charley harper

“When I look at a wildlife or nature subject, I don't see the feathers in the wings, I just count the wings. I see exciting shapes, color combinations, patterns, textures, fascinating behavior and endless possibilities for making interesting pictures”. Charles Harper.

I was a regular at Anderson's Auctions at the back of Linenhall Street, Belfast. I was after a lamp or an ashtray, or maybe it was a chair or that sauna I bought, I can't really remember but the lot also included a box of fusty medical books. They were mostly about forensic pathology and came from an old doctor's surgery.

They sat in my flat for a year or so, I was afraid to touch them. The thought of all those Victorian diseases pressed gently between the pages, ready to spring on some milky-skinned, soft, 20th century Irish man meant they were bound for the "long finger". A house move forced my hand. With the fingernails of index finger and thumb I clawed my way through the text books, dropping them one by one in a black bin liner. Before you accuse me of book burning/binning, don't bother because I don't care. I wasn't about to unleash the Black Death on an already war torn Belfast.

At the bottom of the pile was this gem, Betty Crocker's Dinner For Two Cook Book. A gem for a number of reasons. Its spiral-bound, handwritten type and simple sketches make it look like Betty Draper's dairy. The title hints to a culture moving away from family focused life. The war and rationing have ended. People are affluent, the world's gone high tech and children aren't the focus at mealtimes or any other time for that matter. In fact, children aren't mentioned at all in this book.

There's a great “exotic” section on “Foreign Lands”, I can almost hear Martin Denny playing on the phonogram in glorious High Fidelity Stereo and what's that… mmmmm mmmmm, it's the Ham and Bananas Hollandaise browning gently under the grill. Just enough time for another Scotch and some avocado dip.

Good Cook Knows
©charley harper good cook knows


Aside from all that, I held onto the book because of the illustrations. It's simply stuffed full of the freshest, most imaginative, effortless illustration you're likely to come across. It's an inspiration every time I pick it up. The book doesn't inspire you to cook, it inspires you to draw.

It's still readily available and a 1st edition has become pretty collectable. I put this down to Harper's illustrations rather than any ground breaking culinary achievement. As chance would have it, mine is a First Edition, First Print. Auctions!

When Company Comes
© charley harper when company comes



Good and Easy Diners
© charley harper good and easy diners



Setting the Table
© charley harper setting the table



Kitchen for Two
© charley harper kitchen for two



American Favourites
© charley harper american favourites


See lots more Harper illsutarions over at the flickr group.



Written on: August 17 2009
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I can almost hear Martin Denny playing on the phonogram in glorious High Fidelity Stereo…

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