September 22, 2016

South African Ethnographic Study Drawings from 1872

I found these drawings by Gustav Fritsch recently while doing some other research. In this paper by Andrew Bank of the University of the Western Cape, we learn that "Fritsch indicated right at the outset of his expedition that his aims were 'ethnographic' and 'anthropological' ... and the collection of a portrait portfolio of 'natives' ('eingeborenen') was the most important aspect of this project". Note that the men and women are drawn with no background or context- this was a deliberate act on the part of Fritsch and other ethnographic portrait artists. Quite a few of these were drawn after photographs, but because of the clunky photographic setup and chairs needed for the subjects, "the background or the context has been painted out of the negative, thus stressing the de-contextualized nature of the subject."

As with all art, they are interesting once you understand the background in which they were made.

January 11, 2014


The story of Edmund Albius began on Reunion Island and ended in every supermarket in the world.

Read more

October 28, 2013

Symbols in Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1, New Orleans


I thought it would be interesting to document for everyone the fascinating symbols and tombs in Saint Louis Cemetery 1, New Orleans. What I saw there was really amazing, visually and historically.

The Grave of Marie Laveau, Voodoo Priestess


Marie Laveau lived from 1794 to 1181 in new Orleans. She was a very powerful figure, and led a following of tens of thousands. She and her family are buried in this family grave. A false rumor persists that by drawing three "x"s (XXX) on the side of her grave, she will grant you your wish.

Our tour guide said the only proper way to pray to her is to make a wish, and if she grants it, to return and leave a small offering. The "x"s are simply vandalism, and need to be continually removed.


Orleans Battalion of Artillery


This "society" tomb is noteworthy for a few reasons. It contains the bodies of a number of soldiers that fought against the British in 1815. The symbols on the tomb all have very specific meanings. Here is a closeup.
- the hourglass at the top: The impermanence of time
- the wreath: victory or immortality
- the cannon balls: their roles as artillerymen
- the upside down torches: the extinction of life

Perpetual Care


Perpetual Care markers are put on graves entrusted to the care fo the Catholic Church for upkeep and maintenance. Because of the costs involved, many of them are simply restored with concrete and latex paint. Restoration means making a new tomb in the same shape as the old one, but with modern materials. They don't work well in the humid environment and soon decay. Preservation, on the other hand, means taking care of the original, and fixing it with original materials and techniques.


Note the difference between the restored step tomb on the bottom left, and the original step tomb to the right.


Freemasons and Shriners


The marks of the Freemasons and the Shriners feature prominently here.


Many tomb covers are made of marble, which is extremely susceptible to the hot, humid climate, and soon warps and crumbles. Note the curved marble piece on the second one from the left.



Resting Place of Homer Plessy


In 1892, Homer Plessy and a Citizens Committee challenged the racist "Separate but Equal" doctrine. It was part of a highly coordinated attempt to have state-sponsored segregation ruled unconstitutional. Although the case reached the US Supreme Court, they did not succeed. It was not until 1954, in the Brown v. Board of Education that the law was struck down.

Other Tombs




October 12, 2013

WPA Posters

See America Welcome To Montana

Milk - for Warmth Energy Food

Result: Three killed by speeding car

Must we always have this? Why not housing?

Live here at low rent

Keep your fire escapes clear

Indian Art of the United States

Up where winter calls to play

These striking silkscreen, lithograph, and woodcut Work Projects Administration (WPA) posters were designed to publicize health and safety programs; cultural programs including art exhibitions, theatrical, and musical performances; travel and tourism; educational programs; and community activities in seventeen states and the District of Columbia. The posters were made possible by one of the first U.S. Government programs to support the arts and were added to the Library's holdings in the 1940s.

June 9, 2013

On Matsumi Kanemitsu

I bought a book of Matsumi Kanemitsu lithographs years ago, in college. It was a retrospective of his prints from 1960-1990. Im not sure what it was about his work that I found fascinating- perhaps the way he used litho washes, or the sly humor in the illustrations. In any case, I periodically look at the book again for inspiration. Here is a video on his life and work that you may enjoy.

(Image courtesty of Art Is America)

March 28, 2013

An Afternoon Boating on Lake George

I found this on

An Afternoon Boating on Lake George, NY, 1867 is an absolutely brilliant painting by Nelson Augustus Moore, an artist in New York in the mid 1800s. These works, and others from the Hudson River School, had a tremendous effect on the national psyche. They idealized the disappearing wilderness on the frontier, and encouraged people to migrate west of the Mississippi. The paintings seem quaint these days, but they helped define the nation.

If you look closely at a lot of my illustration and collage work, you will see bits and pieces fo these paintings all over the place. Just saying.

December 29, 2012

An Online version of The Manual of Linotype Typography

Vitorio Miliano, a design in Austin, has given 13 old typography books to the Internet Archive to be scanned. You can find them all here:

h/t Typographica

©Senongo Akpem. All Rights Reserved.