Sunday, August 31, 2008

Cornell and Christian Science: Part 1

In order to understand Joseph Cornell, it is necessary to understand the religion that he spent most of his life devoted to. Cornell discovered Christian Science when he was 21 because a coworker of his recommended a "practitioner" who might be able to help Cornell with the stomach problems he had been suffering from for years. This "practitioner" was not a doctor, but a Christian Science teacher. Cornell formally joined the church two years later and was an active member. He spent much of his time (to his mother's dismay) working in the Reading Room in his town of Flushing as well as teaching Sunday School classes to children.

The church follows three basic ideas including:

1. God is divine Love, Father-Mother, supreme.

The idea of a god that is both male and female incorporate likely appealed to C
ornell for several reasons. Cornell was a man who was primarily interested in activities that, during his lifetime, were usually ascribed to women. Collecting, collage, and assemblage were activities that were popular for ladies during the Victorian era. It also may be important to note that Christian Science is one of the only major religions to be founded by a female. A female dominated world would make sense to a man whose life was controlled in many ways by his mother.

Cornell referred to certain women as his female d
oubles. He often formed attachments to actresses who either had an element of androgyny to their looks or personalities, or who played somewhat androgynous roles in films. Hedy Lamarr, for example appeared in a film wearing pants. Inspired by this image, Cornell developed an entire fantasy that involved Lamarr dressed in turn of the century men's clothing and riding a bicycle. Cornell was also enchanted with Lauren Bacall, who despite being the ultimate sex symbol in her first film, To Have and Have Not, exhibited certain masculine qualities such as a deep voice and the nickname, Slim.

Cornell's art often included androgynous imagery. His Medici boxes showing young,
Renaissance era boys and girls whose genders are difficult to determine. He also created a portrait of his friend Lee Miller in which two identical images of Miller's face show her in a dress in the foreground and in a suit behind. Lee Miller also made a gender bending portrait of Cornell which shows a boat with a mast of long hair that appears to come off of his head.


  1. Utopia Parkway: The Life and Work of Joseph Cornell by Deborah Solomon
  2. Joseph Cornell: Gifts of Desire by Dickran Tashjian
  3. Joseph Cornell's Vision of Spiritual Order by Lindsay Blair
  4. Science and Health by Mary Baker Eddy
  5. The Church of Christ, Scientist website -
  6. The Bible -

Monday, August 25, 2008

Music: Satie's Gymnopedies

Erik Satie (1866-1925) and Claude Debussy (1862-1918) were were two of Cornell's favorite composers. The two are sometimes referred to as impressionists as their music creates a suggestion of mood and atmosphere similarl to the impressionist paintings of the time. Cornell and Satie actually had quite a bit in common. Both were collectors, both did not have physical relationships with women, and both were hard to label in the world of their art. For example some do not really consider Cornell an artist but rather a collector and assembler as he never had any formal art training. Similarly, Satie called himself a phonemetrician (someone who writes down sounds) rather than a musician, and many critics did not protest this label. To read more about Satie, Debussy, or Impressionism, click on the links below.
Musico-Poetics in Perspective
Satie the Bohemian

Debussy's Arabesque #1

Satie's Gymnopedies
Number 1

Number 2

Number 3

Debussy's Orchestration of Satie's Gymnopedies
Number 1

Number 3

Key Terms: "Huntley and Palmer Shortcake Cookies"

The "Huntley and Palmer shortcake cookies" that Joseph refers to in Scene 1 are probably the Iced Gems that Huntley and Palmers, and English biscuit company began producing in 1910. These little cookies are still produced today by Jacob's Bakery Ltd. and have a small cult following. Anyone need some cookie shaped cuff links or earrings?

For more info...
The Huntley and Palmers Collection
Ritz Food Product Corporation
Nice Cup of Tea and Sit Down Dot Com

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Key Terms: Automat

The automat is a self-service cafeteria which keeps its food selections in small compartments that are opened when the customer inserts money into a slot adjacent to the compartment. Automats were popular in New York City during the first half of the century as a place to get an inexpensive, hot meal. They had kitchens with chefs that would make the food, but costs were kept down by the decreased need for waiters and waitresses. The automats of Cornell's time would have had one or two waitresses to make change (the automat machines took nickels.) The rise of the fast food restaurant virtually killed the automats, however with the demand for higher quality food at low prices, they may make a comeback. New York City currently has an automat in operation called Bamn!

Here is a video about Bamn!

Here's a short clip of an automat.

For more information on automats, check out these websites and articles:

Watch these films to see scenes set in automats:

Friday, August 8, 2008

Utopia Parkway: The Life and Work of Joseph Cornell by Deborah Solomon

Solomon packs Utopia Parkway full of information on Cornell’s life – from before he was born, to his death. There is extensive information on his relationships with characters in the play such as: his mother, Robert, Carolee Schneeman, Leila Hadley, Allegra Kent, Marcel Duchamp, Roberto Matta, Marianne Moor, Joyce the waitress, and others. Solomon also describes Cornell’s attachment to Christian Science, an important aspect of his and Robert’s lives. A fascinating read.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

A Joseph Cornell Album by Dore Ashton

A Joseph Cornell Album is aptly named, as it is indeed an album that contains a collection of items that may be of interest to someone researching Cornell. The most interesting parts of this book include Cornell’s Recommended Readings which are excerpts from books, journals, memoirs, sermons, and poems that inspired Cornell. Conversely, there is a section on work that was inspired BY Cornell, such as the poems “Objects and Apparitions” by Octavio Paz, “Pantoum” by John Ashberry, and “The Crystal Cage” by Stanley Kunitz. There are also some charming pictures of Cornell as an older man – with his art, at his home, and with children at an exhibition.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Joseph Cornell: Master of Dreams by Diane Waldman

The author, Diane Waldman, became friends with Cornell in 1963 while doing research for her MFA thesis on Cornell’s work. She is one of the first people to study Cornell’s art academically and her deep understanding of his work is evident in the book. This book focuses less on Cornell’s life and more on his art. This is a gorgeous book – well designed with huge, colorful pictures.

Joseph Cornell: Stargazing in the Cinema by Jodi Hauptman

Hauptman delves into Cornell’s fear of the female body and his obsession with innocence and purity. The most interesting and informative chapters include: Chapter Two which focuses entirely on Cornell’s The Penny Arcade Portrait of Lauren Bacall and the actress that inspired the work; Chapter Three which describes Cornell’s films; and Chapter six which explores Cornell’s interest in the imaginary girl Berenice that Cornell idealized for her purity and the real life girls that Cornell imagined to be the real life Bernenice.

Joseph Cornell: Gifts of Desire by Dickran Tashjian

Tashjian focuses on Cornell’s passion for gifts. As a child Cornell loved Christmas and thus associated the act of gift giving with the happiest times in his life. Tashjian explores the motivations behind the creation of the gifts and tributes that Cornell created. There is a strong emphasis on the androgynous imagery in Cornell’s work as well as Cornell’s desire to connect with his feminine side.