Santa Barbara

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We were spending our weekend in Morro Bay but on the way there from Northridge we stopped off in Santa Barbara. I’d not made it this far south during my 4th Grade California Mission trip (we only gone as far south as San Luis Obispo) so in addition to walking on the Pier we checked out the Mission.

We were both a little apprehensive since we remembered the ways that the (now-discontinued) Mission curriculum pretty much glossed over anything concerning the Indians. So we were pleasantly surprised at how much of the tour and museum focused on the Chumash who both built and lived in the Mission. It’s fantastic to see the artisans named and associated with the specific things they built in the Mission. And it’s important that the museum also points out when and how those items incorporate Chumash designs.

It’s also great to see descriptions of how materials and instructors came from Mexico as part of the Mission construction. It’s always important to be reminded about how global trade and craft has always been.

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Chain letter

A cautionary tale about what can happen if you start trading cards with unsavory characters you’ve met on the internet…

One week later…

Serves me right for making the suggestion. Although it is appropriate to send him to Princeton. I’ll have to find someone in Texas to mail this to next.

Oh, and Mark also sent me a bunch of 1979 Topps Giants cards. I didn’t photograph those since I suspect they were mainly an excuse to send me this ghastly piece of cardboard. But old Giants cards are always welcome!

Princeton Roundup

A couple of weeks ago I took a quick walk through the Princeton Art Museum. Not enough to do a proper writeup of either of the shows I saw but I can’t let them just go uncommented on either.

Making History Visible

Titus Kapha. Billy Lee: Portrait in Tar, 2016

Titus Kaphar. Billy Lee: Portrait in Tar, 2016.

Making History Visible is a show about American myths and heroes and what’s left out of the standard representations of our history. It’s a small but very good mix of 19-century works with modern interpretations that remix and reframe our understandings of those works.

Titus Kaphar’s work is the clear focal point of the exhibition as his tarred portraits demonstrate how comfortable—especially from a white comfort point of view—the 19th-century works are. The recognizable form serves as shorthand for the setting but the black tar which obscures the portrait facial features is unsettling.

The tar works on so many levels. Aside from the literal implications of tar and blackness it confirms how we never see non-white faces in these kinds of paintings. Even if they’re there we’ve been trained not to notice them. They get cropped out of reproductions or obscured in shadows due to poor lighting. Making us look and notice, even if we can’t see a face is an important-enough intervention. The way that the tar works as hair texture in an Ellen Gallagher kind of way is almost a bonus.

Faith Ringgold’s Declaration of Freedom and Independence is very similar in how it takes a text and form which we’re used to seeing as “americana” and tweaks it so it’s uncomfortably obvious how the comfortable representation is really white america. There are also Glenn Ligon and Kara Walker pieces which do similar things where we’re asked to loo closer and recognize how the artists are subverting the form.

All in all it’s a smart little exhibition which manages to make the white comfort nature of the art museum into a feature and is definitely the kind of subversion that I’d like to see more of in Princeton.

 

Transient Effects

Howard Russell Butler. Solar Eclipse, 1932, 1932.

Howard Russell Butler.
Solar Eclipse, 1932, 1932.

Transient Effects is a selection of Howard Russell Butler’s eclipse paintings and represents an exhibition which recognizes the artistic merit of science and craft. Butler’s paintings were intended to be observations and records of the eclipses. Accuracy is of the highest importance and much of the exhibition discusses his notes and painting methods.

As a photographer it’s interesting for me to see painting described this way. Photography is so much about observation and seeing and gets criticized both when it’s too obsessed with accuracy and when it “lies.” So much of the endless digital versus film debates are about the process of taking time to “slow down and think” yet for some reason the idea that painting should be in the mix never enters that argument.

The idea of presenting all art as observation and process is fantastic. One of the reasons why I love it when science-related pieces make it into a museum is that issues of use and process are inherently brought with them and I’m reminded how much I miss that information in the rest of the museum. Also, as a design major I recognize that there’s a lot of art in science and engineering which never gets properly recognized unless it’s photographed or painted.

Also, as paintings themselves and having just seen the eclipse this summer, it was especially wonderful to see Butler’s paintings and be reminded all over again of the event. The paintings do capture details like the blackness of the disc and the deep blue of  the sky which I remember but haven’t seen in any photos. It’s also wonderful to see how different each eclipse is and be reminded again about how much I want to see another one.

Mailday from Night Owl

I kept pulling Corey Seager inserts out of Stadium Club. Since my interest in Stadium Club was the photography, I figured I should send the inserts off to someone who’d appreciate them. Greg at Night Owl Cards has one of the better baseball card blogs around (seriously, most of the time when I notice something neat he’s already blogged about it years ago) and he happens to be a Dodger fan. So I sent my Seager inserts off to him and he was more than happy to rid himself of Giants cards in return.

I’ll start with the handful of old/odd cards in the package. While I’m not explicitly looking for non-Topps Giants since the 1981–1994 Donruss/Fleer/Score/Upper Deck sets remind me so much of my youth, I’m not only always happy to receive them but I’ll probably end up trying to complete those team sets as well.

The 1992 Conlon card is a nice addition to the 1991 Conlon cards that I got from SABR as part of their Conlon Project. In addition to my contribution to that project I already know that I have other things to say about the Conlon cards.

The majority of the cards though are new ones including many from 2017. My kids will fight over the Topps Bunt. I’m not a huge fan of that set but at least it looks different from Flagship. Different design. Different photos. I’m glad I chose that instead of Opening Day as the set for my kids to play with. Because good lord, between Flagship, Opening Day, Chrome, and the team sets it looks like Topps has packaged the same design four different times and managed to convince people that it’s four different products to buy.

I’m relieved to have a couple samples of each of these (and my son has a team set) because there’s no way I’m buying packs from all these different sets. Four different sets plus all the different parallels for the same design and same photo? Hard pass.

All those all-look-same Topps Flagship family releases has me feeling somewhat more charitable toward all the faux-retro stuff. I can see the appeal even though Heritage and Archives are still weird in how they falls into an uncanny valley between homage and copy. But they are indeed a nice change of pace both photography-wise and design-wise.

I miss posed portraits on card fronts. And I miss the simple understated designs and typography. Now that Flagship has gone full-bleed it’s become infested with undisciplined TV-style digital graphics. Bunt’s simplicity is a breath of fresh air (shame about the photo processing) and Stadium Club’s design is all class all the way. Heritage meanwhile is a reminder of what worked in the past. I just wish Topps would try and learn from that instead of recycling it.

Also I wish Topps would typeset the 1960 design with fully-justified names like the 1960 design was meant to be typeset.

Allen & Ginter meanwhile is seriously growing on me. It’s still not a set I like but this year’s design in particular has a certain something to it. The photo treatment isn’t too over the top and the retro styling of the oval portrait works a lot better than their designs in previous years.

Speaking of previous years of Ginter, I also got a handful of minis. Mini format is indeed fun. Trying to look like tobacco cards is a mixed bag. A lot of the problem is that Topps’s approach to photo retouching approaches HDR contrast porn rather than the low-contrast non-process-ink tobacco look. That all of these show the shiny black synthetic spring training shirts doesn’t help the look at all. The best thing I can say about these is that each year Topps gets a little better at figuring out how to make these look good and it’s fun to see the progression.


And a few random Bowmans. I’m increasingly confused by what this set is and looking at checklists isn’t helping. This year so far it feels like Bowman is four distinct sets (Bowman, Bowman Prospects, Bowman Chrome Prospects, Bowman Chrome) being released in two different packages (Bowman and Bowman Chrome). I’m too confused to buy anything.

Also, multiple small sets of under 200 cards make me sad. Too small to feel like a set. Too large to feel like an oddball. Unless the product concept is super clear (*cough* 1987 Donruss OPening Day *cough*) it just feels like filler for chase cards and a checklist meant to satisfy some legal obligation as to what a set is. Anyway, since I’m not buying Bowman it’s nice to receive some copies for the binder.

Finally, Sportflics! Apparently I’m one of those weirdos who likes these. I thought they were great when I was little even though Beckett insisted otherwise.  My kids love them as well. Though that Estes card is one of the lamest Sportflics designs ever. Sportflics is at its best when the lenticular graphics depict action. All of these have only two frames so it’s a bit difficult but the Lance Johnson comes close. If it’s not going to depict action, providing multiple different card photos like in the Biggio card is acceptable. Having a static photo and swapping the background? That’s giving up on Sportflics’s core competency.

Thanks Greg! It’s good to know who to send my unwanted Dodgers cards to now.

Old Timers

While I was autograph hunting in Philadelphia, I was unaware of the Equitable Old Timers Game that weekend until I “missed” Hank Aaron while pursuing Kevin Mitchell. And if I missed Hank Aaron I had no chance of knowing who the other old timers were. Thankfully I think Hank Aaron was the only star there.

During the downtime while I was waiting in the lobby, this old guy just started talking to me and my mom (my mom was a saint for putting up with my autograph hunting). It turned out to be Bob Veale who, while enjoying his anonymity, also missed some of the attention. There was some good-natured ribbing about not knowing who any of those guys were but I think they recognized that most players end up being unrecognized after retirement. The names and faces fade but the game remains and they just liked seeing kids who were ardent enthusiastic fans.

As we were talking he introduced me to a bunch of other no-longer-famous old timers. I was wholly unprepared and didn’t even have index cards or anything.* So my mom grabbed some hotel stationery and that’s what I ended up getting all their autographs on.

*Autograph Card was a product that didn’t exist at all yet. I would have loved to have that available to me back then.

Which makes Bob Veale the single nicest player I met during all my autograph hunting years. And the autographed hotel stationery is now a memento which, while I treasure it, is now something I’m not fully sure what to do with. It definitely shows a lot of the signs of my past efforts to do something with it. When I was 11 I only had 8×10 sleeves so I hacked off two edges of the letterhead so it would fit. I also couldn’t read the signatures and had to repeatedly edit my transcriptions as I researched who these guys were and how to spell their names. But I have a decent plan now.

Since the Old Timers game was intended to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the 1964 Phillies team which choked the National League pennant away* I’ve decided that at the very least I should collect the 1964 Topps baseball cards for the players whose autographs I had.

*Yes this is possibly the most Phillies™ thing imaginable.

So far I’m doing pretty good. I only have three cards which I’m missing. And I’ve got a couple complications.

The first sheet is pretty straightforward. I’m missing Veale—a semi-star who despite being somewhat forgotten still commands card prices which, while not expensive, are higher than the standard common card price. Looking through his bio and the number of league leader cards he appeared on I’m a bit surprised that he faded away. But then the 1960s was indeed a pitcher’s decade.

And I’m missing Danny Cater who was a rookie in 1964 and whose 1964 Topps card carries the rookie card surcharge. I’ve got the other six players though.

Donn Clendenon 1964 Topps Bobby Shantz 1964 Topps

I actually had a Donn Clendenon card from 1966. I appreciate that he and Veale listed their teams on the paper. My mind’s eye has them hanging out together when Veale started talking to my mom and me and I see this extra information as them graciously giving me more information about themselves.

Where Veale and Clendenon were establishing themselves as semi stars of the 1960s and their participation ion the Old Timers game as a “Best of the National League” squad makes perfect sense. Bobby Shantz’s presence was commemorating the last season of his career. It’s funny though. Shantz doesn’t seem to be a star either and his card was priced as a common. But as the 1952 AL MVP he’s the only player on here who’s won a major award.

Frank Thomas 1964 ToppsArt Mahaffey 1964 Topps

This Frank Thomas autograph was quickly very amusing to me with the emergence of a very different Frank Thomas in 1990. Of all the players on this sheet, I only knew Thomas because of the infamous “Yo la tengo” story.

Reading Art Mahaffey’s bio and I’m surprised he was at this Old Timers game at all. Phillies fans don’t have the nicest reputation but I guess by 1989 people were ready to remember the good about leading the league for 150 games rather than dwelling on the end result.

Clay Dalrymple 1964 Topps Bob Lillis 1964 Topps

Having Mahaffey and Clay Dalyrmple next to each other on this sheet suggests that they were also hanging out together in the lobby. I makes me smile thinking that they were.

Bob Lillis meanwhile wasn’t part of the Old Timers but was instead a Giants coach. Since he played in 1964, I’ve decided to get his card too. That I got his autograph on these sheets instead of the Giants ball suggests that I hadn’t quite figured out what I was doing with the ball yet and was instead using the stationery for any non-current players.

The Bob Lillis autograph also explains the more disjointed nature of the second sheet of signatures. Only two of them are old timers. The other two are like the Lillis signature.

Jim Pagliaroni 1964 Topps

Jim Pagliaroni is the only 1964 card I have from this sheet because Joe Christopher’s is a high number. As with Frank Thomas, I’m most tickled to have Joe Christopher’s signature because of his part in suggesting that Richie Ashburn say “Yo la tengo.”

Bill Fahey meanwhile is a Giants coach like Bob Lillis. Only Fahey played in the 1970s so his cards don’t quite fit this project. But I might have to track down a few anyway.

And Charlie Wagner is a longtime Red Sox scout who I’m assuming was there because of his longtime affiliation with the Reading Phillies. He has no 1964 card either but he does have a few TCMA cards so maybe once I get the 1964s finished I’ll look into those.

I’m also still considering whether Hank Aaron should be part of this set. That’s obviously not an autograph I have but he is a significant part of this story.

Northridge

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Baltzing around Cal State Northridge while waiting for my wife’s conference to wrap up. This is a major downgrade from last year’s location but we took the opportunity to explore the California Central Coast for an extended weekend. And yes, I’m always up for photographing these mid-century semi-industrial buildings.

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Mailday from Shane

Despite the previous massive mailday, somehow Shane was able to surprise me with another massive batch of Giants cards. While obviously not as much fun as the previous mailing (that one took me months to sort through and figure out what everything was) there’s a lot of good stuff in here too.

A few 1980s–1990s cards from when I was collecting. The Topps UK Minis are especially fun. I’d not seen them before this year but have gradually acquired a number of them now through maildays. Pretty sure I’ve never seen that Fleer Exciting Stars card before either.

The rest of the Score, Upper Deck, and Leaf cards remind me of my collecting heyday. I might have them in a box at my parents’. I might not. (I’ve long lost my memory of all the cards I owned.) But these are the cards—and the players—I grew up with so it’s always a blast to see them again.

One of my growing collecting interests are cards which aren’t in English. O Pee Chee is pretty standard and for most of my youth was just a Canadian-branded version of Topps. It was cool enough that it was in white card stock instead of grey. And the bilingual French/English backs (also with Leaf in the 1980s before Donruss relaunched it as a premium brand in 1990) were pretty cool. O Pee Chee Premier followed the flagship/premium break that occurred in trading cards ~1990 and is the first time I saw non-Topps O Pee Chee cards.

I only recently discovered that Pacific’s MLB license was initially only for Spanish-language cards and that even after they started making English-language cards their Crown line was Spanish-only. Despite the Bay Area being a pretty significant Spanish-speaking market, I never saw these when they came out in 1993/1994. I’ve been semi-seeking them out now (I have a handful of giants from 1993/94) so having a 1997 Bonds is very cool.

On to late-1990s cards that represent a grab bag of different things that card companies were doing as they tried to figure out the post-strike landscape. We’ve got reprints. We’ve got retro-inspried designs. We’ve got budget versions of premium brands as a response to the regular brands creating premium releases. I continue to look at checklists from this era and be confused.

And Shane sent me a ton of Topps flagship starting with 2000. This is great since I don’t have any coverage from these years and while getting sets is out of the question, having Giants is a good way to stay on top of things. 2000 is notable for being the first year at Pac Bell Park so these cards represent some of the last images of Candlestick as a baseball venue.

Also. Yes. That’s a Robb Nen autograph. I need to ask Shane about the backstory here but that’s definitely the highlight of the mailday. I never took to Nen the way I took to Rod Beck but after what he did, and gave, to the team in 2002 I think all Giants fans respect him.

2001 Topps means many of these are the first photos from Pac Bell. The Robb Nen card here is the most-distinct of the ones I received in that it shows triples alley. Also, While I’ve tended to side-eye a lot of Topps’s 1990s–2000s designs, this one is growing on me. As individualy cards the green/grey border feels wreid. But seeing them all together like this and that color provides a nice page background for the photos.

I’m not a fan of the 2002 design though. If the dark green has a certain class to it, this orange/brown is an eyesore. All the swirly ribbons don’t help either. This is a shame since I should probably get this team set as it represents the team which came as close as I ever expected to get to a World Series title.

Yes that game 6 loss still hurts a little even though we’ve won three times this decade and winning a steroid-tained title would’ve sat uncomfortably.

2003 and 2005 Topps. the highlight here is the Matt Cain Prospects card. I’ve kind of forgotten these years in a blur of horrible news coverage where what Barry Bonds did outweighed what the team did. It was increasingly hard to be a fan and the Bonds circus caused me to start drifting away.

These sets are similarly forgettable. Topps is obviously going through a phase of knowing that foil stamping and high gloss are the hallmarks of premium cards but they haven‘t figured out how to consistently combine them into designs which work well.

I can’t imagine how unbearable the Bonds Hype must’ve been for everyone else during those years. That Topps released a set where each card represents one of Barry’s home runs continues to amaze me in its hilarious awfulness. I’m definitely not seeking to complete this set but I’m glad that I’ve moved past my frustration with those years to see the humor in it.

And that 2006 Topps set is also pretty dire. If the knock on a lot of the sets from 1976–1985 is that they’re boring white-bordered sets, at least they’re simple designs which have aged relatively well. These mid-200s Topps designs though? Yeesh. Too many things going on on each card.

2007 is better. I don’t like the design but it’s got a better handle on what it’s doing. I’m baffled as to why the team card has the red and blue squares switched (the backs are all oriented the same way). And yes those two Zitos have different colored backs. This whole parallel/short print thing where Topps changes the color of something minor and treats it as something special really bothers me. If you’re going to do this kind of artificial scarcity crap at least do it with photo variations.

I really like the 2008 design. Kind of surprised about it but it reaches back into the past and does something which is reminiscent of 1964, 1972, and 1986 yet in a way which isn’t at all copying them. The only thing I don’t like is the little tab where the Topps logo is. Even the printed autographs are a nice change of pace (although as an autograph collector I generally don’t like them).

Sadly the 2009 design is a step backwards again. And that’s a 2010 Ginter mini which is fun but also represents a line of cards which isn’t my thing.

And to more-recent cards. The Minor League Heritage cards intrigue me. I don’t really like the Heritage thing but for some reason it bothers me less with minor league teams. I do enjoy having representative samples of the various Archive and Heritage releases though.

The Christian Arroyo 1968 Topps Game design is especially interesting in how different it is—larger size and thicker card stock—from the actual 1968 cards. I am also amused at the specificity of “Lead Runner and Batter Out” for the double play (yes I know this is accurate to the original).

Shane also included some more-random stuff. Fleer stickers are fun. I think this is from 1987 based on the team logo on the other side. The small one must be from a minis set. I’ve never seen anything like it before. And the 49ers cards are fun too. I’ve long since given up on the NFL but cards which remind me of the 1980s when I was a fan—I was a 49er fan before I was a Giants fan actually—will always be enjoyable.

The coin is a 1969 Citgo coin of Willie McCovey. The back has a gob of glue stuck to it but it’s a neat little object all the same. I don’t think we had Citgos on the West Coast (it’s certainly a brand I’m not familiar with) so these coins also represent a cool regional oddball as well.

Thanks Shane! I hope my package gets out of USPS purgatory* sometime this year. It’s not nearly as cool as this, or the previous mailday, but it is indeed enjoyable to send people things that’ll make them happier than they made me.

*Note. Never, ever, make a mistake on the zip code.