October 19, 2017


Calendars (wall for 2018): Barnyard Roosters; Downton Abbey; Rube Goldberg. Andrews McMeel, $15.99 (Roosters); Universe/Andrews McMeel, $14.99 each (Downton, Rube).

     Although wall calendars come in all forms and with lots of different focuses, there are some that you want hanging in rooms for the simple joy of looking at them. They are just plain a delight to the eye. Take Barnyard Roosters, for example. The topic might seem an unlikely one for a year’s worth of art, but this collection of Dan DiPaolo’s work in fact holds up quite well for a full 16 months: September through December 2017 appear on a single page with a big rooster picture and the words “POULTRY EGGS.” Obviously this is a calendar for farm fanciers and rooster fans, but even urbanites may be surprised to discover how much they can enjoy the sometimes stately, sometimes casual poses of these birds, a few of which are quite clearly cock-a-doodle-doing. People unfamiliar with farm life may think a rooster is just a rooster, but DiPaolo clearly knows otherwise: there are hundreds of breeds of chickens and, accordingly, hundreds of types of roosters around the world, including 20 or so that originated in the United States. It is not necessary, however, to know which rooster is which in order to enjoy the Barnyard Roosters calendar, which comes packaged in its own extra-large rooster-bedecked envelope and features metal reinforcement of the hole from which it hangs on the wall – a small but highly useful enhancement. As for the pictures, contrast, for example, the similar crowing roosters shown for July and September, the former white-feathered and shown against a star-spangled background and the latter a mixture of gold and black, shown against a vaguely autumnal scene. The birds are quite similar, yet very different. And so it is throughout the year here: some months feature two birds (March and December), one offers a night scene (October, which has a pumpkin-colored rooster), and a couple include flowers (May and November); and all in all, DiPaolo’s art portrays roosters of so many types and colors, in so many settings, that this calendar is worth crowing about throughout the coming year.

     There are sayings that compare the sometimes gaudy plumage of birds (notably peacocks) to the clothing of people, and some of them may come to mind when glancing at the 2018 calendar featuring scenes from the much-loved British costume drama, Downton Abbey. The show’s final episode aired in the United States as long ago as March 2016, but you would never know it from the enthusiasm that the program continues to generate among its fans – an enjoyment now mixed with nostalgia for the show, which in its turn had a kind of pervasive and bittersweet nostalgia for the changing times in the world a century and more ago. Downton Abbey was a kind of Upstairs, Downstairs with overtones of other high-class soap operas such as the American show Dallas. And opportunities for marvelous still photos taken from the show abound – there are plenty to keep those who enjoyed the program going for many years, not just through 2018. The huge crowd around the Christmas tree for December 2018 is both an obvious choice and a beautiful one, but every month here features a pose that will remind viewers of the program and help them re-connect with their memories of it. Indeed, these still shots evoke both the show and the era in which it was set to an exceptional degree. The three white-clad women in the foreground with the stately building behind them; the two sitting in jail, on opposite sides of a plain wooden table, as a guard stands at the table’s end, overseeing their encounter; the three butlers standing side by side, their trays at the ready; the multigenerational library scene featuring oh-so-elegant bookshelves behind the family members – these and all the other pictures here help evoke the moods and emotions of Downton Abbey as surely as the program itself brought forth and honed the emotions of its complicated, interrelated cast of characters and, through that cast, tugged at the heartstrings of viewers on both sides of the Atlantic. There just isn’t a better way to continue celebrating the joys and sometimes guilty pleasures of this drama than with a calendar whose pages keep it front-and-center all year long.

     The visuals require a great deal more study and provoke a great deal more laughter in the 2018 Rube Goldberg calendar. The words “Rube Goldberg device” are far better known nowadays than are the devices themselves: the phrase describes getting something simple done by complicated means. The reason the phrase became such a common one is apparent in this delightfully offbeat calendar. Goldberg (1883-1970) specialized in imagining highly complex machines or sequences that were used to do exceedingly simple tasks. What is being done is usually (although not always) visually apparent; therefore, many Goldberg drawings are nowadays reproduced without the narrative that the cartoonist originally included with them. But they gain quite a bit when his words are added to his pictures, as they are in this calendar. The titles alone are enough to provide a chuckle or two, and the imagination that goes with the conceptions is simply delightful: “Try Our New Patent Clothes Brush” requires, among other things, a bottle to be opened with a corkscrew and a man with a very long beard; “Simple Way to Dig Up Bait for Fishing” needs the tears produced by cutting an onion, a scales-of-justice kind of scale, and a bird on a perch; “Idea for a Simple Fly Swatter” requires carbolic acid, a large bunch of garlic, and a pet trout; and so on and so forth. The dozen examples shown in this calendar will merely be enough to whet the appetite of anyone living today’s ultra-complex life, filled as it is with super-complicated gewgaws and gadgets, for the supposed simplicity of the past. “Supposed” is the key here: Goldberg showed, again and again, that there is nothing so simple that it cannot be made ridiculously complicated. Remembering that, day after day and month after month during 2018, can be a great antidote to living in the 21st century, with all the entirely new sorts of life complications that have come into being since Goldberg’s time.

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