Monday, May 25, 2009

My White Heaven

Wonderfully retro and absurdly ethnocentric art depicting an idealized American empire on Earth and in Heaven from Bible Readings for the Home (Pacific Press Publishing Associates, 1963). The art of these books was incredibly sanitized and differed greatly from the Basil Wolverton style, who for his work with the Worldwide Church of God insisted on a "warts and all" approach to scripture.

The PPPA Bible series of books were ubiquitous and were to be found in just about every home, doctor's office and transmission repair shop customer lounge in America back in the 1960s. Anywhere there was a waiting room or lobby odds were good one of the PPPA volumes and a copy of Highlights for Children was on a table nearby. As a child I recall getting one of these volumes at the supermarket for the low, low price of 68 cents every time the family bought laundry detergent. One of the more morbidly humorous and shocking (to anyone not looking at life through the Unreality Filter) themes that run through the books is the death of a child. Typically, a young child would be portrayed about to experience horrible death while an all-powerful Angel looks on, presumably choosing not to intercede and only being present to escort the dead soul of the child to Heaven.

While today some people look back on the imagery of the PPPA series with amusement it should not be dismissed that the series represented, however intentional or through obliviousness, a very real difference about modern life in what was reality versus what was perceived as real. The series has been accused of being exclusionary to the point of being racist. If you were white, middle class and lived in the upper Midwest from 1954-1956 then these books probably closely reflected your actual life experience. Outside of that narrow demographic the real world was noticeably different and far, far harder to manage.

This volume also addresses the Cold War, Nuclear Armageddon and has lots of other images worth posting. More to follow.

10 comments:

  1. I hope the nuclear armageddon also has angels. Lots of 'em.

    Did the books ever depict Hell, or is looking forward to the Rapture the scariest thing they offer?

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  2. The prospect and imagery of dead children, in my experience with the series, was far more frightening. The rapture, showing fully clothed people rising from the graves and into the sky like figures from a Curt Swan drawn Superman comic book story is far less disturbing.

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  3. I remember seeing these well into the 70's growing up in SC. That image of the angel returning the dead girl to the arms of her parents was burned into my memory especially.

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  4. Fascinating stuff, creepy too. Some of the pictures remind me of Alex Ross - the family looking up at the rainbow especially. I gather he's somewhat Christian, I wonder if these books had influence on him growing up. (And I like his work.)

    How oppressive some scenes are- Bible study at home, the kids obediently listening to Dad reciting Scripture. Stifling, but they seem giddy.

    I'm struck by the many Idealized scenes of the world as "paradise", gorgeous meadows, fields, animals, rainbows. Because i think today the people who would be most into these books would be the ones most staunchly against environmentalism of any kind.

    Hope you post more of these, they're a valuable illustration of a certain American mindset.

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  5. Alex Ross' mom was quite the illustrator and her style was definitely 50s & 60s popular Americana.

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  6. I actually can respect this art. Wholesome whitebread is sometimes refreshing. Sure it's homogenous - but so was its audience... take a look at nearly all the magazines and paperback covers from this period - the people they depicted weren't exactly a melting pot of ethnicity!

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  7. Bible Readings For The Home, doo dah, doo dah. Film at 11.

    In that last picture, I like the headline on the paper Billy's reading. It's like Granddad is reassuring them that Armageddon will arrive before summer's over. "No more school? Forever?!"

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  8. Is that angel presenting a freshly dug up child to Walt Disney?

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  9. Art like this scares the shit out of me more than neatness.

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