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Ditmas Park

I had two artistic New Year’s resolutions.  The first was to create a lot more art…and that I have done!  The second was to get better at showing and marketing—to master the shiny outward trappings of being an artist…and there I have not done quite so well. So today’s post is a…well, it’s a lifestyle post (sigh). Let me explain: sometimes it seems like contemporary art is more about puffy biography than about the actual art itself.  It causes me to grind my teeth in frustration when I see whole articles about where artists live and the cool things they do with their spare time—which then wholly gloss over the content of their work.

Then it sort of occurred to me that…title insurance and medieval history aside, I actually live in the bustling heart of Brooklyn and I have a wide group of amazing and particular creative friends.  Maybe I AM one of these Brooklyn bohemians who everyone is always celebrating and deploring. So I decided to show you the sketches from my little book from over the long weekend!

Twilight Bed-Stuy Before the Parade (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, color pencil and ink)

Twilight Bed-Stuy Before the Parade (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, color pencil and ink)

On Sunday night, my friends who are amazing lingerie designers from Puerto Rico (in addition to being gifted expressionists) invited me to their party in Bed Stuy.  It was a delightful fete with Slovenian computer geniuses, all sorts of sundry models, tart-tongued Irish folk, and Japanese film producers!  Additionally, it was on a high terrace overlooking the street, so I got to watch Afro-Caribbean bikers doing wheelies down the street and see people getting ready for the West Indies Day parade.  Above is the color pencil sketch of Marcus Garvey Avenue—you can see a Caribbean flag vendor there in the corner (the actual vendor was sort of balled up like a spider—but his colorful flags were very noticeable).

Sachiko (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, color pencil)

Sachiko (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, color pencil)

Unfortunately I am not as breathlessly cool and bonelessly insouciant as the artists in the “New York Times” and “Art in America”…so when I finished sketching and went to have a well-deserved black olive, I knocked the entire bowl of olives off the table and down a fellow guest’s back.  Vasari never talks about these awkward moments…Fortunately the victim of my fumbling was a convivial person who asked if I could sketch her grinning rapidly moving friend. Such a circumstance is never ideal, but I think I did fairly well (although I failed to notice the teddy bear with a horrifying skull-face on her blouse until after I had drawn her.

Sketch of Coney Island (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, color pencil)

Sketch of Coney Island (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, color pencil)

On Labor Day I rode my bike over to Coney Island and sketched some fellow beach goers before taking a dip in the green brine.  I didn’t want to make people feel (more) self-conscious at the beach (nor did I want to get beaten up by Russian girls for staring at them) so my beach-goers are sketchy composites.  I did get the color of the water and the annoying banality of the sky banner down (not to mention a pretty accurate drawing of, um, the Staten Island coast).

The frustrating thing is that Ferrebeekeeper’s readership is much more sophisticated than the characters who pretend to read the New York Times, so my readers will undoubtedly recognize this article as a bunch of fluff to introduce my weekend drawings.  However this awkward little essay does begin to hint at how much I love New York.  The popular image of Brooklyn as a trust-fund paradise, fails to do justice to the real Brooklyn I know–of striving entrepreneurs, crazy visionaries, immigrants, writers, and, yes, artists.

Oh! As always I would love to have your feedback!

Uncle Sam at the Midland 4th of July Parade (Photo by Sylvester Washington Jr.)

Uncle Sam at the Midland 4th of July Parade (Photo by Sylvester Washington Jr.)

To celebrate the 4th of July two years ago, I wrote a blog post about the national symbol of the United States and the original alternatives contemplated by the founding fathers (a post which was awesome since it was filled with turkeys, rattlesnakes, killer whales, and eagles).  This year, I concentrate on a national mascot whom we all feel much more ambivalent about.  I am talking, of course, about the somewhat awkward and unsettling figure of Uncle Sam.

Uncle Sam (Thomas Nast, 1877, engraving)

Uncle Sam (Thomas Nast, 1877, engraving)

The concept of Uncle Sam as a fictional stand-in for the government of the United States emerged during the War of 1812 when a meat supplier stamped his meat crates with “U.S.” and soldiers joked that this meant came from “Uncle Sam” (in fact “Uncle Sam” is mentioned in the Revolutionary-era song “Yankee Doodle” but it is unclear if he is a symbol of the nation or just, you know, somebody’s uncle).   By 1816 Uncle Sam was the subject of humorous political tracts and by the time of the civil war he was a universally known representation of the United States government.   Uncle Sam is traditionally portrayed as a thin patrician man with a snow white chin beard.  He is dressed in a stars & stripe suit complete with an American flag themed hat.  The comic portentousness of the figure has made Uncle Sam popular with America’s supporters and detractors both—so one might see him waving a flag and marching in a patriotic parade in Texas (as at the top) or on Iranian government broadsheets deviously backstabbing the Iranian people for oil.  For example, here he is, portrayed as Yama, devouring the entire world through consumer culture and war.


For a time Uncle Sam stood only for the government whereas the citizenry itself was represented by Brother Jonathan, a long-winded New England tradesman in a frock coat and striped pants (Brother Jonathan himself had begun as a symbol of New England, but gradually came to represent the whole nation).   By mid-nineteenth century Brother Jonathan was subsumed into Uncle Sam, who has remained more-or-less the same since that time (though sometimes he bulks up in muscle or in flab—depending on the cartoonist’s agenda).

Brother Jonathan Aggressively Chokes John Bull with stomach-ache-causing raw pear juice!

Brother Jonathan Aggressively Chokes John Bull with stomach-ache-causing raw pear juice!

Uncle Sam is frequently bowdlerized to sell cigars, financial vehicles, petrol, or what-have-you.  During the golden age of comics, Uncle Sam even became a sort of nightmarish DC comic book hero: he was an extra-temporal super ghost (summoned by the founding  fathers) who possessed dying patriots with superhuman powers in order to fight fascists and pirates…or something.  Frankly, the concept may have needed some work.

Excuse me?

Excuse me, but, what?

Uncle Sam is used by too many people for too many reasons, and he is just not as magnificent as an Eagle.  Even at his best, he is rather clownlike and awkward.  Before Uncle Sam or Brother Jonathan, America was represented by Columbia, a beautiful warrior goddess with a Phrygian cap and a bustier spangled with stars!  Curses!  How did we trade down to end up with a Jefferson Davis lookalike dressed like a pimp?

Although it seems like she might have gone into the phonograph and moving picture business...

Although it seems like she might have gone into the phonograph and moving picture business…

Looking even further back, Columbia herself even seems to be a rip-off of Britannia, the trident-wielding, Minerva-hatted, warrior goddess who has been a symbol of Britain’s suzerainty since Roman times.  Both Cousin Jonathan and Uncle Sam seem like line-extensions of the immensely popular John Bull.  Maybe the idea of personifying nations as people is flawed.  Having a frightening mascot in a strange primary color costume might be the right thing for a minor-league baseball team, but it ill-becomes the glory and complexity of our nation.  Perhaps we should just stick with the majestic eagle which cannot be made to look so absurd….

No!  Darn it!

No! Darn it!

Ye Olde Ferrebeekeeper Archives

March 2023