Nazi Advent Calendars

An interesting article courtesy my friend Malcolm Mercer. The original is at Salon.fr. (I am curious to see that the Nazis frowned on stars atop Christmas trees. I understand that Jews, insofar as they put up Christmas trees at all, tend not to put stars on top of them, since stars are Messianic imagery, and they don’t recognize Jesus as the Messiah.)

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Check out this Nazi Advent calendar

In 1943, the Nazi created their own non-religious version of an Advent calendar, featuring tanks instead of the baby Jesus.

The Nazis were no fans of Christmas: after all, Jesus was Jewish, and they wanted to diminish the influence of Christianity in German society. To this end, the Nazi Ministry of Culture published several Christmas booklets and calendars, hoping to transform the holiday into a bellicose celebration of the motherland.

As reported on Vox.com, from 1943, German children in the Third Reich got a peculiar version of the traditional Advent calendar. According an online archive of Nazi propaganda, German mothers received a calendar featuring a patriotic and militaristic message for each day in December.

In the midst of a world war, the first page redefined the traditional festive spirit of Christmas:

German mother! Christmas has always been for children. War and destruction rage throughout the world, and all Germans, men or women, must steel themselves to keep fighting this battle to victory – but our children must be able to enjoy this holiday which is the most German of all.

No Stars on Trees

Among several winter scenes, numerous illustrations in the calendar are dedicated to celebrating war, showing tanks and submarines. There are also quite a few swastikas and examples of letters that a child can write to soldiers at the front.

The traditional history of Jesus and the three kings is replaced by a story of a lumberjack, a soldier and a king who encounter a mother and her infant son in a forest. The mother says to the soldier:

You and your comrades are the protectors of the motherland, and all mothers, fathers and children thank you, particularly those who gave their lives!

As reported at Fast Company, Christmas decorations were also changed during the Nazi era. The Christmas tree was considered acceptable, indeed very German, but certainly not the traditional star put on top, since it was too reminiscent of the Jewish star of David and the single star of Communism. The Nazis recommended that Germans crown their trees with a swastika, a sun disk (a symbol of the Aryan race) or the runic SS logo.

A Grim Centenary

July 1 marks the centenary of the first day of the Battle of the Somme, the Anglo-French attempt at breaking through the German front during the Great War, near the River Somme in France. The offensive lasted until November of 1916, and made no appreciable gains in territory – at a cost of well over one million casualties.

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Wikipedia.

Depicted is Edward Luytens’s Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, dedicated by the Prince of Wales in 1932.

MORE: From the Telegraph: “Somme ‘Iron Harvest’ will take 500 years to clear, say bomb disposal experts on centenary of bloody battle”

The Ultimate Latin Dictionary

From NPR:

The Ultimate Latin Dictionary: After 122 Years, Still At Work On The Letter ‘N’

Stefano Rocchi, a researcher on the Thesaurus Linguae Latinae, the comprehensive Latin dictionary that has been in the works since 1894 in Germany. Researchers are currently working on the letters N and R. They don’t expect to finish until around 2050.

On the second floor of an old Bavarian palace in Munich, Germany, there’s a library with high ceilings, a distinctly bookish smell and one of the world’s most extensive collections of Latin texts. About 20 researchers from all over the world work in small offices around the room.

They’re laboring on a comprehensive Latin dictionary that’s been in progress since 1894. The most recently published volume contained all the words beginning with the letter P. That was back in 2010.

And they’re not as far along as that may lead you to believe. They skipped over N years ago because it has so many long words, and now they’ve had to go back to that one. They’re also working on R at the same time. That should take care of the rest of this decade.

The Thesaurus Linguae Latinae was one of many big, scholarly projects taken on by the German government in the late 19th century.

Through two World Wars and German reunification, generations of Latin scholars have been chipping away at the same goal: documenting every use of every Latin word from the earliest Latin inscriptions in the 6th century BC up until around 200 AD, when it was in decline as a spoken language. Befitting the comprehensive nature of the project, the scholars will also include some words up to the 6th century AD.

That means poetry and history and speeches. But it also means every gravestone and street sign. It means architectural works, medical and legal texts, books about animals or cooking.

“If a word is just on a toilet in Pompeii in graffiti, you’ll find it with us,” says Marijke Ottink, who is Dutch. She’s been working on the Thesaurus for 19 years as a researcher and an editor, ever since she came to Munich.

More at the link.

Espionage in World War II

An interesting story in the National Post (although as ever in the world of espionage, you have to wonder who is playing whom):

The world’s worst Nazi spy: The German agent caught by Canada in a matter of hours

The first clue was the weird banknotes the stranger used to pay for his hotel bill.

To staff at the Carlisle hotel in New Carlisle, QC he presented oversized $1 bills that had not been in regular circulation since the First World War; the modern equivalent of handing over a fistful of pre-loonie $1 bills.

He said his name was William Branton of 323 Danforth Avenue in Toronto — an address now occupied by a women’s wear boutique. Having arrived into New Carlisle by bus that morning, he said he wanted to stop in for a quick bath and breakfast before continuing on to Montreal.

But the first bus into New Carlisle would not arrive for another three hours.
“We knew that he was a foreigner, by the way he spoke… he had kind of a guttural speech in the back of his throat,” Marguerite, the daughter of the Carlisle’s owner, would later tell journalist Dean Beeby for the 1996 book Cargo of Lies, an account of the spy fiasco.

In reality, the stranger had arrived in Quebec via the relatively unorthodox mode of a U-Boat.

That morning, the submarine U-518 had performed the nail-biting task of surfacing just off the well-patrolled waters of the Quebec coast and rowing the man to shore in an inflatable dinghy.

It was November 9, 1942, the same day that Canada would break off diplomatic relations with Vichy France, the rump German puppet state carved out of southeastern France.

New Carlisle’s most famous son, future Quebec premier René Lévesque, had only recently moved to Quebec City for a radio job. In another couple years, Lévesque would be sailing to Europe as a war correspondent.

And now, New Carlisle was the first stop for Werner von Janowski, a German officer sent on a mission of espionage to Canada.

He had stepped onto Canadian soil in the trim, impressive uniform of a German naval officer, complete even with an Iron Cross pinned to his breast. This was standard procedure for German spies. That way, if they were caught, they could avoid execution as spies by saying that they had simply deserted from the German navy and swum to shore somehow.

But in the chilly pre-dawn hours, von Janowski swapped his gleaming uniform for a suit of civilian clothes, buried the uniform in the sand and began his new identity as a Parisian-born salesman who had immigrated to Canada in 1921.

He had a gun, $5,000 and identity papers suspected to have been seized from Canadian casualties of the August, 1942 Dieppe Raid.

The agent’s instructions were vague, but his goal was to go to Montreal and try and link up with some fascists, according to the book U-Boats Against Canada.

That is, if the Nazis’ contact for the Canadian Fascist Party was still current.

Throughout history, Canada has actually been pretty bad at spotting suspicious foreign characters in their midst.

Immediately after assassinating Martin Luther King Jr., the killer James Earl Ray lived unnoticed for weeks in Toronto, despite his picture being all over the T.V. news.
And from the Holocaust to the Rwandan Genocide, Canada has had the dubious distinction of being a relatively safe hideout for former genocidaires.

But that morning, the citizens of sleepy New Carlisle were really on the ball. The Battle of the Atlantic was in full swing and they knew their coast was crawling with German submarines.

After the war, this would even spawn alcohol-fuelled memories that Gaspé Peninsula pubs were occasionally visited by German submariners looking to stretch their legs.
Of course, it helped that von Janowski was dripping in clues.

The stranger lit his cigarettes with matches that were made in Belgium—which was strange considering that Belgium had been occupied by the Nazis for three years.
He wore clothes with a distinctly foreign cut. And he smelled awful; almost like someone who had been shut up inside the stale air of a sealed metal tube for several days.

Earle Annett Jr., the son of the Carlisle’s proprietor, alerted authorities as soon as von Janowski set off on foot for the New Carlisle train station.

After taking his seat aboard the Montreal-bound train, the German agent was soon greeted by a Quebec Provincial Police officer, who asked him for I.D. “I am caught. I am a German officer,” von Janowski replied.

It had only been 12 hours.

A press blackout would shield the historic capture from the wartime Canadian public. And soon, the RCMP would accede to von Janowski’s offer to act as a double agent for Canada.

But as Beeby would note in Cargo of Lies, the inexperienced Mounties were likely played by the captured German.

The would-be spy provided just enough misleading information to throw off the Royal Canadian Navy hunt for the U-Boat that had dropped his off. And as a double agent, he failed to feed the RCMP one iota of information about German sub movements.

A frustrated Canada ultimately packed von Janowski off to an English prison camp for the rest of the war.

Otto Skorzeny

From Haaretz:

The Strange Case of a Nazi Who Became an Israeli Hitman

Otto Skorzeny, one of the Mossad’s most valuable assets, was a former lieutenant colonel in Nazi Germany’s Waffen-SS and one of Adolf Hitler’s favorites.

On September 11, 1962, a German scientist vanished. The basic facts were simple:

Heinz Krug had been at his office, and he never came home.

The only other salient detail known to police in Munich was that Krug commuted to Cairo frequently. He was one of dozens of Nazi rocket experts who had been hired by Egypt to develop advanced weapons for that country.

HaBoker, a now defunct Israeli newspaper, surprisingly claimed to have the explanation: The Egyptians kidnapped Krug to prevent him from doing business with Israel.

But that somewhat clumsy leak was an attempt by Israel to divert investigators from digging too deeply into the case — not that they ever would have found the 49-year-old scientist.

We can now report — based on interviews with former Mossad officers and with Israelis who have access to the Mossad’s archived secrets from half a century ago — that Krug was murdered as part of an Israeli espionage plot to intimidate the German scientists working for Egypt.

Moreover, the most astounding revelation is the Mossad agent who fired the fatal gunshots: Otto Skorzeny, one of the Israeli spy agency’s most valuable assets, was a former lieutenant colonel in Nazi Germany’s Waffen-SS and one of Adolf Hitler’s personal favorites among the party’s commando leaders. The Führer, in fact, awarded Skorzeny the army’s most prestigious medal, the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross, for leading the rescue operation that plucked his friend Benito Mussolini out from the hands of his captors.

A fascinating story (if true!) – read the whole thing.

A colleague lent me Paul Fussell’s The Boys’ Crusade once. One anecdote that stayed with me: after D-Day, Skorzeny was tasked with training “Skorzeny’s men,” young Nazis recruited to mimic American soldiers and sow as much havoc as possible behind American lines. Eventually the Americans caught on, and would ask unfamiliar people trivia questions that only Americans would be likely to know, such as “Where does ‘Lil Abner’ live?” or “What’s the name of the Brooklyn baseball team?” (according to the Wikipedia article on Operation Greif, the American brigadier general Bruce Clarke was held at gunpoint for five hours after he said the Chicago Cubs were in the American League). Fussell goes on to say that:

there were more telling ways to catch Skorzeny’s men than facetious questioning. Every American soldier carried, in addition to the metal identity tags around his neck, a laminated card with his photo. These cards had one curious feature: an uncorrected typographical error. The top of the card read NOT A PASS. FOR INDENTIFICATION PURPOSES ONLY. Someone preparing the disguises of the Skorzeny spies couldn’t resist – some will say “in a German manner” – of pedantically correcting the spelling on the false cards issued to those masquerading as American officers.

GAH

Congratulations to Prof. Theresa Ast on her paper at the annual meeting of the Georgia Association of Historians, entitled: “G.I.s Discover the Nazi Concentration Camps,” based on research conducted for her dissertation and book. She had presented this at Faculty Colloquium at RU earlier this semester which I was pleased to attend. A gruesome but important topic.

Hitler Has Only Got One Ball

From the Guardian. No word on the testicular status of Goering, Himmler, or Goebbels:

Hitler really did have only one testicle, German researcher claims

Analysis of long-lost medical notes seems to confirm that Nazi leader suffered from cryptorchidism, or an undescended right testicle

The song sung in schoolyards by generations of British children mocking Adolf Hitler for only having “one ball” might be accurate after all.

A German historian has unearthed the Nazi leader’s long-lost medical records, which seem to confirm the urban legend that he only had one testicle.

The records, taken during a medical exam following Hitler’s arrest over the failedBeer hall putsch in 1923, show that he suffered from “right-side cryptorchidism”, or an undescended right testicle.

Notes written by Dr Josef Steiner Brin, the medical officer at Landsberg prison, state “Adolf Hitler, artist, recently writer” was otherwise “healthy and strong”.

Long thought to have been lost, the records of the examination surfaced at an auction in Bavaria in 2010 before swiftly being confiscated by the Bavarian government. They have only recently been properly studied by Professor Peter Fleischmann of Erlangen-Nuremberg University.

Normally, men’s testicles descend from inside the body into the scrotum during childhood, but Fleischmann told German newspaper Bild the records showed one of Hitler’s testicles was “probably stunted”.

The records seem to contradict long-running specualation that Hitler lost one testicle to shrapnel during the Battle of the Somme in the first world war.

That rumour was backed up by Franciszek Pawlar, a Polish priest and amateur historian, who claimed a German army medic who treated Hitler after the shrapnel incident told him about the injury.

The medical records also contradict Hitler’s childhood doctor, who told American interrogators in 1943 that the future Führer’s genitals were “completely normal”.

Wikipedia on the topic: Adolph Hitler’s Possible Monorchism.

The Last Days of Hitler

The movie Downfall (2004) offered a compelling dramatization of Hitler’s final days in his Berlin bunker – and the one scene when Hitler discovers that the war is truly lost has spawned any number of YouTube parodies. The Smithsonian Channel, however, has recently produced “The Day Hitler Died,” an actual documentary featuring interviews with surviving bunker dwellers. From the National Post:

‘The bunker became a mortuary’: Hitler’s cronies macabrely awaited his suicide for eight days

PITTSBURGH — American television viewers get their first chance to see and hear Adolf Hitler’s inner circle describe the dictator’s final hours in filmed interviews when “The Day Hitler Died” premieres on the Smithsonian Channel.

The documentary marks the first time viewers outside Germany will see the filmed interviews by Michael Musmanno, a Navy attorney who presided at one of the Nuremberg war crimes trials and later became a Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice.

After the trials, Musmanno spent more than two years tracking down witnesses and re-interviewing them on camera in 1948 to prove Hitler was dead, hoping to thwart rumours spawned when Soviet dictator Josef Stalin claimed Hitler had escaped his underground Berlin bunker….

“The Nazis were like the generic villains of the 20th century, but that’s the real danger,” White said. “We tend to forget that some people found them charming and how they got there and came to power.”

The interviews also vividly describe Hitler’s volatile moods as the Russian Red Army moved into Berlin in April 1945.

Buoyed by news that U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt died April 12, 1945, “Hitler went into a dance and congratulated himself as if he had himself had brought about this event,” Hitler’s press attache, Heinz Lorenz, told Musmanno. “He exclaimed, ‘This will mean I will win the war.’”

But 10 days later, Hitler’s mood permanently darkened upon learning one of his generals refused to lead a suicidal counter-attack with a rag-tag collection of German army units.

“He collapsed and said, ‘It’s all over, and I’ll shoot myself,’” Lorenz recalled.

But it would be eight days before Hitler would shoot himself alongside Eva Braun, the longtime mistress who took a poison capsule and died beside Hitler the day after they were married.

In the meantime, the 16-room bunker — with its nearly four-metre thick concrete ceilings and walls some nine metres below ground — became a macabre Neverland as Hitler’s confidants and staff awaited his suicide.

“After April 22, he talked about it constantly,” said Traudl Junge, the secretary to whom Hitler dictated his last will and testament.

Or, as German Army Major Baron von Loringhoven told Musmanno, “The bunker became a mortuary and the people in it living corpses.”

More at the link. “The Day Hitler Died” premieres on the Smithsonian Channel on Monday at 8 p.m. EDT/PDT.

Wanda Ast, Artist

By special arrangement with the author, below is the full text, and some of the illustrations, of Theresa Ast’s talk today in Hill Freeman Library. Be sure to stop by the library in the next month to view more of this remarkable woman’s oeuvre.

Wanda Maria Kowalska Ast was my paternal grandmother, my BABCIA (Polish for grandmother). I will be sharing some of her artwork with you, but I also want to tell you a little bit about her life. Babcia was born in Germany in 1909 and shortly thereafter her family moved to Poland where she spent the next four decades of her life, where she married and had four children.

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The Ast Family, Wanda, her husband Edmund who was a sculptor, and their four children – Jacek, Marek, Justin, and Krystyna – survived the Nazi invasion and occupation of Poland. They were Catholic, so they were not specifically targeted by the Nazis as were the Jews, Gypsies, and people on the political Left, but this is not to say that the Nazis treated anybody in Poland with respect or benevolence. Everyone was afraid of the Nazis, as they were violent, cruel, and perhaps worst of all, unpredictable.

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Whenever Nazi detachments or tanks came rolling through their small, usually quiet, town, Babcia and her children would grab the pillows and quilts off their beds and hide in a nearby forest. The quilts and pillows kept the children comfortable and just in case they were still hiding after dark they could sleep in the forest. Edmund was away serving in the Polish Air Force as an aerial photographer, but he and his fellow airmen were quickly captured and he spent the duration of the war in a German POW camp. Wanda and her children lived with her husband’s parents after Edmund was captured.

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When the first “liberating” Soviet troops marched into Poland, in the winter of 1944, the Polish people felt hopeful. They did not realize at first that the Soviet Communists would soon be an occupying army rather than a liberating army. The family did not fare well at all under the post war Soviet occupation, not because they had been Nazi sympathizers, but because they were capitalists! My great-grandfather, Wanda’s father-in-law owned a substantial business employing twenty workers and lived quite comfortably prior to the war. So to the occupying communist authorities, the Ast family was suspected of being Western-sympathizing capitalists.

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When my grandfather Edmund was liberated from the POW camp in 1945, he did not return to his hometown. He had been warned by family and friends not to come home while the Soviets soldiers still occupied the it. He made it to the American Occupation zone in Germany on foot. A year later Wanda joined him there and they worked various jobs for the American Military Government for five years, started saving money, and planned for their future and the future of their children. Meanwhile the children, who ranged in age from six to twelve remained in Poland in the care of their grandparents.

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Babcia emigrated with her husband and children, just as soon as they had saved enough money and could book passage from West Germany to America. When they left Germany, they each had one suitcase; they had to leave everything they owned and everybody they loved behind. A Catholic sponsor family was waiting for them in Maryland; they would help them adjust to their new life in America. They arrived at Ellis Island in 1951 and spent a few weeks with their sponsoring family. Fortunately, the local community had connections in Georgia and they secured Edmund a job in Marietta, Georgia.

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After they moved south, Edmund, who earned his living as a sculptor in Poland began working for a local marble and granite company that polished headstones and grave markers. They bought a house on “Marble Mill Road” in Marietta. Their three younger children started attending school and the two boys, Marek and Justyn, were in the same class together and really liked their teacher. Babcia told her sons to ask their teacher if she would be willing to tutor adults in English. Their teacher, Betty Jo Baker agreed to give Wanda and Edmund English lessons, and started visiting the family home. The oldest son, Jacek, at 17 was not in school, but worked alongside his father to help support the family. He married the school teacher in 1953 and I am the oldest of their four children.

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I did not have a typical relationship with my Polish grandparents. My father joined the Air Force and we often lived far away from Georgia. However, I did return to Georgia to attend college and got to know my grandparents quite a bit better. They were intense people: very hardworking, opinionated, creative, volatile, artistic, self-assured, demanding, loving, and challenging. Spending time with them was always a memorable, and occasionally, even a mildly disturbing experience. Wanda was extremely verbally expressive, intensely curious, a perennial student in every way possible, quite emotional, with a decided flair for the artistic and the dramatic.

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During the years when we did not live in Georgia, Babcia had kept house, raised her other three children, worked as a dietician in a local hospital, refused to learn to drive a car (I never found out why), remained a devout and practicing Catholic walking about fifteen blocks to Mass several times a week, and kept working on improving her spoken and written English (she already spoke Polish, French, and German).

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Before long she began writing stories and poetry, lots and lots of poetry, often winning awards from the Georgia Writers Association. Then, as her younger children grew up and moved out of the family home she shifted her interests to drawing and painting; she began by drawing in chalk (primarily Biblical scenes – I remember a chalk drawing of the young shepherd boy David facing the Philistine giant Goliath- unfortunately I do not have any of her chalk drawings as they do not hold up well over time. After chalks, Babcia moved on to working with watercolors in the early 1970s which is just about when I returned home to attend Kennesaw State College, as it was known as the time.

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I inherited quite a few of Babcia’s oil paintings and batiks, but I do not have any of her original watercolors. What I do have are photographs of a few of her watercolors. From 1975 on she was busy painting, taking an occasional art class, and preparing her watercolors for various exhibits and art shows. She had art shows at colleges, including Georgia State and Kennesaw State, in local churches and parishes, at art fairs on the Marietta and Roswell city squares, and at some of the larger banks.   Banks, closed on Sundays of course, often offer their lobbies and common areas as spaces for painting or sculptural exhibitions. At many of these art exhibits, someone was usually taking pictures, so a record has been preserved even though the originals are gone.

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Babcia did a few representational watercolors (in other words she did paint lifelike scenes from nature), but many of her watercolors were abstract. All of her life she experimented with different formulations and types of watercolors, as well as a variety of painting surfaces, including canvas, paper, and fabric. Her experimentation with different materials was part of her lifelong fascination with, and attempt to achieve, a variety of textural effects. In this, she was not unlike any number of impressionist painters for whom texture was as important as color palette or composition.

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During the years when I was raising my children, Babcia moved on to oil paintings. She took several classes at Georgia State University, both Art History courses and Studio Painting courses. She spent a short time experimenting with abstract paintings, where there is no clearly identifiable object or scene. However, all of the individual portraits on display here were based on models who came and sat for the classes, they are drawn in a realistic style, although Babcia always tended to utilize intense and heightened color combinations in her work.

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As far as I know she did not paint her family members or friends, or if she did, those paintings were either sold or given away before I ever saw them, and I can find no photographs. Lastly, I want to point out that you can see the influence of artists from the Modern period, roughly 1880-1940, particularly in her nudes. Many of them are impressionistic, with blurred lines and very intense color palettes, showing the influence that some modernist painters had on her. However, she never went through a Picasso Phase, for which I am grateful.

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In her seventies Babcia began experimenting with, and mastered, the physically arduous process of “batiking” – which involved applying hot wax to fabric, letting it completely dry, and then dipping the fabric into large tubs of hot dye, then pressing the fabric between layers of absorbent paper with an iron to remove the wax.

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Repeating the labor intensive process again and again would eventually produce breathtakingly beautiful and elaborate designs, some abstract and some representative. Her batiks, just like her oil paintings, were exhibited at numerous Georgia colleges, banks, and several fine art centers.

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As the base material for a batik, she experimented with many different types of fabric – linen, cotton, burlap. She used some fabrics that were smooth and some fabrics which had a great deal of texture. Babcia made quite large batiks, meant to be hung on the wall; they usually measured anywhere from three feet by three to five feet by five.

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In her eighties, no longer able to spend hours on her knees bent over a bath tub full of dye, she began to make small batiks suitable either for framing or for making personalized cards. She continued to experiment with a variety of styles, colors, and textures of paper to serve as the backdrop for her batik cards. And she seldom used repetitive patterns or motifs in her work, preferring to develop her abstracts by apply the paraffin wax mixture free hand with a paint brush.

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The word batik usually refers to cloth that was produced using manual techniques of wax and dye application. Batik or fabrics with the traditional batik patterns have historically been produced and worn by the local populations in Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, India, China, Sri Lanka, and in certain regions of Africa.

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In the west batik printmaking is often used to produce works of art of great beauty and complexity. But much of the batik fabric sold in the west and used in clothing is now mechanically mass-produced. These designs involve a great deal of repetition and although they are beautiful, they do not really meet the definition of art.

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Postscript: also on display was an edition of the Reinhardt Hiltonian from the early 1970s, which head librarian Joel Langford had found and which featured an article about Wanda Ast’s visit to Reinhardt, at the invitation of long-serving art professor Curtis Chapman.