Sunday, March 31, 2013

Happy Easter!

I wish all my blogging friends
a delightful, happy Easter!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Neighborhood Cormorants
At the top is John James Audubon's 1831 depiction of a Florida cormorant, and below it is a photo I took last week, just down the street.

In my last posting, I showed views of my back yard. In this view from my roof, one can see the estuary, and beyond it Little Bayou, which leads into Tampa Bay. Since this photograph was taken, mangroves have been planted along the estuary, and they've grown to almost block my ground level view of the water. While that's a disappointment, mangroves are vital to the food chain of marine life, thus insuring that birds like the cormorant will stick around.

And so if I want to watch the cormorants, I walk about 1½ blocks to this seawall and have a seat.

Cormorants are interesting to watch. They will swim in the water to catch fish, but unlike other seabirds, their feathers don't repel water in the same way, and they will become water-logged.

After a dip or plunge in the water, cormorants need to dry off, and therefore spend much of their daytime roosting between meals. That's why the fellow in the photo below is spreading his wings.

In Asia, cormorants are used to help fishermen catch their haul, and for an extraordinarily beautiful image of that, I direct you to a National Geographic page, here.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Aliens In My Nieghborhood

Back in 1985, director Ron Howard chose my neighborhood as the setting for the movie Cocoon.
Cocoon was a story about aliens who landed in a waterside community to retrieve fellow aliens who had been left behind in an earlier mission.
In the process, the movie's senior citizens discovered an energy source that made them feel younger. It was a simple story made more appealing by the cast, which included names like Don Ameche, Jessica Tandy, Hume Cronyn, Maureen Stapleton, Brian Dennehey and Gwen Verdon.

click to enlarge  |  Mark D. Ruffner © 2013
This is a view of my neighborhood as viewed from behind my house. (My back yard is directly behind and to the left of the six palms.) The water is a recently restored estuary that leads into a small bayou, which in turn is part of Tampa Bay.

From my back yard, I view a park that was filmed as part of the movie. At nighttime, the senior citizens would run through the park to a swimming pool that had restorative powers, a sci-fi Fountain of Youth. (But the pool was filmed in another part of the city.)

The movie began about two blocks from my house at these little villas, which are part of a retirement community. They look out on Tampa Bay, which you can see in the background, and they date to the 1940s, when the retirement community was a yacht club.

Of course this land is prime real estate, so these charming villas — now individual units of the retirement community — are being torn down for new housing,

This is a different type of alien in a neighborhood of one- and two-story houses. One of my city's (and state's) greatest challenges is to protect natural resources and their accessibility, including simply allowing everyone to have a view of the water! There were literally years of wrangling when these buildings were first proposed, and along the way, the builders have made numerous concessions to the neighborhood. This building, for example, would have been twice as high.

Off in the distance is a view of Tampa Bay.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

How Pencil Drawing Saved My Eyesight

Mark D. Ruffner © 2013
As my profile mentions, I started my career as an illustrator. At that time, computers were not the ubiquitous tools that they are today, and businesses didn't have the ability to simply download clip art as they do now. So for a while I made a living selling art to advertising agencies.

Mark D. Ruffner © 2013
I didn't have a distinctive style, but instead emulated whatever style an advertiser wanted to achieve, and became better known as someone detail-oriented. One of my more popular styles was to draw with a pencil in a way that almost looked like air-brushing. (The drawing above was for a sound company that works with broadcast media.)

I achieved fine gradations by starting with the darkest areas, using very soft pencils, usually a 5B or 3B pencil. I would then work over the same area — and progressively lighter areas of the composition — with progressively harder pencil leads. The middle pencil above might be an HB or 2H pencil and the pencil on the right might be a very hard lead, like a 6H pencil.

If you look at the first pencil photo, you'll see that there are unevenness's and flecks of darker color. The progressively harder pencils not only add lead to the paper surface, but they also serve to smooth out the softer lead. By the third layer of lead (on the right), the gradation is becoming smooth.

Now here's the interesting part. In order to see the gradation better, I would unfocus my eyes. I found that if I blurred my vision, I could actually see pockets of unevenness better! So as I was creating very detailed pencil drawings, I was essentially alternating between sharpening my focus and resting my eyes in a meditative way. In hindsight, I was giving my eyes healthy exercise the whole while.

In fact I didn't wear glasses until I started sitting in front of a computer.

Mark D. Ruffner © 2013
 I wish I had a dime for every time I've drawn a dollar!

Mark D. Ruffner © 2013
This illustration accompanied an ad that listed the many amenities of the Tampa Hilton, a lot of fun to do.

click to enlarge   |  Mark D. Ruffner © 2013
Here's an illustration drawn for an affiliate of CBS. It features Buck Rogers, Elvis Presley, pitcher Sandy Koufax, the assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald, Flower Power, Orson Welles recording "The War of the Worlds," the moon landing, Jimmy Dorsey and Little Orphan Annie.

I hope you enjoyed my illustrations!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Papal Shoes

shoes of Pope Pius XII
My blogging friend Rosemary, of Where Five Valleys Meet, posted on traditions surrounding the election of a pope, and mentioned the papal tradition of red shoes. I thought that I would expand on the subject.

Crown Jewels  |  Crescent Books
The red shoes of the pope are said to symbolize martyrdom, but the tradition possibly stems from the slippers worn by Byzantine emperors. The Norman kings of Sicily adopted the Byzantine custom of red slippers. Their heirs, the Holy Roman Emperors, also wore red slippers like the ones above at their coronations.

St. Peter and The Vatican  |
The shoes above were probably worn by Pope Pius VII (1742-1823), remembered for his contentious relationship with Napoleon. These are properly called "liturgical slippers," and would have been worn on high church occasions.

Northampton Museums & Art Gallery  |
This handsome shoe was worn by the oldest pope, Leo XIII (1810-1903). It dates to 1888.  |  Time
This is the style of Pope Pius XII (1876-1958).

St. Peter and The Vatican  |
It looks as though Pope John XIII (1881-1963) might have gotten a lot of use from these liturgical slippers, perhaps during the Second Ecumenical Council. They would have been laced with ribbons that had tassels at each end.

St. Peter and The Vatican  |
Paul VI (1897-1978) was the last pope to wear liturgical slippers. These were his.

Adriano Stefanelli  |
By contrast, Pope John Paul II (1920-2005) opted for simple burgundy loafers, and later dispensed with them altogether and wore brown shoes.

Adriano Stefanelli  |
Pope Benedict XVI (b. 1927) retained the leather loafers, but reverted to the traditional ruby red color. In retirement, he'll wear brown shoes.

 The header photograph is from the exhibition catalogue, St. Peter and The Vatican.

Friday, March 8, 2013

On Safari With George Eastman: Part 4

The Eastman Party was the largest motor safari to leave Nairobi up to that time. It had, at one time, 13 cars, 80 natives, 28 camels and 5 mules. It would split into smaller expeditions and spend intervals in Nairobi, as much for constant car and truck repair as for refreshment. The group traveled approximately 4,000 miles, which, considering the terrain and the cars of that time, was a lot of ground.

The complete party (but not all of the natives are pictured)
The months fell into a routine of breakfast at dawn, early morning hunting and lunch at noon, followed by a siesta. Hunting resumed at 4:00 and until 7:00, then allowing for a bath and Scotch highballs before dinner at 7:30 or 8:00. George Eastman slept on an air bed and said it was the best night's sleep he'd had in 20 years.

Dr. Audley Stewart's presence was of great importance, not just because he treated wounds (sometimes with the "new" antiseptic, Mercurochrome), but also because he was treating everyone for malaria with six grains of quinine every night.

Dr. Audley Stewart
Osa Johnson with a nest of ostrich eggs
As one reads George Eastman's own recounting of the safari, the one personality that really shines through is that of Osa Johnson. Osa was a full partner in the adventures and documentary-making of Martin Johnson. She comes across as vivacious, fun, spunky and helpful — a can-do spirit. I imagine that she'd be a fine addition to that proverbial dinner party where one could invite anyone from any time period. When George Eastman didn't like the food prepared by the camp cook, Osa was quick to set up a separate cook tent and get Eastman to join her in the cooking. Soon Eastman was making pastry shells in saucers and lemon meringue pies, and blowing ostrich eggs with Osa — he reported that they tasted like the hen eggs from home.

But Osa was out on the hunts, too, and helping Martin with the filming of the hunt, which was of special interest to Eastman.

Martin's "new" car, one he outfitted for filming
The safari hunted everything in sight, bagging more than 100 specimens. They shot topi, rhinos, impalas, eland, wart hogs, jackals, wildebeest, gazelles, cheetahs and lions — to name a few. Even though they would see herds numbering in the thousands, even by the 1920s, the African governments were putting restrictions on certain animals. The limit for lions was five per person! And George Eastman shot five lions, one of which was nine feet long. He desperately wanted to shoot an elephant as well, but he never got close enough to one deemed worthy.

By August of 1926, the party was in agreement that they had bagged enough trophies, and that the rest of the trip should focus on filming.

At that time, there were three African tribes that still hunted lions by spear — the Lumbwa and their allies, the Naudi and the Masai. These tribes hunted lions to protect their livestock, and Eastman, Akeley and the Johnsons realized that it was a way of life that would be gone within a generation. They wanted to record a lion hunt, and Johnson especially wanted good footage of a lion charging towards his auto. That was not an easy task because lions, particularly those in danger, want to stick to the thick cover of the donga (a donga is a shallow gulch that consists of thick brush and high grass).

Is it dead yet?
Celebrating the killed lion
As the safari came to a close, George Eastman celebrated with a dinner that consisted of hors-d'oeuvres, stuffed eggs, fruit cocktails, cream of tomato soup, gazelle chops (breaded and garnished with fresh vegetables), sweet potatoes, corn and cold beets, individual mince pies, pecans, almonds, ripe olives and coffee.

Osa and Martin Johnson stayed in Africa after George Eastman went home, and they made many more visits to Africa, shooting documentaries. They both learned to fly, and one of their documentaries became the first in-flight movie. Osa wrote I Married Adventure, which was the biggest selling non-fiction book of 1940. Today you can visit the Martin and Osa Safari Museum in Chanute, Kansas, Osa's hometown.

Carl Akeley, the famous sculptor and taxidermist, was in an accident during the safari that ripped his chest muscles. He died later the same year in the Congo, from a fever.

Daniel E. Pomeroy donated his trophies to the American Museum of Natural History, of which he was a big supporter.

On March 14, 1932,  Dr. Audley D. Stewart made the announcement that George Eastman had committed suicide. In the six years after the safari, Eastman's health had declined radically.


Saturday, March 2, 2013

On Safari With George Eastman: Part 3

In my last posting, George Eastman and his friends Audley Stewart and Daniel Pomeroy had arrived by their private train in Nairobi.

En route to Limuru: the Johnsons, George Eastman, Daniel Pomeroy and Audley Stewart

There they joined a party of more professional explorers for a safari that would last eight months ...

Mark D. Ruffner
... meandering through Kenya and Tanganyika. They had arrived during a prolonged rainy season, so the area around Nairobi was very muddy. While Pomeroy went with Carl Akeley to the artists' camp, George Eastman, Audley Stewart and the Johnsons went in the direction of Limuru, on sort of a trial run before they headed north to Lake Paradise. They were happy to get 20 miles by car.

Detraining cars at Limuru
This initial outing was to a camp where the Baileys (of another safari) had been about a week before. Mrs. Bailey had gone hunting without her husband (who had gone off in another direction), and she came upon two resting rhinos. When she shot at them, the rhinos charged — side by side — and one gored and partially scalped her. The attack had caused Mrs. Bailey to be tossed through the air, and then she was trampled. She was rushed to a hospital, where she recovered, and later resumed her safari! The Eastman Party came along after all the excitement, and camped in the very same spot. George Eastman later published the entire Nairobi newspaper account of Mrs. Bailey in his book.

Dr. Audley Stewart writing in his diary, at the Bailey Camp
George Eastman (right) with his guide, Phil Percival, at the Bailey Camp
Mr. Eastman had much in the way of supplies, but he noted that for this short expedition he brought along only two saddles, two camp tables, six chairs, hot water plates, cups with rubber separating rings, two candle lanterns, pneumatic beds, cots and bedding, a No. 12 kitchen table, an egg box and two pairs of food boxes.

It was while at the Bailey Camp that George Eastman shot his first lion. It had been with a lioness and two cubs, and as the others ran off, the lion had stood his ground. After that kill, Eastman went after the lioness, who eluded him (apparently, orphaning cubs was not a problem for Eastman).

"Country where I got my first lion"
To be continued . . .