Tag Archives: February

Black History Month

What is Black History Month?

On Black History Month, or National African American History Month, we celebrate the achievements of black Americans while remembering the important people and events that helped reshape American history and culture.

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National Tooth Fairy Day

tooth-fairyFebruary 28 is National Tooth Fairy Day! The tooth fairy is a mythical winged being who visits sleeping children in the night who have lost their baby teeth. The children place their lost teeth under their pillows and in exchange, the tooth fairy will leave the child a small gift.

The legend of the tooth fairy stemmed from traditions surrounding the loss of baby teeth that have existed for hundreds of years. In early European times, parents buried their children’s lost baby teeth so they could not be used by witches or evil spirits for their spells. They believed that if a witch possessed your tooth, she could potentially take control over you. Some even burned their baby teeth to avoid the possibility of a witch getting hold of their teeth, and to save children from hardship in the afterlife. Northern Europeans believed in the tann-fé or tooth fee, which was paid to children after the loss of their first tooth. The Norse believed that items belonging to children, including their baby teeth, were good luck in battle, and they would often pay their children for their lost teeth and make jewelry out of them to wear on the battlefield.

Modern versions of the tooth fairy we know today, who flies into children’s rooms and leaves small gifts or money under their pillows in exchange for their teeth first appeared in a children’s play in 1927. The tradition has become as widespread and popular with children as Santa Claus and the Easter bunny, though debates as to the tooth fairy’s appearance have sprung up over the years. While studies show that 74% of people think the tooth fairy is female, some believe the mythical being to be male or neither.

Many parents use the myth as a way to soothe or put at ease children who experience fear or pain over losing a tooth. Some even use it as a way to improve their children’s dental hygiene by telling them that the tooth fairy pays more for healthy teeth than teeth that are decayed.

Though we’re not sure who created this day, you’ve got two days to celebrate with your little ones – National Tooth Fairy Day is also celebrated on August 22!

Sources: Punchbowl, National Day Calendar, Examiner.com, Wikipedia

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Thriller Album Hits #1

MichaeljacksonthrilleralbumOn February 26, 1983, Michael Jackson‘s  sixth album Thriller made it to the number one spot on the Billboard 200 chart. Including well-known songs “Billie Jean,” “Beat It,” and of course, “Thriller,” the album changed this history of rock and roll and is still the best-selling album of all time.

Thriller was recorded from April 14 to November 8, 1982 at Westlake Recording Studios in Hollywood. The album was given a $750,000 budget and producer Quincy Jones began working on the album with Jackson, going through over 700 demos looking for material to record. Of the songs that were picked, four of them were songs Jackson wrote himself – “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” “The Girl is Mine,” “Billie Jean” and “Beat It.” All these songs were based on personal or social issues Jackson had dealt with over the years. “Billie Jean” was about a fan who claimed Jackson was the father of her baby while “Beat It” was an anti-gang violence anthem.

For an entire year Thriller remained in the top 10 on the Billboard charts, and spent 37 of those weeks at number one – more than any other album had. To date, the album has sold over 65 million copies worldwide, and in 1984, it won eight Grammy awards, eight American Music Awards, and three MTV Music Video Awards.

michaeljacksoncalendarThe iconic video for the title track of the album was thought up in 1983 after sales of the album were beginning a downfall. Frank DiLeo, Jackson’s manager, came up with the idea as a way to boost sales saying, “It’s simple – all you’ve got to do is dance, sing and make it scary.” Famed ’80s director, John Landis, who directed popular films Animal House and The Blues Brothers, helped Jackson write the screenplay for the 14-minute video. It centered around a date that goes wrong when Jackson turns into a zombie. The video and “Thriller” dance became one of the most influential pieces of music history, with people all over the world still recreating the dance. Even a group of over 1,500 inmates in a Philippine prison learned the moves in what is one of the most well-known viral videos on the internet.

The amount of airplay Jackson’s videos got on MTV led to an increase in videos by African-American artists in general, breaking down former racial barriers. The album has stood the test of time with Rolling Stone naming it #20 on the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time in 2003, and a reissue of the album called Thriller 25 was released in 2008 featuring re-mixes of songs. The album has also been put in the  Library of Congress‘ National Recording Registry and the video for “Thriller” was included in the  National Film Preservation Board‘s National Film Registry for their cultural significance. Though it has been over 20 years since its release, Thriller remains one of the most significant album releases of all time.

Sources: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Wikipedia, Dave’s Music Database 

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Mark Rothko Dies

rothko1On February 25, 1970, Mark Rothko, Abstract Expressionist painter, died. As one of the most influential and definitive painters in this movement, he was known for his massive paintings featuring large rectangles of color which are meant to evoke emotion.

Born in Russia in 1903, Rothko immigrated to Portland, Oregon with his parents at the age of 10. A bright student who excelled in school, Rothko attended Yale University on scholarship after graduating early from high school, but thought the school to be too bourgeois and dropped out after his sophomore year. Little did he know he would receive an honorary degree from the school 46 years later.

Rothko moved his life to New York City in the early 1920s, and was inspired to take on artistic endeavors after viewing students sketching a model at the Art Students League of New York. He studied art briefly at both the New York School of Design and the Art Students League before he started teaching children at the Center Academy of the Brooklyn Jewish Center.

For his first public exhibit, Rothko returned to the West Coast, and had a one-man show featuring his work which he lined with the work of his students from Center Academy. Surrounded by other great modern artists of the time, he formed a group with some of them called, “The Ten,” and showed with them in New York City in the 1930s. His style up to this point had been more realistic, painting scenes urban life, but after being inspired by surrealists like Joan Miro, it began to evolve into something biomorphic and otherworldly.

rothko2“Art is an adventure into an unknown world,” Rothko and fellow artist Adolph Gottlieb wrote in their artistic manifesto in 1943. “We favor the simple expression of the complex thought.” Rothko, Gottlieb, and other artists like Jackson Pollock and Willem de Koonig became known as the Abstract Expressionists. Along with this manifesto came the work Rothko is now known for. He began producing his large color field paintings at this time. He soak-stained canvases to create abstract colorful cloud-like rectangles. These highly expressive and emotional pieces with no reference to the material world are what defined Abstract Expressionist paintings.

His work became so abstract that Rothko stopped giving his pieces descriptive names and chose to simply number each of his pieces. By the 1960s, his art took a dark turn. He used less bright expressive colors and began painting in mostly maroon, black, and brown. Rothko was commissioned to do several large pieces at this time, but left some unfinished. By the late ’60s, he was diagnosed with heart problems and it seemed that the emotion he expressed in his dark paintings was something that he was feeling on the inside as well. After battling with depression for some time, Rothko took his own life in his studio on February 25, 1970.

He produced over 800 works in his lifetime, most of which were subject to legal battles over ownership after his death. His unpublished manuscript was edited by his son after his death and was published in 2006. As one of the leading forces in modern and abstract art, his approach and technique has effected the development of modern art for decades.

Sources: Biography.com, Wikipedia, The Phillips Collection, MarkRothko.org


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Andy Warhol Dies

warholcalendarOn February 22, 1987, American artist and ’60s cultural icon Andy Warhol died. Warhol became widely known beginning in the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s for being an influential leader in the pop art movement, which utilized recognizable mass-produced commercial items and cultural figures in art.

Warhol was born in Pittsburgh in 1928 to Slovakian parents. His roots in his artistic passions can be traced back to the age of 8 when he contracted a nearly fatal condition called Chorea and was given drawing lessons by his artistic mother while he was bedridden. After recovering, he received a camera as a gift and began experimenting with photography, developing his photos in a makeshift darkroom in the basement of his childhood home.

When Warhol was only 14, his father died due to a jaundiced liver, but left his artistic son all of his life’s fortune to pay for his college education. After studying pictorial design at the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University), Warhol moved to New York City in 1949 to pursue a career as a commercial artist. His talent did not go unnoticed for long, and by the 1950s, Warhol was one of the most highly successful commercial artists in New York City, being assigned to do work for the likes of Vogue, Columbia Records, NBC, Tiffany & Co. and many more. His unique style included a blotted-line technique and the use of rubber stamps he made himself. His blotting technique often created welcomed imperfections in his work of which he said, ”When you do something exactly wrong, you always turn up something.”

Recognizing his own popularity, Warhol began to explore the world of fine art and started showing his fine art creations in galleries in the late ’50s and early ’60s. His introduction of pop art works began in 1962. At the Stable Gallery in New York City, he exhibited his iconic Marilyn Diptych and 100 Soup Cans which featured 100 Campbell’s Soup cans. The use of this mass-produced item as art challenged traditional views of what “fine art” was and caused controversy that skyrocketed Warhol to national and international fame. He said of the new pop art movement, “Once you ‘got’ pop, you could never see a sign the same way again. And once you thought pop, you could never see America the same way again.”

His portraits of celebrities garnered him a large amount of attention, and he was commissioned to produce portraits for several high-profile clients, including royalty from other countries. Some of his celebrity portraits have sold for millions of dollars, and two of them (Eight Elvises and Turquoise Marilyn) are on the list of most expensive paintings ever sold.

warholbookIn 1964, Warhol opened his famous silver-painted, and foil-draped studio nicknamed “The Factory” which was trafficked by a number of wealthy socialites and celebrities who Warhol had befriended using his natural social networking skills. Musician Lou Reed wrote his song “Walk on the Wild Side” about The Factory and its high profile guests and prominent fixtures, most of whom were known as Warhols “Superstars.” The “Superstars” were stars of the hundreds of long and short form films Warhol produced in The Factory. In addition to adding film to his repertoire, Warhol also sculpted, took pictures, painted, and did screenprinting.

Fully aware of his celebrity status and coiner of the phrase “15 minutes of fame,” he took full advantage of it by appearing at high society parties and became a fixture at famous nightclubs like Studio 54. Some have even stated that you knew you were at a good party in New York City if Andy Warhol was there.

In 1968, Warhol was shot and almost killed by a marginal Factory figure and radical feminist, Valerie Solanas. The attack deeply affected him and he said of his life that “it’s like watching television – you don’t feel anything.” After this, Warhol stopped filming movies of his own, and most of the Warhol films were made by other Factory fixtures.

Warhol’s death came unexpectedly in the early hours of the morning on February 22, 1987. He was recovering from a routine gallbladder surgery when he suddenly suffered a fatal heart attack and died in his sleep. His body was buried back in his home of Pittsburgh, and he left his fortune to the development of a foundation dedicated to the “advancement of visual arts.” Thus, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts was born.

It has been said that Warhol’s life often mirrored the materialism and celebrity satirized in his works. Some say it dictated his views on how the world is obsessed with money, objects, and fame, while others claim his life was an amalgamation of all these things. Despite the meaning, his works are still some of the most well-known pieces in the world and his 15 minutes of fame are eternal.

Sources: Biography.com, Warhol Foundation, Wikipedia


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The New Yorker Debuts

Eustace-TilleyOn February 21, 1925, The New Yorker debuted with its first issue. The New Yorker is an American magazine which includes serious reportage, social commentary, essays, satire, fiction works, poetry, and essays. Though mostly centered around the life of New Yorkers, the magazine has a broad international fanbase and because it is produced weekly, it is known for its highly topical covers and commentary on American popular culture.

The magazine was founded by Harold Ross and his wife, New York Times reporter Jane Grant. Tired of the “corny” content which filled other humorous publications at the time, Ross strove to create something sophisticated, yet entertaining. The magazine started out as a glorified society column centering around life in New York featuring a now famous dandy gentleman staring at a butterfly through a monocle on the cover. The dandy man on the cover, later given the name ‘Eustace Tilley,’ was drawn by The New Yorker‘s first art director, Rea Irvin.

NY168 - Seaside Cafe.graffleTilley’s appearance on the first cover was meant to be a joke, but confused readers did not know what to make of it or the magazine at first. Was it supposed to be an accurate portrayal of The New Yorker readers? And if so, what did it mean? Are readers cosmopolitan individuals closely studying life’s small beauties? Or are they haughty beings only concerned with their own existence? The perplexing first cover image seemed to mirror the likewise befuddling content inside. Filled with gossip and writing targeted at in-the-know Manhattanites, those involved in the beginning soon decided a broader scope should be the natural evolution of the new publication.

Still holding on to its humorous roots, The New Yorker gradually established a base for serious fiction writers and journalists to publish their work. After World War II came to an end, the magazine began to print short stories, poems, essays, and other contemplative and stimulating writing by some of the 20th and 21st centuries’ most renowned writers. Such famed names as Haruki MurakamiVladimir NabokovJohn O’HaraPhilip RothJ. D. SalingerIrwin ShawJames ThurberJohn Updike, and E. B. White have appeared with bylines in the publication.

The New Yorker’s circulation is now well over one million, and its audience is made up mostly well-educated and liberal-minded individuals who seek the detailed coverage and commentary of Americana the magazine provides. Its combination of journalism and creative pieces as well as reviews and art has made The New Yorker one of the most revered magazines in the world.

Sources: The New YorkerBritannica.com, Wikipedia

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Ansel Adams’ Birthday

ansel adamsAmerican landscape photographer and environmentalist, Ansel Adams, was born on February 20, 1902. He became well-known for his large detailed monochrome images of nature, especially photographs from Yosemite National Park in California.

Born in San Francisco, Adams was mostly home schooled as a child after being kicked out of several schools due to his bad behavior. Adams’ first creative passion was the piano, and at age 14, he began to discover his love for photography after a trip to Yosemite National Park. His love turned to obsession and a discovery of his life’s work. He attended camera clubs, poured over photography magazines, and studied darkroom techniques. In the 1920s, he began developing and selling his snapshots in the Yosemite Valley at Best Studio. He married the owner’s daughter, Virginia Best, who inherited the studio when her father died. Adams helped run the studio until 1971, and it was renamed Ansel Adams Gallery.

After publishing Parmelian Prints of the High Sierrashis first portfolio, Adams began to gain considerable fame. The portfolio contained one of his most famous images, “Monolith, the Face of Half Dome,” and he was hired for many commercial assignments following his portfolio’s publication. He became the first person to produce a commissioned photographic portrait of a photographer when he was hired to take President Jimmy Carter‘s portrait. Adams dabbled in many different photography techniques ranging from soft-focus images to etching, but over time his style developed into detailed close-ups and large-format photographs, recognized for their stark contrast and intense exposure.

ansel adams2The photographer had close relationships with other artists including Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O’Keeffe and Paul Strand. As a member of the environmental preservation organization, the Sierra Club, since age 17, Adams was known for his environmentalism and worked with photographers Dorthea Lange and Walker Evans on creating social and political change through art. He produced photo essays to advocate wilderness protection, especially in Yosemite, and wartime injustice through his photographs of WWII Japanese internment camps. In 1946, he photographed every national park in the United States as part of his Guggenheim Fellowship. He also helped to found what is one of the most popular photography magazines, Aperture.

As photography transformed into a more greatly appreciated art form, Adams began showing his work in galleries more often, and presented a photographic retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1974. His photographs were in such high demand, that he spent most of his time in the late ’70s printing negatives of his previous work.

In 1984, Adams suffered a heart attack and died in Monterey, California at the age of 82.

Adams has inspired many modern-day photographers with the visualization techniques he used in producing images. He would imagine the image he wanted to create in his “mind’s eye,” and use this meditative state to create his photographs. One of Adams’ favorite Gaelic quotes and words he lived by were, “I know that I am one with beauty and that my comrades are one. Let our souls be mountains, let our spirits be stars, let our hearts be worlds.”

Sources: Biography.com, Huffington Post, Wikipedia


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International Tug-o-War Day

CompetitionFebruary 19 is International Tug-o-War Day! Tug-o-war is a competitive sport played between two people or two teams in which each team tugs on both sides of a rope to test who is stronger.

The competition of strength has roots in many ancient civilizations, but its precise origin in unknown. Reference to this and similar physical tests have been seen in old carvings and artwork made by many including ancient Egyptians and vikings. It started out as a way to settle disputes between individuals and groups over things like food and clothing before evolving into the competitive sport it is today. Legend also surrounds the game likening it to the constant battle that took place between the Sun and the Moon, fighting daily over whether the world should be shrouded in light or darkness.

When tall ships were a common form of transport and travel on the high seas, sailors who needed to stay fit for their rigging duties began to play the game as a form of practice and an entertaining rivalry. The name “Tug-o-War” may have originated from crews who practiced and played the game on Man-o-War ships. Tug-o-war became an organized sport in the late 19th century when clubs began to form around competing. It became a featured sport at the 1900 Olympics in Paris, and remained a part of the Olympic games until 1920. Countries began forming associations for tug-o-war after the sport was trimmed from the Olympic program, with the first popping up in Sweden in 1933. Other countries across the world soon followed suit.

In 1960, the Tug-of-War International Federation (TWIF) was formed and as of 2008, 53 countries were a part of the federation. Each year the federation holds a world championship game.

To celebrate today, grab a rope, some buddies, and compete in a good old-fashioned game! If you want to have an official by-the-book game, check out the rules here.

Happy Tug-o-War Day!

Sources: Days of the Year, USATOWA, Wikipedia

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Drink Wine Day

winelovers calendarFebruary 18 is Drink Wine Day! Whether you’re a fan of red, white, or sparkling wines, today is the day to pop the cork and enjoy.

Made from fermented grapes and other fruits, wine is an alcoholic beverage that has been made and consumed for thousands of years. The earliest appearance of wine was in about 6000 B.C. Legends and stories abound with ancient humans becoming intoxicated off of fermented grapes, so it wasn’t long before people began to toy with the fermentation process, eventually creating wine. The first wine was created in the Eurasian state of Georgia, and soon spread to the Balkans and Ancient Greece and Rome. It wasn’t long before the rest of Europe began to catch up, and wine was eventually brought to the New World. Grapes grown for wine now cover about 20 million acres across the world. The top two wine producers in the world are typically Italy and France.

vineyards calendarThe health benefits of wine have been promoted for years. When consumed in moderation, some experts have said that red wine can improve heart health, prevent the formation of kidney stones, and inhibit the development of certain cancers. It can also boost immunity and increase bone density. Too much alcohol consumption is dangerous for your health, but a glass of wine now and then never hurt anyone!

You can celebrate today any way you like just as long as you’ve got a glass of wine in your hand. We suggest going to a local wine bar for a tasting or sampling of several different wines. If you’ve got a lot of free time today, you could even travel to a nearby winery and become educated on how wine is made from start to finish. Another excellent way to celebrate is to stop at a grocery or liquor store, pick up a few bottles, and host your very own wine tasting party at home!

Happy Drink Wine Day!

Sources: World’s Special Days, Examiner.com, Punchbowl

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National Café au Lait Day

coffee calendarFebruary 17 is National Café au Lait Day! Café au lait is a French coffee drink, consisting of coffee with hot milk added. The name is literally translated from French as “coffee with milk.”

We’re not sure why this day was chosen to honor this delicious coffee beverage, but if you need a pick-me-up, then today is the perfect day to celebrate! In Europe, café au lait is usually prepared using an espresso machine, mixing espresso with steamed milk. To contrast, in the United States, café au lait is usually made using a dark roasted drip or French press prepared coffee with steamed milk added.

The beverage gained a significant amount of popularity in New Orleans, where the well-known cafe, Café du Monde, located in the French Quarter, serves a popular version which includes the addition of chicory to their coffee. The chicory has a slightly bitter flavor that offsets the taste of beignets, which are deep-fried pastries covered in powdered sugar. Though café au lait has become a favored coffee drink for many, there are some who think adding milk to your coffee detracts from the flavor of the coffee too much. French author Honoré de Balzac once called café au laits a “ludicrous” drink.

While we suggest going to your favorite coffee shop to get a café au lait today, you can also make this caffeinated drink at home. Here are a few recipes for you to try out:

Sources: Wikipedia, Food.com, Examiner.com

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