Monday, June 24, 2013

Thomas Edison's Winter Estate

This past weekend, friends and I went south to Ft. Meyers, Florida, to visit Thomas Edison's winter estate. It was a beautiful, sunny day that turned to showers, but not before I got some good photographs to share with you.

Edison bought the property in 1885, impressed with the fact that bamboo was growing there (he was already thinking that bamboo might be the perfect filament for his light bulb). He drew up plans for the property, left them with an architect, and then headed back north.

The house was prefabricated with lumber from Maine and brought to Ft. Meyers by boat, where it was all unloaded at this spot.

The house is in three parts. The left and middle sections were built first, with the main house in the middle — and at the left — a separate wing for the kitchen and dining room, and servants' quarters.

In 1886, Edison moved in with his new bride, Mina, who eventually redesigned the living arrangements as they look today. Under Mina Edison's plan, the left building became a sleeping house, the main house (in the middle) remained as it was, and then a duplicate of the main house was added on the right, turning the new building into a guest house. The Edison kitchen and dining room was in the guest house.

Here's a view of Mina and Thomas' bedroom. One is impressed by the fact that the Edisons lived very well, but also comparatively simply.

A fire hose is attached to the main house.

the main house
a view of the Edison living room
The Edison dining room was on the ground floor of the guest house.
The kitchen was also part of the guest house.

  The main house and guest house are surrounded by wide verandas.

In 1916, Henry Ford — who idolized Edison — built this house about 100 feet from the guest house, and the two families spent the remaining years vacationing together.

We were quite taken by these tin shingles on the Ford house.

photo by Hal Conroy
The Edison estate has many outbuildings and garden areas. Above is Edison's swimming pool and "tea house." The swimming pool is in great shape after 100 years because ...

... it was built with Edison's own cement, which contained a mixture of calcium, silicon, aluminum, iron and small amounts of other materials.

On the left is Mina's "Moonlight Garden." Electric lights are strung above it. On the right is a small office that Ford built for Edison, on the site of Edison's original vacation laboratory.

click to enlarge
One can also peek into the larger laboratory that Edison eventually built on the estate. Here he discovered, after experimenting with 1700 plants, that Goldenrod could provide a source for rubber. Tire maker Harvey Firestone was a partner in that endeavor. Firestone gave Edison a four-foot banyan tree in 1925, and today the tree (below) covers almost a full acre. Supposedly, it's the largest banyan tree in the United States.

Because of Thomas Edison's botanical research, the Edison estate has a great variety of trees from around the world, and many of them are quite large huge. The tree below is a Mysore Fig.

There is a museum on the grounds, and it contains many of the hundreds of products that Edison invented. As one wanders from display to display, one is impressed not just by his creative and fertile mind, but also by the fact that he clearly saw the big picture, and the natural progression of ideas. Just as he invented the light bulb and the generator to run it, he also invented the meter to measure how much energy had been used.

Someone once asked Thomas Edison, then nearing the end of his life, what he saw for the future. This is how he answered:

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Illustrator Jack Unruh

This week I'm sharing the art of illustrator Jack Unruh, and I want to begin by encouraging readers to click on Jack's images to enlarge them. Unruh's art is so detailed and intricately textured that it really merits closer inspection.

click to enlarge   |   CA, 1977
Above is the earliest example I have of Jack Unruh's work, a poster he created in the mid 70s for the State Fair of Texas. It has two earmarks of much of his later work — decorative borders and what I will term "subsidiary drawings."

click to enlarge   |   CA, 1984
Another Unruh trademark is his use of distinctive calligraphy and hand titling, as seen in the image above and directly below.

click to enlarge   |   CA, 1984
This is a detail of a poster for "The Great American Race," which pitted pre-1942 cars against each other for a $235,000 prize.

click to enlarge   |   CA, 1978
Undoubtedly it was his fine illustrations of nature — like the one above — that brought Jack Unruh to the attention of National Geographic Magazine. Below is an illustration Unruh did for a series of National Geographic articles entitled 1491, America Before Columbus. Do click on it.

click to enlarge   |   National Geographic Magazine, 1991
Here, members of the Abenaki tribe kidnap women from the Otstungo tribe, a common practice amongst tribes that had lost members in battle or to disease.

a detail from the same illustration
click to enlarge   |   Graphis Magazine, 1993
click to enlarge   |
Unruh creates masterful portraits, like this image of New York's governor, Andrew Cuomo.
In 2006, Jack Unruh was inducted into the Illustrators Hall of Fame. To read his biography and to see more of his portfolio, visit his own site by clicking here.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

One Week of Flowering Trees

Florida seems to have only two seasons — summer and winter — but this past week, everywhere I looked I saw flowering trees, and it really felt like spring. So I decided to record some of our trees for you.

Visitors to Florida always exclaim over — and want to know the name of — this beautiful lavender tree. It's a Jacaranda tree.

An equally dramatic tree is the Royal Poinciana, also known as Flamboyant or Delonix Regia. As you might be able to discern in the photo below, its leaves are fern-like.

This Magnolia tree is just across the street from me. The Magnolia is an ancient plant and its history is fascinating — read a little more about it here.

The Frangipani tree, also known as Plumeria, comes in several species with varying flowers.

About 15 years ago, St. Petersburg's mayor made civic landscaping one of his priorities, and he planted hundreds of Crepe Myrtle trees. Now the city is benefiting from his vision.

I'll end with another tree that always gets visitors' attention, the Tabebuia tree.

All the photographs in this posting were taken around St. Petersburg in the span of one week!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Victorian Soaps

I was looking through my collection of Victorian ephemera the other day, and realized that I could present a grouping of soap ads for you.

This trade card for Tulip Soap is approximately 3¾" x 5½", about the size of a post card.

As I mention in my side bar history of trade cards and early corporate identity, lithography of the 19th century was not like today's 4-color process. Today, this boy's jacket would be achieved by four plates of cyan, magenta, yellow and black ink. But when this card was produced, there was a separate plate of maroon ink  — just for the jacket. For that reason, the color of Victorian printing is often much more vibrant than anything we would achieve today.

Children in every state of undress appear in Victorian trade cards, which is an interesting phenomenon when one considers that in the same period, the sight of a woman's ankle would have been shocking. I'm sure one could write a whole thesis about that.

I favor collecting trade cards that show the Victorian packaging.
Lautz Bros. front

Lautz bros. back
Often the backs of trade cards have been damaged because Victorians of all ages glued them into scrapbooks. But just as often, the backs are more interesting and revealing than their charming fronts.

click to enlarge

This card was so fragile that I put a backing on it to save its bottom corners. But I had to have it because of the unique subject matter and the great design, which is printed in blue and gold ink.