Please Don't Squish the Squirrel
Please Spare a Fish for the Swan

Squirrel stool - bowes museum

Time once again for the fool in the forest Easter Squirrel, the sixth in our recurring series.  This year, we turn from purely pleasurable paintings of squirrels to the more practical, and pianistic, purposes to which our perky pals can be put.

As decoration for an early Victorian piano stool, par example.  This squirrel-emblazoned stool, of English manufacture circa 1850, is in the collection of the Bowes Museum, located in the market town of Barnard Castle, County Durham, in the northeast of England.  

While the beadwork nut gatherer on the seat is clearly a proper English red squirrel, the institution in which this squirrel is housed has a suspicious Francophile quality to it.  The Museum was founded and built by a successful English businessman, John Bowes, with his wife Joséphine.  Mr. Bowes met the future Mrs. Bowes in Paris in 1847, where the lady was an actress, Joséphine Coffin-Chevallier.  They were wed in 1852.  Mrs. Bowes was an amateur painter and lover of the arts, and she persuaded her spouse to embark on a project to bring the benefits of the arts to the presumptively unenlightened folk of County Durham.  To that end, the two traveled and collected widely, and oversaw the design and construction of the Museum building, modeled on the style of a French chateau and claimed to be the first major British building constructed using metric rather than imperial measures.  Sinister, indeed.

The prize of the Bowes collection is a wondrous 18th century automaton, The Silver Swan.  Mark Twain mentions having seen it, at the 1867 International Exposition in Paris, in Chapter XIII of The Innocents Abroad:

I watched a silver swan, which had a living grace about his movements and a living intelligence in his eyes -- watched him swimming about as comfortably and as unconcernedly as if he had been born in a morass instead of a jeweler's shop -- watched him seize a silver fish from under the water and hold up his head and go through all the customary and elaborate motions of swallowing it -- but the moment it disappeared down his throat some tattooed South Sea Islanders approached and I yielded to their attractions.

The Swan is currently undergoing extensive conservation, as well as being studied to better understand its workings and perhaps to figure out exactly who constructed it.  Some glimpses of the Swan in action can be seen in this informative video on the conservation project:

And here is one of the Swan's complete daily performances, shot by a visitor to the Museum over the heads of numerous other visitors to the Museum:

From a squirrel to a swan, and on, and so on: a happy Easter to you all.


For completists, here are links to prior years' Easter Squirrel posts:

  • 2008 [John Singleton Copley and Joseph Cornell]
  • 2007 [Hans Holbein the Younger]
  • 2006 [John Singleton Copley]
  • 2005 [Hans Hoffman]
  • 2004 [Albrecht Dürer]


Questions and Antlers, Election Day Edition

Pinup the vote

I have spent most of my adult life as a registered Republican, and I have learned that the central challenge posed by that status, cycle after cycle, is to find a Republican candidate to whom I am actually willing to give my vote.  Finding Democratic candidates to oppose has been easy; finding Republicans to support has been hard. 

I cast my ballot twice for George W. Bush, both times because the Democratic candidate drove me to it.  In 2004, John Kerry was simply awful as even many Democrats admit.  In 2000, I was fully prepared to vote for Al Gore, until he threw my vote away with his blood-and-thunder "people vs. the powerful" tirade at the Convention.

With fewer than 24 hours remaining, I have decided this year to give the Presidential slot a miss.  Because this is California, there has never been any doubt that the State's electoral votes would go to whoever was the nominee of the Democratic Party, short of Satan himself (and even he might stand a fighting chance).  Senator Obama does not need my help to collect those votes, and I could not swing them to Senator McCain if I tried.

It is odd that I would choose not to vote for President this year, because the major parties gave me exactly what I wanted: each candidate was my preferred choice to receive his respective party's nomination.  Neither, however, will have my vote. 

Senator Obama has been sufficiently forthright for me to know I cannot vote for him because I disagree strongly with many of his central policies, but I will shed no tears when he is elected, as seems inevitable.  I wish him well in office, and I feel more than a little sympathy for his supporters: anyone investing that much Hope is bound to be disappointed in a world that sadly, campaign rhetoric aside, does not in fact operate on wishes, good feeling and pixie dust.

I expected at this time to be preparing to cast a ballot for Senator McCain, but he managed to throw my vote away every bit as effectively as Al Gore once did.  The McCain campaign has been, to my surprise and sorrow, an horrific display of every trait that has caused me to despair for the party these past years: the snippiness, the nastiness, the fear-mongering, the embrace of sentimentality in place of thought, and so on.  Not at all what I expected from this Senator, and a depressing spectacle that cannot end soon enough.

And, of course, there is the final deal breaker: Governor Palin.  Readers of this weblog know that I am a firm fan and supporter of that mighty creature, the North American Moose.  I will endorse moose whenever possible.  The Governatrix of Alaska is well and proudly known for her hunting of moose, which puts a severe crimp on our relationship even before we begin to inquire into trivial matters such as knowing the first thing about the public policy issues of the day.

More electoral moosery:

  • The anonymous but all-seeing Editor of Blawg Review -- who encourages his stable of law bloggers even when, as in my case, their rate of posting has fallen to near invisibility -- knows of my moose-fancying tendencies and forwarded along this Language Log post: "Sarah Palin’s Favorite Meal."  It includes a detailed explanation of moose taxonomy, how to distinguish the moose from the elk, and other useful matters.  It also includes -- WARNING! -- a graphic photo essay on Governor Palin's particular skill: field dressing a moose.  Not for the faint of heart.
  • Back in September, when the dew was just beginning to fade from the Palin rose, author Paul Theroux took to the Sunday Los Angeles Times to cite the example of Henry David Thoreau, who in The Maine Woods appreciated and defended the moose -- and disdained those who enjoy carving moose in to bite size morsels

Through Thoreau, Theroux threw a thorough thrashing at the McCain-Palin ticket.  (Say it three times fast, I dare ya.)

So, while I believe that we should all emulate this fine, free, franchise-exercisin' creature --


-- I will be leaving my Presidential ballot blank tomorrow.

I will be voting on an array of other races and issues on the ballot.  In particular, I will be voting "No" on Proposition 8, so as to ratify the California Supreme Court's decision recognizing same-sex marriage.  I mention this mainly so as to have an excuse to link one more time to my versified thoughts on the subject.

Now, go out there and vote your conscience, why don'cha? 

To send you on your way, return with us now to Those Fabulous '80s -- and look ahead to January's Inaugural Ball season -- with the decadent Cocteauviana of "Election Day" from the Duran Duran spinoff known as Arcadia:

[Politically active Moose illustration via Wonkette.]

Mooseburger on the Hoof, with a Shake
(and a Shimmy)

Since her introduction as the prospective Republican candidate for Vice President, we have been told that Alaska Governor Sarah Palin is a woman who enjoys a good mooseburger.  This fool's fondness for all things mooseful is well known.  I have an entire category devoted to those noble if befuddled creatures.  The prospect of hunting and eating them is less appealing than the splendid idea of mooseness.  Mooseburgers do sound more tempting, however, than Jellied Moose Nose, a recipe for which (perhaps even the very recipe to be found at that link) I encountered several long decades ago in a Canadian Government bookstore in Ottawa.

I do not know if Gov. Palin's speech to the Convention this evening will include any reference to the Majestic Moose, but those who are craving amoosement tonight need look no further than the season premiere of America's Next Top Model, which features host/judge Tyra Banks' jazz-handed impression of a rampaging Alaskan moose:

[Moose modeling link via reality blurred.]

Someday I'll Find You,
Moose Light Behind You


Behold "Moo," the illuminated moose head.  His glowing physiognomy a majestic addition to any room, Moo was designed by Trond Svengård and Ove Rogne for Oslo's Northern Lighting:

The inspiration behind the Moo lamp was found in northern Norway -- in the breathtaking scenery of Hamarey, where both of the designers have summer houses.  Here the moose is frequently seen passing close to the houses and even over the lawns.  The designers hope Moo will stand out as a post-modern kitsch trophy, making the viewer smile happily as they recognize this 'king of the Norwegian forest.'

Yes, he's the King of the Norwegian wood.  Isn't it good?  Of course, you don't actually need him in order to light your summer house in northern Norway, since the sun hardly ever goes down there in summer.  But if you found yourself in your northern Norwegian summer house in the winter, Moo would be comforting, if spectral, companion.

(Via Dezeen, where the commenters are a tough crowd, not easily impressed.  Photo by Northern Lighting.)

Orignal Intent

It is not to be gainsaid that all is well when, on a holiday weekend Sunday, one's RSS feed is amply supplied with moose.  To wit:

Via 3quarksdaily comes a fine article by Prof. Keith Stewart Thomson in the American Scientist, entitled Jefferson, Buffon and the Moose, detailing the efforts of Thomas Jefferson, in his 1781 Notes on the State of Virginia, to debunk the notion widely circulated by the great French naturalist the Count de Buffon that the indigenous creatures (and native peoples) of the Americas were in all cases smaller, weaker, pale shadows of their counterparts on the eastern side of the Atlantic.  The majestic Moose was given pride of place among Jefferson's proofs that America was a land well supplied with beasts surpassing those of Old Europe. 

Prof. Thomson writes near the end of his article:

Stubbs_moose_sketch_1773 Around the time Notes was published, Jefferson was living in Paris as the new nation's ambassador to France.  When he arrived, Jefferson sent Buffon a copy of Notes and the skin of a large panther, and was subsequently invited to dine with Buffon at the Jardin du Roi, Paris's magnificent botanical garden.  Of that meeting Jefferson later wrote, 'in my conversations with the Count de Buffon . . . I find him absolutely unacquainted with our Elk and our deer.  He has hitherto believed that our deer never had horns more than a foot long.'  So Jefferson decided to show him a full-grown American moose.  He wrote to General John Sullivan, president (governor) of New Hampshire, for help in getting a large specimen, instructing him that the bones of the head and legs should be left in the skin so that it could be mounted in a life-like manner.  Eventually a 'seven-foot tall' moose was collected in Vermont and shipped to Paris.

Many years later, Daniel Webster told the story that Jefferson had had the moose set up in the hall of his apartment and invited Buffon to see it.  Confronted with that stark refutation of his earlier thesis, Buffon was said to have exclaimed, 'I should have consulted you, Monsieur, before I published my book on natural history, and then I should have been sure of my facts.'  It would be nice if this story were true.  In fact, Buffon, by this time old and sick, was away from Paris when the moose arrived in October 1787.  Jefferson sent it to Buffon's long time associate, zoologist Louis-Jean-Marie D'Aubenton, for the great man to see when he returned.  Although most of the hair had fallen off the hide, the antlers sent by Sullivan were from a smaller animal and the whole carcass was probably rancid, Jefferson was 'in hopes that Monsieur de Buffon will be able to have it stuffed, and placed on his legs in the King's Cabinet.'

The sketch accompanying the article is by George Stubbs, the master painter of 18th Century British race horses and of other, wilder animals.  The sketch depicts a bull moose calf owned by the Duke of Richmond.  It appears from the available scholarship that this sketch represents the third moose acquired by the Duke.  Three years earlier, Stubbs produced this painting of The Duke of Richmond's First Moose (1770):


This fine figure of a Moose was in New York this time last year as part of a large Stubbs retrospective at The Frick Collection, whose curators' notes show that British nobility was more in tune with mooseness than its French counterparts:

Eighteenth-century English noblemen imported North American moose to their estates for domestication and breeding. Their experiments failed, but these primitive-looking creatures remained of interest to natural scientists like William Hunter. Hunter studied Richmond’s yearling moose, and having stated, 'Good paintings of animals give much clearer ideas than descriptions,' he commissioned Stubbs to paint an 'exact resemblance' that included a pair of mature antlers.

Hunter intended to lecture at the Royal Society on his radical theory of natural extinction while displaying this work. Stubbs painted from direct observation, successfully completing his task with a scientist’s detached accuracy. Because the native habitat was unknown to him, Stubbs improbably depicted the moose commanding a mountain landscape. However, he did include a pond, as Hunter had recorded that moose ate 'the rank herbage of marshy grounds.'

Elsewhere today, the visual wine reviewers at Chateau Petrogasm offer this as their descriptor for the 2004 Chateau de Beaucastel, Chateauneuf du Pape:


To paraphrase a weary old groaner of a punchline, the lesson here is:

"A stolen Rhone gathers no moose."


Translator's Note: The post title is not a typo.  "Orignal" is French for "Moose."


: More Moose!  To honor the passing of "[o]ne of the great hobos, labor organizers, union men and singer/writer/mentors," Utah Phillips, songs:illinois offers a selection of his work, including a so unsavory it's savory tale of what one can cook up with a pastry shell and some moose, er, leavings: "Moose Turd Pie."  As a bonus, quite a dreadful pun involving rural electrification is included at the outset of that piece.  Recommended for all them's as is not easily offenced.

Squirrels Without End, Amen

This Fool now continues his policy of countering Rabbitist Hegemony by the annual posting of an Easter Squirrel.

Although they have fallen far out of fashion, domesticated squirrels seem to have been common household companions of young men growing up in the years before the American Revolution.  Two years ago, I posted John Singleton Copley's 1765 portrait of his young stepbrother in the company of a chained and rather put-upon looking little squirrel.  Copley was entrenched as a Bostonian before he emigrated to pursue a thriving career as a portraitist in London, but in 1771 he made a professional jaunt to New York.  Among the commissions he received on that trip were a trio of paintings of members of the Verplanck family, one of which provided Copley the opportunity to revisit his squirrel theme:

John Singleton Copley, Daniel Crommelin Verplanck (1771), from the collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

My first thought on seeing this picture was that young Daniel Verplanck was rather a small boy, or else he kept company with rather a large squirrel.  The Met's curators are suitably impressed by Daniel's fuzzy friend:

Daniel attended the city's best schools and his parents passed on to him their taste for the finest of everything; his portrait exceeds theirs in grandeur, in keeping with their high expectations for him.  He wears a stylish suit with a brocaded vest and sits on a porch amid imposing classical columns.  His remarkable pet squirrel, which Daniel has apparently civilized through careful training, holds onto his leg without inflicting pain.

As indicated by the fact that they were commissioning Copley portraits, the Verplancks were well established by 1771.  They continued in prominence at least into the mid-20th Century when they did what prominent New Yorkers do: donated their portraits to the Metropolitan Museum.  Copley's portraits of Daniel's father, Samuel Verplanck, and of his uncle, Gulian Verplanck, share a wall in the museum in their very own period room.   (The room is closed to the public until later this year, but you can still take a Virtual Reality Tour.)  After the Revolution, Uncle Gulian was a Speaker of the New York State Assembly; Daniel himself grew up to serve in Congress.  Should you find yourself up the Hudson Valley near Fishkill, you can visit the Verplanck family estate, Mount Gulian.

It may surprise you to learn that the role of Daniel Verplanck and his Remarkable Squirrel in American art history does not end in 1771. Some 188 years later, Joseph Cornell rediscovered the plucky pair and promptly did with them as he did with so many other cultural referents.

He put them in a box:

Joseph Cornell, Americana: Natural Philosophy (What Makes the Weather?) (ca. 1959), from the collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

And a particularly attractive Cornell box it is; also very Easter-like, what with the dove and rainbow and such.  Happy Easter to all.


For completists, here are links to all of our prior years' Easter Squirrel posts:

  • 2007 [Hans Holbein the Younger]
  • 2006 [John Singleton Copley]
  • 2005 [Hans Hoffman]
  • 2004 [Albrecht Dürer]

"The Hora! The Hora!"

Hanukkah will begin at sunset today.  It is not my own holiday season, but it is a holiday season for many -- most, really -- of my longest lasting and most cherished friends.  So, for them in particular, let me offer this excerpt from a 1989 Chabad telethon broadcast, featuring the festive song stylings of Mr. P. Himmelman, Mr. H. D. Stanton, and, looking very relaxed on the mouth organ, Mr. B. Zimmerman-Dylan.  L'Chaim indeed:

Those same friends of mine will appreciate that I could not resist this when it turned up in a search for appropriate imagery.  I detect the influence of Marc Chagall in this fine Menorah of the North:




Chabad video via Some Velvet Blog.

Moose Menorah photo by Kathy Willens (AP) via Ventura County Star.  Simply have to have one?  Try New Orleans' Dashka Roth contemporary jewelry and judaica.

Stuff, Meet Nonsense

I have a backlog of miscellaneous items, many months in the making, saved away to be pointed to in an appropriate post.  Since many of those posts seem destined never to arrive, here is an attic-cleaning catch-all of items whose only common feature is that they caught this Fool's interest:

  • Søren Kierkegaard, Denmark's gift to philosophy and one of the best writers ever to apply himself to that trade, has been turning up with some frequency in my weblog reading.  Here, for instance is ArtsJournal music blogger Kyle Gann, en route to Copenhagen, thinking at length about SK's place in his personal canon:

Kierkegaard Of course, I was a musician too, and while the 'Or' of Either/Or held a certain academic interest, it was the 'Either' that I devoured with page-flipping relish.  Kierkegaard's pseudonymous division of his authorship into 'aesthetic' versus 'ethical' or religious personas may have been ironic in intent, with a finger on the religious side of the scale, but his detailed psychology of the total aesthete was, as he knew, the more seductive.  His argument about Don Giovanni - that since the seducer is the personality most trapped in time, and music is the art that deals with time, seduction is the perfect musical subject, therefore Don Giovanni is the most perfect possible piece of music - wasn't very convincing then or now, despite the persuasive fanaticism with which it is developed.  But he captured and conveyed, in startlingly vivid terms, the manic subjectivism of a mental life turned away from the quotidian world and devoted to the absolute in art.  To read that was a heady loss of innocence, a recognition that someone else had heard the same siren song I did - and followed it.

Via Sounds & Fury.  I have LA Opera's Don Giovanni to look forward to in a few weeks, which is as good an excuse as any to revisit the unconvincing but enjoyable musical portions of Either/Or.  [Kierkegaard fanciers may derive a small chuckle from the page reachable by that link, which straightfacedly lists "Victor Eremita," one of Kierkegaard's numerous pseudonyms, as "editor" of that Penguin edition.  Others will wonder what we are chuckling about.]

SK also turned up unexpectedly on Tom Wark's daily wine blog, Fermentation, in a post entitled "Kierkegaard & Self Medicating with Wine."  Tom's subject is the dangerous illusions that may lie concealed behind "appreciation" of the noble grape and its works:

Even more depressing than finding one's self embracing Kierkegaard's aesthetic life of jumping from transitory experience to transitory experience in an attempt to stave off a life of boredom, is the somewhat similar strategy of dealing with the boredom of life by pretending that self-medication with wine is actually the act of connoisseurship.

What does it mean?  I derive from it this Foolish aphorism:

Pastiche is a cracking form of flattery, and crackers are a flatter form of pastry! 

Tired of imitations?  For real Goreyana, repair to the Edward Gorey House in Yarmouthport, Massachusetts.

Substitute imagination for exhaustiveness, and inventiveness for research. As a reader I’m not interested in a 'fully worked out' world.  I’m not interested in 'self consistency'.  I don’t care what kind of underpants Iberian troops wore in 1812, or if I do I can find out about it for myself.  I don’t want the facts about the Silk Road or the collapse of the Greenland Colony, sugared up & presented in three-volumes as an imaginary world.  I don’t want to be talked through your enthusiasm for costume.  I don’t want be talked through anything.

I was describing to tomsdisch the things I'd been finding via Google in service of my new book (some described herein) -- things I didn't know could be known --  and he said 'ah yes, Google has put an end to the art of wondering.'

Which to me attains very nearly to the status of an immortal apercu.

To which category might also be added Disch's recent two-line poem, "Correction."


'Unless something radical and imaginative is done . . . Squirrel Nutkin and his friends and relations are going to be toast.'

The fox and badger lobbies are also heard from. 

Via 3quarksdaily

[Nutkin buttons photo (click to enlarge) by jasmined via Flickr, under Creative Commons license.]

  • Lives of the Connoisseurs: TIME Magazine' Richard Lacayo on Peggy Guggenheim, reminding us that the early 20th Century was a pretty good time to be well-off and blessed with discerning taste:

She found a house with the largest private garden in Venice and had the last private gondola in the city for her daily long rides.  She entertained frequently, though not lavishly.  She was notorious for her scanty food and cheap wine.  From her biographers you get the sense of a full life — the guest book carried names like Giacometti, Paul Bowles, Cocteau, Chagall, Saul Steinberg, Cecil Beaton, Stravinsky, Tennessee Wiliams, Paul Newman and Truman Capote — but not always a happy one. She lavished fast cars on one of her younger lovers.  He died in one.

Whole Foods has opened a new 2-story greengrocer's establishment here in Pasadena, its largest store west of the Rockies.  Callie Miller of LAist dotes, posts many photos and declares that it "seem[s]...excessive, in the most eco-friendly way possible."

Unfortunately not shown in those photos: the site was formerly occupied by auto repair facilities and a tire store, all in a brick garage building that I would guess dated back to the mid 1920's.  In a nice bit of adaptive reuse, Whole Foods left two of the brick walls standing and incorporated them into the ground floor of the new store.  For a city sitting slambang in the thick of earthquake country, old Pasadena has a remarkable quantity of brick construction.

[escapegrace pointed the way.]

Subterranean Stockholmsich Moose


Long ago, what we now term "public art" -- art commissioned by the local temporal authority as an adjunct to large construction projects -- produced masterworks: Bernini's Roman fountains, for example.  Today, when public works projects ostentatiously devote some minim of their budget to art, the results are generally bleak: works that "pay tribute to" or "acknowledge" something or other that We Surely All Agree is Good, works that strive not to offend anyone with a pulse, works that aim for the cute, the kitschy or the clever-clever.  Most of the art incorporated as part of the Los Angeles Metro Rail subway system is no exception.

In contrast: 


No, it's not Bernini, it's not even Great Art, but it shows vastly more personality, imagination and oomph than American transit bureaucrats could ever compass.  This fern-filled grotto, and the cave-dwelling moose up above, both come from an extensive series of photos of stations in the Stockholm subway system -- the Tunnelbana -- posted at   Click through and enjoy: it gets more eccentric from here. 

I suspect Alice's white rabbit was on the design committee: he knew a bit about decorating burrows.

[Stockholm subway links via Wired and Andrew Sullivan.]

This Year's Squirrel
(and a Tudor-Era Woman of Mystery)


Our now-traditional Easter Squirrel for 2007 is Han Holbein the Younger's portrait, ca. 1527, of A Squirrel with a Starling and Lady A Lady with a Squirrel and Starling.  As in 2006, the featured work depicts a Squirrel Enchained, although this one seems a bit more contented with his lot than last year's sad wee beastie.

This painting usually hangs in London's National Gallery, but I first stumbled upon it online earlier this year when it was on loan for the big Holbein show at Tate Britain.  (The Tate has been dropping its "H"es lately, having moved straight on from Holbein to Hogarth, with Hockney forthcoming.)

Unlike most Holbein portraits, the human subject of this one is not named, and there has been a good deal of perplexity over the years as to who this squirrelophilic woman might be.   A plausible theory was finally offered in 2004, when

a research associate at the University of East Anglia - David J. King - saw a photograph of the portrait in a catalogue to which he was contributing. 

He recognised the squirrel as the emblem of the Lovell family who lived in East Harling in Norfolk and was able to refer back to other uses of squirrels in the stained glass windows and the tombs in their parish church of St Peter and St Paul.  From there, a likely connection was suggested to Anne Lovell, the wife of the owner of the nearby Lovell estates.  At the time, the name of the bird and the town of East Harling had a similar pronunciation further implying that the starling was a clever visual pun.

The National Gallery assumes that Mrs. Lovell, if that is who she is, did not sit for her portrait with either the squirrel or the starling present.  Following the established artistic practice of his day, Holbein painted the two animals separately before Photoshopping them in to the final composition.

Happy Easter!


  • Researcher David King's own account of his curatorial sleuthing leading to the identity of the sitter is available here.
  • The Squirrel portrait first came to the National Gallery in 1992, and turns out to have been purchased in part with funds donated by J. Paul Getty.  As I discovered during last Sunday's visit, Mr. Getty's own establishment is currently playing host to another fine Holbein, the 1543 Portrait of Robert Cheseman and his falcon.  That portrait usually hangs in the MauritsHuis in The Hague, where it keeps very impressive company -- Girl with a Pearl Earring, anyone? -- among the top 10 works in the collection.  It comes to the Getty direct from its own prior loan to the Tate exhibition. 

The portrait of Mr. Cheseman contains no squirrels.  It is to be hoped that his falcon didn't, either.