In materials science class, we examined wallpaper patterns for symmetries. Atoms and molecules can pack according to a variety of crystal structures. Mathematics obviously loves patterns too. There are fractal tilings and tessellations. Who doesn’t love Escher? There are probably practical applications to tiling, but more importantly they are great fun that tickles the brain. Recently I took my first stab at pattern making depicting (what else?) water polo.
In 1915, my great aunt Gudrun died of type 1 diabetes at the age of ten or eleven. It was one of those family health tidbits to mention to the doctor and little more. Insulin injections weren’t developed until 1922; before that, the disease was a death sentence.
A few weeks ago, I got to see Gudrun’s postcards. They were passed down through the family, but I had never seen them before.
The oldest postcards go back to 1909 or so, when Gudrun would have been 4 or 5. They’re from her sisters, who worked in big city Minneapolis, or her school mates. Many of them are undated and probably delivered by hand, as they have no stamps or postmarks. Many of the dates on the postmarked cards aren’t legible.The last postcards are postmarked around Christmas 1914. I haven’t been able to find records of when Gudrun died, just that the year was 1915. Many of the postcards ask after Gudrun’s health, even well before she would have been ill. Health comes up in many of the postcards between six and seven year olds. Health was different in that era. One of Gudrun’s sisters would die from pneumonia a few years later as a high schooler. [Correction: the girl who died from pneumonia was my grandfather’s sister. One of Gudrun’s sisters died of an ear infection in the 1930s.] One of her brothers later died from an infected cut.
Postcards seem like they were routinely exchanged between young children. The spelling and handwriting on many of the cards is very young. Mail and trinkets of the greater world were probably a huge thrill in rural Readstown, Wisconsin, a town of 515 in 1910. Gudrun lived on a farm, and probably most of her classmates did too. Because many of the cards are undated, it’s hard to establish a time line. Did her classmates write more to her as she became ill? They sent cards for every holiday. There are birthday cards, Valentine’s cards, Thanksgiving cards, Easter cards, New Years cards, and Halloween cards. Many are un-themed. Sometimes a little friend sent a holiday card at an odd time, apologizing that it was the only card they could find.
We don’t know how long Gudrun was ill before she succumbed. Online resources suggest children lived from a few weeks up to a year. Around the time of Gudrun’s illness, doctors began to advocate a starvation treatment to reduce sugar levels and prolong life. In rural Wisconsin, Gudrun probably didn’t follow such a course of treatment, but maybe the general concept was present. Since ancient times, diabetes had been described for the sugary taste it gave to a victim’s urine, so the connection to sugar was well-known.
There’s a lot we don’t know about Gudrun. We don’t have any of the cards she sent. All of her correspondents and siblings are long dead. I look at her and wonder about her and what her life was like. The postcard designs are an insight into Gudrun’s era as well. Some feature Norwegian; she probably spoke some. The handwriting is exclusively in English. All but two or three feature illustrations rather than photos. Some have metallic foil and embossing. Some have half tone designs. I picked a few of my favorites.
Gudrun died over 70 years before I was born. What a wonderful record of her community and family and friendships this collection of cards is. Her life and death over a hundred years ago feels real through it.
I love illustrated sports posters. Most of today’s sports posters are photographic; as a photographer, I appreciate the phenomenal sports photography that is possible with today’s equipment. But illustration can capture how a sport feels in addition to how it looks. Additionally, photos are of specific people; illustrations are often of generic athletes.
Women’s sports especially lack poster art. If we are to infer how women feel when they are playing sports from the existing posters, one would learn that (1) women are playing sports to flirt with men, (2) women are playing sports to be sexy, and (3) women are playing sports to show off clothing. There are some notable exceptions, but these categories dominated my search for distinctive women’s posters. Men’s posters (and good women’s posters) show the joy of movement and conflict and success. They show admirable members of a team effort. That’s how I feel when I play.
Fun sports poster design!
Motion, motion, motion! The people in these posters are joyful and powerful, people that the viewer looks up to or wants to be.
Bizarre women’s poster design
Many of these posters are pleasing enough in isolation, but these kinds of posters make up the majority of women’s sports posters. They model clothes, they sell bicycles, they show women doing elegant jumps that have no relation to motion that happens in the sport. They’re women as decoration, objects to admire rather than people to relate to.
Many of my example posters are decades old. As I said, modern design hews toward photography, so these outdated images of women’s sport remain the few illustrated examples. As a lady athlete, I want beautiful art of my sport and other ladies sports.
Over the years, I’ve done several posters and t-shirts for my women’s water polo teams. Sometimes it’s as simple as a strap over the shoulder. It’s not a huge thing, but I like to feel like I’m included in the representation of the sport. I want to find art where people that look like me are moving with joy, rather than posing cutely. I want to see images of women in action, images that invite girls to imagine that it could be a poster of them.
I love poster design. I love decorating my house with See America and WPA posters; I love designing posters about my passions. I haven’t posted any science designs because I find science hard to illustrate. I see lots of designs with beakers and test tubes, atoms, lab coats, and petri dishes. The challenge is that these are the tools of science, but they aren’t what makes science exciting. Science occurs between the ears, and the standards symbols are just tools of the craft. But how do you make posters of people thinking? Even the WPA posters promoting math-related careers are pretty listless, and that is a series of posters that used dinosaurs to promote syphilis treatment.
It occurred to me that the unifying thread of scientific inquiry are the highs, lows, and puzzlements of research. My friends in mechanical engineering have little need for beakers or lab coats, while my friends in biology aren’t (usually) immersed in coding. Different disciplines use different tools, but every discipline knows the elation of a published paper or the frustration of explaining what the heck it is you research to granny.
So, this inspiration broke my science poster designer’s block. I have three designs, but ideas for many more. For the style, I was inspired by World War I illustrator Lucien Laforge. There will be more, but I’m pleased with the start!
I love colorblock poster art. My living room is decorated with National Parks travel posters and my bathroom bears WPA hygiene posters (which are available free online from the Library of Congress!). In my guest room, I display JPL’s Exoplanet Travel Bureau posters. What can I say, I have a passion!
So I also collect books of such posters. In recent travels, I’ve found two great specimens!
Great art and great science! Each planet has a poster, and often one or two extras. Each section also has info on atmosphere, year length, and more. Great for kids and adults!
A few of my favorite illustrations:
A collection of posters for National Parks and historic sites, with posters of places like Big Bend National Park and the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (i.e., the Gateway Arch in St. Louis). Check out the Creative Action Network website, too, which has posters on all kinds of cool topics and projects.
I’ve been joyfully distracted for the last few weeks. After years of digestive distress, my new meds are helping so much that the rhythms of my life are new and spontaneous. Without the burden of constant discomfort, I’m more curious, quicker witted, and less anxious.
One of the great joys this summer is playing water polo and knowing that I won’t spend two days being dysfunctional from the exertion. That joy and my obsession with art deco posters cross-polinated and the result is….
I’ve posted many times before about my love for WPA-era travel posters and some of my own tribute work. I have a wall of stylized postcards that I have collected along my travels. Like the parks passport stamps I described a few months ago, the WPA postcards became an exciting item to collect. Every time I have a visitor in my home, we talk about the parks. Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, county open spaces, state parks, they are all wonders of the west and worthy of a place on the wall. Not all of these places have postcards, which I am slowly working to remedy. But today’s post is about the great parks’ art that I have accrued and slathered upon my walls.
Below I include a few of my favorites from the wall. Some of the cards I like the depiction of the specific piece of scenery, others I like the color palette or the stylization. We all have stories about our visits to parks. These cards tell stories; the stories of these cards have augmented my stories. They let me dream for weeks and months after a trip about the animals, the scenery, the history, and the cultures of the parks I visited.
New Mexico has 14 National Monuments, extensive Bureau of Land Management sites, wildlife reserves, open spaces, state parks, and more. In a future post, I’ll talk about my work to create posters for the New Mexican sites that lack them today.