The Disturbed

Sean and or Adlai Stevenson, United Nations, 1962

The books

My grandmother had a true talent for interesting stories about people in her family. They first came to Virginia in 1608 and, according to Grandma, did wonderful and horrible things. She had stories about her own life homesteading with her mother in Aspen. For example, for her 16th birthday, she asked the local cowboys to make a floor for their dirt floor cabin. She also had a family bible with notes on the side and in the margins. I took the information from this and other family books and attempted to make sense of it with a diagram family tree. It quickly became a tangle of fishing lines as the Virginia branch enjoyed marrying cousins. 

The 9 foot diagram


In my search for images of people in the chart, I found an image of President Chester Arthur's wife, Ellen Lewis Herndon Arthur, and was amazed at the resemblance to my mother, 100 years later. This also happened with an image of my great-grandfather when he was 18. I compared the images in Photoshop to determine if the facial structure was similar, or I was nuts. This led to a disturbing hobby of replacing a relative with me. I have one rule; I can only use an image of a relative. This is an ongoing project with new additions periodically. I can’t explain the psychosis here, but I’m sure it points to some form of madness.

Below: The disturbing project

Below: the book version in process

Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the Chair of the undergraduate and graduate Graphic Design Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for LinkedIn Learning/ He is the only two term AIGA national president in AIGA’s 100 year history. In 2014, Adams was awarded the AIGA Medal, the highest honor in the profession. He is an AIGA Fellow, and Aspen Design Fellow. He has been recognized by every major competition and publication including; How, Print, Step, Communication Arts, Graphis, AIGA, The Type Directors Club, The British Art Director’s Club, and the Art Director’s Club. Adams has been exhibited often, including a solo exhibition at The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Adams is an author of multiple magazine columns, and several best-selling books. He has been cited as one of the forty most important people shaping design internationally, and one of the top ten influential designers in the United States. Previously, Adams was a founding partner at AdamsMorioka, whose clients included The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Disney, Mohawk Fine Papers, The Metropolitan Opera, Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, Richard Meier & Partners, Sundance, and the University of Southern California.

Leaving My Behind in the Past

I’ve been thinking about the lyrics to the B-52s song, The Detour Thru Your Mind: I need to leave my past behind. I need to leave my behind in the past. Whenever I work on my historical self-portrait project, I think, “I have to stop this. It’s disturbing and points to insanity. I need to leave the past and move into the 21st century.” Then, I find a new technique to simulate photo grain in 1916 and start again. Some of you may be saying, “This is the most vain thing I have ever seen. How could someone be so self-absorbed?” Others might say, “Sad. Very sad when I mind is lost.”

You know how trans-gendered people feel like they are in the wrong body? I feel like I’m in the wrong time. Working on these images is a small attempt to place myself back in the right temporal place. Of course, I only use family photos. Otherwise it wouldn’t make any sense. I don’t want a different family. And, frankly, it looks fun to spend life summering in Newport and doing the European tour for four months each year, or running for president, or starting an artist colony in Big Sur during the depression. So, for your enjoyment, like watching a reality show when someone slowly goes mad, here is the latest batch.

How the World Ends

Forgive me, my mind is linear and it is stuck in a groove today. After  yesterday's post about Adlai Stevenson, I spent all night thinking about Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove. Pablo Ferro's title sequence is sublime, and the dialogue is hilarious. President Merkin Murfley, played by Peter Sellers, is clearly based on Stevenson. The exchange between President Murfley and the Soviet Premier Kissoff is genius. To recap, a plane is on it's way to Russia to drop a nuclear bomb, under the wrong assumption that the US and USSR are at war. President Murfley is trying to negotiate the situation.


President Merkin Muffley: [to Kissoff] Hello?... Uh... Hello D- uh hello Dmitri? Listen uh uh I can't hear too well. Do you suppose you could turn the music down just a little?... Oh-ho, that's much better... yeah... huh... yes... Fine, I can hear you now, Dmitri... Clear and plain and coming through fine... I'm coming through fine, too, eh?... Good, then... well, then, as you say, we're both coming through fine... Good... Well, it's good that you're fine and... and I'm fine... I agree with you, it's great to be fine... a-ha-ha-ha-ha... Now then, Dmitri, you know how we've always talked about the possibility of something going wrong with the Bomb... The Bomb, Dmitri... The hydrogen bomb!... Well now, what happened is... ahm... one of our base commanders, he had a sort of... well, he went a little funny in the head... you know... just a little... funny. And, ah... he went and did a silly thing... Well, I'll tell you what he did. He ordered his planes... to attack your country... Ah... Well, let me finish, Dmitri... Let me finish, Dmitri... Well listen, how do you think I feel about it?... Can you imagine how I feel about it, Dmitri?... Why do you think I'm calling you? Just to say hello?... Of course I like to speak to you!... Of course I like to say hello!... Not now, but anytime, Dmitri. I'm just calling up to tell you something terrible has happened... It's a friendly call. Of course it's a friendly call... Listen, if it wasn't friendly... you probably wouldn't have even got it... They will not reach their targets for at least another hour... I am... I am positive, Dmitri... Listen, I've been all over this with your ambassador. It is not a trick... Well, I'll tell you. We'd like to give your air staff a complete run-down on the targets, the flight plans, and the defensive systems of the planes... Yes! I mean i-i-i-if we're unable to recall the planes, then... I'd say that, ah... well, ah... we're just gonna have to help you destroy them, Dmitri... I know they're our boys... All right, well listen now. Who should we call?... Who should we call, Dmitri? The... wha-whe, the People... you, sorry, you faded away there... The People's Central Air Defense Headquarters... Where is that, Dmitri?... In Omsk... Right... Yes... Oh, you'll call them first, will you?... Uh-huh... Listen, do you happen to have the phone number on you, Dmitri?... Whe-ah, what? I see, just ask for Omsk information... Ah-ah-eh-uhm-hm... I'm sorry, too, Dmitri... I'm very sorry... All right, you're sorrier than I am, but I am as sorry as well... I am as sorry as you are, Dmitri! Don't say that you're more sorry than I am, because I'm capable of being just as sorry as you are... So we're both sorry, all right?... All right.

All the Way with Adlai

Adlai Stevenson campaign poster 1956

Last week, I found a set of slides from my parents’ wedding in a box with a batch of Eisenhower campaign materials. There was nothing particularly surprising to be found. The ceremony was held at my grandparents’ house. A good friend of the family, a judge officiated. Everyone wore tasteful summer wedding attire. The only odd part was that both sets of my grandparents were together. This rarely happened. I remember my paternal grandmother disagreed with my maternal grandmother’s resignation from the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) over their segregation policy until 1952. And they held polar opposite political views. My maternal grandmother, being a good Virginian, was an old guard Jeffersonian Democrat. My paternal grandparents were friends of the Reagans and staunch Republicans.

One of my maternal grandmother’s many cousins was Governor Adlai Stevenson, II. Until her last days, she lamented about “cousin Adlai’s” loss in the 1952 and 1956 United States presidential election. After she passed away, I found one of my favorite posters for Stevenson at her house. The poster is so unusual. It’s missing the red, white, and blue flag motif, and is candid. Of course, Stevenson is looking backwards, which maybe was a bad choice. In both campaigns he lost to Dwight Eisenhower. There has been conjecture that Stevenson was too much of an “egghead”. Or that he didn’t understand the importance of television as a medium (true). But it was highly unlikely he could win. There had been a Democratic president for almost 20 years, since FDR took office in 1933. The Republican Party needed to win the 1952 campaign to remain viable. And then, there was Eisenhower. After losing the 1956 campaign, Stevenson said, “Never run against a war hero.”

President John F. Kennedy appointed Stevenson as the US Ambassador to the United Nations in 1961. After the United States discovered offensive nuclear missiles in Cuba, Stevenson confronted Soviet Ambassador Valerian Zorin in an emergency meeting of the Security Council, challenging him to admit the existence of the missiles. This is the moment, for me, that defines my grandmother’s “Cousin Adlai.” Without Stevenson’s aggressive and intelligent confrontation, the crisis might have taken a fatal direction, and I would not be writing this post.

Dwight Eisenhower campaign

Adlais Stevenson 1956