Lori Stephens, editor,
Pirate & Gypsy Girls
(Collectors Press, 2001)

On the one hand, it's cheesecake. Damn fine cheesecake, if you ask me, but cheesecake all the same. On the other, it's a sampler of Americana, a slice of the country's rich artistic tradition.

And, it's got scantily clad lady pirates and gypsies to boot.

Pirate & Gypsy Girls is one slim volume from the Artist Archives series from Collectors Press. As writer/director Max Allan Collins notes in his detailed introduction, "the calendar girls of the period between the two world wars were not girls-next-door, glimpsed in provocative poses, courtesy of a swimsuit or a windy day. Rather, the exotic settings of history and mythology provided purveyors of pulchritude with such ideal subjects as Salome, Helen of Troy, Cleopatra, and Pocahontas." And, as this book demonstrates, pirate and gypsy girls.

The 14 vividly colorful, coffeetable-sized prints included in this volume are tantalizing indeed, offering hints and suggestions, not blatant displays, of fresh-faced models in distant places, evoking a sense of history and legend while never pretending to be historical or legendary. Painted primarily in the 1920s and '30s, they are the work of artists including Edward Eggleston, L. Goddard, Gene Pressler, F.H. Clough, Arthur L. Muscon and several unidentified illustrators. Collins provides short but thorough information on the artists and styles of the time.

Certainly, the sense here is of models at play; at no time are the artists portraying gritty, realistic scenes. But that's really the point of art of this sort, from this era -- wide-eyed innocence coupled with toothy, red-lipped smiles, a well-placed leg beneath a too-short skirt, a button or two missing from a frilly blouse, all in exotic locales to excite the imagination.

[ by Tom Knapp ]
Rambles: 4 May 2002

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