March 19, 2015

It Happened on March 19th

Albert Pinkham Ryder's Birthday, 1847
Albert Pinkham Ryder
Albert Pinkham Ryder is an American artist of whom you may never have heard -- I know I hadn't. He was a very important painter during his time, and was belonged to the Society of American Artists, a progressive group that formed in 1877. His work was represented by ten paintings at the New York Armory Show of, an historic exhibit of modern art held in 1913. His work is said to have been a significant influence on Jackson Pollock. 

Ryder's style was emotional and imaginative. He often illustrated scenes from literature or opera, and tended to portray vague figures in a dream-like landscape. He sometimes worked on a painting for ten years or more, applying coat after coat of paint and varnish, and sometimes applying a faster-drying medium on top of a slower-drying one. As a result, many of his works were physically unstable, cracking easily or even disintegrating. Sometimes the paint was found to be not completely dry after many years. 

Siegfried and the Rhine Maidens
You would think that this technique would make Ryder's work difficult to copy, but this is not the case. Ryder is one of the most-forged artists in American art. There are thought to be over a thousand Ryder forgeries in existence, some of them hanging on museum walls. Of course, forgers may have had some inadvertent assistance from Ryder, in that he seldom signed his works. 

When Ryder's father died in 1900, Albert underwent somewhat of a personality change, seldom undertaking new works, but instead reworking older paintings. He seldom sought out the company of others, but was pleasant and welcoming when they came to visit, clearing a place for them to sit and talking about his work. His home was said to have been in a terrible state, the floor covered with trash and thick dust lying over everything. 

The Birkebeinerrennet
The first Bierkebeinerrennet. Today contestants carry a 3.5 kg rucksack instead of a little boy.
Today is the date of the Birkenbeinerrennet, a 54k cross-country ski race held in Norway. The race has been held annually since 1932, but the event it commemorates goes back much further. It honors the trip made by Birkebeiner loyalists in 1206, who fled with the infant who later became Haakon IV of Norway, in order to protect him from a rival faction. The group encountered a blizzard on the way, and only 2 warriors managed to complete the trip with the child. Today, each contestant must carry a rucksack weighing at least 3.5kg, representing the weight of the year-old child. 

The hardy Birkebeiners may have been able to ski with the child through a blizzard, but modern participants are not made of such sturdy stuff -- or at least the race officials don't think so. In 2007 the race was cancelled because of extremely high winds. Unfortunately, the race wasn't cancelled until it had been in progress for an hour, and there was no way to notify those who had already set out. The 55 Norwegians who completed the race were a little put out. 

In case you're wondering where the name of the race comes from, it's named after the Birkebeiners, one of two rival factions for power during the Norwegian civil war (1130-1240). Each party supported a different claimant to the throne. The Birkebeiners got their name because their opposition claimed that they were so poor that they made their shoes from birch bark. The Birkebeiners adopted the name proudly for themselves. 

The Swallows Return to Capistrano
Cliff Swallow
The annual return of the swallows to Capistrano is traditionally celebrated on March 19, the feast day of St. Joseph. The birds spend their winters in Goya, Argentina, and make the 6,000 mile trek to California every spring. Mind you, the legend is much better: originally it was said that the swallows returned every year from Jerusalem, flying over the Atlantic and carrying small twigs that they could drop on the water to provide a place for them to rest. 

In the early 20th century, the swallows became famous when the Overland Monthly magazine published an article about their annual return. This was followed by various radio broadcasts of the annual event. Leon Rene is the composer who immortalized the birds with the song "When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano," which has been performed by Pat Boone, The Ink Spots, Guy Lombardo, Glen Miller, and others. 

The city was built up around the Mission San Juan Capistrano, shown here in ruins in 1899.
The Return of the Swallows is not the only thing that Capistrano is noted for, however. It contains the oldest building in California that is still in use, and it produced the first wine in Alto California. Capistrano is also the setting of the first Zorro novel, The Curse of Capistrano.

As for the sparrows, they've moved on. In recent years they've made their summer home in the eaves of the Vellano Country Club in Chino Hills, California, about 50 miles north of Capistrano.

Ursula Andress's Birthday, 1936
Ursula posing with Elvis in 1963
She was the first Bond girl, and for many, the quintessential Bond girl. The scene of Honey Rider rising from the sea in her white bikini is one of the iconic scenes from cinema history. What more can you say about Ursula Andress? 

I ran across a couple of interesting tidbits that I didn't know: First, she might have missed out on her career-making role in Dr. No altogether if she had not turned down an invitation. James Dean invited her to go with him to San Francisco in his Porsche 550 Spyder on the day of his death. Secondly, she was the original choice to play Sophie in Sophie's Choice, before the role was given to Meryl Streep. (I can't even imagine...)

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