Mrs. Labelle and her Giant Papier Mache Heads Stephen Milanowski Photographer
COPYRIGHT STEPHEN MILANOWSKI
COPYRIGHT STEPHEN MILANOWSKI
While the site here may seem to be about photos, art and antiques, It is actually about stories. I'd like to consider myself a visual artist of sorts, one who uses things to tell stories.
There may be no better combination of "thing and story" than this one, and it comes to me courtesy master photographer Stephen Milanowski, who fortunately got in touch after I posted a big head. I found MY big head in the rafters of an antique store in Spring Lake, Michigan, where it cried out to me for several years before I took him down, talked THEM down (in price) and took him home. I posted the big baby HERE.
Imagine my surprise when I received a splendid present in the mail. A substantial and beautiful catalog from the Museum of Modern Art, their 2012 Appointment Calendar. Mr. Milanowski has a photo in the book, one which is in the MOMA permanent collection.
Nice as the book is, the card enclosed is what surprised me! Same scale, same surface, same curious holes in the head...My big baby had a FATHER and he had his portrait taken by an artist.
Mr. Milanowski (who has a splendid website HERE with some serious examples of his work over the years) later took the time to tell me the story. If you deal with the kind of material I love, the story is frequently as important as the object..and this is a good one.
I'll let Stephen tell it in his own words.
"How the Hell indeed. Some time ago, I believe on a FB posting of yours...I happened to notice, purely by chance, a snapshot of you in a den-like room, presumably in your home--and this snapshot showed you in that room with some of your collection...and I suddenly notice partly seen, in the corner of your room...Mrs. Labelle's Papier Mache Head. The Head I Photographed. And, my question was...How the Hell did Jim get his hands on Mrs. Labelle's Head?"
"The short version: before my wife and I & children moved to Madison, we lived in East Grand Rapids (my home town) for many years. On our street in EGR there lived a goofy old lady who, when I was introduced to her--I realized that she was the girls gym teacher and drama teacher at my High School--Catholic Central. I was introduced to her on her front porch...and I could tell that her house was worth being nosy about...I could see rampant pink everywhere in the interior--just by looking through the porch windows. When I then told her that I was an alum of the HS where she long taught (though then she was long retired)--she immediately invited me in--and I could tell this house was going to be a photographer's paradise. Mrs. Labelle gave me a tour...even into her basement...and it was there that she kept at least these 3 great and ancient papier mache Mardi Gras- style heads that she had long ago made for some drama class at Catholic Central. I flipped when I saw them and immediately asked if I could borrow them for photography; she said yes...and there you are."
"Every year in our neighborhood she would put the heads out on her porch for Halloween night. I should have asked her right then and there if she would sell them to me...but I could tell that she was quite attached to them."
"What I assume happened next is this--we later moved to Madison, she eventually died...and someone either got them in an estate sale...or they ended up in an antique store. And somewhere along the line...the head presented itself to you. Fill me in on the rest of the story."
"By the way--the promo card I sent you is also a Head by Mrs. Labelle."
Stephen Milanowski also has work in the collections of the National Gallery of Art, The Houston Museum of Fine Arts, The High Museum of Art and the Polaroid Collection. His Facebook page is HERE
The Museum of Modern Art Store (which is the finest shop for gifts in Manhattan) is HERE
Mrs. Labelle's Big Head Collection Jim Linderman