Friday, May 7, 2010

undercover viewmaster

Above, the portion of my museum diorama that features a Viewmaster and reels.

Above, Florence Thomas at work on a clay figure diorama.

One of the greatest Christmas presents of all time was the Sawyer Viewmaster 3-D stereoscope slide viewer; as kids, my sister and I each received one of these for our very own. The housing was wonderful brown Bakelite, well-made and with some satisfying heft. This particular model was extra wonderful because it used C batteries for self-illumination. No lamp or window needed! This meant we could look at The Christmas Carol or The Grand Canyon or Hearst Castle under the covers at night, in secret, again and again.

From time to time, we got new slide packets as gifts. Enclosed in each slide package was always a master list of available titles, and I used to fantasize about which ones I'd buy if I had any money or control over that sort of thing. I recall it was an amazingly long list, and I believe each packet of three 7-image reels was $1.25.

Somehow I only have retained a few of the original slide packets, and the original viewer seems missing, as well. But I've rebuilt a collection of many of the titles I fondly remember, and added a few extras. I've also put together a small collection of vintage Viewmaster viewers, which shouldn't surprise anyone who knows my inclination to turn nearly anything I like into a collection.

For my diorama in the Oakland Museum, I included a Viewmaster device and some reels. I'm glad I still have other viewers I can use for the duration of that exhibit because I just obtained a replacement clay-figured Thumbelina reel from eBay and really enjoyed seeing it again.

Curious about the beautifully done clay figure scenes photographed for many of the stories, which I still consider true works of art, I recently explored online and learned about a virtually unknown woman named Florence Thomas. You can read about her here, which is where I obtained the historic photo shown above.

For its role in my creative development, I can't give enough credit to the Sawyer company and all those who helped bring those three-dimensional miracles to life. I was fortunate to have an undercover Viewmaster inspiring my appreciation for many key ideas: storytelling, cinematic vision, art, the diorama, travel and travel photography, and more.

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