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Sunday, June 15, 2008

Don't be koi

It's a design trend I'll never have enough wherewithal to manage, but I'm delighted by bizarre wallpaper and textile patterns. Mark Mothersbaugh, formerly of Devo, has turned his eye to designing wallpaper patterns (from LA Weekly, link via boing boing):
Mark Mothersbaugh wants to put snakes on your wall. Now that the Devo lead singer and composer of film, television and commercial soundtracks has conquered the world of fine rugs, he’s set his designs, literally, on wallpaper. One pattern he’s calling “Black Forest” is a mutated collage of a 19th-century image of a bird. Those who recoil at the idea of reptiles splayed 24/7 across the walls of their kitchen should steer clear of “Snakes in a Tree,” a pattern of snakes, in trees. The unenlightened might find this one creepy, but Mothersbaugh’s wife, Anita, pictures it in a kids’ playroom, to enhance a safari-adventure theme. On the other hand, “Don’t Be Koi,” with its cheerful orange fish patterns, would be lovely even in Martha Stewart’s bathroom.

The NY Times did a brief feature on Richard Saja, who embroiders extra details onto eighteenth-century textiles. His blog has some great examples, including a werewolf explorer and a bird-man (from the same pattern).

I loved Lois Lowry's Anastasia Krupnik books when I was little--it's a great series for obsessive list-makers and systematizers--and one of the details that stands out in my memory is that she wanted the wallpaper in her bedroom hung upside-down. From Anastasia Krupnik:
And she missed her old wallpaper. She had gotten to know the funny-looking bicycle riders on her old wallpaper quite well. She had given them names. The lady in the long skirt who rode a unicycle and played a violin was named Sibyl. The man on an old-fashioned racing bike who rode no-hands and played a flute was Stanley. Stanley had chased Sibyl around the walls of her old bedroom for years. She wanted them back.

When she tells her mother that she misses them, her mother remembers Stanley's "sexy little mustache." The upside is that in her new larger house, her bedroom is in a turret. Both wallpaper and turrets seemed so exotic to me as a young reader.

I was trying to make a list of other good children's book characters who had cool wallpaper--any ideas from older children's books when wallpaper was fashionable? For example, I did a Google search for references to wallpaper in Elizabeth Enright's books because I remember wishing that I could live among so many architectural and design quirks as her characters did. She describes wallpaper designs as "bunches of broccoli" in Gone-Away Lake and has the Melendy children peel away old wallpaper to find secrets in The Four-Story Mistake. The title house in that book had another detail I admired without quite knowing what one looked like in real life, a cupola. Google Books' list of keywords for Doublefields, a collection of short stories with lots of descriptions of old furniture and heavy draperies, gives some indication of Enright's taste for wonderful nouns: Place des Vosges, Woodmere, galoshes, parcheesi, gorgon, caterpillar, Mary Pickford, governess cart, Rupert Brooke, kobolds, Avalon, arpeggios, scrod, Bordighera, cocoon, moths, intaglio. And now I find that she was Frank Lloyd Wright's niece and that Thimble Summer was inspired by her trips to Taliesin. So that explains a lot!

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Blogger Tove on Tue Jun 17, 03:33:00 PM:
A wallpaper story that immediately pops into my mind is not a children's story, and it's actually kind of disturbing in a wallpaper-gone-bad kinda way.... The wall covering in "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1899) becomes the obsession and a horrible catalyst that drives the unstable and repressed protagonist over the edge:

"The paint and paper look as if a boys' school had used it. It is stripped off--the paper in great patches all around the head of my bed, about as far as I can reach, and in a great place on the other side of the room low down. I never saw a worse paper in my life. One of those sprawling flamboyant patterns committing every artistic sin. It is dull enough to confuse the eye in following, pronounced enough to constantly irritate and provoke study, and when you follow the lame uncertain curves for a little distance they suddenly commit suicide--plunge off at outrageous angles, destroy themselves in unheard of contradictions. The color is repellent, almost revolting; a smouldering unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight. It is a dull yet lurid orange in some places, a sickly sulphur tint in others. No wonder the children hated it!"

I love this story!!!
Blogger Ben on Tue Jun 17, 04:07:00 PM:
Yeah, one of the (more artsy) finance guys at my job made a reference to yellow wallpaper recently, implying that the working environment would drive us all out of our minds. It was kind of a secret code complaint that can't be understood by non-bookish bosses.