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Wassily Kandinsky Dies

kandinskyOn December 13, 1944, famous Russian painter and theorist, Wassily Kandinsky died. He is known for painting the first purely abstract pieces of art.

Kandinsky was born in Moscow in 1866 and had a close personal experience with art from a young age. With the perception that “each color lives by its mysterious life,” Kandinsky’s childhood artwork utilized very specific color combinations. Even though his inclinations toward making art were strong, stating that he felt as though drawing and painting lifted him out of reality, he pursued his parents’ wishes for him to attend law school. He married his first wife in 1892 and began working at the Moscow Faculty of Law, managing an art-printing works on the side.

Two events led to Kandinsky quitting his law work and turning his full attention toward creating art – seeing a French Impressionists exhibition, including Claude Monet‘s Haystacks, in Moscow and hearing Richard Wagner‘s Lohengrin at the Bolshoi Theatre. The powerful sense of color in Monet’s work and the way Wagner pushed the limits of music and melody beyond standard lyricism inspired Kandinsky to move to Munich to pursue studying and making art full-time.

He was accepted into a prestigious private painting school and went on to study at the Munich Academy of Arts. Though he was in school, his artistic studies were mostly self-taught, and during this time he started to become known as an art theorist as well as a painter. At first, his art was more conventional, but his spiritual studies and the connection he made between music and color triggered the art theories he became known for and displayed in his works. By the beginning of the 20th century, Kandinsky became known as the father of abstract art.

Harnessing his physiological gift of synaesthesia cognate which allowed him to hear color and see sound, Kandinsky began to use color as an expression of emotion rather than just a physical attribute of an object. He befriended several other artists of the time and often showed his work in exhibitions while also publishing his artistic theories and ideas.

In the early 1900s, he divorced his first wife and met art student Gabriele Münter with whom he traveled extensively. He also formed a group of artists that was fundamental to Expressionism called The Blue Rider with fellow artist Franz Marc. The group held two important exhibitions in 1911 and 1912. After returning to Russia and teaching art, he was influenced by the constructivist movement and began using more geometrical forms and hard lines in his work. He met and married Nina Andreevskaya and had a child with her, who only lived until the age of 3. Devastated by his son’s death, Kandinsky began to focus his restless energy on the reformation of art and government-run programs in Russia and helped establish Moscow’s Institute of Artistic Culture and Museum of Pictorial Culture. Kandinsky’s spiritual and artistic position was denounced and eventually his Soviet citizenship was revoked. He fled Russia in 1921 and joined the Bauhuas Movement in Weimer, Germany. Kandinsky was invited to teach at the Bauhaus, which was an innovative school of art and architecture. He taught classes on design, advanced color theory, and abstract painting and wrote plays and poems.

The Nazis shut down the Bauhaus in 1933 and many of Kandinsky’s works were confiscated after an exhibition. He fled to a small suburb of Paris called Neuilly-sur-Seine, but lived the rest of his life in seclusion, suffering from depression because his art was no longer selling well. Though Kandinsky didn’t think highly of himself, he was still known for being a controversial artist and theorist, and he became internationally known for his exhibitions, which he continued to do until his death. He gained an important fan in Solomon Guggenheim, a U.S. businessman and art collector, who began collecting Kandinsky’s works and later started his own foundation and museum which still holds art from some of the most important expressionist and surrealist painters of the 20th century.

Most of the work Kandinsky produced while he was in Russia did not survive, although most of his German works are still in existence. Kandinsky’s paintings are known for fetching a high price when they are put up to auction with most selling for over $20 million.

Kandinsky died on December 13, 1944 after suffering from cerebrovascular disease at his studio in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France.

Sources: Wikipedia, Biography.com, IMDB


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First Nobel Prizes Awarded

Dr. Francis Crick's Nobel Prize Medal on Heritage AuctionsEstablished by Alfred Nobel as part of his last will, the Nobel Prize is a set of five international awards that are bestowed annually to those who have made outstanding achievements and contributions in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, and for peace. Recipients of a Nobel Prize receive a medal, personal diploma, and a cash prize.

Alfred Nobel was a Swedish scientist, inventor, entrepreneur, and author whose most notable invention was dynamite. Nobel originally created dynamite as an instrument to stop war and bring piece, but it became known more as an instrument for destruction. Nobel was condemned for his creation, most notably so in an 1888 obituary mistakenly written for Nobel instead of his brother. The obituary called Alfred Nobel a “merchant of death.”

Nobel feared that he would be remembered only as the man who invented such a deadly device, so his pacifist nature led Nobel to rewrite his will one last time. Nobel left 94 percent of his total assets to the establishment of five international prizes to be awarded annually. Because of ambiguities in his will, opposition by family members, and a lack of cooperation by the organizations that Nobel had named to award the prizes, it was five years before the Nobel Prize was established and awarded. The first Nobel Prizes were finally award on December 10, 1901, the fifth anniversary of Nobel’s death.

The lucky first recipients of this most prestigious award were:

  • German physicist Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen who received the first Nobel Prize in Physics for his discovery of X-rays.
  • Jacobus Henricus van ‘t Hoff, a Dutch physical and organic chemist, who received the first Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his contributions in chemical thermodynamics and discovery of osmotic pressure in solutions.
  • German physiologist Emil Adolf von Behring who received the first Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his discovery of a diptheria antitoxin, which he used to develop a serum therapy against diptheria, an illness that had caused thousands of deaths each year until then.
  • French poet and essayist Sully Prudhomme who received the first Nobel Prize in Literature for “his poetic composition, which gives evidence of lofty idealism, artistic perfection and a rare combination of the qualities of both heart and intellect.” (nobelprize.org)
  • The first Nobel Prize for Peace was awarded to two leaders in the late 19th century’s growing peace movement: Frédéric Passy, a French economist who co-founded the Inter-Parliamentary Union, and Jean Henry Dunant for founding the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Learn more about the Nobel Prize and all of the other recipients of this reward since 1901 at NobelPrize.org.

Sources: About.comWikipediaNobelprize.org


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National Pastry Day

bakingDecember 9 is National Pastry Day! Pastries are delicious fluffy baked products usually made with the following ingredients: flour, sugar, milk, butter, shortening, baking powder, and eggs. Pastries include anything making use of flaky pastry bread from pies to cream puffs to more savory dishes like quiche. Pastries are different from regular bread due to their higher fat content which allows them to have a more crumbly and flaky texture.

Pastries can be traced all the way back to ancient Mediterranean times with the making of thin-doughed filo and multi-layer baklava. Several centuries ago, Crusaders brought the practice of pastry making back to Northern Europe. European Renaissance chefs in Italy and France created the magnificent choux pastries and puff pastries we still indulge in today, and the 17th and 18th saw the creation of eclairs, brioche, and other perfect pastry treats. French chef Antonin Carême is credited with turning pastry making into an art form.

You can celebrate pastry day by visiting your favorite local bakery, or trying out one of these delectable pastry recipes!

Happy Pastry Day!

Sources: Wikipedia, World’s Special Days

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John Lennon Dies

johnlennonOn December 8, 1980, John Lennon, legendary musician and one of the founders of British rock band The Beatles, was shot and killed.

Earlier in the day, Lennon and his wife, Yoko Ono, were photographed for the last time together by Annie Leibovitz for Rolling Stone magazine in their New York City apartment. The iconic image covered the January 1981 issue of Rolling Stone along with articles and pictures in memory of Lennon’s life. He gave his last interview with DJ Dave Sholin for RKO Radio Network before heading to Record Plant Studio with Ono to mix a song they were working on together.

He was returning from the studio with Ono when Mark David Chapman took aim and fired five shots at John Lennon with a .38 Special revolver at 10:50 p.m. as he was entering his apartment building, The Dakota.  Lennon staggered up the five steps to the security and reception area of his building, muttering, “I’m shot. I’m shot,” before collapsing on the ground. He was rushed to St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital, just blocks away, but was pronounced dead on arrival due to hypovolemic shock, caused by the loss of more than 80% of blood volume. Meanwhile, outside The Dakota, the doorman had knocked the gun from Chapman’s hands and kicked it across the sidewalk. Chapman sat down on the ground awaiting the police, reportedly holding a copy of Catcher in the Rye. When asked by the doorman if he knew what he had just done, Chapman calmly replied, “Yes, I just shot John Lennon.”

The killer had previously exhibited obsessive tendencies and had become fixated on John Lennon. Chapman had traveled to New York with intentions of murdering Lennon in October of 1980, but changed his mind and returned home to Hawaii. His disdain for Lennon was largely attributed to Lennon’s “more popular than Jesus” remark he first made in an interview in 1966. He thought Lennon’s comment and his songs “God” and “Imagine” were blasphemous. Despite his lawyer’s advice to plead insanity, Chapman made a guilty plea to second degree murder and sentenced to 20 years to life.  He has since been denied parole seven times.

lennon2The news of Lennon’s death was first reported during ABC’s Monday Night Football by broadcast team Howard Cosell and Frank Gifford.  Cosell interrupted his reporting of the game and said, “Remember this is just a football game, no matter who wins or loses. An unspeakable tragedy confirmed to us by ABC News in New York City: John Lennon, outside of his apartment building on the West Side of New York City. The most famous perhaps, of all of The Beatles, shot twice in the back, rushed to Roosevelt Hospital, dead on arrival. Hard to go back to the game after that news flash, which, in duty bound, we have to take.”

Fans all over the world began to grieve heavily. On December 14, 1980, Yoko Ono asked fans in New York City to convene in Central Park for 10 minutes of silence in remembrance of Lennon. Ono’s request was met by millions of fans worldwide gathering together to pay tribute to the late musician. The largest gathering of over 225,000 was in Central Park, near the scene of the shooting.

Since his death, countless memorials and tributes have been dedicated to Lennon including songs by other famous musicians, statues, and memorial sites. One of the most famous sites is Strawberry Fields in Central Park close to The Dakota, a place where Lennon used to walk often. Various countries donated trees to be planted in the area, and a mosaic reading “IMAGINE” was gifted by the city of Naples, Italy.

Though Lennon was killed over 30 years ago, his legacy will live on forever.

Sources: Wikipedia, ABC News


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Mitten Tree Day

December 6 is Mitten Tree Day!

The exact origin of this day is unknown, but many have concluded that it came into existence due to the heartwarming story, The Mitten Tree, by Candace Christiansen. The story follows a woman named Sarah who misses her grown children and therefore watches young children board the school bus near a large evergreen tree every day. One day, she notices that some of the children cannot play in the snow because they don’t have mittens. She knits a basket full of mittens and hangs them in the evergreen tree for the children. Although no one knows that Sarah is the person knitting the mittens for the children, she receives a basket of yarn on her doorstep. In return, she knits more mittens for the children. Every time she runs out of yarn, more magically appears at her door and the cycle of giving continues.

To celebrate Mitten Tree Day, you can share this story with your loved ones and make your own mitten tree by decorating a small tree with mittens you have knitted or some mittens you already have and donating it to those who are less fortunate. If you’ve never knit mittens before, here is a detailed how-to video:

Happy Mitten Tree Day!

Sources: Holiday Insights, National Whatever Day

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Walt Disney’s Birthday

walt-disney-drawingOn December 5, 1901, Walt Disney, innovative American animator, movie producer, and entrepreneur who started The Walt Disney Company, was born in Chicago, Illinois.

Disney lived in Missouri for most of his childhood and started selling pictures, paintings, and drawings he created to his neighbors and friends. After his family moved back to Chicago, Disney attended McKinley High School and took drawing and photography classes while working as the cartoonist for the school’s newspaper. He took classes at the Chicago Institute of Art at night and dropped out of high school at the age of 16 to join the military. Because he was underage, he was rejected and joined the Red Cross instead, and was sent to France where he drove ambulances for a year.

Disney finished his time with the Red Cross in France in 1919 and moved to Kansas City to become a newspaper artist. He began doing cutout animations for the Kansas City Film Ad Company, and experimented with cel animation with a camera the owner of the company let him borrow. He soon decided to start an animation business and produced short cartoons which he called Laugh-o-Grams that he screened at a Kansas City theater. After the cartoons gained a significant amount of popularity, Disney was able to open up his own animation studio and hire a fairly large amount of animators. In the few years it was open, his studio’s profits did not exceed the salaries he payed his employees, and Disney was forced to declare bankruptcy.

Unphased by this setback, Disney and his brother, Roy, pooled their money, moved to Hollywood, and started Disney Brothers Studio. There they searched for a distributor for Disney’s Alice Comedies, a series of live-action Alice in Wonderland shorts featuring a little girl named Alice having adventures in an animated world. They found salvation in Margaret Winkler who owned Winkler Pictures with her fiance, Charles Mintz. They struck a deal contracting out the shorts to Winkler Pictures for $1,500 each. After Winkler and Mintz married in 1927, Mintz assumed control of the company and ordered a new series of animated shorts from Disney to be distributed through Universal Pictures. The Disney studio created Oswald the Lucky Rabbit which was instantly popular. When Disney confronted Mintz about increasing his fee per short, Disney was surprised to find out that Universal owned the trademark to Oswald and Mintz had most of Disney’s animators under contract. Mintz informed an appalled Disney that he would be decreasing his production budget, and if Disney did not accept these new terms, he would produce the Oswald shorts without Disney.

Cutting his losses, Disney decided to strike out on his own once again with his brother and animator friend who had been with him from the beginning, Ubbe Iwerks. Together they created a new character, the iconic Mickey Mouse. With the addition of sound to film, Mickey Mouse soon became the world’s most popular cartoon character and Disney received an honorary Oscar for his creation of Mickey Mouse in 1932. Disney began producing many successful cartoons and set out to make the first full-length cel animated feature film in 1934.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs premiered in Los Angeles on December 21, 1937. Despite the effects of the Depression, Snow White was produced at an unheard of $1.499 million. During its initial release it grossed $8 million ($132,671,390 today), and Disney was given an honorary Academy Award featuring a full-size Oscar statuette and seven miniature ones. In the next few years following the release of Snow White, the Disney studios produced several more full-length animated films including Fantasia, Pinocchio, Bambi, and Dumbo.

In the 1940s, Disney experienced some setbacks when his animators went on strike, but began making more animated features in the 1950s including Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Alice in Wonderland and others. When television gained mass appeal, Disney took advantage of this and produced some of the first full-color television programs. The 1950s also saw the opening of Disneyland, a family theme park that became a world-renowned tourist hot spot soon after its opening.

The Disney studios produced a plethora of feature films in Walt Disney’s lifetime including popular live-action and animated films like Mary Poppins. Plans for a larger East coast version of Disneyland called Disney World including the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow or EPCOT were put into motion in the early 1960s, but Walt was diagnosed with lung cancer in early 1966 and passed away later that year. In his memory, Walt’s brother renamed the new theme park Walt Disney World and it was completed in the 1970s.

Walt Disney is a legendary figure whose name is now synonymous with creativity, imagination, and never giving up on your dreams.

Sources: Biography.com, Wikipedia, Just Disney


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Santa’s List Day

santas-listDecember 4 is Santa’s List Day! Everyone has deadlines – even Santa Claus.

Today is the day that Santa is finalizing his list and checking it twice. His helpers have been diligently keeping tabs on you and everyone you know and are now reporting back so the man in the red suit himself can make his final revisions. The question now is – have you been naughty or nice?

If you have not been on your best behavior this year, don’t expect much to pop up under the tree for you, aside from maybe some sad looking sticks or a box full of coal. As for all you good kiddos out there, the moment you have been waiting for is fast approaching, so we hope you have been dropping the proper hints about that perfect present you’ve been dreaming of. Hope may not be completely lost for you if you haven’t been the nicest. You’ve still got 21 days until the most anticipated day of the year, so go out there and do as many good deeds as you can! Perhaps you’ll redeem yourself… you never know who is watching!

Sources: Holiday Insights, Fat Wallet, Examiner.com, gone-ta-pott.com

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First Human Heart Transplant

Lewis Washkansky, the first human heart transplant recipient.

Lewis Washkansky, the first human heart transplant recipient.

On December 3, 1967, the first successful human-to-human heart transplant was performed.

South African surgeon, Christiaan Barnard, performed the third successful kidney transplant in the world, and had been experimenting with heart transplants in animals for several years. He performed over 50 dog heart transplants. Many medical breakthroughs in heart transplantation had been made and most surgical teams were merely waiting for a suitable patient to perform the operation on and a donor. 53-year-old South African grocer Lewis Washkansky, who suffered from diabetes and incurable chronic heart disease, agreed to have the procedure. Barnard found a donor in Denise Darvall, a 25-year-old woman who was brain dead after being involved in a fatal car crash days before. Her father agreed to donate her heart for the operation.

Barnard performed the operation in 9 hours with a thirty-person team including his brother, Marius Barnard. The transplant was a success and Washkansky’s body did not reject the new organ due to the immunosuppressive drugs administered on him. Those same drugs, however, weakened Washkansky’s immune system and he contracted double pneumonia and died 18 days after he received his new heart. Though Barnard’s patient died a little over two weeks after the surgery, the heart functioned properly until the time of the patient’s death and Barnard became an overnight celebrity for the success of his operation. Barnard continued to perform heart transplants for many years after completing his first, and his patients’ survival rate continued to grow, with one of his patients surviving for 23 years after his transplant was performed.

The majority of surgeons were still weary on performing the procedure because of the high risk of organ rejection. Cyclosporine, an immunosuppressive drug that is highly effective, was developed in the 1980s and organ transplant surgeries became more common.

Although Barnard was internationally recognized through most of his life for this successful operation, his name lost some credit after he promoted the supposed anti-aging skin cream, Glycel. The product proved to do nothing at all to slow the aging process and its approval was withdrawn by the FDA. Although the credibility of Barnard declined before his death in 2001, this day is still considered a remarkable turning point in medical history.

Sources: History.com, Wired, Wikipedia


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Rosa Parks Arrested

Parks on a Montgomery bus after laws segregating buses were repealed.

Parks on a Montgomery bus after laws segregating buses were repealed.

On December 1, 1955, African-American woman Rosa Parks was arrested for her refusal to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus to a white passenger.

In 1900, Montgomery, Alabama passed a city ordinance which segregated bus seating by race. The original ordinance stated that no one would ever be required to move or stand, but bus officials in Montgomery soon started the practice of making African Americans move when all the seats meant for whites were filled. Even though 75% of bus riders were black, they were required to sit at the rear of the bus, stand, or leave the bus if there were not enough seats provided for whites.

Parks first encountered bus driver James F. Blake in 1943 when she was asked to follow rules and enter the bus through the back door after she had already paid her bus fare. After Parks exited the bus, Blake drove away before she could get back on, leaving her to walk home in the rain.

Rosa Parks boarded a Montgomery bus after working all day on December 1, 1955. After paying her fare, she took a seat in the first row labeled, “Colored.” The busdriver (who was once again James F. Blake) noticed that some whites were standing and moved the sign back and demanded the blacks seated now in front of the sign, including Parks, move to make room for the white passengers. The three other black passengers seated in these seats complied with Blake’s demands, but Parks refused and was subsequently arrested.

After spending a day in jail, Parks was bailed out by a friend and the president of the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP, Edgar Nixon. Nixon saw Parks’ case as an opportunity to fight back against the segregation and unfair treatment of African Americans who use the Montgomery public transportation system. Just three days later on December 4, 1955, the Montgomery Bus Boycott was announced with the Women’s Political Council being the first group to officially endorse the boycott.

While Parks was being tried for disorderly conduct the next day, members of the WPC distributed 35,000 leaflets asking African Americans of Montgomery to boycott riding the bus. Some commuters carpooled or took black-operated cabs, while the rest of the commuters walked – some walking up to 20 miles to get to work. The day proved to be a successful first day of boycotting, and the Montgomery Improvement Association was formed afterward, electing a young Martin Luther King, Jr. as their president.

African American leaders of the city decided that Parks would be the perfect plaintiff to fight fight Alabama segregation laws because she had a stable income, husband, and was savvy in political matters. The black community of Montgomery continued their boycott for 381 while Parks’ case was slowed down in appeals through the Alabama court system. The U.S. Supreme Court case Browder v. Gayle finally ruled that segregation on public buses was unconstitutional and the city was forced to repeal its former segregation law.

Parks became an important figure in the African American Civil Rights Movement and brought international attention to the plight of African Americans in the United States at this time. She is remembered and celebrated to this day with both the day of her arrest and her birthday officially becoming known as “Rosa Parks Day” in the U.S. states of  California and Ohio.

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Kwanzaa Begins

Kwanzaa, a celebration of African-American heritage and culture, is celebrated for one week every year from December 26 to January 1.

Created by Africana studies professor and activist, Maulana Karenga, Kwanzaa was first celebrated in 1966. Karenga created Kwanzaa to ”give Blacks an alternative to the existing holiday and give Blacks an opportunity to celebrate themselves and their history, rather than simply imitate the practice of the dominant society.” Unlike Christmas and Hanukkah, which are religiously associated holidays, Kwanzaa is meant to be a cultural Pan-African holiday, meant to bring together people of African descent no matter where they live. The name of the holiday comes from the Swahili phrase matunda ya kwanza, which means “first fruits of the harvest.”

Kwanzaa lasts for seven days, and each day brings focus to one of the seven guiding principles of Kwanzaa. The principles are as follows:

  • Umoja (Unity): To strive for and to maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.

  • Kujichagulia (Self-Determination): To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.

  • Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility): To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers’ and sisters’ problems our problems, and to solve them together.

  • Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics): To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.

  • Nia (Purpose): To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.

  • Kuumba (Creativity): To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.

  • Imani (Faith): To believe with all our hearts in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.

Kwanzaa celebrations usually include readings and reflections on African culture and history, libations, musical and artistic performances, a candle lighting ritual, and a feast. Kwanzaa was at first celebrated as a completely different entity from the holidays surrounding it, but many African Americans now celebrate Kwanzaa alongside Christmas, New Year’s, and other winter holidays. Many cultural exhibitions have been created to celebrate Kwanzaa including African dance, music, and poetry readings.

Joyous Kwanzaa!

Sources: Wikipedia, How Stuff Works

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