Puns

We’ve been way too serious about grammar around here lately. In view of the fact that we’ll be getting back to the 2nd Amendment’s grammar this week, we thought it time for a short break.

On CBS this morning was a story about a nature artist we like, Charley Harper, who was a fine punnist, if we may be allowed to coin a word. A good blog, FatFinch, posted this piece about Mr. Harper which we offer here to lighten your day. It is cold and cloudy here so we felt a need. We use it with their permission.

Punning has an undeserved unsavory reputation. Alexander Pope thought that a man who puns also picks pockets. O.W. Holmes, father of the famous United States Supreme Court justice, accused people who pun of being like wanton boys who put pennies on railroad tracks. (Holmes obviously was stealing from King Lear, “As flies to wanton gods. . .” )
Never mind. We agree with Charles Lamb who opined that a pun is a noble thing and that those who dislike them are “ill-natured.” Boswell thought them among “the smaller excellencies of lively conversation.” Shakespeare used them so often that Samuel Johnson accused him of having the vapours.
We recently re-watched the movie Master and Commander — your author is a great fan of Patrick O’Brian and has read the Aubrey-Maturin series twice already. Here from the movie:

  • Captain Aubrey: “Do you see those two weevils, Doctor?…Which would you choose?”
  • Dr. Maturin: “Neither. There’s not a scrap of difference between them. They’re the same species of Curculio.”
  • Captain Aubrey: “If you had to choose. If you were forced to make a choice. If there were no other option.”
  • Dr. Maturin: “Well, then, if you’re going to push me. I would choose the right-hand weevil. It has significant advantage in both length and breadth.”
  • Captain Aubrey: “There, I have you!…Do you not know that in the service one must always choose the lesser of two weevils?”
  • ________________________
    CHARLEY HARPER
    pub_crow_snow.jpgYou have to love a man who, after creating this crow in a snow field, says of it:

    Crows are black birds and blackbirds are also, but a crow in the snow is so much the more so. If you’re pro-crow you proclaim his intellect, his resourcefulness, and the visual poetry of his somber silhouette on the calligraphy of the cornfield. But if it’s your cornfield, you have good caws to compose creative crowfanities when he arrives. Think of it as sharecropping: he gets the grasshoppers, you get the corn, and the few ears missed in the harvest are held in, well–escrow.

    We sell his cards in our store http://www.fatfinch.com and many of them have similar funny, punny descriptions.

    Ready to send your Valentine’s Day cards? Here is “Vowlentine.”

    vowlentine.jpg

    Or how about “Herondipity?” On the back of this card we learn that male and female herons are almost identical which means it is easy to be “herroneous” when guessing their gender.

    herondipity.jpg

    Here is his “Wings of the World.” If you are a birder, see how many you can identify. If you are not a birder, see how many you can count. Birder or not, you can revel in the art.

    wings-of-the-world.jpg

    If you are interested, follow the instructions on this poster, “Visit Our Website.”visit-my-web-site-u.jpg

    Mr. Harper was an artist of nature, most often birds. He died last year. Mr. Harper got his full quotient of years on the planet, dying at the age of 84 and leaving behind a large body of joyous, modernistic nature art.

    He was John J. Audubon and Louis Agassiz Fuertes, updated. Calling himself a “minimal realist,” he reduced his subjects to the simplest visual terms he could. He said of himself that he counted only wings, not feathers when he drew. According to him, he was a lousy birdwatcher.

    I found a bird guide by Don Eckelberry and realized that was all I needed–those birds didn’t move. I’m the world’s worst bird watcher. That’s my dirty little secret. I do all my bird watching in bird guides.

    Which is better than shooting them, like Audubon did, you have to admit.

    Born on a farm in West Virginia, he spent most of his life in Cincinnati. His publishing career started in the 1950’s when his illustrations appeared in Ford Times. His writing started at that magazine as well when he took over the job of captioning the little magazine from E.B. White.

    He put his art in the service of nature. Here is a poster he did for the National Park Service.
    cnynctry.gif

    Here is “We Think the World of Birds” a work he did for the Cornell Ornithological Laboratory.

    think-the-world-of-birds.jpg

    Of this piece he said,

    It occurred to me that I could make the world the shape of an egg, and then make the trees upside-down eggs–a visual pun. After that, there was just the matter of putting in the birds.

    According to an interview at the Cornell site, this was one of the works of his life that most pleased him.

    You can find examples of his work on our web site, on the web and in Beguiled by the Wild: The Art of Charley Harper, 1994, Flower Valley Press, Gaithersburg, Maryland.

    We were blessed to have him. Here is his 1982 serigraph Tern, Stones, and Turnstones
    Terns and Turnstones

    Here is what he said about it:

    If you’re terned off–I mean, “turned” off–by puns, don’t go away. The ol’ punster has terned (make that “turned”) over a new leaf. I promise not to punctuate this paragraph with such punishments as no stone unterned, no U-terns–no more awful puns. Just the facts: a Roseate Tern and some Ruddy Turnstones share a pebbly beach along the ? WAIT! I CAN’T STAND IT ANY LONGER! Ternabout’s fair play. No terning back now. The ol’ punster has passed the point of no retern.

    He has indeed. For the rest of us, his death was a tern for the worse.

    ______________________

    Update: Febuary 3, 2008. CBS did a story about Charley Harper and Todd Oldham this morning. We posted the link here.

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