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Blog posts by Marla

Artifact of the Month: 10 Rules, Sister Mary Corita Kent’s Serigraphs

Posted May 5, 2014

While getting to know artist Nikki McClure better (her incredible work is featured in the MAH’s current exhibition), we discovered that Nikki has Sister Mary Corita Kent’s “Rules” posted in her studio for inspiration. The name rang a bell. Deep in the flat files of the MAH collection, we have two prints by Sister Mary Corita; never forgotten, but never shown before.

Mary Corita Kent (1918-1986) was an artist and educator committed to social justice and universal compassion. She was born in Fort Dodge, Iowa. Following her high school graduation, she joined the Roman Catholic order of Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Los Angeles.

Sister Mary Corita taught at the Immaculate Heart College in L.A. and was the chair of its art department. It was there that she created her 10 rules for the art department—and by which to live. Kent left the convent in 1968, and devoted the rest of her life to making art.

Most of Sister Mary Corita’s work is created using silkscreen and serigraphic techniques (like the works in the MAH’s collection). Her message of love and peace resonated with the social challenges of the 1960s-1970s, and continue to inspire artists like Nikki McClure today.

Sister Mary Corita Kent serigraphs, left-right, Bringing Bars of Silver, c. 1965 and Untitled, c. 1965

Sister Mary Corita Kent serigraphs, left-right, Bringing Bars of Silver, c. 1965 and Untitled, c. 1965

We have the 2 serigraphs by Sister Mary Corita on display. I see many MAH visitors stop and admire the works of bold colors. I saw a few people take a photo of Sister Mary’s 10 rules. One MAH collaborator, Peter McGettigan, came to me last month and said, “I haven’t thought about Sister Mary Corita in a long time. But this art brought back a lot of memories.”

Peter explained that his sister attended Immaculate Heart College. An all-girl school, a teen aged Peter occasionally “guest starred” in many of the college’s original theatrical productions. He knew Sister Mary pretty well. This was before Peter went on to work as an assistant and voice coach for the T.V. show “Gilligan’s Island.” He ran lines with Mrs. Howell (I was impressed by this, but that’s a whole different story).

My favorite rule of Sister Mary Corita’s is #9: “Be happy whenever you can manage it. Enjoy yourself. It’s lighter than you think.” Amen.

10 Rules worth following.

10 Rules worth following.

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Artifact of the Month: Soldiers in Santa Cruz, The Camera Shop Collection

Posted April 2, 2014

Every Thursday, two local historians join me in the MAH Archives to index a collection of photographic prints and negatives from the 1940s-1960s. Stanley D. Stevens and Barbara Keeney Clark are meticulous volunteers, carefully identifying and labeling each image. I love watching them work together as they decipher handwriting, research the spelling of a last name, and wonder about the people who sat for their portraits.

Some of these soldiers are from Santa Cruz County. Others might have been visitors to the area, stopping by the Camera Shop to sit for a portrait before shipping out to war. We do know that Freddy Alnas is the Filipino soldier wearing the U.S. Army uniform with the Sun Setters VII patch. Writer and historian Geoffrey Dunn wrote about Freddy in his book, Santa Cruz Is in The Heart.  Geoffrey told me that Freddy kept a copy of this portrait at his bedside throughout his life.

Freddy Alnas, 1944

Freddy Alnas, c. 1944

The Camera Shop was located at 119 Walnut Ave., Santa Cruz and owned by Violet “Vi” Park in the 1940s. Her son John took over the business in the 1950s and 1960s. The prints and negatives in the MAH’s Camera Shop Collection date from the mid 1940s-1960s.

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Artifact of the Month: Everything Shut Up Tight, 1918 Flu Mask

Posted March 5, 2014

Flu mask from the 1918-1919 Flu Pandemic

Flu mask from the 1918-1919 Flu Pandemic

At the start of fall when everyone was getting their cold and flu shots I thought, “Wow, I’ve been lucky; I haven’t been sick in years. I guess I don’t have to worry.” Well of course, I’ve had a cold for most of the winter. It’s a tiny, irritating one that comes and goes, is bothersome enough to keep me up coughing at night, but not serious enough to turn into anything else (yet).

I recently looked through the MAH’s collection of medical artifacts (Dr. H.H. Clark’s wooden stethoscope, Dr. Benjamin Knight’s medical’s bag) and I zoomed in on an archival envelope labeled “mask from 1918 flu epidemic.” The small artifact–a thin scrap of gauze–is a heavy reminder of a time when the Spanish Influenza plagued this County.

The 1918 flu pandemic infected 500 million people worldwide and  killed mostly young, healthy adults (ages 20-40 was the target group). Hundreds of residents in Santa Cruz County died from the flu. According to historian Sandy Lydon, Santa Cruz’s first victim was 31 year old Loula Jones, who died in her sister’s home on Pacheco Street on October 15, 1918.

Soon after the first Santa Cruz County death, flu masks were mandatory wear in the area; if you look at photographs taken at this time, you can see many citizens following the rules and wearing their mask. Did anyone decide to chance it and go without their masks? Well, apparently they did.

According to Lydon’s research, two Santa Cruz women wore their masks on their arms since the law didn’t explicitly say it had to be worn on the face (there’s always a loophole—and masks certainly are a fashion risk. But these were scary times). Alas the City Council changed the law, making it mandatory to wear the flu masks on your faces (sorry ladies).

Looking at this artifact today, I wonder how effective this light strip of fabric was as protection against the flu. In a world before the invention of hand sanitizers and flu shots, I suppose you had to do what you had to do.

The local epidemic peaked in October 1918 and lasted until February 1919. I recently searched the Lund Family diaries (a fabulous donation to the MAH from last year) for more clues about how wide-spread the flu was. Mary Ann True, who lived on Ocean View Drive, mentioned the flu scare in one of her daily posts. “There are 54 cases of flu in town,” she wrote on December 6, 1918. “Everything shut up tight.” This may allude to the stores, movie theatres, restaurants, and bars that were closed. Santa Cruz must have seemed like a ghost town as people hunkered down in their homes to tend to afflicted loved ones, hoping that they could escape this malady.

Mrs. True ends her entry with her requisite “All well,” but of course it really wasn’t the case for everyone. Stay healthy, Santa Cruz.

 

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Artifact of the Month: George E. Stone Stereograph Collection

Posted January 14, 2014

Archives intern Renata McRee has completed some fantastic work on some of the MAH’s collections. Here’s her account of working with and researching the stereograph collection.

Tracking the Elusive Mr. Stone

(Written in the style of 1930s and 1940s detective novels)

George E. Stone Collection

George E. Stone Collection

The archives were dusty, but with a pleasant aroma of old books. It was my first day on the job, interning in the Archives at the Museum of Art and History, Santa Cruz. “Find something that interests you,” I had been prompted as a place to start, and my eyes wandered to an assortment of boxes sitting alone in a corner of the shelf. I suppose it was the fact the boxes were in a corner by themselves that attracted me. How long had they been sitting there? What secrets did they hold?  Stereographs, was the answer my fellow workers in the Archives told me. Yet what exactly was a stereograph?

My mind went back to University courses on the subject, remembering a Professor that had mentioned these early forms of entertainment. The “first 3-D movies” she had called them. The class had marveled as curiously and fantastically two photos mounted on a card side-by-side became one when seen through a special hand-held viewer. This was a stereograph. Still a marvel even in the age of television.

My task was to sort through these marvels and categorize them. The name on several of the boxes identified the stereographs’ creator as George E. Stone.  Although he seemed to have been a prolific man, the museum knew nothing about G.E. Stone. Something drove me to identify or find a face for the elusive man who made these objects packed away on a shelf that I was now holding. So now I found myself faced with another task: Find the man called George E. Stone. All I had to go on were the clues that were given me. A name—George E. Stone Laboratories—and the words, Producers of Motion Pictures and Stereographs.

G.E. Stone proved to be an elusive fellow to track down. Based on some text c.1927 volume present on the back of some of the stereographs I could deduce that many of the stereographs dated from that time or thereabouts.  I was therefore looking for a G.E. Stone who was active in that time and an adult in the nineteen-twenties.

Thinking this information was gold, I began my research. George E. Stone proved a rather popular name. I was left with four potential G.E. Stone’s that fit the profile. One lead proved a dead end. An actor, the Hollywood sort, and his online profile proved him very unlikely to be G.E. Stone, stereographer.

The second—an Amherst University, Massachusetts Professor. He was also a botanist and photographer. No definitive evidence of his having created stereographs, but the botany sketches and photos suggested an interest and ability to create them. Many of the museums stereographs were botany related. Birth and death dates of this man were adequate to suggest a period of activity in the nineteen-twenties.

The third G.E. Stone was the Library of Congress entry for George Edward Stone. A picture of a stereograph on the entry made this man seem a promising candidate. But wait—birth and death for this man were the same as the Amherst Professor. Worth checking out.

The fourth candidate was a George E. Stone who was an author of some letters sent to me by the Harrison Memorial Library in Carmel, CA when I inquired about him. They had no biography on him though. Neither did libraries in San Francisco and Monterey, other areas the mysterious stereographer had worked. Mr. Stone seemed to have moved like a ghost through these places. Or had he?

The letters from Carmel revealed a different G.E. Stone. A Professor of photography for twenty-four years. San Jose State had a G.E. Stone.  They had a photo of him—a jolly looking man with round glasses and thinning hair. Posed with a camera of course. And yet there was no bio.  Was he the right Stone?

I went back to my leads. Now I had to see whether I could cross G.E. Stone candidate number two or number three off my list. The fourth—S.J. University Mr. Stone, the writer of my letters had written them in the late nineteen-fifties. He could not be the same G.E. Stone as candidate number two the Amherst Professor. Amherst Professor was deceased by then.

Yet what about the Library of Congress Stone? His dates were the same as Amherst Stone’s. Meaning that the letters I had were written by an altogether different man. A nineteen-twenty-nine Sunset Magazine article, the aforementioned letters, a Berkeley Heritage post on a women named May Gray, an AFI Feature Films entry and an ancestry.com search, proved to me that the George E. Stone  who was San Jose State Professor and the writer of the letters were one and the same. And these sources placed him in San Francisco, Monterey, and Carmel during the same time as the stereographs were made.  The Sunset article even stated that this Stone had worked for a motion picture company in Carmel and Monterey during the twenties. Seemed like a pretty fair bet that the stereographs could have been made during that time. Also, AFI Feature Films had an entry reading: George E. Stone Laboratories as producer for a nineteen-twenties dated film. Same laboratories as on some of the stereographs. Mr. Stone S. J. State Professor was looking like a pretty good candidate for the stereographer.

Though I cannot go back in time and ask this Mr. Stone if he did make the stereographs, what I do know is that through perusal sometimes puzzles start to fall into place. As I tracked down this elusive moniker, a trace of what the man’s life may have been like started to form. Suddenly I could imagine him on the rocks of Carmel making stereographs.

A close-up of one of the stereographs

A close-up of one of the stereographs

When I finished my last day uncovering the mystery of Mr. Stone, a fellow researcher came into the archives. Snowy white hair, glasses, name of Stan. I’d seen him before. Today he asked me what I was working on. I told him about G.E. Stone. Mentioned he may have been an S.J. State Professor. To which Stan replied: “I think I remember having a Professor of photography with that name when I was a student there in the nineteen-fifties.” Could Stan identify him? I showed Stan the picture of G.E. Stone from S.J. State. “That looks like him, but a lot younger. Well, maybe it is him,” was Stan’s reply. Now I had a face to put to the stereographs. And I definitely had a story. But was it the right G.E. Stone? Well, everyone loves a mystery.

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Artifact of the Month: Candy Hits or Miss? Taking a Recipe out of ZaSu Pitts’ Cookbook

Posted December 16, 2013

ZaSu Pitts' candy recipes and life lessons

ZaSu Pitts’ candy recipes and life lessons

I’m more of a savory cook. I enjoy making dinners rather than baking something sweet. But sometimes you have to be brave, even use a candy thermometer, to see if there’s magic in an old recipe.

A couple of years ago, my daughter had to do a school project on a biographical figure. I encouraged her to find the extraordinary in a local hero. Sofia chose to research ZaSu Pitts, the local actress with the not-so-ordinary name. 

Many already know that ZaSu Pitts was an actress, known for her comedic timing and large, expressive eyes. She was born in Parsons, Kansas in 1894 but moved to Santa Cruz with her family when she was nine. ZaSu’s childhood home at 208 Lincoln Street is still there (looking fantastic thanks to recent landscaping), sandwiched between the Nickelodeon Theatre and Jack’s Hamburgers. ZaSu’s real name was Eliza Susan (named after her aunts) but she preferred to be called her nickname, the mash-up of her two monikers.

ZaSu attended Santa Cruz High School and was active in the theatre department. She left Santa Cruz in 1916 at the age of 22 for Los Angeles and was cast in The Little Princess (1917), a silent film whose leading lady was Mary Pickford. ZaSu starred in Greed (1924) and was featured in numerous movies; she was at the top of her game in 1930s B movies. ZaSu performed on Broadway and acted in T.V. shows in the 1950s and early 1960s.

Candy Hits was written by ZaSu Pitts and was published in 1963, the year she died. It’s a recipe book sprinkled with anecdotes about her life. Making candy was a life-long passion of ZaSu. It connected her to her past and kept her grounded while she pursued her career. ZaSu was known to bring her sugary concoctions to Hollywood parties and gatherings.

“Many people have asked me how I happened to choose candy-making for a hobby,” ZaSu wrote. “It really began in my childhood, and if I close my eyes, I can still see the kitchen in our Santa Cruz home, smell the fragrant odor of spice cookies baking in our iron stove and molasses candy bubbling in the iron frying pan…I stood by, all eyes, waiting for that exciting moment when my mother would give me a piece of the taffy to pull into sticky strings.”

My daughter finished her report on ZaSu Pitts, and I suggested we try one of ZaSu’s candy recipes. This would be great–Sofia could present her report and as an added bonus, treat the class to homemade candy. So in our Santa Cruz home, we attempted to make ZaSu’s chocolate fudge. Three times I tried, but it didn’t turn out quite right. I’m convinced it’s me–I think ZaSu would have made it just fine. We ended up buying Marini’s fudge and taking it to school. And yes, we told everyone it was proxy candy.

We didn’t recreate the magic that occurred in the Pitts kitchen almost a hundred years ago, but at least we tried. “You must gamble on that precise moment when your candy is about to ‘set up,’ and pour it out into a buttered shallow pan just before that critical split second arrives” ZaSu wrote.

Candy-making’s a lot like many things in life: sometimes you get it right and sometimes it ends up a sweet mess.

 

 

 

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