I sold an old china hutch and secretary on Craigslist Sunday. While cleaning out the drawers, I came across the previous owner’s stamp collection (along with her Social Security card). It seems most of them date to the 1940s and ’50s, and nearly all of them are awesome designs. I had to scan them in to get a closer look.
“Whatever you now find weird, ugly, uncomfortable and nasty about a new medium will surely become its signature. CD distortion, the jitteriness of digital video, the crap sound of 8-bit – all of these will be cherished and emulated as soon as they can be avoided. It’s the sound of failure: so much modern art is the sound of things going out of control, of a medium pushing to its limits and breaking apart. The distorted guitar sound is the sound of something too loud for the medium supposed to carry it. The blues singer with the cracked voice is the sound of an emotional cry too powerful for the throat that releases it. The excitement of grainy film, of bleached-out black and white, is the excitement of witnessing events too momentous for the medium assigned to record them.”
– Brian Eno, A Year With Swollen Appendices
A few weeks ago, I came across this Brian Eno passage that’s been rattling around my brain. Like a sizable segment of my age demographic, I’m drawn to the qualities of antiquated media, and have always been interested in how the analog meets the digital.
I built my first pinhole camera out of cardboard and a 110 format film cartridge when I was in grade school, and have tinkered with the decidedly lo-fi format off an on since. This past Christmas I made a few prime pinhole lenses of varying focal lengths out of PVC, tin foil and a camera body cap for my brother and his Canon SLR . This weekend, I modified the plans slightly and made a handful of lenses for my Lumix GM1, and today I made some test images with them. I sort of love the 8 mm quality to them, even if they are grainy and blurry.
Earlier this week, I (mostly) finished a ten-week-long renovation of the first floor of the house. There are still some more things on the long-term to-do list (strip and refinish the mantle, the pocket and interior doors; build transoms for above the interior doors; finish hanging the crown molding; buy new couches, etc.), but the bulk of the work is done.
Improvements shown in the slideshow above include: New paint on all the walls and trim, addition of picture rail and crown molding, rebuilding of the window seat under they bay window with oak flooring, two custom-built bookcases with lighting using black pipe and 1×12 wood salvaged from a barn near Wisner, Iowa, rewiring and adding decorative switches and plates to every light switch and power outlet, rewiring and rehanging the original chandelier that for the dining room, rewiring and hanging a chandelier purchased from the Johnston Funeral Home auction in the living room, new art work (including a collage of original plaster from the home) and the addition of a hand-painted “3060” on the transom above the front door.
These three rooms (the foyer, living room and dining room) mark the fourth in six months I’ve managed to refinish. Still, there’s a bathroom, a kitchen, a stairway and a couple of bedrooms that need attention. Plus a basement. And outside I need to build the front porch, realign/rebuild the garage and redo the roof and exterior paint. It’s never-ending, but worth the effort.
For a peek at how it looked before, click here.
I worked with Brandon Vogel on a graphic showing the coaching histories of new Husker football coach Mike Riley’s assistants for the issue of Hail Varsity that hit newsstands this week. He’s got a strong history with almost all of them, and we wanted to show where everyone’s careers intersect.
I couple weeks ago, Vox published a few sets of aerial photos showing Rust Belt cities before the interstate system cut through them compared to now. The University of Oklahoma has some more here. But without Omaha represented, I decided to compile a few myself.
An original plan for Omaha’s freeway system had I-480 cutting through Hanscom Park on a path a few blocks west of its final location. The park (and my home) were save when the plan was nixed because Andrew J. Hanscom and James Megeath stipulated the land could never be used for anything other than a city park when they donated it to the city in 1872.
The Omaha Public Library has a 1958 aerial plat atlas on their site. Using its images, I set them next to contemporary aerial imagery.
I love finding great design in everyday places. While traveling down an internet wormhole while researching Omaha history, I came across the Douglas County Engineer’s site. It hosts plats and surveys of the whole city. This gem is the original plat George Smith submitted to the city in 1873 after surveying my house’s subdivision. This thing looks like it should have an “X” marking where Red Beard buried his treasure and a notation over the Hanscom Park lagoon reading “HERE BE MONSTERS.” Let me tell you, the plats of west Omaha suburbs have nothing on this.
I’ve always been a big fan of old maps (especially Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps) for the history and detail they show. But this one is gorgeous. The lettering is fantastic. I love the detail of the compass rose. I also get a kick out of seeing the old names for the numbered streets (Liberty instead of 33rd St.; Madison instead of 32nd Ave.; Delaware instead of 32nd St.; Duane instead of 31st St.; Catherine instead of 30th Ave.; Georgia instead of 29th St.; Virginia instead of what used to be 28th and is now I-480; Mt. Pleasant instead of Pacific St. and Baltimore instead of Hickory St.).
This map may not match contemporary tastes (though there’s certainly a revival in the precise hand lettering Smith used on his map), but it’s interesting to see a very utilitarian object created carefully and in a visually pleasing way. There’s a notion that professional graphic design as we know it originated with the Vignellis, Glasers, Basses and Fletchers of the world. But while they were all in short pants, artists created amazing WPA posters, and before that ethereal lithographs advertising liquor and theaters and bicycles. And before that, craftsmen like George Smith took care care and pride in drafting clerical maps that were unlikely to be seen by more than a handful of real estate and engineering insiders. Today draftsmen digitally export shiny new clerical maps from AutoCAD that are far from anything that anyone would want to hang on a wall, which is exactly what I plan to do with the Hanscom Place plat (perhaps with my addition of a sea serpent in the lagoon).
As Nebraska continues to do well in Big Ten play, Hail Varsity has had some fun design opportunities. The team is stacked with Kenny Bell (the most charismatic and popular player in a generation), Ameer Abdullah (who has been in the Heisman Trophy race for much of the season) and Randy Gregory (who may well be the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft if he leaves school early), among others. We’ve had a good time putting together the past few issues.