- A great job done with access to nothing, and a bad/period job done with access to everything.
The town of Windhoek (at least so-named by Imperial Germany, which moved in in 1884, claiming this part of Africa for themselves against British desires) was growing at the edge of the Namib desert--a mile high, 14 inches of rain a year, an situated between two rival tribes, and for 35 years under the control of Germany. Barren, dry, and far from anywhere. This report appears in the Illustrated London News for 10 December 1932, a story from a German traveler at Windhoeck 13 years after Germany was forced to give everything up after the terrible Great War.
And what this traveler sees is quite shocking, spectacular: Windhoeck had become a town made of discarded tin petrol cans. Thousands of cans flattened and battered and fashioned and fabricated to fit over wooden skeletons--and then whitewashed--all arranged around a city plan of roundabouts and looking vaguely like Washington DC in plan.
In a place with little resource the people living there were applying whatever they could that made sense to its fullest use--the found, discarded petrol tins were of exceptional utility, rewriting a certain amount of economic theory of value. The vernacular landscape for this community was intelligent and lovely, making artful use of scarce commodities.
The National Mills Company catalog—purveyor of bathroom and plumbing supplies to the trade of Fort Wayne, Indiana—of 1939 is like a trip back in time to grandma’s Great Barrington bathroom, comforting and sort of pleasing, until you get to the color illustrations. It is there that the Turner colorized classic movies seem to have gone and speewingly bled their incredible neo-technicolor blood—colors not found in nature do battle amongst themselves in brilliantly chromo-deranged bathrooms and kitchens.
These things certainly seem benign enough in black and white (and gray tones), but in color we are left with “oh, wow!” reactions as the cones in our eyes plead for mercy, and anyone who ever lived with any ability of color sense goes a-spinning in the ethereal night, corkscrewing themselves into a-chromatic corners of the beyond.
Seeing these right on the heels of my post on beautiful, simple vernacular architecture of found objects makes these samples of bourgeoisie pre-war post-depression excess all the more awful, like that knowing lump in your throat when you know something is going to go badly. The experimentation with extreme color for the middle class in the National Mills catalog seems to have survived itself, many of these colors were evidently sold In big enough numbers to warrant reappearances in the next few catalogs. Go figure.