Auxiliary Brain

January 30, 2009

DCS 101 – Vulcan Museum Analysis

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — probablyghosts @ 4:48 am

You load sixteen tons, and what do you get?

Another day older and deeper in debt.

Saint Peter, don’t you call me, ’cause I can’t go;

I owe my soul to the company store

(“Sixteen Tons,” Merle Travis)

1. Loewen states that historic sites hold two different stories. One, the manifest narrative (the event or person herald), and the other story is the erection or preservation story. So what is “Vulcan” and what does it represent? What’s the manifest narrative? And what is the erection and preservation story? – What is the impetus behind its creation and the efforts to find its final home? Or as Loewen asks, “Who sponsored it, what were their motives, what were their ideological need and social purpose?”

Manifest means “obvious.” The obvious narrative of the Vulcan statue is inextricable from it’s the story of its erection and preservation. Much of the museum is devoted to this long and often goofy narrative, including videos and photographs of his construction by Moretti’s team of laborers; a hands-on demonstration of the mold-making process; a full scale fiberglass cast of Vulcan’s leg; photographs showing him at the World’s Fair, at the State Fairground with his arm on backward holding a sign, and finally, atop his sandstone pillar. The “Memories of Vulcan” kiosk is curiously self-referential, containing picture postcards, miniature reproductions, pennants, a commemorative flask (Tipple with Vulcan!) and other various souvenirs from the World’s Fair, the State Fair, and later.

Birmingham’s Colossus was originally conceived by James McKnight, manager of the Alabama State Fair, as an answer to city leaders’ call for city and state to be advertised to the 1904 World’s Fair. Sculpted by Giuseppe Moretti in an abandoned church in New Jersey, the plaster molds were shipped by rail to Birmingham, where they were cast in iron. Holding a hammer and a spear-head, tool of his trade and product of it, the statue depicts Vulcan, the Roman god of the forge, who “made weapons and armor for the Gods, but was kindly and peaceful himself.” (This was either deliberately symbolic or prescient, as Birmingham experienced booms during both World Wars.) After the Fair, Vulcan was dismantled and shipped back to Birmingham, despite an offer to buy it from the city of St. Louis.

Who was the intended audience for this ferrous  tour de force? Potential investors, engineers and other skilled workers? Certainly not unskilled workers, as they wouldn’t feature greatly among the visitors to the Fair – and besides, Alabama already had more than enough of cheap labor (a principal reason that the steel industry could be so profitable, as with other industries in Alabama.)

Although originally intended for erection at Linn park, decent women of the neighborhood raised their voices in protest at the statue’s exposed rear end, and the plans were scrapped. Vulcan sat in pieces by the tracks for two years as the city fathers dithered; his spear point was lost; eventually, he was moved to the city fairgrounds, where he was painted flesh-tone, was once dressed in a giant pair of Liberty overalls, and held aloft, at different times, an ice cream cone, a Coca Cola bottle, and a sign advertising pickles. In the mid-30’s the civic-minded gentlemen of the Kiwanis club undertook his relocation atop Red Mountain on a sandstone pedestal surrounded by a park, facing downtown, a project largely financed by the WPA. (I assume this means that the Kiwanis club organized the work and the WPA paid for it, but could not find more details.) As a public service, they placed in its hand a beacon, which glowed green but was turned red after fatal automobile accidents.

What were the Kiwanis club’s reasons for sponsoring Vulcan’s erection? According to the “Six Objects,” the Kiwanis club is a civic organization devoted, among other laudable activities, to “building better communities,” which is frequently achieved through promotion of local business. Kiwanis is generally comprised of local businessmen, often small business owners, who would naturally have an interest in promoting Birmingham both as a tourist destination and a desirable place to live.

The statue underwent extensive renovation in 1999, being completely dismantled and reassembled. The “lime or cherry popsicle” was replaced by a replica of the original spearhead, and Vulcan was turned to face East – probably because of complaints from residents of Homewood, the neighborhood on the other side of the mountain from downtown. (The only suggestion of the “Moon over Homewood” debacle is found in the gift shop, which features a plastic dashboard figurine with bobbling head and buttocks; unfortunately, they no longer carry “Buns of Iron” mugs and T-shirts.) The lobby of the museum serves as a visitor center for tourists, providing information about local events, dining, hotels, and attractions, including handy wallet-size folding maps sponsored by local businesses.

  1. What voices are represented in the historical narrative of the Vulcan Museum? What voices are left out? How is the multivocality of the historical narrative represented? To what degree do you think the Vulcan museum fairly represents the story of Birmingham?
  2. What is a “company town?”

The Vulcan Museum begins on the ground outside, where a map set in stone shows the fortuitous availability of minerals in the region. In the lobby looms an assemblage of products of the iron industry: sewing machines, engine blocks, skillets, manhole covers and pieces less identifiable. A photomural follows (composed of a single photograph repeated multiply,) depicting hundreds of workers (miners?)

Visitors next pass through a squeaky-clean recreation of a “company store, stocked with empty cans decorated with replica labels. (Contemporary photographs show the real thing being a good deal grimier and darker.) I don’t recall how much of this is indicated by the literature accompanying the museum’s display, but the term “company town” refers to a settlement owned and operated by an industry. Workers live in dormitories or apartments owned by their employer, who deduct rent from their paycheck. Under what was referred to as the “truck system,” workers are paid in credit vouchers for goods at the company store, often (usually) at inflated prices. The workers, unskilled and unable to find other employment, are unable to accrue savings, ensuring that they and their family remain poor; often, they fall into debt, creating a situation of debt bondage, in which the worker is legally unable to quit. This system ensures that workers and their families remain poor and dependent on the employer for their means of living, which in turn ensures future generations of cheap labor. The truck system was largely outlawed after a series of Union strikes, mostly by coal miners, brought attention to the practice, although it survived well into the 1950’s in rural Alabama farms employing mostly Black workers.

There is a section detailing the construction of Vulcan, couched in a history of Birmingham through the Great Depression and Vulcan’s WPA reinstatement, through the Civil Rights movement. The last section, “Towards a New Birmingham,” ends the exhibit on a positive note of social change; given the number of tourists who visit Birmingham expressly to study and relive Civil Rights history, the museum’s curators wouldn’t dare neglect  it. The museum is humanistic in its recognition of the contributions of numerous struggling workers, although I didn’t notice any mention of conscript labor (one of the first points of Birmingham’s history mentioned in the Civil Rights Museum’s narrative.) Social conditions are mentioned as an afterthought, rather than as an integral element of the labor conditions that helped make Birmingham a “magic city.”

The Vulcan museum makes an attempt to represent the contribution of workers, but due to its small size and brevity of narrative, and perhaps to its design as well, is unable to convey the history of labor that underlies this or any other industrial city’s history. The section on Civil Rights history ends on the positive note found in many high school textbooks, conveying the message that “things used to be bad, but thanks to MLK we’re OK!” The Vulcan Park Foundation’s stated mission is to “preserve Vulcan as a symbol for Birmingham.” They don’t specify what Vulcan symbolized. The statue of Vulcan was created as an advertisement for the city, and remains an advertisement.


January 27, 2009

human statues/ “Tableau Vivant”

Filed under: Uncategorized — probablyghosts @ 8:25 pm


Madawaska–Acadian Light-Heavy

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — probablyghosts @ 8:11 pm

“Madawaska–Acadian Light-Heavy” Marsden Hartley. Oil on hardboard, 1940

Sailors and Floozies

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — probablyghosts @ 8:00 pm

(From the Whitney audio tour, at Paul Cadmus’ “Sailors and Floozies”)

Paul Cadmus: Some of these sailors are rather sympathetic, as well as one of the girls—the girl in the ridiculous hat. I don’t know where I invented that hat, where it came from. No milliner that I knew.

Narrator: Artist Paul Cadmus. He called this painting Sailors and Floozies. It’s set in Manhattan’s Riverside Park, near a monument called the Sailors and Soldiers Memorial. Richard Meyer teaches art history at the University of Southern California.

Richard Meyer: One of the things that Cadmus did, which is quite amazing about this painting, is that he created a unique frame, which is also painted. And what he did in the painted frame is, he continued some of the graffiti that is depicted on the Sailors and Soldiers Memorial within the painting, that graffiti continues around the frame of the painting. So he’s sort of bringing a decorative element, but also some part of the story, of the fiction of the painting, out onto the frame of the painting.

Narrator: Notice that the sailors here aren’t really paying attention to the floozies.

Richard Meyer: Generally, Cadmus, whenever there is heterosexual pairing in his paintings, something goes wrong. What he seems more interested in is a certain homoeroticism.

Narrator: Some critics were upset by this image when it was first shown. They called it tawdry, repulsive, unpatriotic. Ironically, it wasn’t the homoerotic content per se that caused the controversy—rather, critics were offended by the depiction of Navy sailors drunk and carousing on the eve of World War II.

Paul Cadmus: I replied to them, “I think the picture portrays an enjoyable side of Navy life. I think it would make a good recruiting poster. I will raise my prices.”

Booklist: Pleasures taken : performances of sexuality and loss in

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — probablyghosts @ 7:44 pm
Institution:       Mervyn H. Sterne Library

Author:            Mavor, Carol, 1957- 

Title:             Pleasures taken : performances of sexuality and loss in
                      Victorian photographs / Carol Mavor.

Published:         Durham : Duke University Press, 1995.

Physical Description:
                   xiv, 171 p. : ill. ; 24 cm.

Includes:          Includes bibliographical references (p. [159]-165) and

Subject (LCSH):    Sex--England--History--19th century.
                   Sex role--England--History--19th century.
                   Photography of women--England--History--19th century.
                   Photography, Erotic.
                   Sex in art.
                   England--Social life and customs--19th century.

ISBN:              0822316196

LC Card Number:    94041559


Database:          Mervyn H. Sterne Library

Call Number:       HQ18.G7 M29 1995
Location:          Sterne Circulating Collection (3rd Floor)

Booklist: Hard to imagine : gay male eroticism in photography and

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — probablyghosts @ 7:43 pm
Institution:       Mervyn H. Sterne Library

Author:            Waugh, Thomas, 1948- 

Title:             Hard to imagine : gay male eroticism in photography and
                      film from their beginnings to Stonewall / Thomas Waugh.

Series:            Between men--between women

Published:         New York : Columbia University Press, c1996.

Physical Description:
                   xvi, 470 p. : ill. ; 26 cm.

Includes:          Includes bibliographical references (p. [445]-454) and

Subject (LCSH):    Gays--Portraits.
                   Photography, Erotic--History.
                   Homosexuality in motion pictures--History.

ISBN:              0231099983 (cloth : alk. paper)

LC Card Number:    95037045

Other Identifying Number:


Database:          Mervyn H. Sterne Library

Call Number:       TR681.H65 W38 1996
Location:          Sterne Circulating Collection (3rd Floor)

Booklist: Japanese graphics now!

Filed under: Uncategorized — probablyghosts @ 7:37 pm
Institution:       Mervyn H. Sterne Library

Title:             Japanese graphics now! / [edited by] Gisela Kozak & Julius

Published:         Köln ; Los Angeles : Taschen, c2003.
Physical Description:
                   607 p. : chiefly col. ill. ; 26 cm. +
Includes:          Projected Medium
                   1 DVD (4 3/4 in.)

Subject (LCSH):    Graphic arts--Japan--Pictorial works.
                   Commercial art--Japan--Pictorial works.

Subject (Other):   DVD disc.

Other Name:        Kozak, Gisela (Gisela Ruth)
                   Wiedemann, Julius.

Language:          Introduction in English, French, German, and Japanese.

ISBN:              3822825891


Database:          Mervyn H. Sterne Library

Call Number:       406
Location:          ETS - DVD - Ask at ETS Circulation Desk

Database:          Mervyn H. Sterne Library

Call Number:       NC998.6.J3 J37 2003
Location:          Sterne Circulating Collection (3rd Floor)


Mervyn H. Sterne Library
University of Alabama at Birmingham
917 13th Street South
Birmingham, Alabama 35205
Reference Dept. (205) 934-6364
Circulation Desk (205) 934-4338

Booklist: Vitamin D : new perspectives in drawing.

Filed under: Uncategorized — probablyghosts @ 7:27 pm
Institution:       Mervyn H. Sterne Library

Title:             Vitamin D : new perspectives in drawing.

Published:         London ; New York : Phaidon, 2005.

Physical Description:
                   351 p. : col. ill. ; 30 cm.

Includes:          Includes bibliographical references and index.

Contents:          Preface -- Introduction / by Emma Dexter -- D-L Alvarez --
                      Francis Alÿs -- Ryoko Aoki -- Kaoru Arima -- Silvia
                      Bächli -- Devendra Banhart -- Anna Barriball --
                      Shannon Bool -- Michaël Borremans -- Andrea Bowers --
                      Jesse Bransford -- Fernando Bryce -- Cai Guo-Qiang --
                      Ernesto Caivano -- Los Carpinteros -- Raimond Chaves --
                      Sandra Cinto -- Russell Crotty -- Roberto Cuoghi -- John
                      Currin -- Amy Cutler -- Jeff Davis -- Tacita Dean --
                      Trisha Donnelly -- Marlene Dumas -- Sam Durant -- Marcel
                      Dzama -- Memed Erdener -- Simon Evans -- Simon Faithfull
                      -- Spencer Finch -- Urs Fischer -- Roland Flexner --
                      Ellen Gallagher -- Matt Greene -- Joseph Grigely -- Anna
                      Sigmond Gudmundsdottir -- Daniel Guzman -- Sebastian
                      Hammwöhner -- Trenton Doyle Hancock -- Björn Hegardt
                      -- Arturo Herrera -- Nobuya Hoki -- Christian Holstad --
                      Huang Yong Ping -- Dean Hughes -- Gareth James --
                      Yun-Fei Ji -- Chris Johanson -- Kerstin Kartscher --
                      William Kentridge -- Toba Khedoori -- Dr. Lakra --
                      Michael Landy ---Ricardo Lanzarini -- Graham Little --
                      Mark Lombardi -- Mindaugas Lukosaitis -- Marco Maggi --
                      Frank Magnotta -- Mark Manders -- Yuri Masnyj -- Dominic
                      McGill -- Julie Mehretu -- Jean-François Moriceau and
                      Petra Mrzyk -- Claudia and Julia Müller -- Dave Muller
                      -- Vik Muniz -- David Musgrave -- Wangechi Mutu --
                      Yoshitomo Nara -- Paul Noble -- Jockum Nordström --
                      Glexis Novoa -- Roman Ondák -- Robyn O'Neil -- Gabriel
                      Orozco -- Pavel Pepperstein -- Peter Peri -- Dan
                      Perjovschi -- Raymond Pettibon -- Elizabeth Peyton --
                      Chloe Piene -- Fernando Renes -- Robin Rhode -- Matthew
                      Ritchie -- Frances Richardson -- Serse -- Silke Schatz
                      -- Anne-Marie Schneider -- Steven Shearer -- David
                      Shrigley -- Simone Shubuck -- James Siena -- Shahzia
                      Sikander -- Lucy Skaer -- Torsten Slama -- Josh Smith --
                      Zak Smith -- Nedko Solakov -- Hayley Tompkins -- Susan
                      Turcot -- Banks Violette -- Amelie von Wulffen -- Kara
                      Walker -- Olav Westphalen -- Richard Wright -- Katharina
                      Wulff -- Daniel Zeller ---Biographies -- Index.

Subject (LCSH):    Drawing--20th century--Catalogs.
                   Drawing--21st century--Catalogs.

Other Name:        Dexter, Emma.

Language:          Some texts translated from French and Italian.

ISBN:              0714845450 (hbk.)


Database:          Mervyn H. Sterne Library

Call Number:       NC96 .V58 2005
Location:          Sterne Circulating Collection (3rd Floor)

Database:          Mervyn H. Sterne Library

Call Number:       NC96 .V58 2005
Location:          Sterne Circulating Collection (3rd Floor)
                   Temporarily Shelved at Reserve Desk - Ask at Circulation
                      (1st Floor)


Mervyn H. Sterne Library
University of Alabama at Birmingham
917 13th Street South
Birmingham, Alabama 35205
Reference Dept. (205) 934-6364
Circulation Desk (205) 934-4338

Booklist: Petit Nicolas

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — probablyghosts @ 7:26 pm
Institution:       Mervyn H. Sterne Library

Author:            Goscinny, 1926-1977. 

Uniform Title:     Petit Nicolas. English

Title:             Nicholas / Rene Goscinny & Jean-Jacques Sempe ; translated
                      by Anthea Bell.

Published:         New York : Phaidon Press, c2005

Physical Description:
                   126 p.  : ill. ; 23 cm.

Contents:          A photograph to treasure -- Playing cowboys -- Old spuds --
                      A game of soccer -- The inspector -- Rex -- Jocky -- A
                      bunch of flowers -- Our report cards -- Louise -- The
                      senator's visit -- The cigar -- Hop o' my thumb -- The
                      bike -- I am sick -- Having fun -- Playing with Cuthbert
                      -- Mr. Bainbridge and the fine weather -- Running away
                      from home.

Subject (LCSH):    Schools--Juvenile fiction.
                   Human behavior--Juvenile fiction.
                   Humorous stories--Juvenile fiction.

Other Name:        Sempe, 1932- 
                   Bell, Anthea.

ISBN:              0714845299


Database:          Mervyn H. Sterne Library

Call Number:       FIC G676n
Location:          Sterne - Juvenile Collection (2nd Floor)


Mervyn H. Sterne Library
University of Alabama at Birmingham
917 13th Street South
Birmingham, Alabama 35205
Reference Dept. (205) 934-6364
Circulation Desk (205) 934-4338

Booklist: A smile in the mind : witty thinking in graphic design

Filed under: Uncategorized — probablyghosts @ 7:24 pm
Database:          Mervyn H. Sterne Library

Main Author:       McAlhone, Beryl.

Title:             A smile in the mind : witty thinking in graphic design /
Primary Material:  Book

Publisher:         London : Phaidon, 1996.


Database:          Mervyn H. Sterne Library

Call Number:       NC998.4 .M324 1996
Location:          Sterne Circulating Collection (3rd Floor)


Mervyn H. Sterne Library
University of Alabama at Birmingham
917 13th Street South
Birmingham, Alabama 35205
Reference Dept. (205) 934-6364
Circulation Desk (205) 934-4338
Older Posts »

Create a free website or blog at