Celebrating Labor Day Art!

Labor Day – the perfect day to celebrate antique and vintage labor posters and other labor related art.

Some honor home front workers supporting the war effort. Many support and celebrate the union labor movement, which brought so many important rights to American workers.

Woman Labor – 1912

Some are 1930’s WPA posters – the Works Progress Administration which, thanks to Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, employed the unemployed and helped bring us out of the Great Depression.

The “Free Labor Will Win” poster represents fighting the Axis dictators in World War II (which had “unfree” labor) combined with President Roosevelt’s positive policies toward organized labor unions.

There are Women’s labor posters, anti child-labor posters, etc. I’ve also included a labor related US stamp and the movie poster from the great movie, Metropolis, about a shining Art Deco city which is powered by thousands of poor abused workers living underground.

Come on in to the Midtown Mercantile Mall at 4443 E. Speedway in Tucson, Arizona. We have many merchants who sell vintage art. There just might be some of these old labor posters in the mall right now. If you hang a few of these on your wall you will have a wonderful historic collection, and they are beautiful as well!

Carol Fenn 9-2017

Back To School – Back Then!

Back in the day, before the first day of school, (which used to be mid-September) your Mom or Dad would take you shopping for new clothes and new shoes.

Shopping at one of those newfangled “shopping malls.”

No self service shoes back then

We loved our lunch boxes

In those days, the clothes, no matter how much they cost, a lot or a little, were quality, finely made, and they lasted until you grew out of them. And this was probably the only time you got new clothes until the next year.
After you were done shopping for clothes you might get treated to a brand new lunch box. Which one should you get? Yogi Bear, Peanuts, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Popeye, Underdog, Huckleberry Hound, Mary Poppins, Hee Haw, Batman, Julia, The Flintstones, or what? There were so many! Why is it so hard to pick?

So many to choose from!

Last, grab a composition book, a pack of pencils and maybe a cool pencil box. That’s all you needed. Everything else was supplied by the school.  Oh, and hopefully your mom will save some paper grocery bags so that you can cover your textbooks with them.

We didn’t have to pay for books but we had to protect them

Today, kids go back to school in the middle of summer and parents receive the school’s annual list of classroom supplies that they must purchase and deliver. It can be three or four pages long and can include, several cleaning products and even a Costco-sized package of toilet paper. It might even include a huge bag of flour! This is in addition to the school supplies for your own child. Masks, a backpack, paper, pens, folders, notebooks, a calligraphy set, fifteen new apps for their tablets, a graphing calculator, a scalpel, an electron microscope and a centrifuge. And clothing? You’ll be buying clothes all year because today’s clothes only last thru maybe a half a dozen laundry cycles. Doesn’t sound like much fun does it? And not to mention the expense. Many parents cannot afford all of these items, hence the school supply drives that pop up this time of year.

And I’m certainly not a snob about how people dress but just check out the difference in the crossing guards then and now.



Hey, to beat those back to school blues come on in to The Mercantile at 4443 E. Speedway, Tucson AZ.  You might find one of those old lunch boxes to help bring back those “back in the day” memories.

Carol Fenn 8-2017

The Fox – Our Art Deco Gem

Tucson’s Fox Theatre opened on April 11, 1930. Opening night proved to be the biggest party Tucson had ever seen. Congress Street was closed and waxed for dancing (!) There were live bands, a live radio broadcast and free trolley rides into downtown. This party was not to be missed. 

An early postcard

1960s rodeo parade

Welcome to the Fox

The Fox served as Tucson’s premier movie palace. There were films on the big screen in addition to community events. There were vaudeville performances and the Tucson Chapter of the Mickey Mouse Club met there. Economic forces closed the Fox in 1974. It would fall into horrible disrepair and remain empty for 25 years. 


A group called the Fox Tucson Theatre Foundation began negotiating with the owners in 1997, and in 1999, they were able to buy the Fox for $250,000. Restoration efforts began immediately. After a six year, $14 million rehabilitation, the Fox reopened on New Year’s Eve of 2005.  


In 1930, at the original opening, the décor of the Fox was described as “Spanish Modernistic” by the city’s newspaper. This is now known as Southwestern Art Deco and the Fox Tucson Theatre is the only known theater that exemplifies this style.

A cool drink at the Fox

Even the pigeons are happy

Word is that Art Deco is back. Over the years it’s been up. It’s been down. But the look is timeless and distinctive and Tucson is fortunate to have the Fox and other smaller examples that we can enjoy every day. And there are always vintage pieces of deco popping up in the Midtown Mercantile Mall like this fantastic Art Deco skyscraper lamp pictured here. It’s in booth 830 and it’s only $25! Come on in the mall and check it out.

Art Deco skyscraper lamp in the mall

Fox detail

Carol Fenn 8-2017




The Coyote in Myth and Art

The trickster, mankind’s older brother, the creator, the desert fox, the prairie wolf, child of the moon. Today most know him as the coyote. When the moon is full, he cries to his mother, the moon. Raising his voice in a howl. Mysterious and full of sadness.  

Howling at the moon

Perhaps it is this mysterious plaintive wail that has inspired humans to incorporate the coyote into so many legends and works of art. A Tohono O’odham myth has the coyote helping their heroic god, Montezuma, survive a global deluge that destroys humanity. After humanity is restored, the coyote and Montezuma teach people how to live. In Navajo mythology, the coyote was present in the First World with First Man and First Woman. This Navajo coyote brings death into the world, explaining that without death, too many people would exist and there would be no room to plant corn. In Aztec mythology, the “old coyote,” the god of dance and music, is depicted as a man with a coyote’s head. 

The Trickster

Audubon’s prairie wolf

Mexican folk art

You can find the coyote in paintings, vintage advertising pieces, figurines, tiles, jewelry, yard art, etc. In the 19th century, John James Audubon recorded his image of the coyote, calling him the “prairie wolf.” And of course, we can’t forget about the poor hapless Wile E. Coyote! Will he ever catch that darn Road Runner!

The coyote in advertising

“Surrealist” coyote wondering why he’s wearing these clothes!

Yard art

Wile E. Coyote in another “uh oh” situation

If you want to build or add to your coyote collection, come on into The Mercantile. We have so many interesting treasures. There’s bound to be a coyote or two. And if you’re very quiet you might even hear him howling at the moon.  

Carol Fenn 8-2017

Gil Elvgren’s COWGIRL Pin-Ups

Gil Elvgren (March 15, 1914 – February 29, 1980) was an American painter of pin-up girls. He was best known for his pin-up paintings for Brown & Bigelow who produced commercial advertising, calendars, etc. 

An original Elvgren calendar

During World War II much of the nose art on military aircraft was inspired by Elvgren’s work.  

Nose art

Elvgren was associated with Brown & Bigelow from 1945 to 1972. He produced an average of twenty pin-ups a year. The women are in various costumes and in various humorous, or slightly risqué, poses. I think the cowgirls are some of his best!

But, you might ask, what exactly is a pin-up? A pin-up model is a model whose mass-produced pictures see wide appeal in popular culture. Pin-ups are intended for informal display, i.e. meant to be “pinned-up” on a wall. Pin-up models may be fashion models, or actors, or literally the girl next door. These pictures are also sometimes known as “cheesecake.” … And guess where this usage of the word cheesecake came from? It is reported that in 1912 James Kane, a photographer, was working for “The New York Journal.” One day Kane was taking photos of an attractive young woman when a breeze blew her skirt up. When more leg than usual came on display, Mr. Kane (who reputedly loved cheesecake) exclaimed, “Wow! This is better than cheesecake!”

Since we’re in Tucson, where cowgirls are “home on the range,” I thought it would be fun to feature some of Elvgren’s “cheesecake” cowgirls.   Saddle up!

Carol Fenn 4-2017

Collecting Old TUCSON Postcards

Collecting postcards is the third largest hobby after collecting stamps and money (collectible coins and bills – not just “money” lol … although some members of our society seem to be doing just that!) This can be a very rewarding pastime that can be undertaken absolutely anywhere in the world. Even Queen Victoria is thought to have had her own postcard collection, so it’s certainly a hobby that has an excellent pedigree behind it.

The old train station in downtown Tucson

Downtown Tucson in the old days

Older days

Much older days

And downtown Tucson in the really really old days

Today I’m going to focus on collecting “Tucson” postcards. It’s so interesting to collect local ephemera like this. You can learn history. You might be amused. And you will learn about interesting local sites that may or may not exist anymore. I know, when I come across an interesting old card it sends me to Google to find out more!  

Some cards can be funny and or risqué

Don’t forget about the Tucson rodeo postcards!

And the crazy cactus postcards

The Spanish Trail Motel

When you come in the Midtown Mercantile Merchants mall (4443 E. Speedway) there are almost 100 dealers. Makes for a fun afternoon, looking through each space, hunting for that elusive Tucson postcard. When you find one, it feels great! (And here’s an insider tip: booth #115 might just have quite a few postcards to look through.)

Booth #115 on the showroom floor. These would be a lot of fun to search through

Who knew that Tucson had a famous root beer place?

Who knew that Steinfeld’s was this big!

I always wanted to see the famous diving girl’s pool. Here it is!

Once you have your postcards, don’t just keep them in a drawer. Display them as art. This way you and your friends can enjoy them every day.

A great way to display your postcards

Enjoy your search!

Carol Fenn 4-2017

Arizona’s Buffalo Soldiers in Art and Photos

“Buffalo Soldier” is the nickname given to the first African-American members of the U.S. Armed Forces. The Buffalo Soldiers, usually mounted on horses, were common figures in Arizona near the U.S./Mexico border at the turn of the twentieth century. Henry Flipper, the first African-American graduate of the U.S. Military Academy was stationed at the barely tamed outpost of Fort Huachuca in Arizona.

Buffalo soldiers, Arizona c. 1890

Buffalo soldier in the ninth cavalry, 1890

Buffalo soldiers, Tombstone, AZ

Buffalo soldier

The ONLY World War I battle fought on American soil involved the Buffalo Soldiers! In August of 1918, armed Mexican troops were seen in Nogales, Sonora with several men thought to be advisors to the German military. It appeared that the Germans were planning an attack on Nogales, Arizona! On August 27, 1918, Buffalo soldiers briefly exchanged sniper fire across the international border. Yes, a skirmish, but this is considered to be the only World War I battle fought on American soil!

Fortunately there are a few old photographs of Buffalo soldiers and they have ALSO been dramatically and beautifully depicted in paintings, most notably by the famous American artist, Frederick Remington.  

For more information you can visit The Buffalo Soldier Museum, Fort Huachuca, Arizona

Carol Fenn 5-2017

Tucson’s Own Howard Terpning 

Lawrence of Arabia, Cleopatra, The Sound of Music. Do you know what these three movies have in common? …… Times up! … the art for all three of their movie posters, along with over seventy others, was done by Tucson’s own Howard Terpning.   

Original artwork for Cleopatra poster

Terpning was born in 1927 in Oak Park, Illinois. As a boy he liked to draw and knew by the age of seven that he wanted to be an artist. At fifteen, he became fascinated with the Western US and Native American history when he spent the summer camping with a cousin in Colorado. At the age of 17 he enlisted in the Marine Corps and served from 1945 through 1946. 

Terpning’s Lawrence of Arabia poster

After leaving the Marines he enrolled at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts in their 2 year commercial art program using the G.I. Bill to pay his tuition. 

The Sound of Music poster by Howard Terpning

After art school he started work at a Chicago illustration studio as an apprentice. Eventually he began to work on his own commissions. By 1962, he was working as a freelance artist. During his 25 years as an illustrator he created magazine covers, story illustrations, advertising art and 80 movie posters starting with The Guns of Navarone in 1961. Other examples include Cleopatra, Doctor Zhivago, The Sound of Music, The Sand Pebbles and Lawrence of Arabia.

In the early 1970’s Terpning grew tired of commercial work and decided to pursue his interest in the American West and Plains Indians. Still living in the eastern US, he began to create fine art paintings, selling them in Western galleries. After a few years, he moved to Arizona to devote himself to painting the American West. 

Terpning’s art is revered for his attention to even the tiniest detail. But in capturing the details he also invokes … the mood. The history. The life force. The surrealistic beauty of that particular moment in time.  

Terpning’s paintings have sold very well at auction. At least two of them have sold for over 1 million.  But you don’t have to be a millionaire to own his work.  Fine art prints of some of his works can be found.

Some of the museums Terpning’s work can be found in are the Phoenix Art Museum, The National Portrait Gallery, The Smithsonian Institution, The Gene Autry National Center of the American West and The Gilcrease Museum.

Howard Terpning. Tucson is proud that you call her your home.

Carol Fenn 2-2017

Tucson’s Folk Artist ~ Salvador Corona

For a few years there was a venue in downtown Tucson called The Maker House inside of the Bates Mansion. The Maker House venue is long gone, but I was fortunate enough to attend an event there and got a chance to enjoy the many architectural elements of the building. For example, the ceilings are spectacular with mounding like I’ve never seen. And then there is the mural by Salvador Corona.

Mural – Bates Mansion – downtown Tucson

Salvador Corona, in his early years in Mexico, was a bullfighter. After being gored by a bull, and with encouragement from a colleague, he turning to painting.

He depicted 17th and 18th century colonial Mexico based on stories he heard while growing up in the Mexican state of Chihuahua; stylized landscapes; scenes of Tucson; etc.

In 1939, at the request of the Mexican government, he traveled to New York City’s World’s Fair to represent Mexico.

Bed detail

His painted furniture attracted the attention of many wealthy American patrons, including President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Commissions followed.

After getting a commission to paint the rotunda in The Manning house in downtown Tucson he came to live in Tucson, wife and daughters in tow, in about 1950. He died in 1990. His studio and residence was located at 1701 East Speedway Boulevard, and then 902 North 4th Avenue.

He was, for many years, one of Tucson’s leading artists. His folk art paintings of Colonial Mexico can still be found in some Tucson homes and businesses. He is also well known for his smaller-than-a-mural objects. Boxes, trays, frames, beds, screens, etc.

While in Tucson his work was sold exclusively through Frank Patania Thunderbird shops located next to the Fox Theatre and in the Josias Joesler designed Broadway Village.

There have been two major exhibitions of his work: in 1989 at the Arizona Historical Society and in 2010 at the Arizona State Museum.

Today, his works can sell for a pretty penny, so keep an eye out for his distinctive style.

Carol Fenn, 1-2017

Arizona’s Mana Pottery 

I was recently given two pieces of old Mana pottery, made in Arizona. Even though I’ve been scouring Arizona for 27 years for all manner of antiques and collectibles, this was my first introduction to this pottery. I found it to be intriguing so I decided to look into it’s origins. 

The marks can vary

For the last 60 plus years Mana Pottery, which is based in the beautiful Aravaipa valley, has been producing American Southwestern art pottery unlike any other. They are still active. Their hand painted, hand made, earthenware is unusual, unique, and quite glorious. Grouped together it would make a stunning collection.  

The beautiful Aravaipa Valley. Home to Mana Pottery

Hummingbird vase front and back

Rare Mana pottery pendant

Immanuel “Mana” Trujillo was the heart of Mana Pottery. A World War II veteran who suffered a bomb blast that caused traumatic brain injury, Trujillo led a very interesting life, getting to know both Timothy Leary and Salvador Dali, among others. 

Horses are a recurring theme

 At some point Trujillo came to Arizona and in 1948 he started Mana Pottery. Senator Barry Goldwater, for one, was an early collector. It was sold at Goldwater’s Department Stores, Red Feather Lodge in Grand Canyon National Park, and other small gift shops across Arizona and New Mexico. Mana Pottery ceremonial earthenware was also sold at Ortega’s in Scottsdale, Arizona. The “Peyote Way” line of Mana pottery is featured in the Smithsonian’s “Museum of the American Indian Collection.”

A nice little collection

The Peyote Way line

The pottery is relatively rare but with 100 plus unique booths in the Mercantile I’ll bet a piece of Mana pottery could eventually be found. Come on in and take a look!

Carol Fenn 1-2018

That Fantastic Rhinestone Cowboy Bling

“The Rhinestone Cowboy Tours The Southwest” is one of the many Mash-Ups appearing at Midtown Mercantile Merchants. Check-out the Cowgirl looks–sooo vintage!

Vintage cowgirls decked out

Mid 1900s cowgirl outfits

For well over 100 years and counting cowboys and cowgirls have loved “bling.” From the tips of their boots to the top of their hats they have used color, rhinestones and silver to garner attention.

Early cowboy spurs, including a pair of “Lady leg” spurs

The kids had fun with cowboy bling too!

Even their horses would be decked out in hand carved leather and chased silver, as you can see in this parade horse outfit.

In the mid twentieth century the famous Nudie came on the scene. Based in California’s San Fernando Valley, he made his famous “Nudie suits” for singing cowboys, singing cowgirls, rock groups, movie stars and any cowgirl or cowboy who could afford his work. Today his suits are sought after, worth a pile of money, and highly collectible. They’ve been recently re-discovered by today’s generation which is making them even more valuable and sought after.

Nudie here, Nudie there, Nudie everywhere!

Nudie, on the left.

Enjoy this walk down memory lane and come on into Midtown and take in some of our “Cowboy Bling!”

Roy Rogers, wearing Nudie

Carol Fenn 1-2019

Tucson’s Irish Influence – A Wee Bit of History

It’s St. Patrick’s Day! Are you envisioning Ireland? Not easy as Tucson is pretty different from the Emerald Isle. You won’t find rolling hills of lush green grass or fairies under a four leaf clover!  And it’s not a place that you would think has a huge Irish influence, either. But hold onto your leprechaun darlin’ for I’m about to tell you a tale of an Irishman who was amazingly important to Tucson.

No, this is not Tucson LOL

The founding father of Tucson, the red-haired, Hugh O’Connor, was born in 1732 in Dublin, Ireland, into the Gaelic-Irish aristocratic O’Conor family. When he was 18 years old—like many other Irish aristocrats—O’Conor left his homeland and moved to Spain where his cousins were serving as officers in the Spanish Royal Army.
After marching across the northern expanse of New Spain (the Americas) evaluating the presidios (forts) for King Charles III of Spain, O’Conor arrived at the presidio of Tubac in the summer of 1775.
Silver had been discovered 60 miles southwest of Nogales in 1736. The resulting rush of prospectors led to the establishment of Tubac Presidio for protection in 1752. O’Conor felt the location of the Tubac presidio was not acceptable and he set off to find a better site. He traveled north to the mission of San Xavier del Bac where he contacted Franciscan priest Francisco Garces, asking for his assistance in choosing a new site.

Tucson Presidio

The location chosen was known by the Pima Indians as “shook-shon” or “chukeson,” meaning “spring at the foot of the black mountain,” referring to the volcanic peak to the west of the site. On Aug. 20, 1775, O’Conor issued a proclamation declaring the establishment of “San Augustin del Toixon as the new site of the Presidio.” The proclamation was drawn up and signed at San Xavier del Bac and contains the signatures of O’Conor, Father Francisco Garces and Lieut. Juan de Carmona. After several different spellings, the site became known as Tucson. In 1776, the Spanish forces moved from Tubac to Tucson.

The presidio gate in downtown Tucson

The order that founded the fort at what is now Tucson read:
San Xavier del Bac.

August 20, 1775

“I, Hugo O’Conor, knight of the order of Calatrava, colonel of infantry in His Majesty’s armies and commandant inspector of the frontier posts of New Spain

Certify that having conducted the exploration prescribed in Article three of the New Royal Regulation of Presidios issued by His Majesty on the tenth of September 1772 for the moving of the company of San Ignacio de Tubac in the Province of Sonora, I selected and marked out in the presence of Father Francisco Garces and Lieutenant Juan de Carmona a place known as San Agustin del Tucson as the new site of the Presidio. It is situated at a distance of eighteen leagues from Tubac, fulfills the requirements of water, pasture, and wood and effectively closes the Apache frontier. The designation of the New Presidio becomes official with the signatures of myself, Father Francisco Garces, and Lieutenant Juan de Carmona, at this mission of San Xavier del Bac, on this twentieth day of August of the year 1775.”

This little bit of local history makes St. Patrick’s Day all the more special! So, enjoy your corned beef and cabbage and toast a green beer to Hugh O’Conor.

Statue of Hugh O’Conor – note his red hair

Carol Fenn 3-2017