Muses, models, and matriarchs.

Inspirational artists, actresses, designers, writers, models, and queens of various industries.

Flea market pin-ups

Yesterday we hit the Hollis Flea Market and I discovered these two beautiful ladies… One by Vargas and one by Alex Raymond.

Vargas calendar page and Alex Raymond pin-up

Vargas calendar page and Alex Raymond pin-up

I hadn’t heard of Alex Raymond before, but soon learned that he was well-known as a comic book artist; mainly for his work on Flash Gordon in the 1930s. The Vargas page has a bit of spotting on the paper and there’s a small hole in the Raymond piece, but they’ll still look lovely framed. I’m running out of room in my office!

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A different take on the Easter egg hunt

Here I am in my Easter dress, with cute yet practical shoes, ready for egg-hunting.

Here I am in my Easter dress, with cute yet practical shoes, ready for egg-hunting.

One of the many things I enjoy about my mother-in-law is her habit of surprising people with gifts of the mundane. Think laundry detergent and lint rollers, measuring spoons and meat thermometers. Her rationale: “Nobody wants to spend money on that crap.”

Smart lady. She is so right. While initially I found these sorts of gifts baffling, soon I realized that I could take the $15 I would have spend on a giant container of high-efficiency laundry detergent and get myself a new MAC lipstick instead. Ahhh. Small luxuries.

The annual Easter egg hunt is a magnificent celebration of these types of gifts. My in-laws search far and wide for random inexpensive things that everyone needs. Then my MIL sorts them into piles kind of by price and covers the piles under a tablecloth so when we show up, there’s a big lumpy pile of wonderment on the dining room table.

lumpy piles of wonderment.

Behold: lumpy pile of wonderment.

In the middle of the table on the deck, where the hunt traditionally kicks off.

In the middle of the table on the deck. Seriously.

My sister-in-law (48), husband (44), nieces (15 and 17) and I (39) traipse around the backyard looking for eggs (some of which my father-in-law has hidden in plain sight, like we were all still 5) while MIL yells from the deck, “You’re each supposed to get 12!” And we all stop and count and those of us who have found too many eggs hand them over to the others.

And then we realize we’re still missing a few and my FIL tries to remember where he hid them all and describes the most covert locations: “Did you get the one in the plant pot around the corner? How about the ones behind the wood pile? I think there were two under the rhododendron…”

Once we’ve collected all the eggs, we go into the house and open them all. Inside each egg, my MIL has tucked a slip of paper with a number, corresponding to the number of piles of gifts she has on the table. Again, we’re each supposed to have X number of 1s, Y number of 3s, et cetera, so there’s more swapping.

Then… the selection. She pulls the tablecloth off like a magician to reveal piles of lip balm and 9-volt batteries, nail files and miniature flashlights, candy bars (hey, it’s Easter) and plant fertilizer spikes. And always one section of scratch tickets. For the pile designated 1, we choose our treasure in alphabetical order. Andi selects, then Grace, Kathleen, me, then Tim. For the second pile, we go in reverse. Then we move on to youngest to oldest, oldest to youngest, then something like order of birthdays until we’ve mixed it up in a bunch of different ways and all gotten to pick first. (I have no idea how she came up with these rules, but it’s part of the fun.)

We all go home with piles of silly little conveniences. Every time I reach for one throughout the year – especially things I never would have gotten for myself – I think of the Easter egg hunt and smile.

Hula-girl emery board, anyone?

Some of this year's goodies.

Some of this year’s goodies.

Pin-up artists: Harry Ekman

For Christmas, my mother-in-law got me a wonderful collection of pin-up prints. While some of them were familiar artists and images, others were new to me. Harry Ekman, for instance. While the two Ekman images in the collection seem familiar, I didn’t recognize the name. Fortunately, the prints each have a bit of biographical information about the artist on the back.

Born in Chicago in 1923, Ekman apprenticed under Gil Elvgren and Haddon Sundblom (the man who created the iconic Coca-Cola Santa Claus) at Brown and Bigelow. The company produced calendars, playing cards, matchbooks, and other specialty advertising materials which often featured pin-up girls. Eventually Sundblom formed a studio with Ekman, where Ekman created pin-ups for the Shaw-Barton calendar company. In the 1960s, he seems to have moved away from advertising and pin-up art to focus on portrait work. He died in 1999 in New Jersey.

circe 1956, oil on canvas. Copyright 2013 TASCHEN GmbH.

circa 1956, oil on canvas. Copyright 2013 TASCHEN GmbH.

I love this model’s outfit, her eyebrows, and the shadows Ekman uses.

1959, oil on canvas. Copyright 2013 TASHEN GmbH.

1959, oil on canvas. Copyright 2013 TASCHEN GmbH.

While the dog’s paws in this image seem off to me, the model’s body language is great. Don’t let the fact both of these images featured models with pursed lips fool you into thinking all Ekman’s work looked the same. He was capable of painting beautiful smiles and a gamut of other facial expressions. You can see more of his work here: http://www.thepinupfiles.com/ekman.html. Like Elvgren, his work seems to feature a blend of (mostly) wholesome girls next door in outdoor adventures (bike-riding, beach-going, dog-walking…) in contrast with alluring boudoir beauties in more flirtatious poses.

Unfortunately, there’s very little information about Ekman available either online or in the pin-up books in my collection. I’ve definitely become a fan, however, and plan to keep looking for more about him and his work.

The lady is a vase

I dig lady head vases. Possibly because I like interesting juxtapositions–the daintiness of most of the ladies contrasts nicely with the dullness of dirt. The ladies are dressed for garden parties, not gardening.

Some of the vases I’ve admired in the past:

Pretty pale blue.

Pretty pale blue.

head vase

Lady head vase

My mother finds my affinity for the lady heads baffling.  When we’re poking around antique stores together and I find one I like, I’ll hold her up for approval. My mother will wrinkle her nose or roll her eyes and say something like, “Her face is kind of weird, don’t you think?”

I examine the lady again and decide that maybe her eyes are uneven, her lips too small, hair slightly off. Sigh. Back on the shelf she goes.

When my mother was off gallivanting with her friend Jean, she came across a small collection of lady head vases and texted me a photo.

“These made me think of you,” she wrote.

My mom texted me this photo.

My mom texted me this photo.

“Love the brunette on the right!” I replied.

She’s even prettier in person.

My lovely lady head vase.

My lovely lady head vase.

Thanks, Mom. She made a wonderful Christmas present. And I haven’t killed the plant yet. Give me a few more weeks.

Cool calendar

My friend Amy gave me a cool calendar that I really enjoyed this year: Gina Elise’s Pin-Ups for Vets 2013 calendar. All the proceeds from calendar sales support veterans’ healthcare programs. Gina’s organization also donates calendars to VA hospitals, veterans’ homes, and deployed troops to raise morale and show appreciation for their service. Very cool.

While calendars from previous years have included only photos of Gina Elise, this year’s version featured other models as well: Shannon and Sophie Tweed-Simmons, Tracy Tweed, sportscaster and NBA scout Bonnie-Jill Laflin and actress Meagan Tandy. If you’re looking for a holiday gift for a pin-up lover in your life, this might be a nice start.

Some photos from the calendar:

The cover of Gina Elise's 2013 Pin-ups for Vets calendar. Playful and patriotic.

The cover of Gina Elise’s 2013 Pin-ups for Vets calendar. Playful and patriotic.

A cheery break from the dreariness of February!

A cheery break from the dreariness of February!

November...suitable Scorpio vibe.

November…suitable Scorpio vibe.

Order now and that’s one less gift you have to worry about. And it supports charity. What’s not to love?

Delectable Dita

Last Sunday night, my friend Lisa and I headed to Boston to take in Dita Von Teese’s burlesque show. Neither one of us had ever seen Dita before and didn’t know quite what to expect. We did not expect a line all the way down the street and around the corner. Thankfully, it moved quickly and we were surrounded by pleasant people.

One side of the street: Fenway Park. The other: burlesque fans.

One side of the street: Fenway Park. The other: burlesque fans.

I was pleased to see that in many ways, her show mirrored the old vaudeville tradition. Murray Hill served as MC, keeping the audience lively between performances. (Although I would have loved to hear an interlude that didn’t begin with, “Holy SHIT!”) The show included male and female performers with a variety of body types — all daring, confident, and wonderful. Selene Luna, Monsieur Romeo, Natasha Estrada,  America’s Got Talent finalist Prince Poppycock, Lada Nikolska and Perle Noire… a great mix.

Louise Brooks in "The Canary Murder Case"

Louise Brooks in “The Canary Murder Case”

Dita herself did four numbers: the famous martini glass bath, the pink-glitter rhinestone cowgirl act, a Josephine Baker-inspired number complete with birdcage, feathers, and fans, and finally, a striking performance as a Geisha in a red pagoda. The feather act also reminded me of Louise Brooks in “The Canary Murder Case.” (Lisa pointed out the Josephine Baker influence to me, as I’m woefully uninformed about her…which makes it easy to pick out reading material for my next plane trip…any recommendations for a good Josephine Baker biography?)

While I enjoyed all of Dita’s acts, I think I liked the rhinestone cowgirl one best, as she was out on the stage more for that and we really got to see her strut around and flirt with the audience, whereas in the birdcage and pagoda numbers, she was somewhat obscured from view by the set (at least from where we were sitting). I loved the music, too–an instrumental medley of country classics. I also loved the music to the birdcage set–Les Baxter, Martin Denny and Esquivel all rolled together.

Incidents that may have been unique to the Boston show: Selene Luna lost a pasty. She handled it beautifully, just put a hand over her nipple and kept on with her act. Also, Prince Poppycock lost his towering wig…which he also handled well once Murray Hill handed him a microphone and he could resume singing. Both performers got huge applause for handling their flubs so well, just shrugging them off and going back to giving a great show.

I really enjoyed Selene Luna. But I think my favorite performer aside from Dita was Perle Noire. More Josephine Baker influence coupled with a beautiful athleticism, grace and charisma. She just seemed FUN. And like she absolutely loved what she was doing in the moment. She had a striking presence, energy and joy to her that I’d love to see again.

The crowd was a crazy mix that made for good people-watching. Lots of great hair and dresses! I decided not to get all decked out because of the rain, then I kicked myself for that decision once we got there. Lisa looked great, and we ran into my friend Tracey MF Vaughn, who was all dolled up in a blue swing dress with matching shoes. I’ve been feeling kind of blah lately, and in need of a haircut, so hopefully once I get that taken care of I’ll be more inspired.

After the show, as Lisa and I were walking back to the car, we ran into Dastardly Dave, a kick-ass photographer I was lucky enough to work with once during my roller derby days. Don’t let the name fool you – he’s delightful to work with. 😉 He and his friend had been right in front of the stage, so they were able to tell us what went on inside the pagoda during Dita’s finale. Hearing that the other women on stage had their arms through the back of the pagoda, reaching out to Dita, who portrayed some sort of opium trance, made me wish we had seen that part even more! Damn you, House of Blues for not advertising things as obstructed viewing seats!

Overall, it was a great evening. If you have the chance to see this show, I’d definitely recommend it.

The last of the Dupuis girls

On Friday, the last of my grandmother’s sisters died…Aunty Mary. She was 95. She’s the third from the left in the photo below–my grandmother is second from the right.

Dupuis sisters

The Dupuis sisters surround their mother, Sarah. From left: Doris, Evelyn, Mary, Adeline, Alice, Norma, Eleanor.

While I wasn’t as close to Aunty Mary as I was to several of my other great aunts, I enjoyed visiting her. She was a tough cookie disguised as a cupcake, a tiny little thing with a quick smile. Who shoveled her own driveway her whole life, because she could. She was part of a seniors bowling league where she played every week – even right after she had a toe amputated. When her partners didn’t believe she’d lost a toe, she whipped off her shoe to show them.

Sometimes she’d tell me things about the family I didn’t know. When I got interested in genealogy and started researching my grandmother’s family, I had a tough time finding out where my great-grandfather was buried. Then Aunty Mary told me and my mother that when her father died in 1925, leaving his pregnant wife with 7 girls under the age of 12 to care for, there was no money for a headstone. The cemetery manager took pity on the widow and allowed her to bury her husband in a family plot with his parents, with no marker.

In the late 1970s or early ’80s, Aunty Mary had breast cancer. One day when my mom, my cousin Becky and I were visiting her, she told us that her hair fell out doing chemotherapy leaving her “bald all over the top of my head – just like a man.” She unexpectedly lifted her wig to show us. The three of us had no clue how to react.

Mary had a twin sister, Adeline (nicknamed Red)–as you can see in the photo above, the two didn’t look much alike. Mary and Doris married brothers Ernest and Edward Gagne. Mary and Ernie married in 1935, when my grandmother was only 12. She had five kids and worked at New Departure from 1945-1975. I think that’s part of the reason why we saw more of some of my other great-aunts, who were closer in age to Norma or had fewer children than Mary and could therefore get out of the house more easily. (Although most of the sisters worked at New Departure at some point and probably saw each other frequently at work).

In November 1949, Mary and Norma crossed paths in the delivery room at the hospital…my grandmother had just delivered her daughter Shirley; Mary was on the way in to have her son Lenny. For some reason, they were convinced that one sister would have a boy and the other would have a girl. When Aunty Mary told us about it, she said, “On my way in, I saw Norma coming out and told the nurse to stop, that was my sister…I asked what she had and she said she had a girl. I told her I wanted the girl!” (She got a girl the next time.)

Sometime before 1946, when both my grandmother and Aunty Doll got married, someone wrote this poem about the seven sisters.

Poem: Lucky Seven

Poem: Lucky Seven

While it’s certainly not great literature, it’s sweet that someone was so taken with the sisters that he wrote this poem to try to capture their personalities. I’m grateful that I had the chance to meet all seven sisters and see their zany dynamic.

Six of the sisters with their Aunt Clara. From left: Norma, Adeline, Clara, Evelyn, Mary, Alice, Eleanor. Probably taken around 1985.

Six of the sisters with their Aunt Clara. From left: Norma, Adeline, Clara, Evelyn, Mary, Alice, Eleanor. Probably taken around 1985.