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Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Little Girl Giant

"The little giant girl
woke up one morning
got a shower from
the Sultan's Elephant,
and wandered off
to play in the park..."


Somewhere between the quiet mists of fantasy and the pages of a childhood story book emerges the "little giant girl".  She is 30 feet tall and weighs 1764 pounds, and yet, the enchantment of this giant marionette - even whilst cables are being commandeered by human beings to control her movements - has stirred my imagination, as well as my heart, for about a decade. 

In this brief 5 minute video, you can see her come to life while the music entitled, " 'Decollage", by Les Balayeurs du Désert plays.   Suggested: To view this 5 minute video without the background music playing, use CTL+END to take you to the bottom of this page.  Turn off the youtube video that is playing, and return to the top of the page by using CTL+HOME and click the arrow in the middle of the video, to view. 

"I've learned to clip my wings
And soften my ways
I've learned
These are ordinary things
like you'd estimate, just average
But evidently she does not agree
like you'd estimate, just average
But I've learned to clip my wings
And soften my ways"

I first watched this video, when a friend posted it on my 'wall' on myspace, just about 10 years ago.  It was magical, and it still is.

Typically, when one thinks of a marionette, we envision a puppet master either standing or hiding behind a mini-stage to control the strings of the figures.  A marionette is a puppet controlled by a person, from above, using wires or strings depending on regional variations.  In French, marionette means "little Mary", and was derived from one of the first figures that was made into a marionette - the Virgin Mary.

google images
On a much grander scale, the Royal De Luxe company began in 1979 as an acting trio which was led by Jean-Luc Courcoult, who attracted audiences by their outdoor performances on the street and in public parks, in Aix-en-Provence.  

The company traveled the world, and as the stage was set for each show, the next would become more magnificent then the last, until they received a call from the Mayor of Nantes in France, (1989) who ultimately offered them the money and a warehouse as a home-base from which to work and prepare their shows.  The genius and imposing creations began to evolve into a series of unforgettable parades that began in the early 1990's.  
"This is a company of inventors, stuntmen, poets and scrap-dealers all at once, led by Jean-Luc Courcoult. Royal de Luxe are currently considered to be an iconic, almost mythical, street theater company - equal to the Theatre du Soleil for conventional indoor theatre."  Source:  royal-de-luxe.com/en/company

The little girl giant was part of one of the troupe's early shows entitled "The Sultan's Elephant", that took four years to produce. Each show has a theme, and this event was commissioned to commemorate the centenary of Jules Verne's death, and it was first performed in Nantes and Amiens, the author’s places of birth and death, respectively. It was then presented at several locations around the world between 2005 and 2006.

The giants are generally made from poplar wood, and are controlled by a system of hydraulic pulleys, motors and levers, which are operated by 20 to 40 members of the Royal de Luxe troupe.  The people who control the giants are called Lilliputians. 

As I mentioned each show commemorates special events in history, and many other "giants" have emerged for these incredible productions.  Another spectacular instance was one born of the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic to pay tribute to the victims of that disaster. It was entitled "The Titanic Sea Odyssey":

 dailymail.co.uk explained the back-story: 
PUBLISHED: 13:03 EST, 20 April 2012  "Over the course of three days, the supersized puppet show tells the story of an 11-year-old girl named May McMurray, who wrote to her father when he was aboard the RMS Titanic - three days before the liner hit an iceberg and sank.

dailymail.uk.co/©getty images
But the tragic tale will come to what organizers say is a 'heartwarming finale' on Sunday, when the grieving Little Girl Giant character is reunited with her 'uncle' at the end of a 23-mile route.

French creators Royal De Luxe took inspiration from the real-life letter May sent to her father, which is on display in the Merseyside Maritime Museum.

Artistic director Jean Luc Courcoult has adapted *the story to focus on the relationship between the girl and a fictional uncle who has been searching the sea bed for 100 years to lay his brother to rest.

During the search he discovers the letter written by the Little Giant Girl, vowing to return it to the author and tell her what happened to her father.

He began his journey from Albert Dock on the city's waterfront at 2 p.m. this afternoon and will make his way towards his giant 'niece'." -dailymail.uk.co

*Here is the wonderful story, "L'INCROYABLE ET PHÉNOMÉNAL VOYAGE DES GÉANTS DANS LES RUES DE PERTH", written by Jean Luc Courcoult.  (click on the picture of the little giant girl).

Official website of Royale de Luxe - you can view many more fabulous creations by this company... you won't be disappointed!

More great photos.... here.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

"The Fixer"

As the eighth of 13 children, Louis Herbert Belonger, was born in Swanton, Vermont on May 13, 1849.  His father was Simon Peter Belonger, who at the time of Lou's birth worked locally as a stonemason, and was of French Canadian descent.  His mother, Judith Kennedy was from Nenagh, Ireland and had been originally raised in an orphanage in that country.  When Lou was around 5 years old, the family made their way to Shullsburg, Wisconsin in search of wealth in lead mining. His mother died when Lou was just 10 years old.   Like many immigrants, their last name was changed and shortened from Belonger to Blonger, and this is the name the family carried, hereafter.

Lou, with his brothers Mike and Joe, mustered into the Union Army in 1864, just a few days before his fifteenth birthday, serving with Company B of the 142nd Regiment of Illinois.  Due to his tender age, he was assigned to play the fife, which helped keep the time of marching soldiers. 

 Lou had a knee injury and later in life, endured problems with varicose veins and leg ulcers.  He was hospitalized at White Station, Tennessee and spent the remaining 100 days of his enlistment, at the Marine Hospital in Chicago.   

When the Civil War ended, Lou had taken residence in Mount Carroll, Illinois, with a friend named William Livingston.  His brother Sam, who was ten years older, joined him.  (Sam had avoided the war and spent that time prospecting, or driving freight through Nevada and California).  When Sam came to Illinois, he fell in love with Livingston's sister, Ella, and they were eventually married.  During the courtship, Sam sent Lou to High school, and later sent him to Chicago to study business.

The later made their way west, with visions of striking it rich, they moved from one mining camp to another.  Lou was known for his silver tongue, and began to perfect his con games by working in saloons, gambling and prospecting.  They stayed in Deadwood, Silver City and San Francisco.  As they made their way around the West, Lou began to run a number of rackets.

Image source: pinterest
My research indicates that they may have met up with some of the most famous Westerners like the Earp Brothers, Bat Masterson and Doc Holliday.  I am not sure of the validity, but I read that they may have "provided protection" for the famous Earp Vendetta Ride.

Image: filforn.com
In the 1880's the Blonger Brothers had settled in Denver, Colorado. They became quite wealthy through investments in mining.  Here, they purchased two Saloons on Larimer and Stout Streets and promoted gambling, prostitution and a variety of con games - preying on hopeful miners.  They competed against a notorious group called the "Soapy Smith Gang", whose proprietor was another con-artist and crime boss of the Old West.  Eventually a decade passed and the Soapy Smith Gang was driven out, leaving the Blonger Brothers as the new king pins.  

Image source: pinterest
They established betting houses (one known as "the big store" where most likely the money was central) for horse racing bets and also installed machines that spat out ticker tape that looked like a legitimate stock exchange system. By using a variety of cons, they convinced unwary customers (usually visitors to the city or tourists) to lay their money down and in return they would be guaranteed winnings on horse races or stock profits.  They hired men to run gambling tables, scam people of money with shell tricks, to sell opium and he also hired professional pick pockets to prey on visitors.  Everyone who operated in the city, were "encouraged" to share their profits.

Image source: blongerbros.com
As their power grew, they influenced politics and elections were staged so that their racket was protected and gang members would not be arrested or prosecuted.  By 1920, Lou even had installed a private telephone line that was connected directly to the Chief of Police, and had "an in" with the Mayor.   His operation was to be called the "Million Dollar Bunco Ring".  Lou became known as "The Fixer". 

Around 1904, Lou had hired Adolph W. "Kid" Duff as his right hand man, and manager, who basically oversaw his operations.     

Image source: blongerbros.com
Lou's power continued until 1922 when District Attorney Philip S. Van Cise usurped the corrupt politicians and developed a "secret force” of local citizens.  His effort was funded by private donations, and Van Cise and authorized men finally arrested 33 Lou Blonger and "Kid” Duff.

Image(s) source: blongerbros.com
What followed was a highly publicized trial.  Lou and most of his gang members were convicted and sentenced to prison at Cañon City, Colorado.  Lou Blonger and "Kid” Duff received sentences for 7 to 10 years. Five months after going to prison, Blonger died on April 20, 1924 - he was 74 years old. Duff, got out on bond and committed suicide.
Image source: blongerbros.com

Monday, January 18, 2016

America's Grandma

At the age of 76, her hands were crippling with arthritis, she could no longer hold a sewing needle to stitch embroidery. 

Anna Mary Robertson Moses
(September 7, 1860 – December 13, 1961)
Undaunted, as she could not be idle, she discovered that could hold a paintbrush and "Grandma Moses" was born.

Source: wikipedia
Anna Mary Robertson was born in Greenwich, New York, on September 7, 1860.  She was the third child born to Russell King Robertson and Margaret Shannahan, who had seven more children following Anna.  Before her death, at age 101 in 1961, Anna was interviewed many times and stated that her childhood was very happy though hard work was necessary growing up on a farm.  Her father ran the farm, as well as a flax mill in Greenwich, which is located slightly less than 20 miles east of Saratoga Springs.  

Anna Mary worked on her father's farm until she was 12 years old, at which time she took employment on a nearby neighbor's farm to help support the large family.  She has been referred to as a "hired girl" during that time in her life.  She recounted that the work was beneficial as she received an alternative education, "in cooking, house keeping, in moralizing and mingling with the outside world…”

School attendance was sparse, as her family could not afford warm clothes required for travel during cold months, so she could only attend school for three months of the year, during warmer weather.  The school that she attended is now the site of the Bennington Museum, which houses the largest collection in the world, of Grandma Moses work.

In her own words, recalling her childhood, Anna Mary wrote, 

“…I Anna Mary Robertson was born back in the green meadow and wild woods, on a Farm in Washington, Co., in the year of 1860, Sept 7, of Scotch Irish Paternal ancestry.   Here I spent my life with mother Father and Sisters and Brothers, those were my Happy days, free from care or worry, helping mother, rocking Sisters cradle taking sewing lessons from mother, sporting with my Brothers, making rafts to float over the mill-pond, Roam the wild woods gathering Flowers, and building air castles…”

Her father, a Methodist, but did not attend church most likely due to his farm duties, so he opted to walk with his children in the woods.  I think it would be safe to assume that this is from where Grandma Moses drew the nostalgic images in her mind that landed on the many canvases she painted.   As a child, she and her 5 brothers and 4 sisters all loved to draw, and her father would bring home large pieces of paper on which they colored scenes of their rural life. 

As a child she used natural mediums to create her art, using lemon and grape juice to create colors for her scenes, which as a child, called "lamb-scapes".

"The Olden Oaken Bucket"
Working the neighbors farm also brought love.  When Anna Mary was 17 years old, she married a hired farm hand by the name of Thomas Salmon Moses in 1887, in Hoosick, New York.  Anna Mary was the housekeeper. 

Thomas Salmon Moses - wedding picture
Anna Mary Moses - wedding picture
The couple honeymooned in North Carolina, and as they made their way back to New York, they were presented with the prospect of purchasing a farm in Virginia.  They paid $600 for it, and remained for the next 20 years.  On this farm they had ten children, and due to poverty, lack of adequate medical care and simply the statistical rate of death during that era, only five of those children survived.  To supplement their income, Anna Mary made butter and home-made potato chips that she sold locally.  

With two of her children
In 1918, she painted over a large fire-board in the parlor, because she had ran out of wallpaper while decorating.  She wanted to finish the room so she put white paper on the wall and commenced to creating a mural of sorts.  This piece survives and is known as the "Fireboard".  Today, it is displayed at the Bennington Museum in Bennington, Vermont. 

After these two decades passed, the couple returned to New York, and again, took up farming at Eagle Bridge.  Ten years later, Thomas died of a heart attack in 1927. 

In 1932, Anna Mary traveled to Bennington, Vermont to care for her daughter, with the same name (Anna), who was ill with tuberculosis.   It is here, that her daughter suggests that Anna Mary take up embroidery to pass time.  Her embroidery is referred to as "worsted" sewing, as her stitches were embroidered onto wool.   Her daughter passed away, and Anna Mary stayed for an additional three years to care for her grandchildren.

In 1935, she returned to Eagle Bridge, in New York, where her son, Hugh and his wife, Dorothy and their children, operated the family farm.  It is said that at the age of 78, she began to create her "old timey" paintings, "in earnest".  She was also fond of making berry preserves and other baked goods, which she brought to county fairs and local events to sell.  Her jam won a blue ribbon, however, no one looked twice at her art work.  

Her work is described as primitive, and at that time, her work was created on old sturdy piece of cardboard.  Today, in some art circles she is noted for being the original folk artist.   She continued to paint in her own style, with her own rules and her work is displayed in the window of Thomas' Drugstore in Hoosick Falls, New York.  

In 1938, Louis Caldor, an amatuer collector of art and an engineer, discovered her work telling Anna Mary that he would make her famous.  He mailed her the first canvases and professional paints that she ever used.

A year later, Caldor took three of Anna Mary's paintings to an art show, with little results, as it was not a public event.  Also, those viewing the paintings were not likely to commit time or money to an almost 80 years old woman.  

Another year passed, as Anna Mary continued to create her paintings, and Caldor still saw the value in her work.  He brought them to a gallery owner in New York City by the name of Otto Kallir, who shared his interest and saw the artist's potential. 

He opened a show in Anna Mary's honor entitled, "What a farm wife painted" during the month of October.   In November, Gimbel's Department Store featured her work in an event called "A Thanksgiving Festival" and it was there, the public was introduced to Anna Mary.  Grandma Moses' wit, old fashioned charisma and charm captured the hearts of the public and press, alike.  She was an instant hit and she became an American icon.  As we say, she was an overnight sensation.  

Her art was mostly created from both her memories and what she lived, through her own experiences.  She never really used an easel, preferring to use her lap or a table top, instead. 

Her country style of art depicts scenes of people doing farm chores, and every day rural events.  She also painted historic events.  Her work has been shown around the United States and Europe, and now the Bennington Museum in Vermont houses the largest collection of Grandma Moses work in the world. 


Anna Mary Moses died in 1961, at the age of 101.  It is said that she created over 1,000 paintings.  Her work is found printed on fabrics and used as post and greeting cards. 

 She is honored on a U.S. postage stamp.  Her face was on the cover of LIFE and TIME magazines.   Her life's story and art appears in several published books and found on educational material in video.

All I can say is.... I wish I could have met this high spirited woman, and looked into her sparkling grey eyes, just once.