This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
{ Click on the image to expand the photo }

The Elegant String Quartet

27 June 2020

Elegance equals style with grace.
Style combines poise with sophistication.

Poise blends charm with loveliness.
And charm melds it all into beauty.

These four young women possessed
elegance, style, poise, charm and more.
All very inspiring for the photographer
to produce a splendid portrait of their string quartet. 

The photograph is a high gloss 8" x 10" print mounted on a large plain card suitable for framing. It is nearly as perfect as when it came out of the anonymous studio, requiring very little correction on my part, though I've cropped the full image to better fit the constraints of my blog.

The two women standing hold violins, but I'm unsure if the seated woman on the right has a viola or a violin. My guess is that it is a small viola which sometimes can be shortened to be as long as a standard violin, but has a body that is wider and thicker. Notice that the cello's end pin is hidden by the fur skin rug that always seems to on the floor in studio photos of this time.
The young ladies are perhaps ages 16 to 19, and I would estimate the date of the photo as around 1892-96 when their top knot hair style was popular. Sadly the location is unknown, as without any photographer marks or annotations I can only assume they are American musicians. In this era the standard string quartet was not as common to see on the concert stage. They look more like students of a conservatory to me, but they might be a professional "Ladies String Quartette" which in the 1890s was a new term that started appearing in newspaper reports and reviews.

Back in September 2019, I featured a very similar photo of four young ladies with guitars and mandolins in a story entitled Pretty as a Picture. That cabinet card photo from Macomb, Illinois was dated 1895 and had the names of the women on the back which allowed me to write a longer story. Here I've used much of the same adjectives again, but without clues that's as much as I can do, so I will let beauty speak for itself.

However I can offer a modern contrast with the 
Amadeus Electric Quartet
performing the instrumental version of
"Hijo de la luna".
The two violins and cello are electric instruments
and the violist seems to have traded up to a synthesizer keyboard.
Instead of a sheepskin rug
they get a disco smoke machine!

I'll let readers judge
which string quartet is the most elegant.

* * *

* * *

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where a spot of tea is always appreciated.

At the Lake

21 June 2020

Take a gentle breeze,
add warm sun, and a generous amount
of cool water. (fresh preferred)
Blend in a family.
Sprinkle with smiles.

This snapshot was taken in the summer of 1935
at Lake Minnewaska in Glenwood, Minnesota.
On the left is my great-grandfather, William Dobbin,
with his second oldest son, my grandfather,
Wallace Dobbin, on the right.

In between is my grandmother, Blanche,
with my mother, Barbara Ione Dobbin.
Wally is 29. Blanche is 26
Barbara is age 4½.

Only a second later or maybe just before
my grandfather clowns around for the camera,
which I think was held by Alice,
my great-grandfather's second wife.
She clicks the shutter and magically captures
one of the best photos I know.

In an instant it's all there.
Delight, humor, affection, joy, pride.
In a word—love.

Though of course I was not present when these photos were taken, I know them very well from looking through the photos as a child and hearing my mother and grandparents tell the stories that accompanied them. My mother was a single child, as I am as well, and this was one of the first photos where I learned the nature of time and photography. How could my mother be that little girl? Why were my grandparents so young? Because in a photograph, time stops.

In their smiles I soon recognized the grandparents and mother that I knew. Even William, who died years before I was born, I learned to know from his beaming Irish eyes in the photo albums my grandmother saved. These lessons of time and photography continued with my father's family photo albums. They seemed to weave a vibrant tapestry of time and images. As my dad was an avid photographer, my first memories are of being the subject for his camera. Yet if I look at a photo of myself at age 4, I struggle to remember the date or the occasion. All I know is the photograph. The moment that light reflected through the camera lens and was captured onto film.

Two weeks ago on Sunday night, June 7, 2020, my mother, Barbara Ione Dobbin Brubaker died. For 89 years, going at the same pace we all measure, the beautiful child at the lake became the devoted daughter, the favorite cousin, the loving wife, the attentive mother, the doting grandmother, the faithful friend, the creative artist, and the inspiring teacher. From her I learned to admire the wonders of nature, the thrill of travel, and the beauty of music and art. She faced adversity with courage, and always shared kindness with generosity and a smile. At the end, dementia robbed her of so much, yet she was mercifully spared from the horrible coronavirus pandemic, and for the last few months has mostly slept, quietly unaware of the world's turmoil. Though health precautions prevented me from seeing her these last few months, I was grateful to be granted some time that Sunday to be with her and know she was finally at peace.

In 2016 I took this photo of my mom sitting on my front porch swing with her dog Greta, who is now part of our household. My mother's smile is not much different from the one at the lake. She was a great storyteller, and I think it was her stories about countless family photos that inspired me to write this blog. It's all about time without time. And love without limit.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everyone loves a dog.

Until We Meet Again!

06 June 2020

 A fine portrait
invites the viewer
to read the mind of its subject.
We study the eyes,
consider the posture,
examine the gestures
and deduce
thoughts, feelings, and emotions
as skillfully guided by the artist.

With a larger group
the artist has more opportunity
to depict individual personalities
or a collected spirit.
The multiple faces
appeal to our human experience
and the viewer feels that they too
are present in the moment
of the picture.

When an accomplished artist
crafts an portrait
it also begs a question.
Who do we see?
What is going on with this person?
The artist places subtle clues
that lead us to answers
so anyone can recognize
that same occasion from their own life.

This weekend I present another set of postcards
by the Austrian artist, Hermann Torggler, (1878-1939).
I've featured his etchings of charming young women before
in The Girls of Austrian Postcards,
Up, Up, and Away!,
Ein schönes Mädchen,
To Your Health!

and Don't Forget to Write!

* * *

The first image shows a young woman standing at the window of train carriage. She is richly attired  with a fine feathered hat, and extravagant dress with a very large frilled collar. Herr Torggler turns  her gaze directly into our eyes. She seems paused in thought, about to say something. Ade, auf Wiedersehen! is the caption. Farewell, until we meet again.

The postcard was sent 3 October 1900 to Fräulein Johanna Schauf of Nottuln, a town between Coesfeld and Münster in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. It is near the Netherlands border and was a settlement since at least 4000 BC. Nuttuln translates from early German as "Nut Wood".

* * *

The second etching is my favorite because it is the postcard that first attracted my interest in Hermann Torggler's work. It illustrates a lively rehearsal of a Damenkapelle or Ladies Orchestra. The caption title is Generalprobe, or Dress Rehearsal. Seven young women are making music in a small room. They play violin, cello, piano, flute, horn, cymbals, and are led by an enthusiastic conductor who has thrown her arms wide as if the music has reached a rousing finale. 

The postmark on this card 5 May 1899 matches the date of the message carefully written around all four sides of the border. The writer also jokingly adds that the Generalprobe unter Direktion von Fr. B. Vach, which I'm guessing refers to themselves or the recipient. It was sent from Bayern, i.e. Bavaria,  to Fräulein Irma Becker of Vacha, a town in Thuringia, more or less in the very center of Germany. In this era of the German Empire it was located in the Grand Duchy of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach.

* * *

The third etching of Torggler is also entitled Ade, auf Wiedersehen! and shows a woman inside a train carriage compartment in an opposite perspective to the one in the first postcard. However this woman is dressed differently, wearing a proper traveling jacket and modest straw hat. Beside her satchel on the floor is a bouquet of flowers. She is engrossed in writing a message on a postcard. The sender has underlined the caption title and added the initials K. S. onto the woman's card in the picture.

Like the previous postcard this one was mailed with a Bavarian postal stamp. The publisher of all of Torggler's postcards was Fr. A. Acker,amm. Kunstverlag of München. It was sent from Munich on 19 June 1899 to Hochwohlgeboren (highly born) Cf...(?) Richard Stury.  The address stumped me for a bit, as it starts simply with Hier, meaning Here, in this city, München.

I know a little bit about München and I confirmed a hunch that the street address, Maximilianstrasse 29, is a prime location in the center of the city just inside the Ring road. The 5 story building still stands as it must have looked in 1899 with ritzy shops on the ground floor and apartments/offices above. It is a also very close to Munich's opera house and other theaters, so I did a search for the name Richard Stury.

Richard Stury, K. B. Hofschauspieler
as "Faust"

It turns out that Richard Stury (1859–1928) was a noted German actor, famous for his roles at the Munich National Theater from 1887 to 1906.  He played the lead in two plays of Friedrich Schiller: Don Carlos and Wilhelm Tell; in Shakespeare's Othello;  and in Goethe's great tragic two-part drama, Faust. Richard Stury is pictured here in costume for his role as Faust on a souvenir postcard from around 1900.

It was during a performance of Faust part II, that Stury was seriously injured when a stage apparatus malfunctioned just as his character Faust flies across the stage. Stury suffered a concussion and never fully recovered. Poor health forced him to retire from the stage in 1906, but he remained an important teacher of dramatic arts. Today in Munich, Die Richard Stury Stiftung, operates  a foundation in his name for promotion of the performing and visual arts.
Ironically the date of that accident was 12 October 1899, not quite 4 months after Stury received Herman Torggler's charming postcard from K.S.
_ _ _

Hermann Torggler's delightful drawings are simple examples of the sentimental art popular in late 19th and early 20th century Europe. They are like confections, trifle bonbons of eye candy created for pleasurable visual consumption. Evidently his postcards were very successful, to judge from the variety listed on postcard dealers' websites, and were sold throughout Germany, Austria, Switzerland and even France too. Of course it is Torggler's depiction of musicians and musical instruments that attracts my interest in collecting his work, but I find his skillful rendering of female portraits very captivating too.

What intrigues me most is that Hermann Torggler's work was popular at the very beginning of the age of postcards. It was a new kind of social media, cheap to produce, easy to sell, and fun for people to to consume. Like candy.

We recognize the allure of his young women because they resemble the millions of similar images used in commercial art of our time. Yet in 1899 Torggler is not really selling anything except a pretty picture that captures our attention. Just a few years later, photographers would be able to capture this same quality of charisma in real live models for a fraction of the technical effort. But Torggler's work is made entirely from his imagination. We do not see these portraits through a camera lens. They come straight from the artist's eye. That's the power of art.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where it's all just window dressing.


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