Thursday, December 30, 2010

hieroglyphic montage

Untitled pencil drawing discovered in mid-1960s sketchpad. Theme unknown. The pad included dozens of rough pencil sketches for Flora's 1964 book My Friend Charlie, along with a number of unrelated sketches, mainly architectural, some Mexico-inspired, most incomplete. This work echoes nothing else in the sketchpad, or any other known Flora work.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

the business of baseball

Hot Stove League entry: illustration (one of several) from "The Big Leagues Are Killing Baseball," LOOK magazine, April 15, 1958. The above image is an original painting. Many of Flora's early commercial illustrations exist only as printed reproductions, the original art either kept by the magazines or thrown out. When I interviewed Flora in 1998, I asked him about the whereabouts of his commercial originals. "They would reproduce it," I queried, "but they wouldn’t think to give it back to the artist?" Flora replied, "Yes, they would—if the artist wanted it. But most artists didn’t even think of getting it back in those days. I didn’t, mostly."

Flora began reclaiming his periodical illustrations in the late 1950s, and dozens (if not hundreds) exist in the family archives from such publications as Life, Fortune, Look, and the New York Times Magazine.

Bonus baby: this draft figure from a sketchbook looks familiar ...

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas, 1942

Christmas greetings Flora-style from Columbia/Okeh Records. Above: cover of the December 1942 new release flyer from Flora's then-employer. James had not yet risen to the position of art director (he would in 1943); at the time he was just nearing the end of his first year in the art department under the legendary Alex Steinweiss.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

music & films

Spot illustration, Columbia Coda, August 1945. That was Flora's final year as Columbia art director, and the final year of the monthly Coda, which Flora launched in 1943 and illustrated single-handedly. In January 1946, Robert M. Jones assumed the AD role when Flora was promoted to Advertising Manager. Coda was transformed into the monthly Disc Digest, few of which featured Flora illustrations.

Monday, November 29, 2010

After Uplift, Ka-Chow!

In the Nov. 20 Wall Street Journal "Bookshelf" column, Meghan Cox Gurdon reviews Flora's 1957 The Day The Cow Sneezed, recently reprinted by Enchanted Lion Books:
"Flora's style is about as goofily retro as it's possible to get, with wide-eyed men in suits, amazed-looking wild animals, and an old-fashioned matte palate of red, pink, green and gray. In the story a series of wild events unfurls when a boy neglects his cow, which catches cold and lets loose a colossal sneeze. The force of it bowls half the farmyard first onto a motorcycle and then onto a steamroller, which topples statues and scrunches through a zoo."

Thursday, November 25, 2010

red and black ship

Untitled, undated (ca. mid-1960s) ship in cross-cut view. Previously unpublished and uncirculated work (rendered in tempera and pencil) discovered in sketchpad.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Flora books arrayed

Shelf display of Flora kiddie books in the office of Cynthia Johnson, director of the Rowayton (CT) Library. The glass-enclosed office is nestled behind the checkout counter, so patrons can view the display. (The plush creatures are non-Floracentric, but companionate.)

Cynthia is producing a jigsaw puzzle of a 1980 cartoon map of the town rendered by its illustrious Citizen Flora, a resident from 1946 to his death in 1998. The puzzle should be available soon at the library, and will be announced on this blog. Cynthia also plans to host separate presentations about Flora's children's literature and his fine art legacy early in 2011.

Photo: Beth Sorrentino

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Little Man Press logo (evolution)

Above: rejected attempt at a Little Man Press logo, ca. 1939-1940, discovered in early sketchbook. The experiments continued:

Eventually Flora and his LMP partner Robert Lowry settled on this design:

Thursday, November 18, 2010

outside El Centro

Untitled pen & ink, 1994, from sketchpad. Unknown Mexican (presumably) town square.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

the alien arrives

Untitled pencil sketch, mid-1960s, discovered in artist's sketchbook. No indication the draft was refined for any specific use.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Sheffield Island 2011 letterpress calendar is offering a new 2011 poster-sized calendar featuring a 1954 Flora woodcut illustration called SHEFFIELD ISLAND. The artwork is hand-printed letterpress in black ink on kraft card stock; a 12-month tear away calendar is attached on the bottom. When the year ends, you have a unique hand-pulled letterpress Jim Flora print suitable for framing.

The full dimensions of the card with artwork are 13-1/2" x 17". The calendars, which were hand-printed by Yee-Haw Industrial Letterpress, of Knoxville, sell for $25.00 (+ shipping) each.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Day the Cow Sneezed mini-print has issued a low-cost ($25) fine art print of the cover of THE DAY THE COW SNEEZED, Flora's second kiddie book. Originally published in 1957 by Harcourt, the book was just reprinted by Enchanted Lion. Our 11" x 8-1/2" print features the complete cover art (used on both editions), including Flora's playful hand-cut letters. This is an open, unnumbered edition (i.e., there is no limit on the print run).

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

a little Flora brightens a room

To many who know him, our friend Takashi Okada of Tokyo is a talented graphic designer, music producer, historian, cultural connoisseur, cat lover, and gentleman. But unless you visit Takashi and his wife Tomoko's home, you might not know he has a deep Flora fixation. Takashi owns original art, album covers, Little Man Press artifacts, children's books, and fine art prints. We've long known about Takashi's love of Flora, but never having visited the Far East, we hadn't seen the shrine. The above photo was sent by our Japanese friend.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

domestic disturbance

Detail, "Furnished," Primer for Prophets alphabet series, 1954. We've issued 12 letters as limited edition screen prints, but "F(urnished)" is still in the deep freeze. The full print isn't as disturbing as the above detail suggests—the husband beyond the crop hasn't lost his cool. All shall be revealed by the time we complete the series.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

life in the food chain

Half-page from unfinished and untitled hand-painted children's book prototype, ca. early 1960s. The project includes ten words (e.g., "automation," "characteristic," "evident," "powerful") defined, pronounced and illustrated for young readers. A previous partial page ("fantasy") appeared on this blog in November 2008.

Monday, October 11, 2010

tail wagger

Detail, "Raided," Primer for Prophets alphabet series, 1954. We've issued 12 letters as limited edition screen prints, but "R" remains on our to-do list.

Friday, October 8, 2010

avoiding traffic

Hand-painted draft page from Kangaroo for Christmas, Flora's fifth (of 17) children's books, published by Harcourt Brace, 1962. The box of lines in the upper left indicate placement of text.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

balancing act

Spot illustration, dedication page, The Day the Cow Sneezed, now back in print thanks to Enchanted Lion Books.

The first reviewfavorable!—courtesy the For Immediate Release (Kids) blog:
I like his habit of calling attention to certain words by putting them in all caps, nearly on every page: POW! WHAMBO! and my personal favorite KA-BLOWIE-BLAM! I also enjoy the language he uses, specific phrases such as "scrunched as flat as corn flakes." It's just plain good reading paired with some spellbinding illustrations that make this a book you won't want to miss.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

creepy dinner

Topical illustration (mechanical), tempera on paper, ca. 1961. Assignment, title, periodical, and publication date unknown. The Flora collection contains dozens of such illustrations of unknown provenance. The crosshairs at the corners are printer's registration marks, used for aligning overlays and film plates.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

spill in the gulf region

In 1956, Flora mocked up a proposed illustrated series about his fascination with Mexico. The storyboard, entitled Footloose in Mexico, consisted of vignettes drawn from his residency and travels south of the border. On the back of the heavy artist's board draft was handwritten, "Sketches for a magazine that never got off the ground." The identity of the failed periodical is unknown. No descriptive copy was included, just dummy lines for text placement; hence, the significance of figures such as the above are left to the imagination.

The images have never before been published or circulated. We'll post more details of the draft work in the future

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

sittin' (& hangin' & swingin') in a tree

Untitled, incomplete tempera and pencil drawing, ca. 1950, found in a sketchbook from Flora's Mexican period (1950-51). The ghostly shadows in the periphery reflect bleedthrough from an image on the reverse side of the page. No finished or refined version of this work has been found.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Mount Adams ascension

Mount Adams ascension, one of a series of woodcut prints the young Flora rendered for the Union Central Life Insurance Company of Cincinnati's August 1941 publication, Life Association News. The images accompanied an article entitled "Where to go ... What to do ... While you're in Cincinnati." These woodcuts have not been republished since their first appearance seven decades ago. The location of the original wood blocks is unknown.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

night-sky moonswinger

With the anticipated October reprint (by Enchanted Lion) of Flora's 1957 kiddie book The Day the Cow Sneezed, we're focusing on the re-emergence of the Flora children's market. We're planning an open edition (low-cost) fine art print of Cow's playful cover, and we're proofing the above image for a planned bedroom-suitable print. The overalls-clad night-sky moonswinger appears on the back cover of Flora's 1972 Atheneum-published book, Pishtosh Bullwash & Wimple. When the proof proves proven, we'll announce the print's release. The book is not currently scheduled to be reprinted, but Enchanted Lion hopes for a long-term reprint schedule covering the entire Flora catalog.

Last year we issued a limited edition fine art print called Ferris Wheel Fireworks, depicting a spectacular two-page spread from The Day the Cow Sneezed.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Flora Mambo font

New from P22 Type Foundry:

Based on playful hand-lettering from the 1955 Jim Flora Mambo For Cats RCA Victor album cover, the set includes "Flornaments," consisting of 72 miniature figure icons (dingbats) from Flora artworks. Samples:

Thursday, September 9, 2010

pink & black cats

untitled tempera & pencil on paper
found in early 1960s-era sketchbook

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Henry Ford in Cetara

Henry Ford in Cetara, rough pencil drawing found in 1991 sketchpad. Cetara is in Italy. There's no refined sketches and no indication the sketch was developed into a finished work.

Flora traveled widely and artfully chronicled his globetrotting. This sketchbook contains no other images of Italy, but does contain a letter handwritten in a Mexican hospital while Flora was being treated for "over medication and loss of blood." On the preceding page was a journal entry titled "A Bum Week in Guadalajara."

The faint lines in the background are from a drawing on the reverse side of the paper.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Yee-Haw Industries studio tour

We're honored to have worked with the fine folks at Yee-Haw Industrial Letterpress, producing Flora limited edition woodcut prints (including the 1951 tour de force Railroad Town and the 1957 LP-sized Jugglers) and letterpress notecards and calendars.

Printmaker Brian Baker with Jugglers edition print (left) and vintage block (right)

Co-proprietors Julie Belcher and Kevin Bradley, along with the Yee-Haw staff, are committed professionals and we consider them friends. We're working with Yee-Haw on new projects, including a 2011 letterpress calendar based on a 1954 Flora woodcut entitled Sheffield Island, and more woodcut limited edition prints.

David Trawin of writes:
Last year I had the chance to check out the Yee-Haw Industries studio space/storefront in Knoxville. They were generous enough to give me the grand tour. Take a look.
Flor-riffic details:
Yee-Haw was fortunate to work with the estate of Jim Flora to print original block carvings made by the legendary artist. [ed.: below, Serenade, 1947; only proofs currently available]
[Kevin Bradley] showing drawers full of Jim Flora samples:
N.B. The above giclée proofs were produced by printmaker and Flora co-archivist Barbara Economon of for planned fine art prints.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

First National Bank Robbery

Detail, The Big Bank Robbery, mid-1960s tempera on board. The bank displaying the signage at right isn't actually depicted in the complete work, only a counter clerk with upraised arms holdup-style (not pictured in detail).

We issued a limited edition fine art print of the work in 2009, and one-half of the print run has been sold. Prices increase as editions sell down.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

last Chance

Chance Encounter (detail above), a 1970 Flora tempera, was issued in a limited edition run of 20 in 2008. With last week's sale of print number 1/20, the edition is now sold out. It may later be offered in reduced form in print items such as cards, calendars or folios, or commissioned as exclusive, premium-priced, custom-formatted single prints produced privately at our discretion. But that's it for edition prints. Chance Encounter is our first sold out limited edition release.

Monday, August 16, 2010

brain map

Untitled tempera on board, 1964, reproduced in our second book, The Curiously Sinister Art of Jim Flora (Fantagraphics, 2007). Though ten years separate the works, certain elements are reminiscent of the 1954 RCA Victor LP Shorty Rogers Courts the Count.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

"Mr. Flora, this is Aleksandr Kerensky"

Rowayton Remembered, detail of woodcut print, ca. 1974

My Brush With History

a series by the readers of American Heritage magazine
James Flora's contribution
February/March 1997 (Volume 48, Issue 1)

During the late 1940s I lived in Rowayton, a small Connecticut village, with my wife and two small children. I was the art director of Columbia Records, a job I dearly loved. In my work I had many opportunities to meet the musical celebrities of the day, Frank Sinatra, Benny Goodman, and Duke Ellington among them, and I considered myself a fairly cool cat.

Fate had blessed me with Roussie, the world's most delightful daughter. At the time she was somewhere between four and six and my regular weekend date. Every Saturday we did the chores together, visited the post office, and wound up in the town's only drugstore.

Soybel's Pharmacy was a true drugstore—no greeting cards or eyelash curlers. In the rear of the shop the druggist filled prescriptions and sold patent medicines. The front was given over to a small, gaudy soda fountain with four or five stools. George Soybel's counter was a gathering place for the town cognoscenti, and the stools were almost always filled.

Detail of Rowayton street map by Flora, 1980, depicting drugstore. The large
(15" x 23") map was issued by the artist as a signed, limited edition print of 200.
The last remaining copy in the family collection was sold last year to a local.

One cold wintry Saturday Roussie and I had finished our errands and went to cap the morning with a visit to Soybel's. We were in luck. Only one stool was occupied. A gentleman in a heavy black overcoat and a natty Borsalino hat was nursing what seemed to be a ginger ale float. I sat next to him and hoisted my daughter onto the stool beside me. While she and I were deciding what to order, George Soybel emerged and greeted us.

"Jim, I want you to meet a new resident in Rowayton," George said. I turned to the stranger, who had a pleasant, angular face, and extended my hand. He took it.

"This is Aleksandr Kerensky."


Was this the Aleksandr Kerensky who had been the first premier of the provisional Russian government after the 1917 revolution? The Kerensky who had held the fate of the world in his hands? The man who could have ushered Russia into the twentieth century, avoided the murderous regime of Stalin, saved the world from the Cold War? Who might even have been such a benign and powerful influence on the 1920s and 1930s that Hitler could never have risen to power and World War II might never have happened?

As if he could read my thoughts, he smiled and nodded several times in confirmation. Pictures of the revolution flashed through my mind. Kerensky was thirty-six in 1917, and here he was, three decades later, wrinkled but recognizable, and rather handsome.

A dozen questions stumbled behind my tongue. Why had he not been more forceful when he had the reins of power in his hands? Why had he failed to prevent Lenin from entering Russia? Why hadn't he seized and imprisoned him? What should I ask first? I opened my mouth.

"How do you like Rowayton?" was what came out.

Kerensky proceeded to tell me how happy he and his American wife were in our town. He enjoyed the peace and quiet he found here and was finding time to write, et cetera, et cetera.

A woman appeared at the door.

"I'm ready," she said, and Kerensky hopped from his stool, shook my hand, and exited.

The trouble with history is that it has a habit of rushing by us so swiftly that we don't recognize it until we see the taillights receding in the distance.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Sheffield Island (partial scan)

Partial scan (about one-third, with color checker card) of unpublished 1954 woodcut print Sheffield Island. The original block is in the Flora family collection. Only a handful of original artist prints exist. We are contemplating issuing a new limited edition run of the complete work next year.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Little Rock Getaway (pre-launch)

This will be our next limited edition fine art print. Little Rock Getaway is an undated Flora tempera that reflects his mid- to late-1960s color schemes and contours. It will be released soon in an edition of 25. Floraphiles can pre-order via the linked title.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Flora at Etsy

We recently opened a Jim Flora store at For now, the shelves are merchandise-sparse, but more items will be added in the coming weeks. Current and future Etsy offerings are also available through our fine art prints gallery and our Little Shop of Flora's. Either place you purchase, the source is the same: us. We're also considering listing some exclusive items at Etsy.

We'll have Flora 2011 letterpress calendars available in September. Same designs as 2010, and possibly some new ones, all produced by Yee-Haw Industries of Knoxville.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Complete Guide to Cartooning

The above profile of Flora appeared in The Complete Guide to Cartooning (Grosset & Dunlap, 1950), by Gene Byrnes. Byrnes had a long, distinguished career as a syndicated cartoonist (Reg'lar Fellers) from 1915 to 1949.

Flora never claimed to be a cartoonist per se, tho his commercial illustrations—in particular the 1940s Columbia album covers featured in the profile—certainly were cartoonish. In his quotes (click the image for enlarged reading), Flora doesn't address any aspect of cartooning; he offers an artistic credo vis-a-vis the demanding world of commercial art. Ironically, by the time this book hit store shelves, Flora had bailed from his executive perch at Columbia and was en route to Mexico with his family to spend 15 blissful months creating art without commercial pressure.

Monday, July 19, 2010

physical inventory risk

We learned the phrase "physical inventory risk" last week from someone in the music business. It describes why, in the current industry-wide economic downturn, many record labels won't gamble on artistically worthy but commercially uncertain projects: because of the probability ("risk") they'll end up with unsold goods ("physical inventory," e.g., CDs) sitting on distributor and retailer shelves. Rather than commit (again, "risk") financial resources to marginal productions, they trim existing catalog and/or keep the release schedule lean.

While this is a regrettable state of affairs for niche markets and the artistically adventurous, from a business standpoint, it's understandable and fiscally prudent.

We bring this up because Fantagraphics Books, publisher of our three Flora anthologies (The Mischievous Art, 2004; The Curiously Sinister Art, 2007; and The Sweetly Diabolic Art, 2009), recently informed us that stock is low on the first two books and they will not be reprinted. This is a situation over which we, as authors, have no control. The economics of publishing make reprints of limited-market titles prohibitive. You may think Flora is a world-renowned artist whose legacy is commercially indisputable. (If so, we agree.) But to the broader public, Flora remains largely unknown, a cult figure.

So be advised: if you've been meaning to buy our Flora books but have delayed purchasing, you're running out of time on the first two books. They will eventually be available only on the secondary market at collector's prices:

As of this writing, new and used copies of Curiously Sinister are still available at reasonable prices. Mischievous is becoming scarce and prices are trending upwards. New copies of our most recent book, Sweetly Diabolic, remain in stock.

Friday, July 16, 2010

G3 in Tampico: the restoration

We launched our latest Jim Flora fine art print, G3 in Tampico (detail, left), earlier this week. The original 1970 tempera painting on artist board is shelved in storage at the Flora collection in Norwalk, Connecticut. The title is an enigma, but so are the figures (full work below). Here's a peek at the selection and restoration process behind our fine art prints.

The Flora catalog is huge; as co-archivists, Barb Economon and I have a growing list of works flagged for print production. G3 was not on this list. Most original works on paper have been scanned at high resolution, and oversized canvases have been photographed. The digital files then undergo a carpal-straining restoration process to prepare the images for print media (e.g., books, paper goods, fine art prints). This process is the purview of Barb, a specialist in digital image technology. It's become obvious during our research in the collection that Flora was less than fastidious in the preservation of his past art during his lifetime. It's likely that the large volume of historical works balanced against the ongoing creation of new works left little time for the artist to focus on safeguarding his legacy. Sunlight, humidity, careless shelving, aging, and accidents, as well as adhesive stains, paper acidity, and nicotine smoke have all taken their toll. After Flora's death, his family placed the entire collection in safe, climate-controlled storage (photo, lower left), where most of it remains to this day. The greater the deterioration of (or damage to) the original, the more restoration work is required.

A few weeks ago a small record label requested an image to license for a CD cover. Reviewing hundreds of digital files, I discovered G3 (previously unpublished and uncirculated) and sent the label a low-resolution jpg (along with a batch of additional images). On closer examination, I realized the image had not been restored. Strictly as a Zen exercise, I undertook some rudimentary cleanup over several days, and the figures began to percolate. I reached the limits of my restorative powers and turned the file over to Barb. She made additional corrections and adjustments, and decided to produce a test print. It was declared a masterwork, and we decided to issue an edition. The entire process from idle cleanup to print launch took four days.

Below is a before/after comparison of the images (click to enlarge). The original is in bad shape — there are faded areas, soiling, paint loss, and moisture spots. It's amazing what you can accomplish with painstaking mouse-clicks.

I considered purchasing G3 from the Flora family. However, considering the condition of the original, I opted for a print. The damaged work would be expensive to restore, and without professional restoration it will continue to deteriorate. (Its condition is effectively stabilized in limited light, climate-controlled storage.) The new print reflects the work much as Flora created it forty years ago, with a few minor aging artifacts.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

new print: G3 in Tampico

Our newest Flora fine art print, G3 in Tampico, is available at The 1970 tempera (on board), titled by the artist in pencil on the reverse, sits in storage, previously unseen. The work had not previously been published or reproduced anywhere.

Tampico is the main city in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas (and the birthplace of legendary Space Age Pop maestro Esquivel); however, the significance of the Flora title (the "G" and "3" elements notwithstanding) is unknown. Peepers, towers, foliage, phallic imagery, and teats: G3-rated for moderate ambiguity. Edition of 25.