Steamboat Museum Surrealism Collections
The Knight, Death and the Devil
by Dave Thomson
At Chouinard Art Institute 1964-68 I made a photo collage inspired by Albrecht Durer's engraving called The Knight, Death and the Devil. This is a self-portrait and portrait of the world as I perceived it at the time. I'm the Knight, a still fresh and naive kid (on the left), and since I was preoccupied with horror movies and such at the time, I had a heightened awareness of danger from Death and the Devil all around me so pictured it both as horror, temptation and a fixed system over which I was powerless but could only maintain a sort of rigid virtuousness which was more of a torment than a comfort. - Dave Thomson
Dave is an animation cinematographer, technical director, Mark Twain collector, and researcher. He has donated more than a thousand images to the online Steamboat museum.
The attached is a mirror image of a detail from a still of Will Rogers from STEAMBOAT ROUND THE BEND where he was selling his "Pocahantas Remedy" to passengers aboard the PRIDE OF PADUCAH. I put Barry's face where Will's was and substituted Barry's painting of a skeleton for the graphic and "Wizard Oil" lettering from an old patent medicine ad.
The Hannibal, Missouri "ghost tour trolley" stops in front of this house and the guide tells tourists about that ghost of the little girl who is supposed to have been glimpsed in one of the third floor dormer windows.
I took a photo of the third floor while I was a guest there and after returning home I darkened the photo (attached), added storm clouds outside the windows and double exposed the "ghost" of Dakota Fanning who attended a Halloween party in the make up and costume of a girl vampire when she was a little kid.
Gals 'n Pups of the Midwest
Georgia took a photo in 2016 of grand daughters Elizabeth & Abby with the Schnauzers Radar and Roy in front of "Groomingdale's" in Hannibal. For variety I placed the girls and pups over a photo I took of Ziegler Chute, a backwater of the Mississippi at Scipio in 2005. Georgia uses a circular vignette of the composite as a logo for her Pinterest page.
Turning Isabella into Alice
Dutch artist Peter Paul Rubens painted himself and his first wife, Isabella Brant in 1609 shortly after their wedding in a dual portrait entitled "In the Honeysuckle Bower." Isabella was the daughter of humanist and lawyer, Jan Brant, one of the secretaries of Antwerp.
Using the detail of Isabella from her husband's dual portrait I composited the face Alice Chaupis of Lyon, France into the costume and hat worn by Isabella as a Photoshop portrait.
Alice is the daughter of Marie-Anne Durand Chapuis who translated a book that French author and critic Henry Gauthier-Villars (1839-1931) wrote and published in the 1880's in Paris praising the humor of Mark Twain. Gauthier-Villars is best remembered as the first husband of the French novelist Colette.
I edited Marie-Anne's translation from the French and she put our work online under the banner "Classic Translating." It is not currently online.
My film version of Edgar Allan Poe's FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER
In 1967 I wrote and directed a 15 minute black & white silent film adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER
We filmed the Gothic tale in the catacombs under the Mission Inn, in Riverside, California with Sylvia Dees as Madeline Usher & Steve Tolliver as Roderick Usher. This was the first project I made during my Junior year as a film major at Chouinard Art Institute in L.A. around the time that the schools name was changed to "Cal Arts." My dialogue cards titles were white on black as and I scored the film with excerpts from classical music and motion picture soundtracks. My end titles employed the Poe illustrations created by Irish artist Harry Clarke (1889-1931).
After Roderick's sister Madeline seems to have died, she is placed in a crypt under the House of Usher where she later regains consciousness and makes her way to the dining room where her hyper sensitive brother Roderick has been hearing the sounds his sister made during her struggle to get out of the sarcophagus. When she enters the room where Roderick sits, Madeline attacks her brother and both of them die.
Barry Messer as a mad scientist From a CREEPYPASTA wikia tutorial borrowed the gloved hands holding electrifying zappers trained on a brain. The b ackground with gauge and other gadgets came from a photo of the DELTA QUEEN's engine room.
"We have always lived in the Castle"
Hannibal photographer Georgia's nine year old grand daughter Elizabeth was sulking at her "big sister" Abby's twelfth birthday last year so when Grandma tried to take her picture, Elizabeth exaggerated her frown by pulling down the corners of her mouth. Later Elizabeth relented and smiled for Georgia in another photo.
In my Gothic horror composite I used 'Lizbeth's sulky pose and as a back drop I used the silhouette of a derelict castle from the magic4walls' wallpaper site.
Upon completion this looked like promotional art for a movie or a cover for a novel. The name of Shirley Jackson's very last novel (1962) came to mind so I super-imposed "We have always lived in the Castle," across the top in a font that approximates hand-writing.
"Love the composite. It is quite funny! Elizabeth is a master at making faces and so is Abby. Girls have a flare for being drama queens and our girls have mastered the trend."
Shirley Jackson's 1959 novel "The Haunting of Hill House" was made into two chilling movies, both entitled "The Haunting." My favorite was the first one in 1963 that was filmed in black and white by director Robert Wise. A color version in 1999 was much more "over the top" and far less subtle than the first version.
The attached I made from combining parts of several paintings by Barry Messer.
The triangular sections on the left and right sides are from one very large abstract of Barry's. I took photos of most of his paintings years ago with my old medium format Mamiya before I ever got a digital camera.
The center portions came from a little painting that I bought from Barry, the skeleton at the bottom was painted on one of the 4 sides of the same painting where the canvas overlaps the stretcher bars.
Olga San Juan was a Puerto Rican singer/dancer/actress who appeared in American movie musicals. Her "Bunny of the Tropics" costume and pose was perfectly suited to the "Tiki" sacrificial themed Primitive Gods behind her that Barry dreamed up.
Salvador Dali's Le Visage de la Guerre at center, on the left Canadian/British Science Fiction author Cory Doctorow and on the right my artist friend Barry Messer of Hannibal, MO.
I harvested Dali's tormented face from the attached and placed it above Cory and Barry, their balloons coordinate with it nicely. Museum Boymans-Van Beuningen, Rotterdam.
I made a mirror image from a photo of Cory speaking at some gathering with his skeleton t-shirt and put Barry's head on the reflection on the right.
Cory responded: "What a fabulous and weird mash up, David!"
Barry's response: "Doctorow looks way more natural in this than I do but hey, I'm hanging with Dali so who cares. I'm getting a big kick from your photomontage. I made a copy of it and hanging it on my studio wall for inspiration. Thanks, Dave, its ingenious."
a robust Valentine starring the stars of the Thai action film Ong Bak 2: Mr. Tony Jaa & Miss Primorata Det-Udom
BACK IN 2001 (CAN'T HARDLY BELIEVE IT WAS THAT LONG AGO) I MADE THIS "HOMAGE/PARODY" OF NORMAN ROCKWELL'S 1936 ILLUSTRATION OF MARK TWAIN'S TOM SAWYER'S WHITEWASHING THE FENCE EPISODE FOR A SMALL CIRCLE OF FRIENDS IN HANNIBAL.
I WAS INSPIRED IN PART BY A GRATEFUL DEAD POSTER THAT WAS ALSO A TAKE-OFF ON ROCKWELL'S PAINTING THAT PICTURED THE TWO BOYS AS SKELETONS.
I KEPT THE BOYS HANDS AND FEET INTACT BUT TURNED THEM "DEAD BLUE" AND SWAPPED THEIR HEADS FOR SKULLS.
THE TEXT IN THE UPPER RIGHT IS A PHOTOCOPY FROM MARK TWAIN'S MANUSCRIPT FOR "TOM SAWYER" IN THE CHAPTER DESCRIBING TOM AND HUCK VISITING THE GRAVEYARD AT MIDNIGHT, TAKING ALONG A DEAD CAT AS A CHARM TO RID THEMSELVES OF WARTS. BELOW THE ABRIDGED TEXT OF THE BEGINNING OF THAT EPISODE.
THE MACABRE JOKE OF TOM WHITEWASHING WHILE BEN ROGERS WATCHES HIM WOULD HAVE APPEALED TO SAM CLEMENS WHO HAD A GHOULISH STREAK AND ENJOYED SCARY STORIES LIKE "THE GOLDEN ARM" WHICH UNCLE DAN'L WOULD TERRIFY THE CHILDREN WITH LATE AT NIGHT AT THE FARM OF JOHN QUARLES WHO WAS MARRIED TO MARK TWAIN'S AUNT.
ANOTHER TANGENT TO THE MACABRE IN "TOM SAWYER" WAS WHEN TOM, HUCK & JOE HARPER RAN AWAY TO JACKSON'S ISLAND AND AFTER HAVING BEEN MISSING FOR A WHILE, WERE ASSUMED TO HAVE BEEN DROWNED IN THE MISSISSIPPI AND A "FUNERAL" WAS HELD FOR THEM AT WHICH THE BOYS HID OUT IN THE LOFT OF THE CHURCH AND DIDN'T MAKE THEIR PRESENCE KNOWN UNTIL THE "FUNERAL" WAS ALMOST OVER.
TOM SAWYER - from Chapter 9
It was a graveyard of the old-fashioned Western kind. . . (and) had a crazy board fence around it, which leaned inward in places, and outward the rest of the time, but stood upright nowhere.
Grass and weeds grew rank over the whole cemetery. All the old graves were sunken in, there was not a tombstone on the place; round-topped, worm-eaten boards staggered over the graves, leaning for support and finding none.
"Sacred to the memory of" So-and-So had been painted on them once, but it could no longer have been read, on the most of them, now, even if there had been light.
A faint wind moaned through the trees, and Tom feared it might be the spirits of the dead, complaining at being disturbed.
The boys talked little, and only under their breath, for the time and the place and the pervading solemnity and silence oppressed their spirits. . .
Then they waited in silence for what seemed a long time.
The hooting of a distant owl was all the sound that troubled the dead stillness.
Tom's reflections grew oppressive. He must force some talk. So he said in a whisper:
"Hucky, do you believe the dead people like it for us to be here?"
"I wisht I knowed. It's awful solemn like, ain't it?"
"I bet it is."
Donald Duck on LSD in Cy Twombly phantasy
Barry Messer of Hannibal, MO made the painting on the left using a computer program emulating artist Cy Twombly with abstract brush strokes. On the right is that file twisted achieved with the same "swirl" protocol used on Cornwell's steamboat race painting. Donald Duck occupies the 4 corners and a distorted Donald nestles among the curvy shapes just left of center.
I rotated and swirled Barry's with one of my protocols to fit the curve of the distorted Donald Duck which was swirled from an oval vignette of him from "Mickey's Playhouse" online which determined the "swoop" after I swirled Barry's painting and Donald. I repeated the undistorted Duck in the 4 quadrants, using mirror images of it in the upper right and lower left. It's fun to go bonkers with abstractions. Sort of akin to surrealism, or at least hallucinatory visions from Dr. Timothy Leary's Lucy Sky Di'monds. Dave
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Twombly in his studio
Born Edwin Parker Twombly Jr.
April 25, 1928
Lexington, Virginia, United States
Died July 5, 2011 (aged 83)
Education School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Washington and Lee University
Art Students League of New York
Black Mountain College, Darlington School
Known for Painting, sculpture, calligraphy
Spouse(s) Tatiana Franchetti (m. 1959)
Awards Praemium Imperiale, Legion of Honor
Warp speed Cap'n . . . ROB'T E. LEE spins to a parallel universe
a swirly-gig version of Cornwell's Race of NATCHEZ and ROB'T E. LEE!
Attached an oval vignette detail of one of Barry Messer's "Dia de los Muertos" skull paintings in acrylic entitled "Rainmaker" 2005 which I bought from him some years ago. When I saw a National Geographic contributing photographer Steve McCurry's remarkable portrait of a Rabari Tribal elder in Rajasthan, I visualized Barry's painting superimposed over this man's visage (and vice versa - they're sort of "fused" together in which elements from Barry's fantasy create an illusion of cosmetic artistry. I divided a circular Mandala design from a tie-dyed shirt into quadrants which I placed in the 4 corners to create a sort of poster look to the piece.
Steve McCurry photograph of RABARI TRIBAL ELDER, RAJASTHAN, INDIA 2010
From National Geographic's profile on Steve McCurry:
It was in India that McCurry learned to watch and wait on life.
"If you wait," he realized, "people will forget your camera and the soul will drift up into view."
Had taken a photo of Cookie when she appeared to be in a "rapture" looking heavenwards. Found Saint Teresa of Avila looking the same and put them together as a pair of devotees. Too sacrilegious even for surrealists?
Dick Cheney's experiencing his own "gestalt." The upper right and bottom center portraits were achieved with a "Rorschach" technique in Photoshop.
Came across this small file online of a surrealistic steamboat painting by Joseph Paul Vorst (1897 - 1947).
Dave comments: My friend Georgia in Hannibal took a photo of her grand daughter Abby who looked like she was singing to her pet rooster Roger while she held an open book about chickens. The background and painted characters are from a Thanksgiving card graphic painted by Linda Picken and published by Leanin' Tree. When I saw the card in a rack of cards on the counter in a local pharmacy I pictured Abby and Roger in the painting.
Alice in Wonderland's Cheshire Cat as a Riverboat Gambler
A gambler's nightmare out of Alice in Wonderland entitled "Rumyanzev vs. The Gambler," 2007 painted in watercolor by by Russian surrealist artist Vladimir Rumyanzev starring a Cheshire Cat as a card sharp with 4 scary birdies, one in the paw and three on the table:
1. A Vicious Spade perched on cat's right paw
2. A Pig-snouted Diamond, Left
3. Yellow eyed Heart, Right
4. Three Skull-heads make a Club, Bottom
I chose a detail from Shorpy's beautiful colorized photo of the JAS. T. STAPLES as the perfect backdrop to make this a trippy riverboat gambler "phantasy."
Cat as a Riverboat Gambler "playing cards regarded as objects of moral and spiritual danger, if not of outright evil."
There are few things that are so unpardonably neglected in our country as poker. The upper class knows very little about it. Now and then you find ambassadors who have sort of a general knowledge of the game, but the ignorance of the people is fearful. Why, I have known clergymen, good men, kind-hearted, liberal, sincere, and all that, who did not know the meaning of a "flush." It is enough to make one ashamed of one's species. - quoted in A Bibliography of Mark Twain, Merle Johnson
. . . money and chips are flung upon the table, and the game seems to consist in the croupier's reaching for these things with a flexible oar, and raking them home. It appeared to be a rational enough game for him, and if I could have borrowed his oar I would have stayed, but I didn't see where the entertainment of the others came in. This was because I saw without perceiving, and observed without understanding. - "Aix, Paradise of Rheumatics"
It is sound judgment to put on a bold face and ply your hand for a hundred times what it worth; forty-nine times out of fifty nobody dares to 'call', and you roll in the chips. - A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
The Pasteboard Jungle
A compendium of playing card superstitions excerpted from The Origins of Popular Superstitions and Customs by T. Sharper Knowlson snopes.com/
Likely because of their association with gambling and fortune telling, playing cards have long been regarded as objects of moral and spiritual danger, if not of outright evil. Dubbed "the Devil's Picture Book," they are viewed by some portions of the population as an inveiglement into a life of indolence and debauchery. Others see them as dangerous in and of themselves: a longstanding superstition among fishermen and miners prohibits any of them carrying decks of cards while at work, lest shipwreck or mine collapse follow. (Some who make their living at sea will take cards on their voyages, but will quickly pitch them over the side when storms threaten.) Those who steal for a living are said to accord the pasteboards respect: burglars, they say, rarely steal playing cards when raiding homes lest their doing so turn fortune against them and result in their being caught. (Ergo, to punish a burglar, hide a set of cards in something he's likely to make off with, thereby decking his haul.)
Yet the pasteboards also have a lengthy history of being viewed as an assist to the pious. Playing cards have been used as an aid to prayer and meditation since at least 1788, with this practice continuing well into modern times, as our write-up about a 2003 e-mail (also a 1948 song) details.
When it comes to cards, superstitions abound. Some of these attach to specific cards or combinations of them:
The Curse of Scotland: The nine of diamonds was supposedly christened thus after being used by John Dalrymple, Secretary of State and Master of Stair, to pass on instructions for the infamous Glen Coe Massacre of 1692. Whether or not he did write "Kill them all" on this pasteboard, the arrangement of the nine diamonds on its face bears some resemblance to the Dalrymple crest of arms, which can also account for the association of this card with that man.
The Devil's Bedpost: Also called "The Devil's Four-Poster," and "The Devil's Four-Poster Bed," and "The Devil's Bedstead," the four of clubs is believed by many to be a blight upon any hand into which it is dealt, turning good cards bad (that is, transforming favorable-looking combinations into losers as play develops). Players feel particularly cursed if the four of clubs is dealt to them on the first hand of the session.
Aces and Eights: Bill Hickok, so they say, was shot dead during a poker game in which he held two pairs, aces and eights. (The fifth card remains one of history's mysteries.) That holding has subsequently come to be known as the "Dead Man's Hand" and is commonly placed into the hands of characters in Westerns who meet their demises before the end of the film (e.g., Stagecoach, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance).
Black Jacks: Such a two-card combination is said to bring poverty and unhappiness.
Red Jacks: Such a pair signals its holder has an enemy unknown to him.
"Dig me up" for a flawless complexion
"Dig me up" for a flawless complexion in the opening sequence of Part 1 of the Disney two part 1972 "Mystery in Dracula's Castle T.V. show with yours truly as Dracula "by popular demand."
The make up by Stan Winston in the frame captures made me look like a "flawless" young waxwork of a vampyr with widder's peak an' danged fangs. Eat'cher hearts out loyal fans! Wish I also had the commercial made in San Diego in '78 in which I wore the same make up and costume and emoted with a Transylvania accent accompanied by the mute Wolf Man and Frankenstein's monster as my sidekicks. The commercial promoted a Children's Hospital fund raiser.
Luckily you'll find yours truly in the very first sequence which was set inside a movie theatre in Part 1 where British Actor/Dancer Ben Wrigley as the grave robber and I were projected on the silver screen: Mystery in Dracula's Castle 1972 Parts 1 & 2
Filmed at the Disney Studio - Monday June 12th, 1972 on Stage 3
First broadcast on January 3rd, 1973 Directed by Bob Totten
Published on July 31, 2018
that shrewd and knavish sprite
Surreal Dave continued . . .
A revival of my old Vampire persona that I made in 2015 incorporating a self portrait that I took with talcum powder dusted on my face and superimposed over a wintry landscape. Serendipitously the tree trunk on the left looks like it's projected under my right eye. following the contours.
It reminded me of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" in Act 2 Scene 1:
Either I mistake your shape and making quite,
Or else you are that shrewd and knavish sprite
Call'd Robin Goodfellow: are not you he
That frights the maidens of the villagery;
Skim milk, and sometimes labour in the quern
And bootless make the breathless housewife churn;
And sometime make the drink to bear no barm;
Mislead night-wanderers, laughing at their harm?
Dave circa 1996 by Jon Terada
In 1996 while working on the animated feature film CATS DON'T DANCE in Hollywood, production manager Jon Terada took some photos of yours truly, two of which I have composited here with one of my favorite photo of one of the Heckmann boats on the Missouri River.
A NEWS PHOTO OF SOME HUNGARIANS IN BUDAPEST PARTICIPATING IN A "SANTA RUN" FOR A CHILDREN'S CHARITY ON DECEMBER 8TH OF 2013 WAS POSTED ON THE INTERNET .
I COPIED SOME OF THE RUNNERS AND PLACED THEM IN A WINTER PHOTO THAT MY FRIEND NORA CREASON TOOK ON MAIN STREET & CENTRAL IN HANNIBAL, MO SOME YEARS AGO.
IF THIS HAD ACTUALLY OCCURRED IN HANNIBAL THESE FOLKS WOULD PROBABLY BE HEADING FOR THE MARINA TO TAKE THE "POLAR PLUNGE" INTO THE ICY COLD WATERS OF THE MISSISSIPPI.
With the exception of images credited to public institutions,
everything on this page is from a private collection.
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All captions provided by Dave Thomson, Steamboats.com primary contributor and historian.