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VINTAGRAPH • WPA • WWII • TAKE A KODAK, c. 1930s

Cult Figure: 1922

Cult Figure: 1922

New York circa 1922. "Farraham worshiping." Five photos of this artsy looking lady bear a name that might also be transcribed as Farnham or Fanshaw. Who will be the first to identify her? George Grantham Bain Collection. View full size.

 

Fashionably Foreign Curios

The faddish young lady is posing with a Chinese or Japanese shrine figure of an emaciated Buddha or monk meditating in a grotto. Small devotional sculptures of this type were mostly made of painted and gilded dry lacquer over carved wood. The figure's beard is a little strange in that context, and perhaps points to a Chinese Buddhist saint or Daoist sage rather than to a Buddha figure such as Sakyamuni.

The patterned paper panels behind her, by the way, are the back lining of a Japanese Export folding screen, as seen in one of the other photos Dave posted for label comparisons. And her rather naughty transparent dress appears to have been made from an Egyptian tribal woman's netted scarf spangled with small bands of silver foil, a popular tourist souvenir of the day and still used like this by American belly dancing hobbyists.

But the young lady is almost certainly posturing for the camera in a fashionable way rather than performing an actual religious meditation practice. Popular American curiosity about "exotic" foreign religions increased after World War I, but she might have posed as readily with an Eqyptian figure as an Asian one. A few years earlier, after all, there was Theda Bara posed "meditating" over a stage prop skeleton.

Julia Farnham

from the good folks at sallyjamesfarnham.org

[Obviously not the same person. - Dave]

GWO

My guess is that that would be a Buddhist or Daoist figure, in an early example of gratuitous Western orientalism.

Clues

From [who?] at sallyjamesfarnham.org:

I took a closer look at the other portraits of the woman seemingly labeled Farnham and do not believe these are of her daughter, Julia. I have an image somewhere from this period and would be happy to send it.

My mind kept drifting to your email and the script that may say "Farnham." I believe I may have seen a similar notation before and will check on it when I return. I also have some studio shots of Sally's studio/apartment. I will see if there may be similar objects to link these images to SJF.

Julia Farnham?

In 1932 Julia Farnham, "New York heiress" and daughter of the sculptor Sally Farnham, secretly married a New York mounted police officer whom she had met on the Central Park bridle path while they were riding their respective horses. So it might be her. Although there's no mention of her in the New York Times prior to the wedding.

[From the NYT: "Captain Meehan is 49 years old; the former Miss Farnham is considerably younger than her husband." Now, who out there has a decent photo of Julia Farnham? - Dave]

"Farnham"

Well, the name on the negative is "Farnham," for sure. I spend my days deciphering old documents and that is most definitely "Farnham."

And I can tell you that she most definitely isn't Zoroastrian, and quite apart from the fact that Zoroastrians don't worship idols, that is a Chinese or Japanese sculpture.

If she were Zoroastrian, she would look like this family.
http://www.shorpy.com/node/7241

I had been wondering if the photos might be of Irene Castle. On further reflection I don't think so but I am wondering if it might possibly be Sally Farnham's daughter. Farnham was married to George Paulding Farnham, designer for Tiffany's and from a very wealthy and well-established family.

She venerates

King Viagra, long before his secrets were discovered.

Zoroaster, Faravahar

She could be a Zoroastrian, and the idol represents Faravahar. This doesn't have anything to do with the other four photos, though, so there's still a mystery.

Mme. F

Hmm. The other photos you link to below show her as perhaps a musician or dancer. In any case definitely not the sculptor Sally Farnham.

What on earth

is that thing she is venerating? I hope this turns out to be some sort of show person and not a weird cult.

Madame F

The five photos and the name. Possibilities so far: Farnham, Fanshaw, Favisham. And of course "Farraham."

 
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