part of the complex that was ever built and even that stayed unfinished for years due to lack of funds. Despotopoulos’ original designs for the Conservatoire even included acoustic panels and other minute details of its interior design. His other works include Sotiria and Tripoli sanatoriums, Asvestichori hospital in Thessaloniki, the School Complex of Academia Platonos and others.

2. Need to come up with a revolutionary product? Now you can let this list of 10 types of innovation guide your brainstorming sessions.

3. Watermelon season is nearly here, so it’s just about time to learn how to pick the best and ripest one.

4. How does it feel to suddenly wake up a stranger in one’s homeland? Let this excerpt from Miha Mazzini’s ‘Erased’ guide your imagination.

5. How would ‘I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud’ sounds like as a limerick? Wonder no more.

6. And to finish off for this week, a little comic guide to your personal cat thermometer.

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

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Crate of Curios part 37

As I was searching for articles for this week’s Crate in my bulging folder of bookmarks, I came across a few about women in Bauhaus and this reminded me that I had wanted to do something involving Bauhaus for a good while. It is by far my favourite “school” of art and their philosophy of incorporating art into everyday life is something that I very much agree with. So, in the coming weeks the Crate will among other things explore the people and heritage of that short-lived yet enormously influential institution. Let’s get to it right away.

  1. The quirk and genius of Bauhaus was in demolishing the idea of art education altogether and putting it together from scratch. So, where before had been fortifications and fences between crafts, ‘fine art’ and ‘commercial art’, suddenly there were none. Crafts got the possibility to take their proper place among other fields of art and there is no place that exemplifies it better than the weaving workshop of Bauhaus. In principle all workshops of Bauhaus were open for all applicants, but in reality women were discouraged from applying to ‘heavy craft areas like carpentry’ – and thus in 1922 Anni Albers – back then still Annelise Elsa Frieda Fleischmann – ended up in the weaving workshop instead of glass. However, after initially having considered weaving to be inherently for sissies, she slowly became fascinated by it and by systematically exploring the possibilities of the medium, opened it up for completely new uses and interpretations. As if her work wasn’t enough, her marriage to Josef Albers, one of the central figures of Bauhaus turned her one of the figureheads of the movement even long after the closure of the school.

2. There is something about islands and some of them have a particular IT-factor. Apparently the tiny island of Saint Martin has it in abundance, as despite its minuscule size of 87 square km, it is still divided between two nations – namely the French and the Dutch. This split that dates back to the Treaty of Concordia in 1648 has also provided the island with two very aptly named fortifications – namely Fort Amsterdam and Fort Louis.

3. Ever seen a remarkable colour on a picture and wondered to yourself what on Earth it might be called? There’s a way to find out – this nifty colour finder lets you search from the colour wheel or upload your own image.

4. In case you’re occasionally wondering about the roots of your perennial misery – we’ve got the answer. It’s the age – and apparently things will start looking up after you’ve passed your 47th birthday.

5. The image of postwar USA seems all rosy and sunny looking back from the distance of many decades. However, where there’s sun, there are shadows – and those shadows were reflected in film noir – the most class-conscious genre Hollywood has ever produced.

6. And to finish off for this week a cartoon from 1901 French satirical magazine Le Rire – The Simple and Quick Method of Recognizing the Nationality of Women by the Geometric Method.

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

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Crate of Curios part 36

It was a lovely hot evening today here in Athens. If it wasn’t for still having to wear a mask outside, one could be forgiven for forgetting entirely that a pandemic is still not entirely eradicated. I hadn’t had time to prepare the content of all this months’ Crates yet, so this one I’d dare to describe like I would an effortlessly stylish outfit – ‘ just something I threw together’. So, let’s have a look at it without any further ado.

  1. Now, be completely honest – how many Finnish painters can you name? Most probably none, so let’s make sure that next time someone asks you this question you’d have earned some bragging rights. Enter Helene Schjerfbeck – a deeply private painter, set on the road of an artist by a broken hip at the age of four, when her father gave her pencils to amuse herself during convalescence. Despite the lifelong limp the badly healed hip left her with, financed by government grant she studied art in France, and after experimenting with different styles, arrived at a confident minimal expression by the end of the 19th century.

2. What is creativity? We don’t necessarily like to combine it with the world of finance, yet this is exactly what Robert J. Sternberg has done with his Investment Theory of Creativity. I found this little gem from the post of Might Could Studio, which is absolutely worth checking out.

3. If you – like the rest of the world – like Frida Kahlo, you can enjoy the virtual tour in her birth home Casa Azul, provided by the Frida Kahlo Museum.

4. In case you are a history nerd who also happens to like internet culture, you’re in luck – this handy Historic Tale Construction Kit, lets you make up the dankest Bayeux tapestry memes.

5. Think it’s a good thing to have plenty of choice? You’re mistaken. Decision fatigue is a thing.

6. And to finish off for this week – the absolute truth about any vital internet structure from the pen of XKCD.

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

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Crate of Curios part 35 – Siblings special

For the first time, in the beginning of May I actually planned a whole months of Crates ahead and decided that as I had rather enjoyed composing the Isolation special edition, I’ll do another thematic Crate this month… and this time the theme is going to be siblings in the widest sense of the word. So, after a greyish somewhat rainy afternoon and evening, let’s proceed to opening this special Crate without further ado.

  1. Surely you have heard more than enough about Vincent van Gogh and his brother Theo who used to be the only one who bought his paintings. However, Vincent and Theo also had three rather remarkable sisters – Willemien, Elisabeth and Anna.

2. As the theme embraces the concept of ‘sibling’ in the widest possible sense, what else is an association, but a brother-or sisterhood based on shared principles rather than shared bloodline? The 14 rebellious students who left the Imperial Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg in 1863, ended up forming The Society for Travelling Art Exhibitions, more widely known as The Peredvizhniki or The Wanderers in 1870. During their over 50 years of existence, they arranged 48 mobile exhibitions and although by far the most of the ‘common people’ their art was aimed at could not afford to attend the exhibitions, the widespread reproduction of the Peredvizhniki paintings as postcards and illustrations in magazines made them well-known throughout Russia. The art of the Wanderers was no renewal of style, but a renewal of subject matter that successfully managed to turn landscape painting into a tool of Russian nation-building.

3. The question whether birth order affects one’s personality has been around for a long time. The answer is… it’s complicated.

4. Sibling rivalry has been a familiar concept throughout history, meriting a thorough examination by Sigmund Freud who was deeply fascinated by it and epitomized by the relationship between Hollywood actresses and sisters Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine.

5. Occasionally, however, instead of rivals, siblings can end up as friends and co-inventors like the Wright Brothers. Entrepreneurs, rather than scientists they actually worked together on a range of different projects before embarking on aviation.

6. A surefire way of building lasting bonds is team sports – exemplified by Sisterhood FC, the first women’s Muslim football club in the UK.

7. The 1960’s California cult The Brotherhood of Eternal Love, however, wished to establish the bonds between fellow humans through the influence of magic mushrooms and LSD.

8. Is it possible to produce genius siblings? In 1965, Hungarian psychologist Laszlo Polgar set forth to find out. He courted his to-be-wife Klara with descriptions of the pedagogical experiments he had planned for their progeny and somehow it worked. They got married and and their first daughter Susan was born in 1969. They went on to have two more girls – Sofia and Judit. All of the three sisters went on to be professional chess players and Judit – the world champion.

9. Brothers are not only created by sharing blood and genes – in Arab as well as Ancient Roman culture, the real brothers were created by sharing the same mother’s milk.

10. While talking about associations, we should definitely not forget the remarkable salon of Fanny Boscawen in 18th century England that became known as The Bluestocking Society – a gathering of a number of the most cultured and educated ladies (and a few gentlemen) of the day. The unusual name supposedly originated from the blue worsted stockings a popular participant, botanist and writer Benjamin Stillingfleet used to wear. By the mid-19th century though, Victorian attitudes towards women’s position had become widespread and the term ‘bluestocking’ gained a derogatory air.

11. And to finish off on a light note – let’s enjoy the hungover cattiness of Jane Austen’s letter to her sister Cassandra.

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

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Crate of Curios part 34

Summer is here, cafes are full to the brim with people who after months and months of lockdown find even the word ‘home’ unutterable. An undefinable laziness is creeping in, a desire for total holidays, complete relaxation, the ideal summer that… does not exist for most. However, while we are still dreaming about the innocent slow days at the blue sea, let’s open this week’s Crate without further ado.

  1. Before the entrance of Count Dracula to the silver screen, ‘vampire’ or ‘vamp’ has a somewhat different meaning – namely it designated an independent city woman, a pre-flapper, who lived as she liked and burned bright in the city nightlife. One of the first ‘vamps’ was Valeska Suratt, a silent movie actress and vaudeville star of 1910’s.

2. Continuing on the topic of darkness, let’s jump to one of the places of Earth with the most polluted air – that dubious honour belongs to the Nigerian city Onitsha. State capital Lagos (photo from the slum of Ebute Metta) and oil city Port Harcourt are not faring much better.

3. Don’t know if you’re sufficiently hydrated? Check your pee with this handy Pantone chart.

4. In order to remember just how remarkable forms nature is able and willing to create, I’d suggest spending some time on the wonderful site of Australian SeaGems.

5. What can we expect from the post-pandemic life? Are we ready for new Roaring Twenties? Ted Gioia thinks that there is a fair case to be made for it.

6. And to finish off for this week, another little gem from my beloved Incidental Comics by Grant Snider. Every time I’m planning to post something else, he comes up with something totally poignant – like this little chart of poets’ day jobs.

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

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The Crate is now also available on Medium.