Posts Tagged ‘Charlotte Salomon’

Bookplate porn: “A thing of beauty is a joy for ever.”

Friday, March 23rd, 2012

I miss them.  You know what I mean:  those exquisite bookplates you used to run across when you peeked into the top-notch books in the finest libraries or secondhand bookstores. I miss them, even though I admit I have grown attached to the practical “From the Library of …” embosser I use to efficiently process my books and ward off potential book thieves. It gets the job done, and looks dignified and restrained – but it’s cheating, really. Not the classy way to go.  This is.  You know it when you see it.

We’ve written before about bookshelf porn – and we’ve talked about library porn and bookstore porn.  But there’s something intimate and cozy about bookplate porn.  You can’t, after all, imagine yourself toddling off with the University of Coimbra General Library in Portugal, but you can fantasize taking home one of the beauties pictured on this post, slipping one in-between the pages of a book for quiet, solitary delectation later.

Here are a few to make you drool.  I have seen a few of them before while browsing in the Stanford Libraries (they really are some of the best I’ve seen),  but someone pointed out a whole website of them here.  I only got to the “L”s before I found more than enough to fill a blog post on a slow Friday night.

This is how it works for the Stanford Libraries:  A bookplate is created when a donor gives a substantial and important collection, or  when a donor starts an endowed fund for library materials. Lisa Haderlie Baker, whose blog is here, has created most of Stanford’s  bookplates over the past decade or so.  (Check out the blog – she makes gorgeous cards as well.)

Given my propensity for butterflies, birds, and bees in this sampling, it’s obvious that spring is on my mind. Yet I reserve a special affection for the high-concept bookplate at right, with its almost-Tibetan clouds.  And the Charlotte Salomon bookplate is an obvious favorite, we’ve written about her before.

Here’s a thought.  This is too much fun.  If you send me digital forms of your own favorite bookplates, we’ll do a follow-up post with your picks.

But I bet you can’t match these.  Go ahead.  Try.


Charlotte Salomon’s “antidotes to indifference”

Monday, October 17th, 2011

Yesterday I was one of the very last visitors to the six-month exhibition of nearly 300 of Charlotte Salomon‘s gouaches at San Francisco’s Contemporary Jewish Museum.  I almost overlooked the exhibition, ongoing since March 31, until John Felstiner reminded me during a reception last week.

I’m glad I caught it on its last day.  It’s an extraordinary show, of an extraordinary woman.

For those who don’t know the background, Salomon (1917-43) was a young German Jewish artist, hiding in the south of France after the Nazi takeover. Between 1940 and 1942, she worked feverishly, often without stopping to eat or sleep, to produce about 1300 paintings.

She hummed as she painted, and the gouaches often include titles or scraps of the music that accompanies these snapshots of her life.

They often, medieval fashion, show several thematically related or  sequential scenes on the same sheet of paper. Sometimes, like photography, she repeats the same image over and over on a sheet.  The total result was Life? or Theater? A Play with Music.

The Nazis caught up with her in 1943.  The 26-year-old was transported to Auschwitz, and probably killed the same day.

Her tragic story is not only an artistic triumph, however, but an existential one:  Her mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, aunt, and a number of other relatives died by their own hands.  In unimaginable circumstances, she fought the suicidal impulses of generations, choosing to do something “utterly crazy” – a somewhat fictional, largely autobiographical operatic series of paintings combining text and images and, by the extension of imagination, music, too.  She famously put the series in the keeping of a friend, with the instructions, “Take good care of it. It is my life.” It is more than that, really: it aims at Gesamtkunstwerk, a Wagnerian “total work of art.”

Mary and John Felstiner (Photo: L.A. Cicero)

I have Mary Felstiners biography, To Paint Her Life: Charlotte Salomon in the Nazi Era – part of my research for my article on both the Felstiner’s examination of “creative resistance” during the Holocaust.  But when I got home, I thumbed through it’s pages with a new understanding.  I hadn’t realized quite how gripping Mary’s book is.  I won’t try to review a book I haven’t read, but here are a few words from the reviewers:

“Ms. Felstiner tells this harrowing tale clearly and emotionally. . . . Her account will spread the word about a talented and tragic hostage to her family and her times.” – Peter Gay, New York Times Book Review

“Something truly remarkable, a work of art in its own right and a masterpiece in the field of Holocaust studies. . . . At times, To Paint Her Life achieves a certain songlike quality and poetic grandeur it’s a fugue of art and history, love and pain, sexuality and politics – and it reaches a shattering crescendo in the very last, speculative passage.” – Jonathan Kirsch, Los Angeles Times

The Salomon paintings at the Contemporary Jewish Museum return to Amsterdam’s Joods Historisch Museum.  I bought the catalogue – by the last day of the show, it was half off the listed price.

It includes a short essay by Jonathan Safran Foer, describing his discovery of Salomon’s work in Amsterdam.  He writes that “even more than praise, Life? or Theater? demands creation”:

Beautiful things are contagious, and no work of art has inspired me to strive to make art more than Life? or Theater? has. No work is better at reminding me what is worth striving for. The images I’ve selected for this exhibition [for the catalogue] are those I find myself most often returning to when nothing feels worth writing. They do not make sense as a thematic or stylistic group. They are simply my antidotes to indifference.