Eye of the Beholder

I’m just in from Chicago where I was undertaking a site survey of the O’Hare Westin Hotel for the 41st annual Magic Collectors’ Weekend. The facilities are excellent, and the theatre gives us the opportunity to showcase each presenter in the best light.

While in Chicago, I managed to attend the exhibition Apostles of Beauty: The Arts and Crafts Movement from Britain to Chicago at the Art Institute of Chicago just before it closed. This superb exhibition was of interest because the Arts and Crafts movement had a direct impact on magicians such as Karl Germain, Harlan Tarbell and Paul Fox. Fox, in particular, was greatly influenced by Dard Hunter, a resident of Paul’s hometown, Chillicothe, Ohio. Dard’s brother, Phil Hunter, was also a professional magician, and Dard and Phil toured Chautauqua prior to Phil’s passing. The influence of Arts and Crafts movement is evident in the promotional literature and posters of both Phil Hunter and Karl Germain.

Of course, Tarbell cites Elbert Hubbard and the Roycrofters various times in his magnum opus, “The Tarbell Course of Magic”, although I suspect Tarbell had little actual contact with Hubbard. Either way, it was wonderful to see some of the stellar works of this artistic movement close up.

I attended the Potter & Potter auction of items belonging to the late Bruce Cervon. The core items of the auction were, in fact, items that Bruce acquired directly from his mentor, Dai Vernon, or from Vernon’s family after Vernon’s passing. The recession seems to be over, at least for those who collect magic, as the prices realized consistently fell near or exceeded the high estimate.

I acquired a few items including Louis Falanga’s copy of the Deluxe Edition of Mike Skinner’s “Classic Sampler”, complete with copies of Skinner’s handwritten instructions for the items in the book. Louis was the publisher.

Classic Sampler has to be one of the most undervalued books in magic literature. It is surprising how much great information is in it. The “Profile” of Mike Skinner by William Murray at the beginning of the book describes not only what Skinner performed but also what he said and how he said it; invaluable information for a budding performer.

I only spent time with Skinner once. It was in the early 1980s at small conference organized by the late P. Howard Lyons and Bob Weill. (The conference, “the Ibidem Event”, was the inspiration for 31 Faces North, a gathering that I co-host with Allan Slaight and Magicana each August.) Skinner’s performance left an indelible mark. His magic was beautiful. I suppose that’s why I admired it so. My own mentor, Ross Bertram, also performed beautiful magic. So I, too, try to perform beautiful magic – funny, but beautiful.

In the departure lounge prior to my flight, I thumbed through a copy of the January 2010 issue of ARTnews and discovered a fascinating article,“Is Beauty in the Brain of the Beholder?”. The article explores the evolving field of neuroesthetics and traces what happens in the cerebral cortex when we see art. Researchers are trying to “figure out what makes great works so mesmerizing.”

Beauty, it turns out, is not just in the eye of the beholder.