Art Smith earrings
Pam’s Pictorama: Many years ago, my mother gave me these silver earrings. I don’t have pierced ears and therefore I don’t wear earring frequently, however for a number of years these earrings represented dressed up for me. I don’t remember my mother ever wearing them – she is not, never has been, a wearer of jewelry. I must have inherited my desire to drape myself in precious metals and gem stones from my paternal grandmother (Gertie Butler, as mentioned in my recent post Irving, Gertie and Elliott) because I have no memory of my mother wearing more than her wedding ring with only a few notable exceptions.
Recently while cleaning out some closets and shelves at the ancestral home we uncovered a jewelry box, and one of the things it contained was this interesting silver necklace which matches the earrings. It is one the few pieces of jewelry I remember her wearing although I had not seen it in decades. In the process of cleaning it I realized it was signed by the maker, Art Smith. On a whim I googled the name.
Turns out the Brooklyn Museum had a retrospective of his jewelry in 2011. His partner, Charles Russell, left the museum 21 pieces of jewelry and archival material including his tools, period photographs of models wearing the jewelry, and sketches. According to the site, The Brooklyn born Smith was known for pieces that were occasionally over-sized in scale, but wearable and featured semi-precious stones set in silver and gold.
Trained at Cooper Union, they offer that he was a supporter of black and gay civil rights. He opened his first store on Cornelia Street in the West Village in 1946. It is easy for me to imagine my parents wandering into his store, circa the early 1960’s, and picking out the necklace and earrings for my mother.
I cleaned them lightly (fearfully!) and wore them recently to the opening of the Met’s new location, The Met Breuer, a building which is celebrating it’s fiftieth year as it enters its latest incarnation as a Met outpost. So here’s a small salute to New York of the 1960’s, and most of all to my mother, who has excellent taste even if she doesn’t often wear jewelry.
Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: I found Bugs one day while doing a leisurely stroll through eBay of the kind I (perhaps luckily) rarely have the chance to do. While looking through the listings for vintage character toys I stumbled on him. No one was showing any interest in him which was surprising for such a nice toy and he was an excellent price. I figured what the heck, and put a more or less minimum bid on him. The next thing I knew, he was mine and he has a place of pride among the cat collection.
In no way was I disappointed – he is a splendid toy in excellent condition. He is made by the M&H Novelty Company, NY, NY and is a Warner Bros. toy. His carrot is detachable with a small hook and eye of which the eye on the carrot side is currently lost. It unfortunately also looks exactly like a variety of catnip carrots I purchase for the kits which is filled with a heady mixture that makes them just insane.
Of course, Bugs Bunny cartoons played an enormous role in my formative years. Whereas a young Kim Deitch was being treated to television runs of silent Aesop’s Fable cartoons, for me it was Bugs, Elmore Fudd and The Road Runner. In some ways this makes me and my generation somewhat deprived by comparison, but nonetheless I retain a deep affection for Bugs. Kim and I agree that Bugs was the first to introduce us to certain early tunes – who can forget him singing about The Daughter of Rosie O’Grady for example? A snatch of As Time Goes By? Warbling a passage from It Can’t Be Wrong. Or singing I dream of Genie with the light brown hare… Kim has pointed out that these are generally tunes used in Warner Bros. movies which does make some sense. Other notable examples, Ain’t We Got Fun, There is No Place Like Home (Be it every so crumbly, there’s no place like Rome…) and You Ought to be in Pictures to name a few.
Meanwhile, a quick internet search reminds me that while Bugs would memorably sing snatches of popular music, his roots in classical and opera run deep as well. Without drawing it to our attention, Bugs and company introduced us to everything from Wagner (The Flying Dutchman and Pilgrim’s Chorus featured in What’s Opera Doc?) to Strauss, Chopin (who can forget him singing I wish my brother George was here to the tune of the Minute Waltz in Hyde and Hare?) and Rossini.
Bugs thew off one-liners like a Borscht belt comedian, sang, danced and crossed-dressed his way across our televisions in an endless loop where we absorbed and memorized his vaudeville style lessons without realizing we had done so. Suddenly we found ourselves to be nascent adults, reciting whole passages of the cartoons during college drinking games or late-night first dates. There are whole websites devoted just to the music of Bugs Bunny – the lyrics of the popular songs (Looney Lyrics) and another which is devoted just to the classical tunes and opera (15 Pieces of Classical Music That Showed Up in Looney Tunes Cartoons.)
Is it any wonder that when I discovered popular music of the 20’s and 30’s I felt like I had come home? Nope – I was just following my nose down the road where Bugs lead me during my most formative years.