A Blurb on Framing “The Lark”

For a couple of years in San Francisco’s early decades, Gelett Burgess published a little literary magazine called The Lark—and a bit of a lark it was. Its first issue, which came out May 1, 1895, included the piece of writing Burgess was best known for, “The Purple Cow”:

I never saw a purple cow
I never hope to see one;
But I can tell you, anyhow,
I’d rather see than be one!

It gained its author a taste of popularity, and helped the little magazine get more circulation than Burgess had dared hope for.

Poster for May 1895 premier issue of “The Lark,” designed by Bruce Porter (1865-1955)

But two years later, he was quite over the whole lark as well as the fame his silly poem had earned him. The final issue of The Lark in April 1897 included this sequel to “The Purple Cow”:

Ah, yes, I wrote the “Purple Cow”—
I’m Sorry, now, I wrote it;
But I can tell you Anyhow
I’ll Kill you if you Quote it!

If such frivolity isn’t everyone’s idea of enduring artistic achievement, The Lark deserves remembrance for employing artists like Maynard Dixon and Bruce Porter—the latter being the designer of the poster shown here, which advertised the premiere issue of the magazine in May 1895.

Burgess did make one other lasting contribution apart from “The Purple Cow”—the term “blurb,” which has earned an entry into Merriam-Websters: “a short publicity notice (as on a book jacket).” If my blog posts can be described as little “publicity notices” for our work, then here’s a blurb about framing Bruce Porter’s poster (another kind of publicity notice) for The Lark:

Corner detail of the stained walnut frame, showing carved leaves—a nod to the leaves enwreathing the head of Pan in the poster.

The idea of this frame was to celebrate the historical and artistic significance of the poster (both very dear to the customer) but doing so within the bounds of what’s appropriate for a poster and its most fundamental, utilitarian purpose as simply advertising. Frames for smaller posters like this one, which is 18-1/2″ x 12-1/2″, usually work best at around 2″ wide—except, as in this instance, when the poster needs to be matted, in which case (unless the mat is very, very narrow) the frame should be narrower than the matting. (I try to avoid matting posters whenever I can, but with this poster, the design touched the very edge of the sheet of paper. A mat does not need to cover as much of the paper as a frame does, so we chose to use a mat, and in a color as close as possible to that of the poster. The mat is 2-3/4″ on the top and sides and 1″ wider on the bottom.) In any case, the frame I made, which is walnut with a black wash, is 1-1/2″ wide. It’s not only a suitably restrained scale, but is also simple in its basic form, the point being to give bold, direct and straight forward emphasis to the poster’s simple graphic purpose.

Bruce Porter, poster for “The Lark,” 1895. Side view.

More than most poster frames, though, this one is designed to honor and celebrate the art work, and is therefore embellished with carving sympathetic with the design of the poster. The wreath of grape leaves on the figure of Pan (note the cloven hoof peeking out), a god associated with a drunken delight in spring, suggested a design touch for the frame to enwreath the poster. But rather than carve leaves all around, I chose a more restrained approach: to simply articulate the corners. Note that the design of the poster was itself initially carved into a linoleum block before being printed. I love that aspect of this form for a frame for block prints: the frame is made the same way the block from which the image is printed is made.

One of the great rewards and joys of making frames the way we do is the opportunity and challenge such jobs offer a subordinate and usually (certainly in this case!) lesser artisan to use his own, more limited, skills to subtly pay tribute, in call-and-response manner, to the more accomplished work of the artist who made the picture. Asked to carve some leaves without particular reference but simply based on my own notions, I would not have carved leaves like this. These were made under the tutorial, if you will, of a master artist, Bruce Porter, who helped form, over a century ago, the identity of San Francisco—work that framers today are charged with helping to preserve and sustain.

An 1890’s landscape painting we framed by Bruce Porter is here.

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