A Comic Pioneer – Her Drawings and Wisecracks Were Some of the Best

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img_37868It’s so much fun to discover an artist whose work I haven’t known before. This happened again last weekend at an antique show in Houston where one of the dealers had some wonderful original cartoons by Barbara Shermund. Of course I wanted to learn more about this talented woman, who could draw so well but also wrote her own gags.

june-13-1925-by-barbara-shermundShermund started working at The New Yorker just 4 months after the magazine was founded. She was only 26 years old! Within months, she had designed her first cover, this highly stylized image of a modern young woman gliding along in the night. Her bobbed hair is blowing, while she confidently dozes, her profile framed by the twinkling stars. Does her nose remind you of Mrs. Gautreau’s in Sargeant’s Portrait of Madame X?

Shermund came from an artistic family- her dad was an architect and her mom was a sculptor. She was born in San Francisco in 1899 and started drawing when she was little. She studied at the California School of Fine Arts before heading the New York.

"Well, I guess women are just human beings after all." Barbara Shermund original. Part of the International Museum of Cartoon Art Collection, The Ohio State University Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum
Barbara Shermund, “Well, I guess women are just human beings after all,” Ink on paper, n.d., Ohio State University Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum

Shermund once told Collier’s Magazine that her visit became a long time residence “after she had eaten up her return fare.” She had a hard time settling down, staying with friends and traveling with no permanent address until later in life.

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Pollsters Weren’t the Only Experts Who Were Wrong

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Some of us are still getting over our bewilderment at the results of the presidential election. On Monday, November 7th, the day before the election, Bloomberg, CBS News, Fox News, Reuters, ABC,  Monmouth, NBC, and Rasmussen all had Hillary Clinton ahead. Most of us expected that we would be inaugurating our first woman president in January. How could the experts get things so wrong?

It’s of course not the first time that’s happened. Hindsight is fun, so why not go ahead and enjoy it! In the interest of those of us who are ready to think about something other than politics, here’s a list of some other embarrassing predictions:

1. “Drill for oil? You mean drill into the ground to try and find oil? You’re crazy.” (1859)

—Edwin L. Drake (1819–1880), speaking of the drillers he tried to enlist to his project to drill for oil in Titusville, Pennsylvania.

Pioneer Run Creek, Titusville, Pennsylvania, 1865.Credit: Courtesy the Drake Well Museum, PHMC Bureau of Historic Sites and Museums
Pioneer Run Creek, Titusville, Pennsylvania, 1865.Credit: Courtesy the Drake Well Museum, PHMC Bureau of Historic Sites and Museums

2. “Louis Pasteur’s theory of germs is ridiculous fiction.” (1872)

—Pierre Pachet, Professor of Physiology, University of Toulouse

3.

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Crooked House

And They All Lived Together in a Crooked Little House

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There was a crooked man, and he walked a crooked mile.
He found a crooked sixpence upon a crooked stile.
He bought a crooked cat, which caught a crooked mouse,
And they all lived together in a little crooked house.

Some say this old nursery rhyme refers to the time of King Charles I and the border disputes between England and Scotland. But it has always seemed to me to be more about the Fall described in the book of Genesis and it’s affect on all creation. Nothing is quite the way it should be for any of us- man, money, cat, mouse, stile and house, every aspect of the world is crooked. And we are all in it together

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W. H. Auden speaks of the crookedness in relationships in his poem, As I Walked Out One Evening. You are probably familiar with these memorable lines from the poem:

O stand, stand at the window
As the tears scald and start;
You shall love your crooked neighbour
With your crooked heart.

I suspect Anne Lamott had this poem in mind when she titled her book.

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Making The Case For Dangerous Play

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What are your best memories of your childhood? Are they the times indoors with dolls and games? Watching TV? Reading? Or the time spent with adults in supervised sports?

My own fondest memories are the days with friends building forts. Our house was one of the first on a new street in a heavily wooded area of Houston called Memorial.  We had the perfect location for constructing forts on the vacant lots around us and a ready supply of material for building them with salvaged lumber from burn piles where builders were putting up new houses. In January, we made our bulwarks from discarded Christmas trees. Sometimes we cut down saplings and tied them together for our walls. Grey Spanish moss used to hang all over Houston. We would pull it down from trees and hang it on strings tied between trees to give us a screen.

Manifest Destiny played a part in our activities.  We believed the vacant lots on either side of our house were ours for the taking. We tamed the wilderness by hacking through masses of tangled thorny vines and rotten logs to make trails to our forts among the dense pine, yaupon, and oak. 

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Keeping an Eye on Shaun Roberts

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Thirty year old Shaun Roberts was born in Lufkin, grew up in East Texas and is now an Assistant Professor and head of the painting program at Stephen F. Austin State University. Shaun’s paintings and drawings portray a part of life in East Texas unfamiliar to most of us. His work is tough, ambitious and thought-provoking. I am glad for the opportunity to introduce him to you.

Mary: How and when did you decide to be an artist? 
Shaun: Growing up, I always loved the idea of being able to draw, and I admired talent. I never tried to make art after my early childhood years, because I believed talent was something you had to be born with, not something you had to work hard to achieve. It wasn’t until my senior year in high school that I discovered how wrong I was about that assumption, and that I could become an artist with some hard work.

People sometimes ask me about a tattoo on my forearm, and if I ever regret getting it. I have to say no, because it’s tied to my first attempts at drawing. The first drawing I ever made was a copy of it.

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