Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Boehm's Bull (The Hereford Edition)

No, I wasn’t participating in NaNoWriMo or anything like that. I just have a mild case of the flu that, aside from the sore throat and achy limbs, has made me incredibly lethargic. It’s a little hard to type when your face keeps hitting the keyboard.

Like everyone else who fantasizes about writing the Great American Novel (and hasn’t yet succeeded), I’ve considered participating in NaNoWriMo. My resolution to finish all of my old quilting projects takes precedence, and I’m close enough to realizing that goal that I don’t want to mess it up with another huge time-suck. (Another plus: quilts are softer than keyboards.)

It’s one of the universally held truths of the literary world that one has to get the first million or so words before your writing stops (for lack of a more delicate word) sucking. One of the goals of NaNoWriMo is to give you a deadline and force you to write every day and get those words out of your system.

This blog was started, in part, to help me focus on my writing skills. I may not be dealing with plot, characterization or narrative, but I’d like to think it’s helped me work through a small portion of my "million-words-of-suck." So whenever I finally get around to tackling those big, meaningful writing projects, they’ll go just a little bit smoother. I hope.

Which brings me to the Boehm biography I found at the flea market last week.

The author and editor was a close personal friend of Boehm and an employee, and it shows: it’s more of a hagiography than a biography. The word fawning came to mind in my several attempts to get through the text. Here’s a brief excerpt:

"The next six years were to provide moments of excitement and depression for the Boehms. In retrospect, the hand of God surely over them for there were too many critical times in this period when it appeared the porcelain venture would fail. The great determination and endurance of Edward Marshall Boehm, working seventy to eighty hours a week, coupled with the courage, faith and enthusiasm of Helen Boehm, somehow carried them through each crisis."

He was also loved children, was beloved by Kings, Queens, Presidents and Pontiffs, and could peer into the very souls of animals. (Why, he knew animals so well that he was better at diagnosing the ailments of animals than the vet he worked for!) He was also handsome, talented, selfless, athletic, entirely self-taught, and probably good in bed.

Yeah, it reads does read like bad teenaged fanfic.

It was published a short time after Mr. Boehm death, and Mrs. Boehm undoubtedly had a hand in shaping the final manuscript as a final tribute. It’s not entirely unusable as a resource - there are a lot of lovely sketches, rare personal photographs, and descriptions of his working processes. Here’s a photograph that might look a little familiar:

It’s the presentation piece of the Hereford Bull, given by Mrs. Boehm to President and Mrs. Eisenhower in the spring of 1954. That date is … interesting.

Boehm’s Hereford was introduced in 1950. He was among the first Boehm pieces to be produced for general sale, but he wasn’t the first Boehm Breyer decided to adapt: that would be the Boxer, who was also among Boehm’s earliest releases.

Breyer’s adaptation of the Boxer was available by early 1953: I have a short article from the January, 1953 issue of Playthings announcing his arrival. ("Tenite Boxer Newest Breyer Animal Creation." p.169.) Why Breyer decided to adapt the Boxer first is unknown: his sleek, simplified contours probably made him an safer and bet. Safer and easier than the Hereford and Brahma, anyway.

We’re not entirely sure of the initial release date for Breyer’s adaptation of the Hereford. It was possibly as early as 1955, though the earliest datable reference I have for him is an appearance in the 1956 Alden’s Christmas Catalog (the Boehm-inspired Brahma appears on another page in the same catalog.)

The biography points out repeatedly that Mrs. Boehm was the promotional whiz of the company, constantly seeking out new photo ops, arranging exhibitions, and pestering local media outlets. It makes me wonder what the level of publicity was surrounding the presentation of the Bull to the Eisenhowers, and if any of it made into the Chicago press.

There’s probably nothing to it, but I’ll make note of it on my research-to-do list.

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