Hercules: Gilbert Stuart’s Most Fascinating Subject

Gilbert Stuart was the Annie Liebovitz of his day: Every power player wanted to sit for one of the painter’s portraits, and many did, including six sitting presidents, many of their wives, congressmen, merchants, and “influencers” of the era. No doubt you’d recognize his most famous work: the George Washington portrait Dolly Madison saved from the burning White House during the War of 1812.

That said, looking at a gallery of Stuart’s work becomes tedious. It’s white face after white face, powdered wig after powdered wig — but wait, here’s someone interesting: the only person of color in his collection. It’s a man known only as Hercules, George Washington’s enslaved chef.

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Found in the LOC: Cândido Portinari

For this week’s Found in the LOC, here are four neo-realism murals Brazilian painter Cândido Portinari completed for the Library of Congress’ Hispanic Reading Rooms in 1942. The LOC has way more detailed information than I can provide, and I encourage you to check out their essay.

“Discovery of the Land”

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Found in the LOC: 16 Posters By Graphic Great Lester Beall


Last week marked the 83rd anniversary of Franklin Roosevelt creating the Rural Electrification Administration, one the president’s many New Deal efforts to give poor Americans an assist in catching up with urban areas. And as with all such initiatives this one came complete with a series of graphic-driven PSAs like the one above, by Lester Beall.

The unofficial grandfather of modern graphic design, Kansas-born, New York-based Beall broke free from previous realist design rules, toying with perspective, space and planes to create a new, almost collage-like three-dimensionality aimed at eye and heart alike. The designer “must work with one goal in mind—to integrate the elements in such a manner that they will combine to produce a result that will convey not merely a static commercial message, but an emotional reaction as well,” he said.

And it’s this philosophy that garnered Beall a loyal following and booming business over the next decades. While he worked for the government again later, during a Housing Authority campaign against slums, his work in the 1940s was primarily for editorial clients like the Chicago Tribune and Collier’s, the latter of whom he designed the chilling “Will There Be War?” cover featuring Churchill, and corporate entities, including Upjohn Pharmaceutical and Abbott Technologies, for whom he designed corporate magazines. Later, in the 1950s and 1960s, he pioneered modern branding for industrial giants like Caterpillar, Merrill Lynch, and International Paper deploy design to create public personas for themselves. Lester Beall died in 1969, leaving an indelible mark on our visual culture.

After the jump, 15 more Lester Beall posters from his time working for the government, mostly for Roosevelt’s Rural Electrification Program, and all found in the Library of Congress.

And for more “Found in the LOC,” click here.

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Paul Revere, Art Thief

Revere stole this image from Pelham.

Most of us know Paul Revere as the midnight rider who warned that the British were coming, but before that he was an artist who used his output to sway public opinion toward independence. Of his works, the most famous is of course the above depiction of the Boston Massacre, which went down 248 years ago; it’s this gruesome, blood-soaked image that helped turn the 1770 event into a turning point toward the Revolution. The thing is, though, Revere didn’t actually draw it: It was done by Henry Pelham; Revere stole Pelham’s visual, gave it some sensational flare and sold it as his own, a decision that had fateful consequences not just for the U.S., but the world.

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Found in the LOC: 23 Great Edward Penfield Pics

Amid all those wonderful old bicycle adverts posted a few “Found in the LOCs” ago, there were a number of images by Edward Penfield, the granddaddy of American graphic design.

It seems unfair to his legacy not to offer his landmark images some more space. After all, Brooklyn-born Penfield popularized posters in the States, played a key role in establishing New Rochelle as an early arts colony  and was art director for Harper’s Weekly during a seminal period in American publishing

So here, in honor of Penfield and the path he forged for future illustrators, and in no particular order, are 23 of his illustrations, all sourced from the Library of Congress, which has a ton of other ones, too.

Some things that caught my eye: similarities between his style and two other artists, contemporary JC Leyendecker and current master Alex Katz; the self-possession of his women; and the sex appeal of his men.

(And for more Found in the LOC, click HERE.)

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14 Things You Don’t Know About Log Cabins

The log cabin is more complicated than you may think. In fact, I wrote a whole book about it, one beginning with the question, “Why is the log cabin a BFD in the USA?”

You can learn the fully labyrinthine and altogether fascinating answer in said book, The Log Cabin: An Illustrated History. But as you wait for your copy to arrive, here are 14 things you never knew about log cabins, plus two tangentially related factoids, too.

1. No Log Cabins in Plymouth:

We’ve all seen school books and Thanksgiving cards depicting cheery Pilgrims building log cabins, images that cast the structure as the invention of English settlers, as America’s first true home. But that’s all bunk.

The truth of the matter is that English colonists didn’t live in log cabins. They didn’t even know how to make  log cabins. Accustomed to fine brick and frame homes back home, that’s what they built when they got here. Well, not immediately.

First, they slummed it in subterranean dugouts, waiting in the mud until planks could be cut and bricks kiln-fired. It was not a good look… Luckily these ugly bits would be edited out in the centuries ahead.

2. The Swedes and Finns Did It:

So, if the English didn’t bring log cabins to American shores, then who? I guess the sub-header here sort of spoils the beans, but, yes, it was the Swedes and Finns of New Sweden who erected America’s first log cabins. They and their ancestors had been building them for generations, so whipping them together here was simple as pie. But they didn’t make a lasting impression.

New Sweden was so small in population and so short-lived — it fell to the Dutch in 1655 and the land was brought under British rule in 1664 — that it had very little pull in colonial culture at large. Their English and Dutch neighbors weren’t about to copy their homes; Swedish and Finnish log cabins were therefore anomalies in this era, and the structure probably would have faded into oblivion had it not been for the thousands of immigrants who started arriving in the 1700s.

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