4/29/16

SAVING Art


Looking at the Sepia Saturday prompt this week I spent a lot of time looking at the paint drying on the inside of my eyelids. Nothing. Nada. Zip. I could't think of anything that I had that would work. So I started perusing my drive in hopes I'd find something which would keep me from dragging out the heavy duty boxes of my collection. And then I saw it, an image from a post I did in 2009. It was meant to be because just as the ladies are rescuing art in the Sepia Saturday post so was I when I bought this photo.

So now, imagine everything getting wavy for a moment while we step back in time to January 29, 2009. You can add the Hollywood time traveling music if your imagination is up to it, something like wooooooo woooooooo.

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Last summer I was wandering through my local flea market when I spotted this vintage photograph. I was immediately drawn to it, asked the price, and was told 3 dollars. Okay, first thing you need to know is I'm cheap. Very cheap. I put the photo back down and told the woman I'd have to think about it. I wandered around unable to concentrate on anything else I was seeing. Three dollars. I was stupid to not grab it. But then I kept thinking where will I hang it? It measures 12" x 14". Not huge, but just not sure what to do with it. Obviously I went back and said "I'll take it!" Had a bit of a scare because the woman had hidden it behind a stack of cheezy paintings and I immediately was mentally hitting myself upside my head thinking "FOOL! It was only 3 bucks!" She'd hidden it for me so nobody else would buy it. Nice lady. Anyway, enough about how I found this and a little bit about the photo.

mervyn silberstein_tatteredandlost

The photographer was Mervyn D. Silberstein and this hand tinted photo has a date of 1914 beneath his name.

Mr. Silberstein was born in 1885 in San Francisco. However, he was raised in Healdsburg, California, north of San Francisco in Sonoma County. His father owned a dry goods store. While attending college in Healdsburg he took up photography. He was already a cartoonist and a writer for a local paper, the Sotoyome Sun. Eventually he opened his own photography store where he sold supplies and did photography work for the local community.

In around 1909 the Silberstein family moved back to San Francisco. Mervyn got a job at an advertising agency where he did graphic design, then called commercial art. He is responsible for the FTD Mercury symbol used by the florist industry.

He was fascinated by Chinatown and it is here that he took this photo. His work around Chinatown, mostly photographing children, covered this part of San Francisco following the great earthquake of 1906. He took mostly snapshots, though some photos were posed with costumes.

His photos were marketed as both postcards and, as he called them, Chinee-Graphs which were sold in wooden frames like shown surrounding the photo above. The frame on mine is original though missing the top piece seen in the brochure below. He claims that his work had been shown in art galleries around the country. I do have one review written by C. S. James, Critic Picture Department of the high end SF department store S. & G. Gumps stating, "...Mr. Silberstein's pictures...belong to an entriely higher class, being worthy of being classed both in photography and painting as art works."

Chinee-Graphs

Mr. Silberstein died in 1956.

Currently the Healdsburg Museum is the repository of much of Mr. Silbersteins work, including his cameras. They can be reached at P.O Box 952, Healdsburg, CA, 95448. Phone number is 707.431.3325.

That three dollars was worth every penny because looking at this smiling "grandfather" with the child always makes me smile. I get drawn in wondering about the people, if their relatives are still alive living in the SF/Bay Area. I wish there was more information online about Mr. Silberstein.
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Sadly, since I first did this post the first page that shows up doing a search of Silberstein is my original post. Come on folks, I should never be listed as an authority for anything. Somewhere out there is someone who can add information about Mr. Silberstein beyond the slivers of history I found.

Oh, and I did find another photo showing the child and grandfather which belongs to the California Historical Society. It's not nearly as nice as the image I have.

And you can see more of Silberstein's work at the following links:  WorthpointHealdsburg Museum, here, here, here, and here.

and photos of Silberstein herehere, here, here, here, here, and here.

And so in the past I saved an old photo and that old post saved my butt for this week's Sepia Saturday.
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20 comments:

  1. I love this painting and how you found it. Surely it's worth more than the $3.00 you paid for it? I wonder if the FTD logo has changed much since he originally designed it. Quite an accomplishment to have something last so long.

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    1. It's actually a heavily tinted photo and is probably worth, at the high end, around $100. But I do like looking at it every day and I'm glad I bought it.

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  2. That $3.00 bought you a whole lot more than just a picture! Nice work.

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    1. Indeed, the memory of the purchase is still a vivid memory. It was a foggy day...

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  3. What a great story about a beautiful photo! I can see why you like it, as it has the spontaneity of a snapshot with the honesty of a child's innocence and a grandfather's pride. What was his market for this kind of photo? The Chinese characters around the frame suggest a kind sentimental artwork for the Chinese-American community in California. Or the vernacular photo blogger.

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    1. I don't know where all they were sold, but apparently they were sold at Gumps, an old fine San Francisco department store.

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  4. Well done you. I also love rescuing old photos.

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    1. It can be an all consuming habit.

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  5. Here's a fun game. Google Translate lets you draw/write the Chinese characters and will offer its best suggestions. With patience I used my Wacom Tablet Pen to "write" the left and right characters on the frame.

    幸運必來汞久
    遵者即神也

    became:
    Fortunately, Mercury will be long
    Namely those who follow God (Heaven?)

    The characters on the red banner next to grandpa are harder

    廾本達仿谢

    Google thinks it means:
    The European allies of imitation Xie (thanks?)

    Maybe one of those pesky spambots will come up with a better translation.

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    1. Gee, I'd never thought of trying that. Good one. It certainly makes it more of a mystery now that the "allies" are involved.

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    2. Interesting approach Mike took. That is really cool!

      Mercury (the planet) is a part of Chinese mythology - where it is known as the "Hour Star" and influential of water/rain.

      It has a role in Feng Shui - but what the expression on the photo might mean, I do not know.

      I think the other expression is something like "To our 'White' friends (or people that have helped us), Thank you.

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    3. It gets more interesting each day. Thank you!

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  6. Excellent! Not sure why it took you so long to think of it though, but maybe you were just concentrating too hard on that paint drying inside your eyelids :-)

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    1. Everything being processed through my brain seems to take longer these days. One minute I'm thinking of one thing and the next something else strikes my fancy and I forget how I mentally got to where I am.

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  7. I’m surprised no-one has come up with more information yet. We never learn about the those ‘have to think about it’ moments - thank goodness the vendor had saved it for you.

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    1. Yes, I was lucky she put it to the back. She obviously knew I'd be back. I wandered around for about 15 minutes telling myself "It's only 3 bucks you idiot! Go buy it." And when I got back to her area it was "gone" and my heart sank. But then she pulled it from behind something truly hideous and I couldn't part with the 3 bucks fast enough.

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  8. this Chinee-Graph was a bargain!
    There is something very warm & friendly about it.
    Dont you think it unusual that their facial expressions are somewhat reversed to what we usually expect ? The Infant very serious , while the adult all cute ,playful & mischievous ! Life should always be that way!

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    1. I'm guessing the grandfather was used to the photographer and the child was confused by him. Yes, it would be nice if life was as sweet as this photo.

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  9. Fascinating story. Must be nice to know you are an expert at something!

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    1. It would be nice to be an expert at something after so many years of life, but the best I can do is say I'm a professional. At least that's what my friend says when I solve some sort of art/design problem: "Well, after all, you ARE a professional."

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