Saturday, October 08, 2011

A World of Moving Parts (Many): Why Dellschau Feels So Relevant to an Ad Guy.

Until I visited the Menil Collection to see the Walter de Maria exhibition, I had never heard of folk artist Charles A A Dellschau.

Pieces by Prussian-born Dellschau, a saddler and butcher who lived in Houston in the late 1800s and early 1900s are part of another exhibit at the Menil. Dellschau’s paintings and collages of fantastical machines, collected in handcrafted notebooks, were originally salvaged from a dump, and then from a Houston junk shop.

If you have an ounce of curiosity about the modern world, if you are involved with its many moving parts, then you need to see these pieces – not least because his fabulous (in the original sense of the word) drawings are dated 1911. A whole century. Dellschau envisioned a future as very few other people did. But really, those of us who grew up on Jules Verne and Tom Swift recognize these visions.

It’s like that Avery Brooks TV commercial for IBM e-Business software back at the turn of this century – “I was promised flying cars.” Dellschau looks to be one of the original promisers.

For a marketing man who believes that advertising is life and everything else is just details, Dellschau captured the way of life that today we believe is so unbelievably complex. Alright, I skanked that phrase from a t-shirt. Nevertheless we live in a world of many moving parts, from political events to health care to raising kids to going to the moon (although we don’t seem to be headed there any more).

So we come to advertising and marketing. Even in 1911, there were more ways to reach consumers than most of us realize: billboards and transit signage, newspapers, magazines and books with advertising in them, traveling sales people and very well-established catalogues (Sears and Roebuck, "Book of Bargains,” 1894).   

Admittedly, getting sales messages to “captains of industry” was tougher than retail. Business-to-business marketing, including branding, had to wait until Fortune was founded in 1930. People were busy.

Just like today. Looking at the Dellschau pieces…“visionary, folk and eclectic”… shows me at least that he was responding to and addressing the business of life. He was taking in and repurposing cultural memes for communications purposes.

You ought to see these works up close – Dellschau’s a hell of an art director.

NOTE: The Dellschau work here, “Turning Up a Giant Airplane,” is from a private art dealer, Stephen Romano. I use it today because it’s as visual as a photo of these pieces can be. Thanks in advance to Romano. And the same to the Menil Collection always with a special mention to Michelle White, associate curator.

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