Mind over Medium

Art, Literature, and Pseudo-Science

Tag: victorian

The Average Criminal

The Special South Wales Mugshots of Criminals, 1910-1930

I found these during a researching binge.
They are extraordinary.
There are dapper gentlemen, murderers, ruffians, thieves, partiers, and ladies seeking “miscarriages.”
The humanity of them is astonishing as these were snapped soon after the arrest and not in the traditional measuring room, but in the cells, yards, and holding rooms where the accused waited for their trials. The photographs provide a rare glimpse into the faces behind the crimes, and the stories in their eyes are haunting.

Eugenia Falleni (alias Harry Crawford), murder, 1920

B. Moody, (crime unknown), 1919

Mrs. Osbourne, (crime unknown), 1919

Alfred Fitch, repeat offender, 1924

 Nancy Cowman, aiding abortion, 1924

Alfred Ladewig, con artist, 1920s

Barbara Turner, forgery, 1924

Frank Murray, burglary and sale of stolen goods, 1929

B. Smith, Gertrude Thompson and Vera McDonald, harboring thieves, 1928

Emma Rolfe, theft, 1920

Valerie Lowe, burglary, 1922

These people all seem very real. Some are frightening, like Eugenia Falleni who impersonated a man and murdered her wife, while others look deep in despair. Others look at the camera with a glint in their eye: the devil may care!

All of them are fascinating.


Test Subject: A Sacrifice for the Good of Science

As I mentioned previously, I found a neat old Classical Dictionary rotting away into fine, spongy leather dust. This sad , fat volume is helpless, after all, there is no cure for red rot. There is , however, a stopgap that can extend the life of a book. For my birthday today, my parents surprised me with some CELLUGEL! I stole the manufacturer’s description so you can get the gist of what the stuff does:

“Cellugel uses cellulose ethers (specifically hydroxypropylcellulose) and isopropanol to treat red rot by penetrating the surface of leather. It consolidates the leather substrate, depositing a thin film which provides resistance to atmospheric conditions but does not darken or discolor leather surfaces. It will not stain other materials it comes in contact with. Cellugel dries quickly and the book may soon be handled safely. A second coat may prove necessary for extremely thick or badly deteriorated volumes. It is an excellent choice for consolidating powdery leather surfaces prior to conservation treatments.” – Conservation Resources

Okay, so that may be a bit much hoity-toity talk for us average Joes and Josefines. Basically, Cellugel makes a film over the book, keeping it from powdering up your hands. It’s easier to apply than frosting on a donut and golly, it works! In less than the time it takes to get through a commercial break, I had zapped that red rot into submission!

My super-technical workstation full of high-tech equipment, including a state-of-the-art butter dish.

The applying Cellugel is so much easier than applying to grad school!

I’ve never been this giddy watching paint dry…

Sadly, it won’t heal the flaking and splitting in the spine of the book, but the covers are now almost powder free! The little flakes I’m going to fix up with some unholy glue (conservationist everywhere begin sharpening their pitchforks).


Glue will have to do ! This book is pretty dead already. If I’m going to bring it back to life, I’m going to need to get all Dr. Frankenstein up in here!

I have applied the first coat and will see how the covers hold up with just that. I find it kind of ironic that something that contains 100% isopropyl alcohol– the industrial version of the stuff used in hand sanitizer and by evil fathers to singe the germs right out of your roadrash– will preserve powder-dry red rot. After all, isopropyl dries out your hands like nobody’s business! I made the mistake of getting some on my fingers. My hands are now as dry and crackly as the old dictionary used to be!

I only dipped my hand in it one time. ONE TIME.

Anyway, I am beyond pleased with the Cellugel. Along with the amazing bookbinding dictionary and book care guides my parents gave me, I am well set to forge ahead into my conservation experiments on this sad old tome! Huzzah!

Deserted Family: Neglecting the Things You Love

We all have our shortcomings, our failures, stupidities, and brain farts. Somewhere along the way, you’ve shrunk a favorite shirt because you didn’t read the label, or accidentally left the bathroom window open with the AC on, or thrown away the candy and stuffed the wrapper in your face.


I had an enormous facepalm moment this morning when I was dusting every inch of my bookcase with a q-tip. I usually take good care of my properties. Each and every item in my 500 sq. ft. apartment is carefully chosen to be there (except the bills and the occasional ant) and I remember the where, when, and how of each piece so crystally clear that I panic if I sense something out of place. With so little space and so much importance placed on every object, you’d think I’d have the common courtesy to pay attention to what I’m doing with them, right? I mean, I’m cleaning a bookshelf….with a q-tip….

So here I was, OCD cleaning my book collection, when a bright red book got in my way. It was lying willy-nilly in the collection, chillin’ on top of its fellows instead of standing up straight in file like it was supposed to. I was about to put it away and pay it no mind when I realized that I didn’t remember this book!

Wait, I take that back. I DID remember the book. In fact, it’s one of the most beautiful and most-handled books on my shelf. See, I have a side business of selling vintage jewelry on Etsy and so I have my jewelry boxes by my bookshelf. I like to use books as props in some of my pictures and this little red volume is one of my favorites.

Like Here...and here! and THERE! and that one! Oh, here too!

As I turned the volume over in my hands now, I realized that while I used this book almost every week, I had all but forgotten it!

Blubbering out stuttery apologies, I turned it over and peeked inside. Faded pencil notations reminded me that I had bought this little gem for the rock-bottom price of $7. My face burned as I remembered I’d bought this baby because I thought no one appriciated it enough to give it a worthy price, especially considering this scarlet volume was in beautiful shape for being over 160 years old! It’s one of the oldest, most beautiful books I own, with a cloth cover stamped in floral relief gilded with cartouches, vines, a fanciful flower basket, and lavish German-style lettering. Written by Paul Creyton (aka John Townsend Trowbridge), the book is entitled Deserted Family: Wanderings of an Outcast (double facepalm):

The leaves inside are foxed and acidic as a spiteful woman. They smell wonderful– like leather and a tinge of vanilla tobacco. The original owner must have been quite wealthy to afford such a fancy book way back when. Her name is carefully inked on one of the forepages, but it’s a bit broken up and hard to read (Lydia A. Bliss). Alice M. Coombe, however, made sure that everyone knew the book was now hers because she scrawled it underneath in curly cursive. Deserted Family’s biggest surprise, however, is this:

Creeper: 1853 Style

Illustration? Check! Dainty Etching? Check! Handcolored? Check! Okay, so the handcoloring may or may not be original, but either way it’s a beautiful piece of art on thick rag paper with the original tissue cover. The only artist’s name I came across was typed faintly underneath: Warren del (on the left side) and then a big space before:o Pelton Sc. I have no idea what any of that is, but if someone out there is willing to decode it, please share!

This edition was stereotyped in Boston which resulted in the glorious indented type that shows through on the backs of the pages. No ink-jetted, laser-precise smooth sameness here!

Crispy and blemished as it is, I am glad I re-discovered this book, even if it was very, very embarrassing. So as not to forget it again, I put it back on top of the books, willy-nilly, just as it had been. I thought I’d saved it from forgottenness once, yet I had been just as unappreciative, callous, vile, stodgy and stupid as everyone before me. I vow, on the  floppy leather-bound King Jimmy Bible located on the east end of the second shelf, that I will not repeat this oversight.  It’s kind of like remembering a birthday or wedding anniversary: you might get away with forgetting once, but you better be sure not do it again!

It’s a Good Thing Paintings Aren’t Alive

Art is frustrating. Yes, VERY frustrating. I get an idea. WHAM! In the middle of the night, I sit bolt upright in my bed. There is no ignoring this idea. Even if I try to go back it sleep, the idea will eat my dreams and roar to be acknowledged. So I blearily rise and lumber to the nearest source of blank paper and barf the idea onto the paper before drooping back to bed to catch another forty-five minutes before my alarm goes off.

My alarm goes off.

I rouse myself and muddle through my morning routine. As I exit the shower, I realize that it is Saturday, there is no school, and my apartment is freezing. I slip my way to the  heater, kicking my nightstand and knocking everything onto the floor in the process.

Now what? I’m awake, might as well clean.

I do the dishes. Make a grocery list. Mop the kitchen. And begin picking up the spilled nightstand things where I discover my naggy idea. Well, naggy ideas are more fun than cleaning, so I go with it. My lovely naggy idea happens to be scrawled in a toddler’s handwriting on a Walmart receipt in the dark, but it roughly translates to:


Ok, before I go on, I’m going to show you the final painting, just so you can compare it to my naggy idea while it’s still fresh in your mind:

Does she say ” Hello, I am a ‘CLIP ART WOMAN WALLPAPER STRIPES RABBITESQUE WITH ICE CREAM COLORS!'” to you? No, no I’d have to say no, not really, no. It’s more like she’s saying “I’m a’BLEEDING LONELY VICTORIAN GHOSTLY DEPRESSED MONGOOSE W/NAIL,’ you horse!”

That’s what’s frustrating about art, you see. I really did try to be happy (for as you know I tend toward weird, dark, unsellable stuff). I set my easel up and threw open all the blinds, so it was bright in my usually dank apartment. Then I put on happy, bubbly music and I even felt moderately adorable. So I sketched my ice cream clip art girl out and she looked fabulous– more beautiful than any pre-drawing I’d ever drawn. She was the new Mona Lisa, half-smiling, playful, but mysterious. I mixed happy colors on my happy recycled palette and washed the entire canvas in happy yellow so my lovely lady would have a bright complextion and all my creamy colors would stay warm and cozy. That’s where I think it died, the happiness I mean. That stupid happy yellow instantly jaundiced my entire outlook on life as a whole.

Now, I love yellow. I love the yellow center of daisies, yellow ducklings, yellow cake, yellow kitty eyes, yellow bananas…but I hate yellow. I hate the color and here it was dribbling down my ice cream bunny clip art woman painting and puddling on the easel ledge. I tried to fix it. I tried white. I tried wiping it off. I tried ignoring it and painting as I had intended, but it was too late. Everything just looked neon. (I can here ‘good artists’ reading for a lecture on proper painting and color technique, but they can just shut it! Eat my acrylics! I am a free spirit, you hear? A WASH-HATING, YELLOW-HATING, ANGRIFIED FREE SPIRIT!)

So now I’m upset. My lovely lady I worked so hard to draw  is now just a faded scribble of smudged lines under a blotchy yellow glaze with half of her jaundiced face painted a pale peach. I decided to forge ahead. I was not going to let the hideous happy yellow ruin my mood. I painted her exactly as planned, with glassy-smooth skin, blond hair, a blue dress, and a lemon and lime striped background. It wasn’t bad. It was OK, but I stood back, grabbed a paintbrush to chew thoughtfully, and studied the happy ice cream bunnyness I had just made. The colors were all very close in value/hue and I wanted it to look a little more sharp and cartoonish because cartoons are happy and my painting was going to be happy! I dipped the gnawed paintbrush into a nice, medium shade of pink and outlined the lips. It came out wino-red. She now looked like she had a thin Guido mustache above her upper lip.

So I darkened the lips. That of course, meant I had to darken her eyes to match. Then her hair. Then her dress. Then I just gave up, gave in, and painted the whole background sepia and signed my name at the bottom.

The nail? Oh the nail! Well, yes. I noticed she was set too low and the painting was unbalanced when I hung her on the wall next to my other art. Then I thought, I should put a nail in the top so it looks like a cliche poster nailed to the wall. So I ran to the grocery store and picked up the only nails they had in their minuscule hardware section. As I pounded it into the frame, I thought, Golly! It’s a good thing paintings aren’t alive because if they were, when we nailed them up, they would bleed…so I dabbed on some nail polish blood.

It’s a Good Thing Paintings Aren’t Alive
Acrylic on Canvas with Steel Nail and Enamel
14″ x 11″