Tuesday, July 29, 2014


I finally went live with my Fabled Labels® Archive site last week and I got my first order today! That may not sound like much to you, but to me, it’s equivalent to scaling Everest. It’s been fifteen months since I first mentioned here that I wanted to launch a new product line from the incredible collection of late 19th and early 20th century New Orleans food labels I discovered almost forty years ago.
I veered significantly off track in March, April, and May to get ready for the Gonzales Jambalaya Festival. I had a blast making aprons and pillows and designing and building a booth, but I only sold two aprons (to relatives) and one pillow (to a lost California tourist). Fabled Labels® was distinctly out of its element in a crowd in hot pursuit of beer, food, and music. It wasn’t a total loss though. It gave me a necessary deadline to get some things accomplished; namely, to start developing some actual product.

An avalanche of pillows started to build.
Once the festival was behind me, I got back to developing my website, but it threatened to be my undoing due to lack of focus — my fatal flaw. I’d already spent months building the database and the administrative and accounting pieces, all things invisible to a buying public. I was spending money, working like a sled dog, not making a dime, and not sure how I would ever make a dime.

Aprons out the wazoo.
Then along came my cousin Don to teach me the first law of business: do not let the tail wag the dog. Don and his son Todd are the second and third generation to successfully run Alexander Concrete Products down the road from me in Brittany. It so happens a couple of other locals, the Guist brothers, who work for the Alexanders, had become big celebrities after landing starring roles in The History Channel’s hit Swamp People. [Note: I can’t claim to know the brothers because they came along after I left Cajun Dogpatch® for LSU to — in the immortal words of my sister Donna — become sophisticated. My father and their Uncle Cecil were buddies.] Todd had written to The History Channel during a talent search and the rest is — well — history. Don and Todd manage the business side of what has become a thriving enterprise.

Home page for brothers Glenn and Mitchell Guist, stars of the History Channel hit show Swamp People.
The Guist brothers live across Bayou Conway from me.
A few months ago Don asked me to redesign the Guist brothers’ website. In Don’s view, the Guists didn’t need no stinking n-tier website. Don had one mission: to sell products. I put the Guist Brothers site together in less than two weeks, and Don was selling. It was a thing of beauty.

Home page for Alexander Concrete Products, Inc. in Brittany, Louisiana
Alexander Concrete Products has been making pre-cast concrete steps
down the road for almost 60 years.
Then a few months later Don asked me to design a website for Alexander Concrete. Again, Don kept it simple. His focus was on the products and how to drive traffic to the site. It came together in a week. Now Don’s all about mastering SEO (search engine optimization), a subject I’d rarely thought of and that makes my eyes glaze over. Some folks got it. Some ain’t.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Giclée Prints of Coffee Posters from the Fabled Labels® Archive

They’re finally here...fine giclée prints of six of the c. 1890 coffee posters New Orleans merchants once used to advertise on grocery store walls. These incredible images are printed on smooth, warm white, 100% cotton, archival paper with superior fade-resistant inks. These prints will hold their color and vibrancy far longer than the original posters did. I have an original Selected Coffee poster hanging in my kitchen and the lavender background has faded to weak blue; the reds are barely there. All six are listed on eBay.

A Star is Born

You all may remember that I mentioned some time ago that after 20+ years I’ve been thinking of diving back into marketing products from designs based on my famous New Orleans label collection. In the 80s and 90s, I marketed the Archives Past Cards® and Fabled Labels® brands on coffee mugs, gumbo bowls, prints, post cards...you name it. You can still find vintage Archives Fabled Labels® products on eBay and Etsy. Past Cards® still sell briskly all over creation. No, I don’t make a dime. (It’s a long story.)

The oldest and most spectacular images in the collection are the 13- and 15-inch diameter flour barrel labels printed between 1882 and 1890. A few of the best ones:
All are exceedingly rare and most are damaged by rodents and insects. Huge chunks are missing on some of the best ones. All that can be remedied in Photoshop. The hardest problem is the shape. Circles are difficult and expensive to mount and frame. First there’s the issue of finding a decent...not gaudy...round frame. Then there’s the problem of getting mattes and glass cut. As I cast about for ideas that would appropriately evoke the wooden barrel spirit, an idea came to me: old-fashioned wooden embroidery hoops. These probably haven’t changed in more than a hundred years. They’re still made of thin laminated natural wooden strips that suggest the barrel look and feel. They still have simple brass and metal hardware on the outer hoop. They come in all sizes. And they’re cheap. Why not do something I’ve always wanted to do and print labels on fabric and stretch them on embroidery hoops? Eureka! A new product — Barrel HoopsTM — is born!
Even as I write this, I’m building the Fabled Labels® Archive website. I’ll keep you posted.
Meanwhile, Barrel HoopsTM launched last night on eBay. Take a look.

Stay tuned. Coffee posters are next. I’ll probably post them on eBay before the end of the day.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Reflections on My Beloved Brother James
by Donna Dunn Livaudais

My earliest memories of life in the Dunn household included Jamie. I was only eighteen months old when he came along so I don’t remember life without him. I remember Mama being very upset because she was walking with him when he was a toddler and tried to lift him over a puddle with one arm and felt his shoulder pop out of socket. It didn’t really hurt him because he didn’t weigh much at the time which would be a lifelong trait. It was just one of those little snatches of memory that made an impression on me. We were both babies at the time.

We lived in a three room shack that had no indoor plumbing which hereafter will be referred to as the ‘old house’. I was still sleeping in a home-made crib that had been constructed from one by two’s and window screen. It actually had a locking mechanism, like a chicken coop so the baby could be secured. [We called it the “kiddy coop”. It was screened because we had no window screens. Mama and Daddy sprayed the house with Flit every night for mosquitoes.] It was probably mounted on ceramic castors and I suspect that Uncle Willie built it as he was a carpenter. The door which ran the length of the crib was hinged on the bottom and was always open. I suspect this furniture was passed down from Aunt Cleo to Mama because the youngest Savario cousin, Rosemary was a year or two older than our oldest child, Sharon. I’m also guessing that I graduated to the crib when Jamie was born. Jamie no doubt occupied the wicker bassinette, which was probably a hand-me-down from Aunt Cleo as well. Sharon and Danny, having once occupied the bassinette and crib in turn, now shared a pullout sofa bed in the living room. [Danny and I slept in the lean-to bedroom on a cot when Jamie was born. We got the sofa bed when Jamie was a baby and Daddy finally got a secure job at Gulf States Utilities, where he would retire 30 years later. The first thing he and Mama bought was a refrigerator. Before that, they had an icebox. Their next major purchase was a Naugahyde sofa bed. Danny and I moved to the sofa bed; Donna and Jamie took the cot; Valerie took the kiddy coop after she outgrew the bassinette. Rex was the only one born in the new house. He never slept in the kiddy coop because the new house had screens.]

Young DonnaYoung James

The old house had a front porch with a porch swing, a living room, a kitchen complete with a cold-water faucet, one bedroom, a tiny little nook that ran parallel to the front porch and served as a second bedroom that held a small cot which Jamie and I would share once Valerie came along. The house also had a back porch where we kept two chamber pots, a large one for Mama and Daddy and a small one for the kids, and Mama’s prized possession, a wringer washer.

We also had a number two galvanized tub which we used for family bath time. Bath time for us kids was always fun because it was an event. It only happened about once a week. Mama had to boil water to heat the bath so it was a real project to bathe a family of seven. It was during one of these family-bath times that Jamie revealed a certain racy wit which would become his signature. Mama, then a voluptuous young mother was the first to bathe. When she entered the room looking like a lovely pink Venus, Jamie having been recently weaned due to Valerie’s arrival, impishly blurted, “I want to suck your titties!” This shocking outburst seemed audacious to me but he brought the house down. [Donna forgot what Mama said, which was, “OK.” That’s one of the few times in his life Jamie lost his nerve. Mama shocked me more than Jamie did.] [I just realized I should clarify something. Daddy did not participate in family bath time, except to help out. He was a modest man and always showered wherever he worked. Mama didn’t have that option.]

Sharon, being the oldest, was often left in charge of the younger siblings while Mama was painting signs in her shop next door. She supervised games to keep us occupied. One day, we were playing hide and seek in the old house. Sharon was very tricky. It was Danny’s turn to find everybody. Jamie was wearing a pair of green overalls and he had a cut on his foot which had recently been medicated with iodine. She had Jamie and me to change clothes. I put on his overalls and Sharon painted my foot with iodine and “hid” me behind Mama and Daddy’s bed, kneeling with my head down and just my behind and feet barely visible. When Danny came into the room, he immediately spied the green overalls and the medicated foot and said, “There’s Jamie!” Ha! We were delighted that our cunning plan worked so well.

A major milestone for our family was moving into the new house [built with our parents’ four hands]. We had really arrived. We had three bedrooms, a modern kitchen, and a bathroom. It wasn’t long before we got our first television. We had joined white bread America.

Though we all had our ups and downs at school, Jamie had the hardest time of any of us. For starters he had ADD before it had a name. He was also dyslexic and phonetically tone deaf. In those days, any child with learning disabilities just had to wing it because there was no intervention available. They were basically considered slow or lazy. His sixth grade teacher was a hateful woman who assumed that Jamie’s failures were due to his attitude. She was constantly sending notes home to Mama complaining about his behavior. When Mama questioned him about it angrily, he completely broke down. He sobbed pitifully that he didn’t know why she hated him so much. He told Mama that she asked him, “Why do you always have to be different from everybody? If everybody in the world is eating rice, you’d be eating oak leaves!” Who talks to an eleven year old child that way? Mama was bewildered. She struggled with Jamie every night for years. She would make flash cards for his spelling. The only way he could pass a spelling test was to memorize the shape the letters created. He never managed to learn how to read. He spent his entire life compensating for this disability. As a consequence of his unique learning strategy, he developed skills that the rest of us don’t possess. Though he couldn’t read a book, he was a mechanical wizard. He spent his adolescence under a car. That’s the environment that he understood and loved.

With this level of difficulty in learning, I secretly thought, “poor Jamie, he’s such a loser.” For me, in my limited understanding of the world, the only indicator of success was making straight A’s in school. Then something happened to Jamie that made me view him in a different light. At a certain point in high school, I noticed he had become one of the guys the girls liked. That was a real shocker to me because I thought of him as the annoying little imp who could never sit still and stop making those stupid monkey noises. Yet he was actually dating East Ascension High “A Listers.” He had suddenly become something of a catch.

After high-school, I went off to LSU and became sophisticated. Meanwhile Jamie was following a different path. He attended a trade school where he learned the skills that would eventually define him as a master machinist and support his family. I eventually moved to Salt Lake City with my sophisticated boyfriend and started my adult life. I was 22 years old and felt like a real grown up. Jamie would follow me to Salt Lake a few months later and crash on my living room couch. I had mixed feelings about having him parked in my living room but I had been very lonely and was also glad to see him. The first night he got to Salt Lake, he located the Mormon Church and went to a dance there. That night, when he got home, he introduced me to Trish, the most gorgeous California girl I’d ever laid eyes on. He let me know that she would be staying with us too.

Well I can tell you that this new development made me a bit uncomfortable. Trish was every normal woman’s worst nightmare. Drop-dead beautiful with tousled platinum blond hair down to her waist, enormous blue eyes, a perfect body and all the mannerisms of Marilyn Monroe. I protested that they were too young; they didn’t know each other, and bla-bla-blaaa. It fell on deaf ears. Jamie was totally smitten. They were inseparable from that first night and were planning their wedding within a matter of weeks.

You know the rest. Jamie and Tricia had their struggles. But one thing is certain. They had a love that endured. And Tricia, forgive me for those moments of envy when I doubted you. You were the light of Jamie’s life and for that I love you dearly.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Fabled Labels®

c. 1890. The original was badly stained and damaged.
In another country, in another life, I was called the Louisiana Label Lady. In 1975, I discovered a huge cache of trade labels in neglected files of a New Orleans printing company that had been in continuous operation since 1882. This collection represents a fascinating period in New Orleans history when the city was a vibrant commercial center and one of the largest, most important port cities in the world. I supplied antique labels to both The Historic New Orleans Collection and the Louisiana State Museum. I displayed labels in several galleries including the O.K. Harris Gallery in New York City. Numerous newspapers and magazines ran stories about the collection.

In 1984 I founded Archives and began reproducing label designs on fine porcelain gumbo bowls and coffee mugs. Archives sold these products all over the US and in several countries, including Argentina, England, and France. The bowls and mugs were manufactured in and imported from Japan. I ran the business on a shoestring and was unable to survive the numerous beatings the dollar took against the yen. Once costs doubled, I was out of business.

Gold-trimmed mugs with antique label designs.

I've maintained this collection for almost 40 years. Most of it even managed to survive Katrina.

Suffragette Coffee & Chicory, c. 1916, Shreveport, LA.
Click to enlarge and read the historically and politically interesting copy.

There are approximately 500 different labels in the collection and I'm toying with the idea of selling high-quality prints.

Woman's Club Coffee, c. 1890

There are several reasons why this idea appeals to me more than selling original labels as I once did.
  • The original labels fade badly when exposed to light.
  • Many of the originals are in fragile condition. Some are stained and damaged. I can repair the damage in Photoshop.
  • Prints can be sized and proportioned better for framing and display.
  • Since conservation is unnecessary, framing prints is substantially less expensive than framing antiques.
  • I won't run out of inventory.
  • Prints are a lot more affordable than antiques.
I hope this will morph into something that supports my writing habit. At this point, I don't have any idea how much the prints will cost. Maybe some of you have ideas about that. I'd love to hear them.

Included here are a couple of images I recently scanned and cleaned up. These labels weren't chosen for any reason other than that they were apropos of something friends and I were discussing on Facebook.

c. 1920

Please leave comments letting me know what you think.

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Greatest Lesson in Genesis

For dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.

We are made of star stuff.
—Carl Sagan

Friday, March 22, 2013

Girls Are Smarter Than Boys

I grew up in a girl-boy-girl-boy-girl-boy family. Mostly, girls made good grades, worked indoors and liked to sew, draw, and play music. Mostly, boys made poor grades, worked outdoors and liked to hunt, fight, and work on engines. This is the way we defined the sexes: girls are smarter than boys; boys are tougher than girls. If girls could be overbearing smart alecks and boys could be brutes, well, that was just a flaw in an otherwise perfectly balanced system of non-overlapping magisteria.

In fourth grade my cousin Brenda and I were riding the school bus when she told me her brother was the salutatorian of Gonzales High School.

“What’s a salutatorian?” I asked.

“That means he’s the second smartest kid in school,” she said.

“What’s the smartest kid called?” I asked.


“No boy is smarter than me,” I thought, “I’m going to be valedictorian.” And I was.

My sister Donna has always had a keener sociologist’s eye than I do. For instance, I was twenty-two when she said, “Sharon, we were poor.” I literally felt the scales fall from my eyes. Imagine my shock when I discovered boys were not only tougher but also maybe even smarter than girls. No fair! On the upside, I was armored against certain types of abuse. Many men have tried and all have failed to convince me I’m stupid. (Only another woman can do that to me.) It burns me up how many smart women I know who think they’re stupid.

Several years ago Donna and I were regaling our late friend Franklin Adams, an artist and Tulane architecture professor, with tales from Cajun Dogpatch® when Donna mentioned—for hitherto unappreciated shock value—our default setting was: girls are smarter than boys. Franklin was gobsmacked! My friend Ruth Laney had a similar reaction when she visited a few days ago and my brother Jamie and I described Dunn family apartheid.

During Ruth’s visit I asked Jamie if he grew up thinking boys weren’t as smart as girls. Turns out he’d never thought about it. This is what Donna had to say:
Jamie never thought about it because being smart was only a high value to us girls. The boys found other avenues for self-valuation such as guns, motorcycles, physical prowess, mechanical interests—and the list goes on. The broader culture in which we were born valued boys over girls. It still does. Herbie came over a couple of nights ago beaming with joy over the news that Nina and Yano are expecting a boy. Though he’d never admit to being sexist, it was apparent that this news was, in his mind, a victory. Sad to say, when I was pregnant for Ann, I felt a bit like a failure for not delivering a boy. The anticipation that my baby was a boy was fueled by a lot of unspoken pressure from the surrounding culture that says, somehow it’s better to have a boy. It was palpable then and it’s palpable now. We’ve come a long way since then but this cultural bias is still alive and well. We can pay lip service to being liberated and all that HH, but the bottom line is women are still regarded as the lesser sex despite our compensatory efforts.
During my immersion in second wave feminism, I remember being stunned to learn that girls outperformed boys in math and science until adolescence when the trend reversed. That had not been my experience. As hopelessly clueless as I was, I had won both the math and science awards at Gonzales High School. No wonder I was almost twenty before I started dating. When I asked my sister Valerie to comment, she said:
A memory comes to mind. I think the idea that girls are smarter than boys may have come from the community we lived in rather than our family. I remember a high school assembly where the principal, Mr. Gautreau, spoke before the top-achieving seniors. He praised the valedictorian Randy something for being the first or one of the first male valedictorians. He spoke briefly about how it had been a long time trend in Gonzales [we went to GHS grades 1 through 12] for girls to excel more than boys in school and he seemed pleased that things were beginning to change. Perhaps academic achievement was less valued in a more rural, agricultural area than it was in an urban area.
I disagree with Valerie’s conclusions about the origin of our family’s peculiarly distorted ideas on gender differences. In fact, to me, her anecdote is a perfect illustration that the high school principal was relieved his students were setting the natural order aright.

Ruth asked me to write here about how we came to grow up with a notion so out of whack with mainstream culture. This isn’t so easy. As the late Joe Bageant said somewhere asking someone to write about her own culture is like asking a goldfish to describe water. I went over to Joe’s site looking for inspiration. While Joe had described the Scotch-Irish culture of toughness well in Deer Hunting with Jesus, as far as I could find, he only made a passing reference to a “deep southern style of matriarchal family”.

We certainly grew up in one of those deep southern martriarchal families. My grandmother, the first postmistress of our rural family village, christened it Brittany. Around the turn of the twentieth century, Grandmother and two of her sisters, Mag and Rose, homesteaded the area with their husbands and there were mostly daughters in all three families. Grandmother and her oldest daughter taught school even though neither had high school diplomas themselves. The first college graduate in my generation was my cousin Diana who wound up teaching English at GHS. In our extended family Diana was something of a celebrity by virtue of her advanced education and prestigious professional calling. Aunt Mag had a daughter who designed crossword puzzles for a newspaper. Aunt Rose had several daughters who never married and were career girls. My mother was a highly skilled sign painter and ran a small business. Grandmother kept a small, private lending library for the locals. All the women were avid readers and excellent letter writers.

When we grew up, the evidence around us seemed to support the idea that girls were smarter than boys. When I asked my cousin Larry about this recently, he said, “I never believed that, but I can see how you might. Just look at the facts. Mama was smarter than Daddy; Aunt Cleo was smarter than Uncle Bill; Aunt Sue was smarter than Uncle Judge; your mama was smarter than your daddy.” The four sisters—Cleo, Pansy, Susie, and Gerry—were Mormon stalwarts who supplied the energy and momentum to hold the tiny congregation together while they humbly ceded status to their far less devout convert husbands—Bill, Clyde, Judge, and Dan. I’m not sure Larry’s right about who was smarter, but given the fact that he’s a Mormon grand poobah, I get why he thinks the better Mormon was the smarter one. In my true-blue Mormon youth, I drew similar conclusions for similar reasons.

If there’s a single reason religion didn’t take with Donna and me, this may have been it: maleness had higher value than smartness. In fact, from our point of view, a woman—regardless of what she may have to offer creatively and intellectually—could never be a full Mormon unless she was attached to a priesthood-holding man. For us, priesthood-holding men who weren’t close relatives were few and far between. Just this past Sunday, I attended a Relief Society meeting where the teacher felt compelled to construct an elaborate apologia for the lesson title: Brethren, We Have Work to Do. Read it and weep, Sisters.
Brethren, much has been said and written in recent years about the challenges of men and boys. A sampling of book titles ... includes Why There Are No Good Men Left, The Demise of Guys, The End of Men, Why Boys Fail, and Manning Up.... [A] common thread running through these analyses is that in many societies today men and boys get conflicting and demeaning signals about their roles and value in society....

In their zeal to promote opportunity for women, something we applaud, there are those who denigrate men and their contributions.... Some argue that a career is everything and marriage and children should be entirely optional... This cultural emasculation of males is having a damaging effect.

In the United States, for example, it is reported: “Girls outperform boys now at every level, from elementary school through graduate school. By eighth grade, for instance, only 20 percent of boys are proficient in writing and 24 percent proficient in reading. Young men’s SAT scores, meanwhile, in 2011 were the worst they’ve been in 40 years. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), boys are 30 percent more likely than girls to drop out of both high school and college. … It is predicted that women will earn 60 percent of bachelor’s, 63 percent of master’s and 54 percent of doctorate degrees by 2016. Two-thirds of students in special education remedial programs are guys.”

Some men and young men have taken the negative signals as an excuse to avoid responsibility and never really grow up. In an observation that is too often accurate, one university professor remarked, “The men come into class with their backward baseball caps and [their lame] the ‘word processor ate my homework’ excuses. Meanwhile, the women are checking their day planners and asking for recommendations for law school.” ...
Weeell... I’m sorely tempted to say, “Here’s a number to call: 1-800-BOO-HOOO.” Regardless of what a few books with obvious axes to grind have to say, I remember when girls got “conflicting and demeaning signals about their roles and value in society” from everywhere—and they still do. I also remember when girls switched from thinking smart to thinking sexy and when they were encouraged to go to college long enough to get their M-R-S degrees. Yeah, I remember boys who were urged to study science and engineering while I was urged to help them pass Biology 101 and college algebra. I remember when Donna told Mama and Daddy she wanted to be a doctor and they laughed at her. I remember graduating from high school with a 4.0 and winning every award and getting zero guidance as I stumbled around LSU in a daze with no idea what I was doing there. I remember trying to support myself as a student worker on 90¢ an hour while boys worked offshore for a single summer to pay for a whole year of college. So if we helped inflict all this damage on the male psyche when I supported my daughter while she got a PhD in medicine and Donna supported hers while she got an MBA in finance, I guess we’ll just have to plead guilty as charged.

Some right-on contributions from my man, Moe Labelle.

Wow! This might be the smartest boy ever.