An Arts Fuse regular feature: the arts on stamps of the world.
By Doug Briscoe
No doubt about it, today’s biggest star in terms of both “name recognition” and the sheer number of postage stamps honoring him is the unforgettable Jimi Hendrix. A Hendrix stamp was issued by the USPS three years ago, and most if not all of the others are also recent productions. We have them from, in alphabetical order, Antigua, Congo-Brazzaville, Congo-Kinshasa, Djibouti, Grenada, Liberia, Mali, Palau, Saint Vincent, Sierre Leone, and Somalia (still more exist). Now a brief history of Johnny Allen Hendrix (November 27, 1942 – September 18, 1970). When he was a child he carried a broom around with him, pretending that it was a guitar, but his parents couldn’t afford the real thing, even after a school social worker strongly recommended it. He was fourteen before he found a beat-up old ukelele in somebody’s trash and made do with that. The next year his mother died of cirrhosis, but Hendrix picked up an acoustic guitar for five bucks. After military service (to which Hendrix was not well suited and at which he did not excel), Hendrix began performing and occasionally recording with a string of bands: the Isley Brothers, Little Richard, Curtis Knight and the Squires, Joey Dee and the Starliters. With the the Squires he earned his first two composer credits (“Hornets Nest” and “Knock Yourself Out”). All of this happened within a year or two, then in June 1966 Hendrix formed his own band, Jimmy James and the Blue Flames. The manager and producer Chas Chandler recruited the musician, suggested the new spelling for “Jimmy”, and brought him to Europe for the first of three Jimi Hendrix Experiences: Evreux, Paris, and London, where Eric Clapton, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Pete Townshend, Brian Jones, and Mick Jagger were in the audience and liked what they heard. “Purple Haze” hit number three on the UK charts, and a full-length album, Are You Experienced, followed and peaked at number two. (Number one was Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.) The next year saw Woodstock and Jimi’s famous flaming guitar finish, which was photographed by 17-year-old Ed Caraeff. That photo, colorized from the original monochrome by Rolling Stone, is reproduced on the stamp from Somalia (the last one, at bottom right). Hendrix lived for only another three years, but let’s leave it there at that iconic moment.
Now simmer down, you kids, it’s time for the older folks to shine. German engraver
Johann Peter Haseney (27 November 1812 – 10 April 1869) did the work on the first German stamp, an 1849 one kreuzer black for the Kingdom of Bavaria. Other German states followed suit, Hanover, Prussia, and Schleswig-Holstein in 1850, Baden and Württemberg in 1851, etc. Most of these are on the pricey side, but a number of very early stamps, despite their venerable age, are not at all expensive to collect.
Next we come upon the interesting case of the adventurous English artist Thomas Baines (27 November 1820 – 8 May 1875). He was born in Norfolk and developed a powerful Wanderlust, leaving for British colonial southern Africa at 22. There he painted portraits and worked as official war artist during the Eighth Xhosa War (1850-53). Two years after that conflict ended Baines joined an Australian expedition as official artist. He was back in Africa in 1858, accompanying David Livingstone along the Zambezi River, becoming one of the first white men to see Victoria Falls. Baines wrote a book about an 1861-62 trek called Baines’ Explorations in South-West Africa (1864), one of the earliest expeditions that relied heavily on photography and painting. In 1869 he prospected for gold in Mashonaland (in what became Rhodesia, today Zimbabwe) and made illustrations for Alfred Russel Wallace’s book The Malay Archipelago. Thomas Baines died in Durban, aged 54. The Republic of South Africa issued a set of four Baines stamps in 1975, and South West Africa (administered by South Africa until 1990, when it became Namibia) a further set of four in 1987. The first two South African stamps show Dutch East Indiaman and Part of Cradock from the North. I was unable to identify the other two. The SWA set offers Rhenish Mission Church at Gababis (1863), Outspan in October (1861), Outspan Under Oomahaama Tree (1862), and Swa-Kop River, S.W. Africa (1861).
Today is the 122nd anniversary of the birth of Austrian operetta and film music composer Nico Dostal (27 November 1895 – 27 October 1981). He first came to notice with his Great Mass in D of 1913, church music being the third arena in which Dostal was active as a composer. Later he earned a living in Berlin as a freelance arranger for other operetta composers such as Oscar Straus, Franz Lehár, and Robert Stolz. His own most successful operetta was Doktor Eisenbart (1952), although the stamp cites Die ungarische Hochzeit (The Hungarian Wedding) of 1939.
The Serbian poet Laza Kostić (1841 – 27 November 1910) is important for a couple of reasons: first, with his poems and plays he is held to be a titan of the literature of his homeland, and second, he was an assiduous translator, assisting Jovan Andrejević-Joles in the translation of Shakespeare into Serbian (Kostić himself being entirely responsible for King Richard III, Romeo and Juliet, and Hamlet) as well as from a number of European languages (Homer, Heine, Bulwer-Lytton). He promoted the study of English as a means of offsetting the dominance of German in the Balkans. He also worked energetically in politics (mayor of Novi Sad, etc.) and the law.
Swedish architect Axel Anderberg (November 27, 1860 – March 27, 1937) designed the new Royal Opera House (1899) seen on the stamp. This was Anderberg’s first important commission. His other creations include numerous theaters and the new Swedish Museum of Natural History (1916), the Paleontological Museum (1929), and the new building for the Stockholm Observatory (1931).
We also mark the birthday today of Ukrainian feminist novelist Olha Kobylianska (1863 – 21 March 1942). She was mostly self-educated, learning Ukrainian and Polish as well as her first language of German. It was in that language that she wrote her first published works, influenced by Nietzsche and George Sand. She switched to Ukrainian in the mid-1890s. Her fiction reflected her social and political concerns, such as the Ukrainian peasantry, and in a novel of 1898, Valse melancolique, she explored the question of lesbianism. Kobylianska appears to have enjoyed romantic liaisons with both sexes. Other significant novels among her expansive output include Land (Zemlya, 1902) and On Sunday Morning She Gathered Herbs (1909). She continued writing into the 1930s and two years after her death a museum opened in the house in Chernivtsi where she lived her last years.
Another Eastern European novelist was the Romanian Liviu Rebreanu (November 27, 1885 – September 1, 1944). As a young officer in Austro-Hungarian service, he illegally crossed into Romania in 1909, became a journalist, and frequented literary circles until extradited in 1910. Once released from incarceration he promptly returned to Bucharest and in a very short time was taken on as secretary for the National Theater in Craiova. He married an actress and published his first fiction, a collection of novellas, in 1912. Rebreanu continued as a journalist and short story writer through the First World War. In 1920 he published what is considered the first modern Romanian novel, Ion, for which he received an award from the Romanian Academy. He was also a playwright. He headed the National Theater of Bucharest and the Romanian Writers’ Society and was admitted to the Academy in 1939.
Our third consecutive writer today is the Indian poet Harivansh Rai Bachchan, born Kavi Harivansh Rai Srivastava on 27 November 1907. “Bachchan” (“Kid”) was a nickname he had from childhood. He taught English literature at Allahabad University and earned a PhD at Cambridge with a thesis on Yeats. Returning to India he resumed teaching and worked with All India Radio at Allahabad. His best known work is the poem “Madhushala” (“The Pub”, 1935). Bachchan made many translations into Hindi, including the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyám, Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Othello, and the Bhagavad Gita. An admirer of Mahatma Gandhi, he wrote his last poem in 1984 on the assassination of Indira Gandhi. Bachchan died on 18 January 2003. His son Amitabh Bachchan is a prominent Hindi film actor.
We place three actors from Eastern Europe together to round up today’s program.
Jerzy Pichelski (27 November 1903, Saratov – 5 September 1963, Warsaw) worked on the Polish stage and in films from 1933 to 1960. Romanian stage actress Dina Cocea (27 November 1912 – 28 October 2008) appeared in a smaller number of films over a wider span of time and died a month shy of her 96th birthday. Her father and maternal grandfather were prominent journalists. Cocea was educated from girlhood in Paris, where her aunt introduced her to acting. Her first success was in 1909, but she debuted in her native Romania only in 1934. She worked in only a dozen films, but the earliest was made in 1939 and the last in 1992. Over the years she founded an acting troupe in 1941, was a fixture at the Bucharest National Theater, and served as dean of the University of Bucharest’s Faculty of Theater. Finally, Greek actor Alekos Alexandrakis (Αλέκος Αλεξανδράκης, 27 November 1928 – 8 November 2005) was in more films than Pichelski and Cocea combined, more than 75 of them, including at least one with Melina Mercouri. He also directed two films. His first appearances on both the stage and in cinema took place in 1949. Alexandrakis also worked on television from 1972, with an hiatus in the 80s. He was married four times, but his longest relationship (21 years) was with actress and writer Nonika Galenea, with whom he created the the Ilissa Theater and Studio.
One more actor who ought to be on stamps, it seems to me, was Fanny Kemble (27 November 1809 – 15 January 1893). American novelist James Agee (November 27, 1909 – May 16, 1955) should get one, too. And happy birthday to the director of The Hurt Locker (2008) and Zero Dark Thirty (2012), Kathryn Ann Bigelow (born November 27, 1951).
A graduate of the University of Massachusetts with a B.A. in English, Doug Briscoe worked in Boston classical music radio, at WCRB, WGBH, and WBUR, for about 25 years, beginning in 1977. He has the curious distinction of having succeeded Robert J. Lurtsema twice, first as host of WGBH’s weekday morning classical music program in 1993, then as host of the weekend program when Robert J.’s health failed in 2000. Doug also wrote liner notes for several of the late Gunther Schuller’s GM Recordings releases as well as program notes for the Boston Classical Orchestra. For the past few years he’s been posting a Facebook “blog” of classical music on stamps of the world, which has now been expanded to encompass all the arts for The Arts Fuse.