Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Chalking it up

Screen shot of chalk lettering  used without specific permissions or identifications.

Chalk hand-lettering has been in vogue the last few years, with many a boite and bistro beautifully proclaiming their comestibles via lettering by designers like head-shakingly talented Dana Tanamachi and her cohort. The hand-drawn and ephemeral attributes make the gorgeous work even more visually valuable. Currently, the heated chalk lettering seems to be trending slightly downwards.

It's not the first chalk trend.

While reading Cokie Roberts's Ladies of Liberty, I was struck by a passage describing decorations for a ball Louisa Catherine Johnson Adams and her husband John Quincy Adams threw in 1824 to honor General Andrew Jackson, Adams's rival for and eventual successor as President of the United States.
John Quincy's niece, Abigail,was there and remembered the floor of the ballroom decorated with chalk "spread-eagels, flags, nd the motto 'Welcome to the hero of New Orleans.'" Louise had commented on the chalk floor decorations she had seen the year before at the British ambassador's, so she took the idea and adapted it to celebrate Jackson's feat.

According to Kathryn Kane's copyrighted Word Press blog The Regency Redingote:
the practice of chalking the floor of a ballroom appears to ahve originated near the turn of the nineteenth century, among the beau monde, and was employed on very special occasions for important balls . . . One of the primary reasons for chalking the floor was for the safety of the dancers. The soles of most dress shoes at that time, for both men and women, were of plain, smooth leather. Such soles could easily slip on a smooth waxed ballroom floor in the course of a dance. It had become the habit of many dancers to rub the soles of their shoes with chalk before they began dancing for the evening, to give their slick-soled dancing slippers a better grip. At some point, some clever host or hostess hit upon the idea of chalking the entire floor, to ensure the safety of all their dancing guests. BUt they did not just scatter chalk across the floor. They hired artists to draw beautiful patterns over the floor in chalk which would be danced out over the course of the evening. But regardless of their fleeting nature, the chalk designs on the floor would provide a visual treat to the guests before the ball began as well as eliminating slippage as the dacers whirled about the ballroom.
Dancers still chalk their shoes before tripping the light fantastic, but I've never seen any gorgeous chalk designs at any NYC dance venue. But I digress from design.

Kathryn Kane writes that for the 1824 Washington, DC, extravaganza

Louisa Catherine Adams hired the same artist, a man from Baltimore, to chalk the dance floor for her ball. She drew the designs herself and the artist then transferred them to the floor in chalk."

I'll ignore every current design practitioner's bane of a client designing a piece and then having  a designer execute it in favor of cooing about the  something beautiful and practical safety evolving into a visual and ephemeral treat.

Cokie Roberts' fascinating and occasionally too-breezy Ladies of Liberty.

Kathryn Kane's Word Press blog The Regency Redingote.
Fascinating site about First Ladies, firstladies.org

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