The Odd and the Ugly

As someone who needs organization, I spend an inordinate amount of free time collecting family photos, labeling and cataloguing them. I’m fortunate that I have a wide network that can send me a photo of a painting in a hall, or I can track down distant uncles, aunts, and cousins on the Library of Congress website. When I post about someone in the family, I try to find the flattering image. But there is a collection of the weird that I keep hidden. Like Diane Arbus images, these photographs seem to be of marginalized subjects.

There are odd out of place outfits, such as Hallie Erminie Rives Wheeler in full kimono. I find the painting of Constance and Maud Rives to be quite odd. Whose idea was it to dress them as Little Bo Peep? I have a macabre image of William Fontaine Maury in open casket. Why did my grandmother save this? It’s very “The Others.” What's with the cow? Was this the last prized possession after the Civil War? There is a strange photo of my mother and aunt with the poodle. Why did nobody say, “Mary Kay, you look like Sybil.” Most disturbing, though, and my favorite is an image of my sister, brother, and me in bizarre masks. What I want to know is where is that clown mask now? It’s the scariest mask known to man. I’d like to use it when I drive to meet with clients.

The Danger of Beauty

I’ve been working on a lecture for the AIGA Pivot Conference in Phoenix this week. I’m scheduled to talk about the history of AIGA, which is kind of like a lecture about the history of the United Auto Workers. So I’m working doubly hard to find great images. And now I have them. Charles Dana Gibson was one of the founders in 1914. Charles Dana Gibson is know for creating the “Gibson” girl. He based this illustration on my grandmother’s great-cousin Irene, who was his wife.

This led me to think about all the amazing stories I’ve heard about the women in my family. For instance, one of the earliest distant grandmothers to come to America was Cicely Reynolds, who arrived in 1610 abroad the Swan when she was 14. She was married five times and is credited as bringing “flirting” to the new world. There seems to be a very strong gene that runs along the maternal line. The women all look alike, going back generations. They all seem to be rather intelligent and witty, and dangerously beautiful. Since this is my blog, I can indulge myself and talk about this.

The latest addition is my niece Izabelle. She’s only thirteen, but 5’9” and beautiful. I’ve recommended that my brother and sister-in-law build a closet model on the closet in Carrie, but they are too nice. Like generations before, she will likely break many hearts.


Heather Adams 1984

My niece, Izabelle, is 11, and like most proud uncles, I think she’s remarkably beautiful. When I saw her last, I, of course, gave her many compliments. But like many young girls today, she didn’t seem to want to wear the kinds of clothes I thought would look nice. She has long, beautiful hair, but I’ve always believed that young girls should have a nice Grace Kelly bob. I told my Kristin, my sister-in-law and Ian, my brother, and they both looked at me like I was crazy. “I don’t see what’s wrong with a nice bob,” I told them, I’d be happy to buy her a good kilt, sweaters and faux pearls (it’s unseemly to let 11 year old girls wear real pearls to school). Once again, the look like I’m crazy. “She’ll get beat up,” they told me.

I tried to convince Izabelle how nice this would look and showed her photos of my sister, Heather, when she was in high school in the 80s. Heather had a perfect bob and good classic style and it worked for her. I even found Belinda Carlisle’s video for Mad About You and pointed out that she was very cool and had a nice bob. Now, I’m not allowed to take Izabelle shopping, and when I suggested I buy her a gift certificate to Brooks Brothers, I was nudged toward iTunes. But I’m on the lookout for a nice madras headband. I can sneak that to her.

Heather Adams, 1985