Sunday, January 04, 2009

Flapper doodles and water chairs

This English text book belonged to a teenaged girl in 1925, who seemed more interested in art than in her English lessons.

Then again, check out the subtitle of the book (Projects in Expression) and maybe she was doing just as the subtitle suggested. The young artist here is assumed to be Anna Grace Caughron from Manhattan, Kansas. That's the name written at the front and back of the book.

I call these drawings flapper doodles because the women portrayed look like the young girls of that era who were called flappers. The drawings are pretty elegant for doodles, but I'll stick with doodles because obviously the young lady in a long-ago English class was doodling in her book while she should have been paying attention to her lesson. Or maybe she was multitasking.

Her doodles are quite good, actually, and capture pretty accurately the style of the flapper girl of the Roaring Twenties. In case you're wondering what a flapper is, or was, check out the girls in this video. Their parents must have been horrified!

Now for the water chairs...

Turning the pages to see what might be of interest in this old book, I came upon a section that sought to instruct the student on persuasive writing. Example No. 5 is titled Persuasion Through Comparison. This exercise shows a written advertisement with the heading, Years ago they killed by dripping water. Below that is a picture of a water chair with the caption, The Water Chair - a form of torture of the Middle Ages.

This is actually the inauspicious lead-in for a persuasive ad for Sullivan's Heels. As in shoe heels. This misguided example strives to show how walking around in shoes with hard heels results in virtually the same physical torture, over time, as does the constant drip of water upon the hapless victim of the torturous Water Chair. I'll bet one hundred percent of all victims that suffered in the Water Chair would have jumped at the opportunity to walk around in "torturous" shoes with hard heels. Talk about a cake walk!

But what a wretched comparison and writing lesson to impart on a young mind! No wonder young Anna Grace took solace in her flapper doodles. As she could have been only 16 or so in 1925, I doubt she ever got the chance to live the flapper lifestyle, which was out of vogue several years later, and may never have been in vogue in Manhattan, Kansas. I always associated that style with that other Manhattan on the east coast.

But that was the style of the day for young women and it must have fired the imagination of a Midwestern teenage girl struggling through her English and writing lessons. And she wouldn't be the last to create her own projects of expression to exchange classroom drudgery for artistic fantasy.

That long forgotten artwork of hers now lives on within the confines of cyberspace. And I'd like to think that young Anna Grace would have been one flattered flapper-wannabe.

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