Tuesday, 24 November 2009

John Cage and Lois Long : Mud Book

A book on an unexpected subject. Subtitled, How To Make Pies And Cakes, this five-and-a-quarter-inch-square hardback appeared via Harry N. Abrams in 1988 (ISBN 0-8109-1533-2) and consists of forty pages plus a three-page essay by John Russell in which the mud pie is described as, "the first working model of all human makings". Composer Cage and 1918-born textile designer Long collaborated on Mud Book's original text and artwork one mid 'fifties autumn evening in Pomona, New York. It was intended as a children's book with a view to it bringing in some money. Unfortunately they were unable to raise any interest in it. Having rediscovered the moquette in her files, Long showed it to artist Graham Snow, whose dealer, gallery owner David Grob, was enthusiastic. A numbered, signed edition of five hundred concertina-format books was produced in 1983 in conjunction with Tokyo printer Hiroshi Kawanishi (Simca Print Artists). Simca used over one hundred silkscreens to approximate the original as accurately as possible. Abrams published the first trade edition, but I wonder how many copies of this more financially accessible version were bought for kids, if it ever transcended its artist's book status and reached its intended audience ?
The pages are thick cream-coloured art paper and the easy-to-follow (a mud pie being something anyone can make, whatever their age) instructions and ingredients ("some dirt and enough water") are handwritten in black in upper case. The illustrations are lovely and simple, with just brown, orange and white being used along with the aforementioned black : for "some dirt", we see a basic brown triangle representing a heap of earth; for "dump it onto a newspaper", a real torn-off piece of newspaper is the background for the mud's brown blob - the facing page shows a newspaper rectangle with six different brown shapes painted on. Classified ads on both of these pieces of paper concern the availability of pets : golden retriever, poodles, rottweiler, samoyed, Siberian husky, cats - and a "female, Tig tail MacAcque" for sale for two hundred bucks. The sun is pictured as an orange disc with stylised flames shooting out.
There's a recipe for a mud layer cake, with a depiction of sieving to extract the black pebbles which will form the cake's filling. A fine double-pager illustrating the mud and water mixing process is rather ab ex, all Pollocky scribbles and drips. Cage and Long also show how to decorate the layer cake, with dried dandelions as candles, for a birthday, and a great spread has the white seeds floating away against a black background after the blowing-out ceremony.
Lois Long worked with fungi expert John Cage (with Long, plus a couple of others, Cage formed the New York Mycological Society in 1962, hunting mushrooms) on another book, Mushroom Book (http://www.spectator.co.uk/books/268626/surprising-literary-ventures.thtml), though I've yet to locate a copy and am not certain as to whether it was republished by Abrams alongside the pair's mud pie one.

New York Times article : http://www.nytimes.com/2003/03/30/magazine/the-mud-club.html.

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