Friday, April 23, 2010

Snapshot: Great Southern Craft Company

Let's take a quick trip back in time to visit one of the Village's many distinct shops: the Great Southern Craft Company. You can picture the scene: a peaceful blue spring morning in Lake Buena Vista. Near the Captain's Tower, flowers are arrayed on steps leading to the reflection pond. The only sound is that of the lagoon's waves gently lapping the dock from a passing boater.

Around the side of the Cane, Rattan, Wicker & Suns shop, sandwiched between it and the Toledo Arts spanish antiques store, is the shopper's mecca for anybody at Walt Disney World who needed to buy a basket - the Southern Craft Company itself.

A brief word about the Craft Company. It opened in 1977 or early 1978, and replaced one of the Village's earliest disappearances, along with the Collonadde des Artes: Von Otto's Antiques. In contrast to the Magic Kingdom's antique shop, Von Otto's store was neither as artfully cluttered nor as interesting, but the name of his shop was printed on a coffee grinder (!). Nobody knows what happened to Von Otto or his antiques, but the Craft Company did stay in business for almost twenty years.

Those familiar with the Downtown Disney Marketplace today may have trouble placing this structure on account of her shaded veranda; this space is currently occupied by the Marketplace Guest Relations. Disney cut off the veranda in the mid 1990's, when she was removing all of the Village's original breezeways, terraces and porches. One of the decorative medterranian statues which once littered the Village is visible in front of the Craft Company.

As you can see, nobody had anything on the Southern Craft Company for clutter. A 1981 Village guidemap boasts of the Craft Company's "assortment of kits and supplies for quilting, macrame, latch hook and needlepoint; leathersmith and silversmith; a variety of other handmade crafts; plus Lillie Langtry's old-fashioned photo studio". And yes, that's right, for many years Village guests could get their old-timey photo taken here, just like in the hospitality house on Main Street. Except instead of a Polariod 8 1/2 x 11 camera, Lillie Langtry used a real antique camera and setting.

a 1980 brochure - enlarge for details!

In the late 1980's or early 1990's, the Southern Craft Company moved a few yards West, occupying the space which originally housed 2R's - Read'n & Rite'n, on the endcap of that building. Here is a picture taken in that second location, where once again baskets and stained glass are on display, this time in a more open and bright environment with a memorable skylight and central wooden crossbeams. Lillie Langtry failed to make the migration.

By the mid-1990's, the Southern Craft Company was gone and the space housed a number of temporary tenants, including Discover, one of those "conservation" themed stores that were popular in the 1990's.

In 1996, Basin, a London-based specialty soap company, moved into this second Craft Company location and has remained for the last 14 years. The skylight and central wooden crossbeams from which baskets once hung can still be observed today.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Mr. Franklin's Travels

Sometimes in the course of gathering up information about a certain ride or show, I end up with an excess of information with no good way to organize it, unless it be in the form of a collection of trivia bullet points. This sort of stuff generally goes unpublished here, inevitably relegated to "hey, did you know" sorts of moments I can have with friends while in the parks discussing such matters. The following case involving a certain Mr. Ben Franklin is one such example wherein I discovered something quite by accident but which I had no real good way of presenting online. however, thanks to a few serendipitous discoveries, I can make a case for relating the story of Mr. Franklin.

For those who aren't fully up to speed on the design and creation of WED's 1971 "One Nation Under God" Hall of Presidents attraction, the bulk of the show comprised a 70mm, five-screen film detailing the difficulties the United States Constitution faced, from her ratification through the nullification crisis and the Civil War. This story was told employing an astonishing number of original paintings created by WED artists led by John De Cuir, a Hollywood art designer whose most famous - and last - credit was Ghostbusters. De Cuir led a team of a dozen artists who worked daily for two years to create almost one hundred pieces of art which reflected historical reality and the dominant artistic temperament of the day. The signing of the Constitution was seen in European style burnished realistic tones, Washington putting down the Whiskey Rebellion in the style of New England folk art, Lincoln's brooding soliloquy in the flowing style of Winslow Homer, and the 20th century's progress in the style of modern art. That more of these remarkable pieces are not used in the new version of the show is the absolute only complaint I can make against it.

These paintings were as much the show as the presidents, the WED placed many of them in the waiting area for the show - not the originals, mind you, but photographic reproductions mounted on plywood and framed. Some of these made their way into other areas of the Magic Kingdom as well - City Hall on Main Street still has a version of the WED painting of the driving of the golden spike to complete the transcontinental railroad, and the Penny Arcade on Main Street had a few others.

All of these images were removed from the Hall of Presidents rotunda in 2000, to make way for the display of presidential portraits and artifacts which it currently houses. Three framed pictures do remain however, two of Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln/Douglas debates, and another of Ben Franklin, in the exit hallway for the show.

This picture is unique in two ways. One, it is an actual painting executed on wood, which can clearly be seen in my flash photo above. Secondly, it is not the picture used in the original two Hall of Presidents shows, which was executed in a far more polished style and did originally hang in the Hall of Presidents rotunda. This painting came from somewhere else. Now one of the strange things about Walt Disney World is how certain props seem to hang around forever, appearing and disappearing and showing up in new places unexpectedly. This Ben Franklin portrait is one such example.

This is an image scanned out of a 1973 Walt Disney World guidebook.

If you look carefully above the fireplace in what is now the George & Martha Washington Room inside the Liberty Tree Tavern, you can see a framed portrait of Ben Franklin, and I am 99% certain that it is the exact same portrait that hangs in the Hall of Presidents today. When the Liberty Tree Tavern's interior was redone in the 1990's to give each of its' rooms a specific theme, for whatever reason this painting was selected to migrate across the street to the Hall of Presidents, where it remains to this day.

Now why this particular portrait was selected to be saved is somewhat mysterious. Liberty Tree Tavern does have a Ben Franklin room and you can go look yourself at the two portraits of the famed statesman which hang in it, both of which are photographic reproductions of commonly seen portraits of the man. I do, however, have it on reasonably good authority that this portrait of Ben Franklin is a Marc Davis original. I can't confirm it but we do know that Davis would, on occasion, contribute original art to the theme parks, such as the famous "pirate wench" in Disneyland's Pirates of the Caribbean and also supposedly the original stretching portraits in the Disneyland Haunted Mansion. I would not be surprised if, in 1971, those portraits of the performers in the Country Bear Jamboree lobby were painted by Davis as well. So we're not out of the realm of established fact here.

Whether it is a Davis original or not, be sure to stop by the Franklin portrait on your next jaunt through the Hall of Presidents. I don't think I need to mention that even if it is an authentic Davis piece, which many of us will never be able to see in our lives, don't paw all over it - it's amazing that it hasn't been more abused than it is, being in direct reach of guests. Pay your respects to a real survivor, a real remnant of a theme park that opened in a very different state some 40 years ago.