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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Phew!

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.
—Genesis

We are made of star stuff.
—Carl Sagan