Days of Yore

    So, just a touch over 130 years ago, a man named Brown and a man named Bigelow started a company called Brown & Bigelow, a company known to this day for putting pictures on things.  Art prints, but also using same images on decks of cards, cigarette lighters, clothes, and, especially, calendars.  Helping companies do their advertising with calendars pushed them into the world of giving advice on advertising campaigns and the art of making promotional products/

    A lot of their clients ran to blue collar industries: garages, gas stations, plumbing companies.  So among their most famous (and valuable) products were their girlie calendars, featuring pictures of scantily clad damsels, sometimes in distress, by Rolf Armstrong, Gil Elvgren, and the ceiling-breaker Zoe Mozert, a model who found out what the artists were getting for painting pictures of her, picked up a brush, and cut out the middle man.

    More family friendly products featured artists whose works, on calendars or as framed prints, were eventually seen all over America: Maxfield Parrish (though the Parrish print your grandmother had in her house was probably one HER grandmother got by sending in boxtops from chocolates), Norman Rockwell who produced years and years of official Boy Scout calendars for them, and Louis Icart, whose work straddles the line between Girlie Art and Wall Art.  (Wall Art is the rather sniffy name applied by critical types to the kind of art people buy for the walls of middle-class homes, dentists’ waiting rooms, and lobbies in senior centers.  Come the revolution, these sniffy types will be lined up against a wall right next to people with wall art, and we’ll all go down together.)

    But they covered all themes you might expect on calendars: nature scenes, baseball players, old cars, golf, cars, and, um, the main thing I was looking up when I started this search of the Interwebs.  They gave us the works of Kashus Koolidge.

    Cassius Marcellus Coolidge wash a painter and cartoonist who sometimes signed his work “Cash” or “Kash”, or, as noted, “Kashus Koolidge”.  There wasn’t a lot of material about his personal life, beyond the fact that he came from a strict Quaker family, but grew up to make art history.  Or whatever you call it.  He drew editorial cartoons and painted comic foregrounds: paintings for people to hold up in front of themselves for photographs (a picture of a muscled boxer standing triumphant over his opponent in the ring, say, only he didn’t have a head so when you put your face in the right place…you get the idea.)  And at the ripe old age of fifty, he made art history, or whatever you may call it, by painting the first in a series of paintings for Brown & Bigelow, called Poker Party.

    Poker Party featured four St. Bernards of various dispositions sitting up to a table and playing cards.  It was popular enough that Brown & Bigelow asked for more, and Mr. Coolidge obliged and, yes, Kashus Koolidge is the man we have to thank for the whole Dogs Playing Poker genre, whether on canvas or black velvet.  He produced about sixteen paintings of dogs involved in human occupations, half of these involving the poker table, as in the postcard seen above, called “Only a Friend Needed”.

    So any time you are expressing gratitude for (or screaming about) pop culture and popular tastes in art, you must remember to mention Cassius Marcellus Coolidge and, as well, Brown & Bigelow.

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