New Orleans, 1922.
The Blackwell Brothers touring carnival have announced they are leaving the state in one weeks time – but before they go there is a new attraction to see…
Ladies and gentlemen, come on in to the darkened canvas tent. Whereupon the showman and his beautiful assistant will tell you the tale of this fascinating new curiosity.
Prepare to hear the story of Rachel & Baby Rosie…
When i bought the Brainchild at auction back in 2010, i also managed to purchase an original poster that was used to promote the attraction back in the day.
However, a whole load of my gear got ruined due to water damage in floods last year including this poster. It was pretty much destroyed but i held on to it anyway. I’m so pleased i did, because i have managed to get a reproduction made which uses the artwork from the original poster.
This is a copy of the proof that has been sent to me..
It is a 3 colour design for screen print, the lightest of which would be the base colour of the paper or cloth. The second colour would be a midtone [used for shadowing in the image above]. And the third would be a keyline [a dark colour, usually black] which would have all the linework.
I am having a one printed up at it’s original size (50x80cm) which should be here in time for the exhibition!
I apologise in advance for my overuse of exclamation marks in this post, but it seems that the internet really does work!
I wrote a page on this blog to ask anybody who had some information regarding the history of this exhibit if they would contact me… [link]
Well, a lady called Emily Kane got in touch. She works as a librarian at the Smith Regional Public Library, in New Orleans, USA. One of my blog posts jogged her memory about Blackwell’s travelling carnival so she delved into the public records and found that it was passing through New Orleans in the spring of 1922.
It was at this time that the carnival owner Adam Blackwell announced his engagement… to a girl called Rachel Palmer! It was customary to make a public notification of this at the town hall, but ever the showman, Adam went one step further and put a notification in one of the local newspapers alongside a photograph of the happy couple.
Amazingly, Emily managed to track down the original photo amidst decades of stored records at the old newspapers offices! Not only has she emailed me a scan of the photograph, but managed to get the newspaper to donate it to this collection!
So a massive thank you to Emily Kane for her extensive and diligent work. And a thank you too, to the Jackson Daily News for being kind enough to donate this photograph to me to use as part of the exhibition.
I understand the photo is already in transit, so with any luck it will be present for the exhibition in May!
It is with renewed enthusiasm I ask if anyone else has any interesting curiosities that may be linked to this story then please get in touch. It’s not just physical items I would like to hear about – do you have stories about the carnival or the people involved? Maybe you know where Rachel’s head was stored for all those years before it came up for auction a few years ago.
My email is chrisfairrie[at]hotmail[dot]co[dot]uk and i would love to hear from you!
one source of reference i must credit is ‘the human marvels‘. [link]
whilst researching possible medical conditions to explain the brainchild phenomena, i came across the human marvels website. it looks at ‘oddities and freaks of nature‘, primarily as they have been presented within the world of the touring carnival.
the stories of parasitic and co-joined twins were certainly most relevant to my areas of interest. and while none exactly fitted what i was looking for, i found myself caught up reading about the lives of these folk with unusual physical conditions.
photo above len and ernie: two boys, one head [link]
many of the stories told on the website are touching accounts of people who have led very challenging lives, often demonstrating themselves to be shining examples of humanity rather than the monstrosities they were sometimes portrayed as.
the site also has a lovely aesthetic too, harking back to the golden days of the travelling carnival. many of the stories are accompanied by period postcards and photos of the individuals themselves.
next time you feel like life has dealt you some bad cards, go checkout the human marvels. reading about the adversity these folk overcame may help put your own problems into perspective!
my last post made me realise that i’ve mainly been discussing my modelling endeavours on this blog, rather than saying much about my research for information or my sources of reference.
this photo shows the books i have on my desk right now..
online reading has had me dipping my toes into some other terribly interesting areas..
psychology uses a concept called the inner child, or divine child (as carl jung calls it), which i felt tied in with the brainchild imagery nicely – as an independent childlike aspect of a person’s psyche, or even a one of many sub-personalities that make up a consciousness.
science throws us a religious man from the 1600′s called nicolas steno [link], who made scientific discoveries regarding fossils and also the layering of strata – without which darwin’s theory of natural selection would not have been possible. darwin’s expression of emotion experiment also makes for an interesting diversion and further reading [link].
radio 4 also ran a series called the history of the world in 100 objects [link]. this is not so much a timeline of humanities technological advancement, but rather of objects which are often unremarkable. that is, until you know the personal history of the artefact itself. then they take on a new significance as a type of historical memorabilia.
chances are that very little of these sources will have any direct relevance to the project i finally produce, but i hope that this richness of exploration will be a good foundation to build upon.
in november, radio 4 began a series of ten programmes on
the history of the brain. [link]
written by dr. geoff bunn, “[the series] covers 5000 years of understanding (and misunderstanding) of what the brain is and what it does from the ancient Egyptians to recent advances in neuroscience. It takes in the myths and fallacies about the brain and what that tells us about the culture of the times.“
each 15minute show is now available as a podcast on the radio4 website [link]. they tell an incredibly interesting story of how our understanding of the brain has changed over time, offering a fascinating insight into humanity’s changing ideas regarding medicine, religion, evolution, and mental health.
i am not convinced that very much of this information will make it’s way into my final project, but it has been one of the most interesting sources of research so far.
while looking for reference material for this project, i have come across a rather fantastic blog called morbid anatomy [link]. it is authored by a new york based photographer called joanna ebenstein.
i recently posted some photos of wax sculptures which i understood to be from an italian waxwork museum. it turns out that the exhibits are certainly based there, but the specific photographs were from a larger collection by ebensten, called anatomical theatre. [link]
“Anatomical Theatre is a photographic exhibition documenting artifacts collected by and exhibited in medical museums throughout Europe and the United States. The objects in these photos range from preserved human remains to models made from ivory, wax, and papier mâché.”
these artefacts very much embody both the aesthetic and scientific field i am hoping to emulate with the objects i am creating.
this is a fascinating body of work, so please take the time to have a look at the online gallery [link]
today, i shall put the cadavers and dead babies to one side, and look instead at an archaic textbook.
you see, i was rummaging through books in a charity shop a few days ago and i came across this little gem…
originally published in 1881, ‘anthropology: an introduction to the study of man and civilization‘ was written by edward b tylor as an overview of the tremendously large subject of ‘the Science of Man‘.
i absolutely adore old small format books, and this one being a 1937 print was just far too lovely and interesting to pass up. it only cost 50pence!
i have felt that the brainchild concept could be used as a metaphor for a number of ideas. one of which being to consider the differences between instinct and learned behaviour. the suggestion of a baby in mind [instinct], which controls the larger adult body [which is capable of learning by experience]. this idea resonated as i was reading the second chapter, wherein tylor discusses the differences between man and lower animals.
however, tylor explains that learning is not enough to define our differences from other animals. he first points us to darwin’s work ‘expression of the emotions’, and then to the philosopher john locke’s suggestion that ideas and abstract thought separate us from ‘the brutes‘. tylor asserts:
“man alone has self-consciousness, that is, he not only feels and thinks, but is aware of himself as feeling and thinking.”
there are many ideas concerning self, identity and personality that are rooted in the physical brain, and i hoped to use the brainchild to explore some of these a little further – so when i come across an idea explained so succinctly i cannot help but share it!
in 1664, thomas willis published a book titled cerebri anatome.
this is commonly translated as ‘anatomy of the brain & nerves’.
this text was considered groundbreaking at the time, as he attempted to correlate brain anatomy with mental function. one passage stood out:
“within the womb of the brain, all the conceptions, ideas, forces and powers whatsoever – both of the rational and sensitive soul - are formed.”
read more on thomas willis and cerebri anatome here