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Writ in sand

That there is an image by a man named Benjamin Zobel (1762-1831), made entirely out of sand. To create this one, he dribbled sand from little paper funnels onto a sticky surface, which is why it survives. Most sand paintings — duh — didn’t survive the night.

In the 17th, 18th and 19th Centuries, European and British royalty employed artists as table deckers — before important feasts, these guys would be hired to make huge images out of sand and sugar and marble dust and whatever on top of the banqueting tables. Dishes of snacky foods would be laid on top. At the end of the night, it would all be swept away. Landscapes, religious pictures, portraits, hunting scenes, still lifes (yes, dammit, that is correct) — whatever was fashionable in painting was fashionable in sandpainting.

Which sounds at first like ghastly aristocratic extravagance, but I’m guessing these artists were paid considerably more than, say, the ones who make chalk pictures on pavement. Same difference.

I have a warm spot for ephemera. Making ephemera for a living teaches humility — not something you get a lot of in the art world. Nearly all the art I’ve made for money was intended to be used once, or a few times maybe, and then fade away. For most of it, that’s just as well.

Anyhow, table deckers and sandpainting — that’s what to Google if you want to know more.


Comment from weirdsister
Time: February 16, 2010, 7:56 pm

As usual Stoaty, you have managed to broaden my horizons. 😉 However, If that image were “painted” on my banquet table, I might lose my appetite. A wee bit dreary, IMHO.

Comment from iamfelix
Time: February 16, 2010, 8:01 pm

Fascinating – I didn’t know about table deckers. That pic is particularly lovely. I love stuff that was intended to be ephemera, like Victorian postcards complete with quaint old messages to and by persons now long dead, that has survived, . It’s interesting to me that movies were actually once thought to be ephemera – not only the old silents, but way into the 30s. Hollywood thought they were to be made, shown, then tossed away. Couldn’t imagine that decades later people would pay to see ’em. That, plus the volatile nature of the old film stock, makes it a wonder that as much survives as does.

I read somewhere? (a long time ago) that the reason Japanese art tended to be of an ephemeral nature (paper scrolls and the like) was the nature of Japan itself – the fact that, periodically, half of everything would be taken out in a monsoon or something, so no point in producing stuff “for the ages.” Make it for the here and now, and enjoy it while you got it.

Comment from Mrs. Compton
Time: February 16, 2010, 8:14 pm

Have you seen this?


So amazing.

Comment from Uncle Badger
Time: February 16, 2010, 8:35 pm

I’ve been trying to persuade Her Stoatliness to watch that for ages Mrs C.

I think she prefers the Annoying Orange.

Can’t imagine why 😉

Comment from Wiccapundit, the Red State Witch
Time: February 16, 2010, 10:01 pm

I once had a Zen painting set. You would dip the brush in water and draw on a special surface that would only retain the image for about 30 seconds. Then it would fade to blank again. The idea is that you not become attached to details of your work, and to draw spontaneously.

I left it somewhere, I think. I haven’t seen it in awhile. I guess I don’t particularly care.

Comment from Rich Rostrom
Time: February 16, 2010, 10:21 pm

Pastry cooks. The elaboration of complicated desserts with cookies and crackers and frosting – all to vanish down someone’s gullet.

Comment from Mike C.
Time: February 17, 2010, 6:42 am

Ice sculptors – they know it isn’t going to last. But even ephemera has been bitten by the stupid bug that has infested art. The most famous practicioner is that moron that string colored bedsheets across landscapes and buildings and has convinced eberybody that it’s great art rather than a poor imitation of laundry day.

Comment from Nicole
Time: February 17, 2010, 9:49 am

Very interesting! I had no idea about table deckers.

Rich, you are quite correct, but I had never really thought of it before. The life of one who loves edible art is one centered on ephemera – though pictures can be taken, they are never quite the same as the real thing and part of the true art is the taste. 🙂

Comment from Sporadic Small Arms Fire
Time: February 17, 2010, 11:18 am

Πάντα ῥεῖ is all I have to say about that.

Comment from Sporadic Small Arms Fire
Time: February 17, 2010, 11:22 am

Puts the whole sad Nick Park obsessive-compulsive Wallace&Gromit still animation in perspective: it runs into Britisher genetics.

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