I recently came across a wonderful blog called The Haunted Lamp which describes itself as “a collage about the unusual for the eccentric. It includes objects, design, art, ephemera and spaces -usually with a unique vintage twist. Expect to see the sculptural, eerie, humorous, magical, and the little bit queer.” Well, being a bit eccentric myself and more than a little bit queer, it appealed to me immensely especially this post about a Russian figurine of sailors and this other post about sailor cocktail napkins from the 1940’s. The one napkin depicts a sailor who rides a carousel horse with great enthusiasm. It reminds me of how representations of sailors are given greater freedom in culture because of the long history of their sexual ambiguity. I doubt one would see a napkin with a marine riding a carousel horse with such unbound joy.
The Haunted Lamp has inspired me to dig into my own cabinets and draws and reveal some of my curiosities that are also a little bit queer. When I saw the Russian figurine of the two sailors on The Haunted Lamp, I was reminded of 3 porcelain figurines of teenage boys in my vitrine from Japan made by the J L Co. and probably dating from the 1950’s or early 1960’s. Items like these figurines were sold in store such as Woolworth’s for very little money. What makes these small figurines ( 2.5”x3”) a little bit queer is the fact that the boys are all on the telephones. Two are speaking on the phone and one is seemingly just picking up the receiver as if the phone has just rung.
In the mythology of the phone and the culture of the teenager which emerged after World War II, was it not teenage girls who were always on the telephone especially while they were babysitting? These three figurines represent a minor disruption of the gender norms and rules of the dominant fiction. Boys are not supposed to be obsessed with the phone.
All the boys have that 50’s/60’s clean cut collegiate look: with crew cut hair, a sweater, loafers and white socks. Their mainstream appearance makes their gender transgression all the more tantalizing and appealing as if we are witnessing a secret conversation. Who are they talking to on the phone? A girl or perhaps another boy? What are they talking about?
And what I also love about these little sculptures is the fact that all the boys are sitting on the floor while using the phone. Sitting on the floor seems like such a teenage phenomenon, the space of the young. The boy in the orange pants, for example, has his legs up at an angle as if propping them up on the invisible wall or couch.
I often wonder too who was the intended consumer for this small treasures. Certainly not, teenage boys. Perhaps teenage girls. And I wonder when they looked at these figurines did they sense their difference, their queerness? One can only imagine, but I am glad that these 3 boys now reside in my apartment.