Monday, December 14, 2009

The Stationmaster's Daughter

The full title of this undated (early- to mid-1940s) work is The Rape of the Stationmaster's Daughter, a tempera on paper, titled in pencil on the reverse. It was reproduced in our second Flora anthology, The Curiously Sinister Art of Jim Flora, and its anatomically absurd actors were adapted by designer Laura Lindgren for the cover. In 2008 we issued a fine art print.

A customer purchased a print last month and expressed admiration at the quality of both the work and the replica. But truth to tell, our Stationmaster print has not sold well. I suspect the subject matter creeps people out. It's sinister and diabolic—and goes beyond mere mischief. Who wants a cartoonish depiction of a sexual-assault-in-progress adorning the living room?

Yet this work will always be special to me. At the time Barbara Economon and I compiled our first book, The Mischievous Art of Jim Flora, in 2004, we had seen very little of Flora's early fine art. He was primarily known for his album covers and commercial music iconography, topical magazine illustrations, and children's books. What fine art of Flora's we had seen consisted mostly of his large, late-period maritime canvases, which did not capture our interest.

When I was first shown (by Flora's family) his fine art collection in storage on a rainy Saturday in October 2005, one of the first works pulled from a jammed portfolio was Stationmaster. I ogled it with amazement. It was gorgeous, even as it was disturbing. It was a depiction of evil, yet it had a magical quality, transporting me to another world, revealing the deeper Flora artistic vision that had been a family heirloom to that point. I didn't see darkness in the tableau. The aged, pigment-soaked paper evoked the privately creative side of Flora during the 1940s. I never forgot that moment: the birth of an obsession.

We don't know if the work was based on a historical incident or simply reflects Flora exorcising his demons with a paint brush. Barbara's color-matched print faithfully captures the original, right down to the muddy backwash. You can almost feel the brushstrokes.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Floraville skyline

Unlettered page from Primer for Prophets booklet, 1954. This image will not be part of our screen print alphabet series.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

a curiously sinister lachrymosity

Detail, Okeh Records retail banner for then-new (1943) 78 rpm disc "Born To Lose" by Ted Daffan's Texans. The grieving beau has an odd tic: crying out of one eye, thereby expressing semi-sorrow over the loss of his gal.

The full banner was reproduced in our second anthology, The Curiously Sinister Art of Jim Flora.

Sunday, November 29, 2009


Great detail (extracted at the Print & Pattern blog) from Flora's mid-1960s painting The Big Bank Robbery. We issued a limited edition fine art print of the work earlier this year.

The backstory on the work is unknown. It may be a generic bank hold-up, or based on a specific historic incident. No documentation from the artist is known to exist.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

more anatomical spare parts

Detail from the Lord Buckley 10" EP Hipsters, Flipsters, and Finger-Poppin' Daddies, Knock Me Your Lobes, released on RCA Victor in 1955. Left to right: sports-fan centaur, polycephalic saxophonist, jubilant wench. Body count: three figures, eight legs, four heads.

We issued a (very) limited edition print (10) of this iconic Flora cover in 2007. Copies of the original cover fetch beaucoups bucks on Ebay.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

the cognitive process

Flora explains how the brain reacts to stimuli—it's all cogs, pulleys and tiny hammers. Another (see below) illustration from the November-December 1944 issue of Columbia Coda.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

phantom septet

Illustration, Columbia Coda, November-December 1944. The pianist is ... we'll get back to you on that. The clarinetists and violinists, forced to perform incognito due to union regulations, were represented on the session by essential anatomical components attired in boots and bowties.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

inside the art factory

We recently launched our third series of alphabetical Primer for Prophets screen prints (see preceding post). Minneapolis printmaker Dan Ibarra of Aesthetic Apparatus, where the series is produced, sent us snapshots of the production process:

Detail of WASHED:

First inking of ECONOMIZED:

Drying racks with ganged images after first ink pass:

Finished, dried, stacked, untrimmed prints:

We've now produced prints for the letters A, C, D, E, G, J, K, N, Q, S, U, and W (14 to go). While developing series 3 over the summer, Barb and I selected "U" (Underestimated) in anticipation of printmaker Dan's and wife Kelly's first child, expected in the fall.

Clover Isabel Ibarra was born 9 lbs, 7 oz at 9:31 pm, Wednesday, October 21, at St. Joseph's Hospital in St. Paul.

No triplets this time.

About Clover's birth, Dan writes:
Assisted by our three amazing midwives and a slew of other nurses at St. Joseph's, we attempted innumerable ways to get Clover in the right position and deliver her through a natural child birth. The labor was extremely hard on Kelly (as 72 hours of labor can be) and in the end we exhausted all options and had to perform a Caesarian. Although we really struggled hard to avoid as little medical intervention as possible it turns out that complications with the umbilical cord around the baby's neck and the position of her head prevented anything of the sort.

Clover was amazingly tough through the whole labor, rarely ever showing any fluctuation in heart rate or stamina. Some people say that how we are born is very telling of our personality. If that's the case, this new little girl is already the toughest, most cool-headed girl we've ever known. (Maybe Clover Eastwood might have been a better name?)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Primer for Prophets 3rd series

NOW AVAILABLE: the next four works in the Primer for Prophets screen print series. Cool Flora illustrations of the American nuclear family during the 1950s, when grocers employed stockdogs, crows fought tug-of-war over lingerie, and cigarettes were obligatory in the obstetrics ward. The images derive from a 1954 trade-only alphabet booklet that Flora illustrated for CBS-TV, depicting consumer markets for prospective TV advertisers.

The third set of prints features ECONOMIZED, NURSED, UNDERESTIMATED, and WASHED. Each work has been produced in an edition of 100, each hand-numbered and authenticated. Individual prints sell for $50, and a full set (four prints) can be obtained for $175. Full sets can be purchased via any of the single-print pages at

Series 1: Ate, Drove, Jived, and Smoked. Single prints: $60 (except Jived: $125); set: $200.

Series 2: Cooked, Groomed, Kissed, and Quaffed. Single prints: $50; set: $175.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Flora crosses the pond

Nine Jim Flora illustrations, album covers, and details found their way into yesterday's UK Telegraph Sunday jazz supplement (print edition). We were approached by one of the paper's art directors two weeks ago and provided dozens of vintage Flora music images (several previously unpublished). Their selections give the finished layouts a visual syncopation.

A pdf of the five pages can be downloaded here. (The pages will be online at shortly.)

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Meow! Introducing the Mambo Mini

Our large (20" x 20") Mambo For Cats limited edition screen print is almost sold out. We're now offering a miniature (7" x 7") giclée open edition print of this renowned Flora 1955 RCA Victor LP cover. At $25.00, it's a great alternative for those on a limited budget—or with limited wall space.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

three legends

Three jazz legends, stacked, in the July 1952 issue of Coda, Columbia's new release monthly. From the top:

Harry James (trumpet)
Benny Goodman (clarinet)
Art Tatum (piano)

Each had a new LP that month: James with Soft Lights, Sweet Trumpet, Goodman's Let's Hear the Melody, and Art Tatum Concert.

As art director, Flora launched Coda in 1943, and provided most illustrations for the (largely classical music) monthly until he was named Sales Promotion Manager in 1945. This change of desk deprived him of artistic assignments. (Coda morphed into Disc Digest under new art director Robert M. Jones.)

In 1952, when Flora was a hustling freelancer, Columbia hired him to revive the publication. By then, Coda—in a downsized format—showcased the label's jazz, popular, and ethnic music roster. It lasted less than two years, by which time Flora had greatly expanded his client base. But because it was a music-related gig, he probably would have continued illustrating Coda as long as Columbia kept the monthly alive.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Jim Flora notecards

Back in stock: letterpress-printed cards with cool 1940s and '50s music and turntable illustrations by Flora. The cards were designed and printed by our friends at Yee-Haw Industrial Letterpress, in Knoxville. Packaged in sets of four: Dig You Later, Stardust Moon, Deluxe-O-Tone, and Trees.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

spooky doings

Perhaps the kid dropped his bag of trick-or-treat candy (and shed his costume) sprinting for safety. Illustration from introductory chapter of A Red Skel(e)ton in Your Closet, a 1965 anthology of "ghost stories gay and grim" selected for young readers by popular film & TV comedian Red Skelton. The book contains 21 interior illustrations which are uncredited, but Flora's trademarks are unmistakable. The artist was under contract to Harcourt, Brace at the time, and in all probability was prohibited from artist attribution for illustrations in children's books issued by other publishers (this volume was a Grosset & Dunlap title). The best of the Skel(e)ton illustrations were reproduced in our recent book, The Sweetly Diabolic Art of Jim Flora.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Gene Krupa demo booklet (1941)

Dummy pages, Gene Krupa and his Columbia recording orchestra, demo booklet, 1941, part of a series of homemade samples prepared by Flora for the Columbia Records art department. Most pages from the booklets (which earned the artist a job at Columbia) were reproduced in The Curiously Sinister Art of Jim Flora; three of the above four pages were omitted due to space constraints. We posted another unpublished page from the series here and more Flora artistic impressions of the great jazz drummer Krupa here.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

seaside setting

Detail (about two-thirds of the complete work) of an untitled, unpublished tempera on board, ca. mid-1960s. The collection contains a number of similarly composed maritime paintings from this period, though colors and figures vary. If you have our recent book, The Sweetly Diabolic Art of Jim Flora, compare this setting with Salt Pond—Block Island on page 54.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Reptet rides again

... this time to a distant galaxy. Or maybe just down the block to the Moon. The genre-surfing Seattle combo has once again (third time) licensed a Jim Flora illustration for a cover, their new 7" vinyl release Agendacide. The above element derives from the April 1963 cover of Computer Design magazine.

Previously the band's John Ewing licensed images for the Reptet's CDs Do This! and Chicken or Beef. This helps carry the Flora mid-20th album cover legacy into the 21st century, and we appreciate the torch-bearing efforts of Mr. Ewing and his cohorts. Their website is also adorned with details from other Flora works.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Bessie Smith and someone like Bessie Smith

Here are two tempera illustrations discovered in an early- to mid-1960s sketchpad in the Flora collection. The more refined of the two works has a title: Bessie Smith, presumably a vignette of the soulful, bawdy 1920s and '30s Empress of the Blues. The pianist (great hat!) is unidentified, and we can't vouch for the historical accuracy of Smith performing with her nipples exposed:

The second work, pages away in the same sketchpad, is untitled but appears to be an unfinished draft of the same scene:

It appears that Bessie gained quite a bit of weight between conception and refinement. Then again, Flora might not have had Smith in mind for the pencil and tempera draft. He often changed titles of near-identical works; many sketches were untitled, or assigned working titles which were altered for subsequent variations. A 1940s pencil sketch tagged "Boss Crump" evolved into a painting titled Self-Portrait. We'll never know at what point the artist decided that his resemblance to the legendary Tenneesse pol E. H. Crump was undeniable. A 1942 illustration for Columbia Records depicted conductor Fritz Reiner with four arms, three eyes, two noses and dueling mouths. The exact same figure was revisited in 1998—the similarity is unmistakable—but retitled Daniel Berenboim, another legendary conductor.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Jim Flora 2010 calendars available

We've received no reports of malfunctioning 2009 calendars—every day has thus far been accounted for, in the correct sequence—so we're offering 2010 models, hot off Yee-Haw's industrial presses. The spunky hyperactive figures date from Flora's mid-1950s RCA Victor LP period. Each calendar is letterpress printed one color at a time on card stock, and accessorized with a 12-month tearaway calendar. Buy one ($12.50) or a set of three at the Little Shop of Flora's.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Lobster Pound (1962)

Taking a break from conjuring bonus-limbed mutants and bug-eyed boppers, Flora often sketched maritime culture in his extended backyard. The above untitled pen & ink of a seafood shack was discovered in a travel sketchbook that contained dozens of the artist's impressions of Italy and France, several dated 1962. Back on his "home surf," Flora filled another two dozen pages of the tablet with southern Connecticut shoreline vignettes and briny motifs.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

5Qs 4 Eric Reynolds

Eric Reynolds has worked at Fantagraphics (our Flora books publisher) for 15 years, mostly as publicist. It's been our pleasure to conduct business with (and, in September 2007, meet) the affable Mr. Reynolds, an admitted Floraphile. He was recently booted upstairs by his bosses to the position of Associate Publisher. A large round of applause for that company move (though we'll miss Eric on the PR end).

Comic Book Galaxy's Trouble With Comics blog tendered "Five Questions for Eric Reynolds," which he graciously answered. Flora's name is dropped just once, but we don't begrudge Eric any perceived slight. Fantagraphics has a large artist roster and we're honored that Flora is part of it.

Above right: Eric at the Curiously Sinister Art of Jim Flora exhibit opening reception, September 22, 2007, Fantagraphics Bookstore/Gallery, Seattle.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

odyssey of a drug

Feature illustration, "A Long-Playing Medicine"
magazine, June 10, 1957

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Love Is Like Park Avenue

Flora rendered the above woodcut for the cover of a collection of short stories by Alvin Frederick Levin, published by Little Man Press in 1940. New Directions Books has just issued Love Is Like Park Avenue, Levin's "unfinished novel," which includes the "Little Alvin" vignettes and a reproduction of Flora's woodcut.

You've probably never heard of Alvin Levin. Neither had we. The intriguing rediscovery of Levin is chronicled by New Directions Senior Editor Declan Spring at The Front Table.

The wonderful Flora woodcut, like so many of the artist's early cuts, cannot be located.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

rural electrification

Spot illo, "New Competition for G.E.," a brief 1953 article about Continental Electric Equipment Co. of Kentucky.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

cordial claws

Anthropomorphic lobsters from sketchbook, pencil and crayon, early 1960s. Intended project unknown.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Miff Mole's Cat

Acrylic on canvas, 1992. Irving Milfred "Miff" Mole was a legendary American jazz trombonist who first came to prominence in 1920s hot jazz. Tommy Dorsey called him "the Babe Ruth of the trombone."

Amid the painting's colorful details, pay special attention to this great freakin' tree:

Friday, September 11, 2009


Celebrities, pen & ink, early 1990s, from sketchbook

Update: Issued as an open edition fine art print in 2010.

Monday, September 7, 2009


Our third series of Primer for Prophets screen prints are in production, and should be ready for market by early October. "W" is among the featured letters. For more information, click on the "Primer for Prophets" tag at the bottom to see previous posts. The series is being produced by our friends at Aesthetic Apparatus, of Minneapolis.

Series 1: Ate, Drove, Jived, and Smoked.

Series 2: Cooked, Groomed, Kissed, and Quaffed.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

aspects (typography)

Flora loved experimenting with hand-typography throughout his career, from the 1930s to the 1990s. (Click on tag below to see previous examples.) He occasionally created anthropomorphic letters. The above detail derives from an undated 1990s-era painting entitled The Many Aspects of Love. The large-scale tempera is a lower-tier work reflecting Flora's libidinous streak with cartoonish figures, a recurring theme which usually makes us cringe. However, the lettering of each word in the tableau demonstrates Flora's playful approach to the alphabet. We'll publish the other words in subsequent posts.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Sweetly Diabolic: a review

Rave review for Sweetly Diabolic from Joe Bendel of J.B. Spins.

"Chusid and Economon once again prove to be wise stewards of the Flora archives. Sweetly Diabolic reveals many largely unknown aspects of his work, but also fruitfully revisits his classic Columbia-era work. Thanks to the quality of the reproductions and design of the book itself, the vitality of Flora’s art comes through on each page. An effective introduction to Flora’s art and a satisfying crowd-pleaser for his established fans, Diabolic is another richly entertaining treasury of Flora’s 'baroque and subversive' art."

Joe gave an equally glowing assessment of our previous book, The Curiously Sinister Art of Jim Flora.

If you discover other reviews of our new book, please drop us a note.

Monday, August 31, 2009

unfinished tableaus

Unfinished figures in tempera and pencil, photographed on sketchbook page. The undated work is probably from around 1960 because the contours resemble Big Evening, a tempera from that year.

Friday, August 28, 2009

cow chaos

Tempera overlay, The Day the Cow Sneezed, 1957, courtesy the Dr. Irvin Kerlan Collection, University of Minnesota Children's Literature Research Center.

Monday, August 24, 2009

the old brawl game

The title and date of this 1960s commercial tempera illustration are unknown, as is the periodical for which it was assigned (possibly LIFE or LOOK magazine). The mise-en-scène depicts historic incidents and major league baseball players associated with Busch Stadium (a.k.a. Sportsman's Park), home of two St. Louis baseball teams: the luckless Browns (1902-53) and the perennially contending Cardinals (1920-66). The ballpark was replaced by Busch Memorial Stadium in 1966, an event which this illustration probably commemorates. (The Browns franchise moved east in 1954 to become the Baltimore Orioles.)

The detail above represents about one-third of the full 16-1/4" x 16-3/4" work, which is stored in the Flora family archives.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

piano variations

A draft and a refinement of a common theme. This barrelhouse piano player was roughly rendered for a series of demo booklets the Cincinnati-based Flora crafted in 1941 as a job pitch:

"Columbia Records was reissuing old jazz records without much fanfare," the artist (and jazz aficionado) later wrote. "I had the temerity to make these small booklets to try to point out the error of their ways." His temerity paid off. In early 1942 Flora was hired by Columbia's art department, and he relocated to Connecticut with his wife Jane. Within a year, the record label promoted him to Art Director.

The refined version was a woodcut, untitled and undated:

The mannequin-like patrons are gone, but the mug on the piano lid abides. The original wood block for this work has not been located. The print belongs to the University of Virginia Library Special Collections as part of a quartet of impressions in a folio entitled James Flora Wood Cuts. The three other works in the folio exist in the Flora family collection and date from 1940-41.

The top image was reproduced along with the demo booklets in The Curiously Sinister Art of Jim Flora; the bottom work was reproduced in our just-published The Sweetly Diabolic Art of Jim Flora.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Do you know your FGHIJKLs?

Get to know them — Flora-style! Individual letters culled from various works by the funky font master himself.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Ding Dong Daddy

Pen & ink sketch, early 1940s. The title likely derives from the song "I'm a Ding Dong Daddy from Dumas," penned by Phil Baxter in the late 1920s. Dumas is a town in the northwest Texas Panhandle. The song was recorded by many country and jazz artists, including Louis Armstrong (in 1930), and was later a hit for singer-bandleader Phil Harris. Flora's take is typically idiosyncratic and perhaps references the titular "ding dong" in the bell-and-clapper motif of the figure's right leg. There's also evidence of some testicular bell-ringing.