Monday, March 30, 2009

Life Turns Ten - Part 2

(continued from March 15)

Howarth turned back to his drawing. The girl had moved her head slightly, throwing off the angle from which Howarth viewed her a few minutes ago. He erased a few lines and continued. Soon he had a complete drawing of the young woman’s head and neck. He started to put away the pad. She slept on. “Hey, mister,” the young boy whispered.

“What? ... Say, aren’t you supposed to be back there on the bench with your mother?”

“She’s tending to the baby. She don’t know I’m here.”

Howarth was irritated by the boy’s question. He liked to work alone in his studio in Philadelphia.

* * *
He based his comic characters on himself and his family. His daughter, Edna, was a model -- a Philadelphia beauty at the age of 18. Here she is with Howarth’s granddaughter, Sara-Elizabeth, some years later. Edna has her father's eyes.

Photo courtesy of Floyd Smith Sanford. All rights reserved.

Exaggerated, dark eyes and bulbous noses on the men were Howarth’s trademarks. (He was kinder to women). His captions were witty but dated, reflecting the prejudices of Howarth’s era.

* * *
“You get right back there, young man. I don’t think she wants you to talk to strangers.”
“Oh, come on, mister, just lemme see that picture you did, the one of the lady.”
Howarth flipped open his drawing tablet and showed the sketch to the boy.

“Golly! It looks just like her!”
“Thank you,” Howarth replied.
“Can you draw me?” the boy asked.
“Oh, no, I don’t think so. Your mama wants you back on the bench, I’ll bet.” Howarth looked across the aisle to see the boy’s mother glaring. She came toward them with the baby in her arms.

“William, you come back here and stop bothering that man!”
“Aw, ma –"
“Come back and sit here with us. Don’t go bothering people!” She turned to Howarth. He could see how tired she was. “He’s just a curious boy, mister.”
“It’s all right, ma’am. He wanted to see what I was doing.”

Howarth showed her the drawing of the young woman. “Oh, my,” the boy’s mother breathed out in a sigh. “It’s her likeness!"
“I earn my living by making drawings that are printed in magazines.”
“You do? They pay you to make drawings?”
“Oh, yes, and they sell the copies at the newsstands. Like that one over there.”
“My, my, what people won’t buy! But that sure is a good picture, sir!”
“Why, thank you, ma’am.”

Howarth saw a group developing: the woman with the babe in her arms and the young boy grabbing her around the knees. “Ma’am, would you allow me to draw you and your children? I’ll give you the drawing – for free,” Howarth said.

“Sir, I never had my picture done. Don’t know if I should or not.”
“Why not? Let me just take a few minutes. Just stand there, just as you are. Now, don’t anyone move. Stay still now ...”

Howarth went on soothingly as he did a quick sketch of the outline of the little family group. The baby stirred. William tried to see what Howarth was doing, but his mother tugged on his collar as if to cement the boy to her knee. “Just a little while longer,” Howarth said. “Just a bit more here – “ he shaded with the edge of his pencil. “And there – “ he added some detail to the woman’s face. “And here – and it’s done!”

Howarth showed the drawing to the woman. She stood still and quiet, examining the picture. “Oh, my, sir, it’s all of us! Here we are, baby, and William, and me! The baby began to cry and William was getting restless. “Sir, thank you so very much. William, get our things or we’ll miss our train! We’re going to visit my mother. She paid for our tickets!”

“Madam, I hope you enjoy the drawing. William, thank you for being such a good subject,” Howarth said. He watched the woman roll the drawing carefully and tuck it into the bottom of one of her bags. “I’ll keep it clean like that,” she said. “That’s fine,” Howarth replied. “By the way, I signed my name on the bottom so you will remember me. There it is: F.M. Howarth.” “Howarth,” the woman repeated. “I don’t read too good, but I will remember your name. “So will I,” William chimed in. “I hope I see you again sometime.”

“I hope so, too, William,” the artist replied. The family walked toward the track and a porter helped the mother with her overstuffed bags. As Howarth watched them move on, he noticed from the clock in the reception hall that it was nearly 5:45. Time to get across town to his dinner! He noticed that the young woman was gone – too bad. That William was an inquisitive boy!

(to be continued)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Life Turns Ten

Franklin Morris Howarth was 29 years old when Life Magazine marked its tenth anniversary in 1893. The editors hosted a party at Sardi’s and all the major illustrators were there: Charles Dana Gibson, “Van,” A.B. Wenzell, “Chip.” Howarth, one of the youngest, also attended. He was yet to draw his most famous work for the Chicago Tribune and American Puck.

On an early January morning, Howarth set out for the dinner. He boarded a train in Buffalo after a weekend visit, knowing he would arrive hours early in Manhattan. He planned to spend his spare time sketching in Grand Central Depot. This was not the station of today; Howarth would not live to see it. (The white palace now on East 42nd Street has been there since 1913, a creation of the architects Carrere & Hastings and Stanford White.)

Grand Central Depot, in the public domain.

Tall, dark brick turrets marked the corners of Vanderbilt’s 1893 depot. A glass dome spanned the wide pedestrian walkways and alcoves. It was Vanderbilt’s pride and joy, the terminus of the New York Central Railway and the other smaller lines that the Commodore drew into his empire and from which he made his fortune. It was one of Howarth’s favorite places.

He found a seat in the grand waiting area on a polished wooden bench. All around him were women with small children, some sleeping, others crying. Several families were eating sandwiches out of a large sack; one young woman tipped her head back, eyes closed. She looked tired, thin, hungry. At least she was napping now. Perhaps she had worked all day as a typist or shop clerk. Howarth studied her face, her lips, her chin, her cheeks, and her curly dark brown hair. She stirred slightly, dreaming.

Howarth took a small white tablet and soft pencil from the pocket of his topcoat. It was cold, but the station was warmer than the streets. He began to draw the outline of the girl's face with loose strokes, shading a little here and there.

One of the children became fascinated by what Howarth was doing. He looked shyly over the artist’s shoulder. Deep in thought, Howarth didn’t even realize the boy was there until he said, “Hey, mister, whatcha doin’?” Howard said, “Sshhh! I’m drawing that lady, over there.” The boy asked why.

“She is very pretty. I like to draw people.” “Why don’t she wake up?” the boy pressed on. “I think she is very tired from working hard all day,” Howarth answered. “Do you think she is going home now?” the boy asked. “I don’t know,” replied Howarth. “Would you like to sit here while I finish my drawing?” “I have to ask my mama,” the boy replied, and ran off to the opposite bench. The woman looked over at Howarth suspiciously and forced the boy down on the bench next to her.

Howarth turned back to his drawing. The girl had moved her head slightly, throwing off the angle from which Howarth viewed her a few minutes ago. He erased a few lines and continued. Soon he had a complete drawing of the young woman’s head and neck. He started to put away the pad. She slept on. “Hey, mister,” the young boy whispered.

“What? ... Say, aren’t you supposed to be back there on the bench with your mother?”

“She’s tending to the baby. She don’t know I’m here.”

(to be continued)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Life before Video

Today I went to 31 Chambers Street to search for a probated will. Business done, I took time to look again at the incredible architecture of this building, used often for "Law and Order" interior shots. The monumental open staircases, sweeping marble banisters, intricate metal ornamentation, and complex murals make this a feast for the eyes. One can only look -- no photographs allowed in the lobby.

Behind the video monitor outside the door of the Municipal Archives is a fascinating dark space. Look in -- it's as if all but the corner of a curtain had been dropped to the floor. In the dimness, I saw ceiling vaults decorated with peacock blue-green mosaic tiles, splashed up on the walls like vines, cordoned off into the darkness.

Take a look sometime, behind the video monitor. Something will draw you there.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Out of Joint

I hate the time change! Whether we lose or gain an hour, everything is thrown off for days. How can I convince myself that it's "really" ten a.m. when the clock says eleven, or vice versa? Our departed cats never adjusted; they ran on feline time.

I wonder what the folks who live in the golden land on the other side of the moon think about this. Perhaps they are laughing at our foolish attempts to reset the moon and stars for our own ends. I'm sure all the cats in heaven can't be bothered to scoff at our silliness. It's time for a nap.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Rising Up

Meet the Beresford - 81st Street and Central Park West.

One Spring day, I was taking black and white photos on my old Nikon FG and came up with a few startling shots, stark and overexposed. Much has been written about the Beresford and two other Upper West Side monuments: the Dakota and the San Remo. This building, however, seems the most imposing.

That's some kind of power cable splitting the frame, trying to cut the Beresford down to size.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Paul Harvey: Ave atque vale

The great radio broadcaster Paul Harvey died last night at the age of 90+. The airwaves are full of tributes today, and many obituaries can be found on the Internet. I will post later about my memories of his broadcasts and invite you to comment here with yours.

I hope he filled your ears with great stories, as he did mine.