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Your childhood dream is fairly ludicrous clip-art!

My last post, which combined art, gardening, and Gothic architecture has made me reflect back on a treasured albeit megalomaniacal childhood fantasy.  When I grew up I wanted to live in my own beautiful castle. I was really into spooky-yet-cozy adventure stories, and the idea of living in a perfect little fortress world filled with hidden passages, charming secrets, and fairy-tale delights was irresistible.

But that was a wish from childhood: the adult world is a desperate maze filled with scams, baffling spreadsheets, impossible rules,and ersatz crap…which brings us to the subject of today’s post! The desire to have a beautiful fairytale castle for a home is hardly unique to my childhood self. Lots of people have that fantasy, however, there are only so many actual medieval keeps, schlösschen(s?), and castellets to go around. We are even running out of derelict Queen Anne villas. Plus the comforts and conveniences of real medieval castles are not in accordance with modern tastes. But, if New York has taught me anything, it is that for every dream house there is an unscrupulous developer ready to make a terrible mockery of that dream in order to get rich.

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Every man, a king!

Welcome to Burj Al Babas in Turkey! Of the many, many Potemkin villages and empty cities which have sprouted up around the world in the last decade, this is surely one of the most peculiar to behold. The town was planned and built by “Sarot Group” to appeal to affluent foreign investors who dreamed of living in castles when they were little. The project began in 2014 and was meant as a way to capitalize underused land in the distant Asia Minor suburbs of Istanbul. Each micro-castle was going to include swimming pools and jacuzzis heated by the water of local hot springs.  The target buyers were affluent middle easterners who could maybe even be lured into Turkish citizenship.

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What? They couldn’t include identical unicorns?

 

Unfortunately, the market for fake castles has been overmatched by the market for real autocrats. Turkey is sliding further and further into a dangerous spiral of dictatorship, economic malfeasance, and corruption. As the lira collapses the inflation rate has risen to 25%. Additionally, the oil-rich middle eastern who are the imagined buyers of these properties have been facing their own monetary struggles in a world awash with cheap oil.

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And notice the exquisite landscaping of dark gray mud, dead weeds, and rubble!

Perhaps the saddest thing is that, even in these glum pictures of cookie-cutter despair, some aspect of the original fantasy is still recognizable. If you had one of these things on a forest mountaintop in West Virginia or Dalmatia, it might still be a beautiful home  (although they look suspiciously apt to melt when it rains). Yet, stuck next to each other like dozens of gawky cosplayers dressed as the same superhero, the dream breaks apart and the seamy aspects of the modern real-estate scheming are laid bare.  I wonder what will eventually happen to Burj Al Babas, the city of dreams.  Will it become like Columbia Maryland, where nobody even notices that they are living in somebody else’s fantasy, or will archaeologists of the future unearth its particleboard and concrete ruins with a sad frown and a sigh?

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During the Civil War, pennies were rare because of the wartime demand for metals.  In the Northeast and Midwest, private parties minted tokens to fill the demand (which the Federal Government hated and banned in 1864).  Here is a Washington Market exchange token from that era featuring a magnificent turkey on the obverse (with vegetables and a mildly subversive “live and let live” motto on the flip side).  I am running out of things to say about turkeys, but looking back at this tiny slice of our numismatic past is a good way to enter the Thanksgiving season, and we’ll see if we can find one more good post about the noble sacrificial birds before the great feast.  Gobble gobble! Enjoy your plentiful pennies and let’s kep the country unified!

New York coin Civil War Token

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I’m sorry i didn’t write a post yesterday.  I had a cold, and while I managed to stumble through my workday, I just fell asleep when I got home.  I’ll keep today’s post short and sweet by concentrating on two things which everyone loves: turkeys and money.  Turkeys are a personal favorite animal of mine–they are large beautiful galliform birds which I have written about at length.  Now I don’t know nearly as much about money, but what I have heard makes me think I would like it.  So, as an early Thanksgiving treat, here are some coins with turkeys on them.

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The first two examples are quarters–from Louisiana of all places (my native West Virginia, a place filled with wildlife, got stuck with a bridge.)

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The third example is apparentlyfrom Saba. At first, I thought Saba sounded made up–but then I noticed that the coin had “five” written on it in Dutch.  Sure enough this is an island in the lesser Antilles, and you can totally buy something there for this amazing turkey coin.

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Today amidst the internet flotsam and jetsam, there was a post about archaeologists discovering this exquisite mosaic in Şanlıurfa, Turkey.  There are two male and two female figures surrounded by beautiful decorative frames of interlocking geometry.  It is not known who the figures are–perhaps we will never find out–but look how expressive and amazing these ancient portraits are!

What is now the Turkish town of Şanlıurfa was once Edessa, capital of the kingdom of Osroene.  The city has an ancient and complex history, but between 100 AD and 600 AD (which is the rough age estimate for this mosaic)  it was a vassal state first to the Parthian Empire and later to the Roman Empire, before becoming part of the Byzantine Empire.  Later on, in medieval times, Edessa would be taken by the Sassanid Empire, the first Caliphate, the Crusaders…and on and on and on.

However this mural seems (to me) to be an artwork of Osroene, where the Syriac dialect first developed. Syriac literature and culture flourished there.  These people lived and died and were buried in rocky tombs (which were then buried beneath the Castle of Urfa and forgotten…till now.

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The Precious Night Turkey (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, Mixed Media)

Longtime readers know that one of my favorite animals is the turkey.  I am not alone. We Americans have a whole month dedicated to devotions of the magnificent bird: the turkey is literally at the center of our third (or second?) most important festival. However there is a distinctly Aztec aspect to the turkey’s key role in the holiday.  The fowl is not just a sacred animal of autumn—it is a sacred sacrifice of the dying year.

I love turkeys.  I love their appearance.  I love their personalities.  I love their furtive mastery of the eastern woodlands. I…uh…I love their flavor.  A lot. This strikes me as a noteworthy juxtaposition of its own: a troubling aspect not of turkeys, but of humankind.  Our kindness is always streaked through with appetite.  Our admiration is dark and terrible.

Anyway, I figured I had better make an artwork to capture some of these mixed feelings (and as a personal devotion to the consecrated bird).  Here is a picture of Chalchiuhtotolin, the jeweled night turkey of the Aztecs.  You can revisit the post here—the deity is a trickster, a sacrifice, a shapeshifter. I made it with paper cutouts, markers, colored pencils, and rhinestones—in the artistic style of an alimentary schoolchild, er, I mean an “elementary” schoolchild.  I wanted it to be like a Faberge jeweled egg, glistening in the purple night, but perhaps I should have made it more Aztec instead of Rococo.

Ominously, as I was pasting it all together I accidentally tore off the head (you can see the seam of where I glued it back if you blow up the work). It was an artistic mistake—but it works perfectly to capture the true ritualistic nature of November’s spirit animal.

Patriotic Turkey Wearing Stars (by AnthroAnimals from Zazzle)

Patriotic Turkey Wearing Stars (by AnthroAnimals from Zazzle)

I promised a Fourth of July post, but one of my old friends came back to New York for a weekend after a decade abroad, so there was catching up to do (plus eating cherries and watching decorative explosions in the sky) and I missed writing a post.  The recollections of erstwhile times reminded me that this blog has changed quite a bit too–we used to feature a lot more posts about turkeys–magnificent American fowl which dominate the poultry-yard, the dinner table, and the month of November,  I decided to present a retro-post of patriotic turkeys as a belated Independence celebration–the founders never really meant for Independence to be celebrated on the fourth–so maybe we can respect their wishes with these star-spangled red-white-and-blue birds.  Happy July.  It doesn’t get better than enjoying some decorative birds in summertime!

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Any purists who are tutting disapprovingly about how turkeys should stay in their lane ought to be reassured that I will blog about them plenty when November rolls around. I’m really fond of the big galoots!

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The Edge of the Woods (Wayne Ferrebee, 2012, watercolor)

The Edge of the Woods (Wayne Ferrebee, 2012, watercolor)

Well, it’s already Thanksgiving…2015 will be here before you know it. This year I’m staying in Brooklyn instead of going home to the fields and hardwood forests of Appalachia, but I’ll definitely miss visiting family, going hunting, and seeing all of the goodly farm creatures.  I probably should have organized things better, but to be frank, organization is really not my métier.  How does everybody do so well with all of these infernal lists, and applications, and invoices, and calendars, and spreadsheets? Anyway, to celebrate the holiday, here is a summertime watercolor picture of the family farm.  The trees look a bit crooked and a bit too green…but they were crooked and extremely green in real world (plus I didn’t realize I was sitting on an anthill when I first chose the location—so I was painting faster and faster).   Of course there was no wild turkey running through the painting–at least not that I could see—however they are supremely canny at blending in when they want to be (and I did find some feathers at the entrance to the forest).  The snake, chipmunk, and skulking frog are likewise inventions, although they are definitely out there in the woods.  I should really have painted an anthill: those guys were very much present!

Yes, like that...but bitier.

Yes, like that…but bitier.

I’m sorry I don’t have a November painting which show the beautiful browns, russets, and grays of the woodland.  The wild turkey would look extremely good against such a backdrop!  But the ants were bad enough—I don’t even want to think about watercolor in snow, sleet, and freezing rain…

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Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers!  I hope you enjoy your turkeys and have a lot to be thankful for. All of you foreign folk will have to make do with my best wishes and imagine how succulent the turkey and mashed potatoes taste.  But wherever or whoever you are, you should know that I am most thankful for my readers!  You are all the best!

Turkey Sculpture (Jim Victor, butter)

Turkey Sculpture (Jim Victor, butter)

I really love turkeys!  Thanksgiving season is thus a happy time when the magnificent birds are celebrated in numerous forms throughout the American cultural landscape (although, admittedly, our national appreciation has a gastronomic thrust which can be somewhat inimical to individual turkeys).  Longtime visitors to this blog will recall turkey-themed posts from Novembers past–such as a long list of turkey mascots, a story concerning escapees from the family farm, a comprehensive overview of turkey breeds, and the shocking explanation of how turkeys are capable of virgin birth (!).  This year, we have already featured a discussion of the proud American tradition of turkey-themed characters in professional wrestling.  However since I am not a professional wrestler (yet) but rather a visual artist, I thought I would also present a gallery of turkey sculptures made from various miscellaneous materials.  The turkeys pictured here mostly come from a folk art tradition, so I could not always find the artist, date, and medium (although if you know such details regarding any of these works, I would love to hear about it), however I think you will agree that the sculptures are quite spectacular and diverse–just like America itself!  Look at the turkey at the top made entirely of butter!  Hopefully this little gallery will somewhat tide you over until Turkey Day next week, but, if not, don’t worry, Ferrebeekeeper will probably find material for another 2014 turkey post somewhere.  Additionally, you can click the turkey category link on the menu to the left to see a whole slew of turkey posts (at least this is true on the PC, who knows about you tablet people?). Gobble gobble!  Here is some weird art!

A metal turkey sculpture from Whidbey Island (via joyworks-shopgirl.blogspot.com)

A metal turkey sculpture from Whidbey Island (via joyworks-shopgirl.blogspot.com)

The same sculpture from a different angle

The same sculpture from a different angle

Turkey sculpture by Carlomagno Pedro Martinez

Turkey sculpture by Carlomagno Pedro Martinez

A turkey crafted from legos, chocolate, and silverware

A turkey crafted from legos, chocolate, and silverware

"Turkey" Artist unknown Photo by tim burlowski

“Turkey” Artist unknown Photo by tim burlowski

steampunk turkey watch by IckyDogCreations

steampunk turkey watch by IckyDogCreations

"Turkey Bot" Metal Assemblage Turkey Sculpture by Bruce Howard

“Turkey Bot” Metal Assemblage Turkey Sculpture by Bruce Howard

Turkey Hay Sculpture at Lookout Bar and Grill

Turkey Hay Sculpture at Lookout Bar and Grill

Thanksgiving Turkey Sculpture - Version 1 (design based on photo by Naomi Greenfield, Red Balloon Company) via globetwisting.blogspot.com

Thanksgiving Turkey Sculpture – Version 1
(design based on photo by Naomi Greenfield, Red Balloon Company) via globetwisting.blogspot.com

Turkey Sculpture (Philip Grausman, aluminum)

Turkey Sculpture (Philip Grausman, aluminum)

Thanksgiving Turkey Stuffed Soft Sculpture In Vintage Calico Prints Picture from Laurel Leaf Farm

Thanksgiving Turkey Stuffed Soft Sculpture In Vintage Calico Prints Picture from Laurel Leaf Farm

Jack (Philip Grausman, 2006)

Jack (Philip Grausman, 2006)

Folk Art Turkey Sculpture by Edith John (Navajo)

Folk Art Turkey Sculpture by Edith John (Navajo)

Sandstone Turkey (Ron Fedor)

Sandstone Turkey (Ron Fedor)

Pierced Turkey Sculpture Raymor Italy

Pierced Turkey Sculpture Raymor Italy

Big Turkey, Aneta, ND

Big Turkey, Aneta, ND

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Professional wrestling is a very peculiar concoction.   It is a volatile mix of extreme athleticism, flamboyant theater, televised hype, steroids, advertising money, and ludicrous costumes. As you can imagine, this blend sometimes goes extraordinarily awry: professional wrestling can give birth to nightmare children. Keeping this in mind, let us journey back to the distant year of 1990. That autumn, during the weeks leading up to the World Wrestling Federation’s Survivor Series of 1990, wrestling producers stumbled upon a very…unusual…gimmick to drum up excitement for their title bout. A huge egg of indeterminate origin was placed in the middle of the arena. As the ripped, oiled, and be-sequined brawlers fought out their melodramatic matches, more and more hype was lavished upon this strange prop. What sort of wrestling sensation would hatch out of it?

Classy...

Classy…

Many animals lay eggs, so the possibilities were multitudinous and potentially thrilling. What if the giant egg turned out to be a horrifying serpent man or some sort of warrior dinosaur? Since professional wrestling has never been troubled by reality, the egg could even have contained a mythological being like a roc, a griffin, or a baby Godzilla. On Thanksgiving of 1990, the egg hatched and the answer was revealed.

When the egg blew open, out of it leapt…the Gobbledy Gooker–a hapless chump clad in an extraordinarily ugly turkey costume. Not only did the Gooker [ed. Can we even write that word on a family-friendly blog?] look horrid–he did not even wrestle. He capered around the ring and then danced with announcer “Mean” Gene Okerlund to the minstrel hit “Turkey in the Straw”. Understandably, the Hartford audience hooted in derision. It is actually painful to hear “Rowdy“ Roddy Piper (the brilliant lead thespian of the dark allegorical sci-fi masterpiece “They Live”) shouting out canned enthusiasm for the bad gimmick. The Gobbledy Gooker appeared in a few more mercifully brief promotional spots and then was canned for good…

Time to retire with dignity...

Time to retire with dignity…

…or was he? Within the hallowed halls of professional wrestling, ethereal voices began to whisper about the Gobbledy Gooker. What terrible decisions led to the egg and the turkey costume? Who was beneath the patchy feathers? It turns out that the Gobbledy Gooker was a wrestling persona of Hector Guerrero, famed scion of Los Guerreros (arguably the world’s greatest multigenerational dynasty of professional wrestlers). Perhaps it is appropriate that a Mexican-American played the sacred turkey figure–since turkeys were first domesticated by the glorious pyramid civilizations of Mesoamerica.

Hector Guerrero as usually attired (thank goodness professional wrestling is able to avoid crude stereotypes)

Hector Guerrero as usually attired (thank goodness professional wrestling is able to avoid crude stereotypes)

Our culture has a raw appetite for spectacle. And the awfulness of the Gobbledy Gooker fulfilled some primal need. Soon the Gobbledy Gooker was back—albeit sometimes spelled as the Gobbly Gooker. In the 2000s the giant turkey (still played by Guerrero) competed in Wrestlemania X-Seven, a contest between over-the-top gimmick characters (sadly he lost in the second round). He also lent his name to the Gooker Award for the worst wrestling gimmicks. In recent years, he has become a sort of campy mascot of World Wrestling (although his already nebulous turkey identity has blurred a bit further). He even starred in a video about wacky office misadventures at WW headquarters!

Work is demeaning

Work is demeaning

Last Thanksgiving (2013), the Gobbledy Gooker stepped out of retirement and “appeared backstage on WWE Smackdown at a ‘post Thanksgiving party’ thrown by Smackdown General Manager Vickie Guerrero.” Will the Gobbledy Gooker reemerge this Thanksgiving as a magnificent and dismaying symbol of our gluttony, our strength, our vainglory? Keep your eyes peeled to find out…

The Gobbledy Gooker

The Gobbledy Gooker

Wheat gray partridges and Orange (Jean-Baptiste Siméon Chardin, 1733, Oil on canvas)

Wheat gray partridges and Orange (Jean-Baptiste Siméon Chardin, 1733, Oil on canvas)

One of the greatest still life painters of all time was Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin (1699-1779). Chardin spent almost his entire life in Paris creating still life paintings of common kitchen and household items (and occasionally painting domestic scenes of maids, servants, and children). In an age dominated by Rococo excess and opulence, his works exalt the simple beauty of quotidian subjects. Additionally, he painted very slowly and turned out only 4 or 5 pieces a year. Chardin is one of Marcel Proust’s favorite artists and anyone who has read “Remembrance of Things Past” will recall long lyrical passages praising paintings such as “The Ray” (one of the Louvre’s prized masterpiece–which Proust saw often). Proust found a kindred spirit in Chardin—someone who found transcendent beauty, grandeur, and meaning within daily life. Chardin’s exquisite little works make a large aesthetic point about the nature of beauty and of truth—which are as often found in the servant’s little room as in the viscount’s vasty palace. A little hanging duck is as lovely as the goddess of the dawn.

A Green Neck Duck with a Seville Orange (Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin, oil on canvas)

A Green Neck Duck with a Seville Orange (Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin, oil on canvas)

I have chosen to show three paintings of fowl by Chardin (ranging from least, at the top, to best at the bottom). All are kitchen paintings of dead birds about to be plucked and cooked. The first is a simple brace of gamefowl hanging in the kitchen. The second work shows a splendid duck with one cream colored wing extended, the last is a magnificent turkey amidst copper pots and vegetables. Each of these paintings have a deep sense of longing: the melancholy of the dead birds is somewhat abated by the viewer’s hunger and by the wistful nostalgia created by a limited palette of grays and browns (with a few little flourishes of pink, orange, and yellow). Their very simplicity makes them rich and complex (although Chardin’s incomparable brushwork certainly is anything but simple).

 

Still Life with Suspended Turkey (Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin, oil on canvas)

Still Life with Suspended Turkey (Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin, oil on canvas)

The nymphs, clowns, and jeweled mistresses of 18th century French art seem to come from a world unimaginable—a world which even today’s jaded pop stars and sybaritic billionaires would find decadent. Chardin’s art however comes from some eternal place—a kitchen which we have all walked into in childhood. There in the plain light we are confronted with humble pots and pans and perhaps a bird or fish—but we are also confronted with the absolute beauty of the everyday world.

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