Do I hear $400 for the Velvet Elvis?

Christmas has come and gone and so I have decided to put a halt to my countdown of most wanted gifts from Santa. Perhaps next year I’ll continue the list.
That’s not to say that I can’t write about some great toys though, is it?

Today’s lesson is all about ART.

I don’t claim to be an expert on art. At all. I know what I like and what I don’t like. I like abstracts with vibrant colours and quirky drawings and the odd inviting land or seascape; I like unusual paintings of men and women. I don’t like fluffy stuff with gingerbread houses and doll-faced kids and cookie-cutter anything!

I grew up in a house where the appreciation of art was not present. That’s not to say that my parents didn’t like a nice picture – there was that fake oil-painting of the still-life of a bowl of strawberries on the wall in the kitchen. There were the two immense real oil-paintings in the gaudy gold frames that hung in the living room over each loveseat. You know the kind – a stream running through an autumn wood, or a barn in the middle of field, flanked by an autumn wood. There were the framed chocolate box-lids with pictures of Ireland in vivid green, white, brown and blue – their cliched thatch-roofed cottage (always with a red door) and the stone-walled field harking back to a distant memory. In my own room I had 3 little plastic-framed pictures of moppet-girls with enormous eyes, sporting harlequin and other costumes – they were everywhere in the 70s. I also had a cheap, framed poster of a suspended cat with the caption, “Hang in there, Baby”.

My father once gathered up a load of “art” (actually it was mainly a goodly number of calendars) we owned and took it to be framed professionally. We ended up with a number of religious pictures, some ancient photographs of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia and the “Old Country” as well as some treasures – the original artwork of my mother’s cousin, Jean Khanbegian.

I remember we had old magazines downstairs in the linen closet that had feature articles on this member of my family. She worked mainly in oils and concentrated on the sea. I have a real love of the sea, not merely as it’s in my blood on my mother’s side, but also from having looked at these fantastic works of real art. Jean Khanbegian is in her 80s now and still paints, superbly. She focused on the ponies of Sable Island in a series of paintings a few years ago. These are gorgeous, wind-swept, wild pieces that carry you away to an almost mythical world. My mother has two pieces of Jean’s and one day, I trust they will come to me and my husband to join the collection of oddities we have accumulated.

You might think that my taste in art would come from these influences and in large part, it does, but more than this, I believe my knowledge and appreciation can be attributed to a pair of brothers: the Parker Brothers.

In 1970, Parker Brothers released the game, Masterpiece and that Christmas, I found one under the tree in the living room on Christmas morning.

What great joy was to be had inside that box! There was a board (similar to Trivial Pursuit) featuring a large picture of Rembrandt in the middle of a circle of playing stations (I made that up – it works though, doesn’t it?), coloured marker-pieces for each player and loads of paper money in very large amounts ($100,000, $500,00 – all ornately designed) , There were cards representing the characters (players) participating in the auction and cooked up biographies for each one. Most importantly, there were postcard-sized reproductions of famous artworks with an easel to display them when they went on the block.

Players tried to bluff each other with forgeries while accumulating large sums of money in the auction process. A grand time was had by all, but little did we know the added bonus to this game: we learned about famous paintings, artists and art history.

This game was a delight to me particularly since I could never get enough (and still can’t) information packed into my brain. I absorbed all the details about the artists and their work.

In grade 9, it was compulsory to take ART 101 with Sister Colette at my all-girls’ school. She was a brilliant artist, but a grueling teacher and I didn’t take to the rigours of water-colour washes or weaving at a loom! (OMG you should have seen what came off my loom!– Think baby-blanket crossed with an old string dishrag.)
I abandoned art after first year (much to Sr. Colette’s relief).

This did not completely eradicate my interest, however; I continued to draw at home – mostly pop stars and album covers, but I was not too bad a talent and in later years when I switched to public school and posted my Cheap Trick pen and ink drawings inside my locker, the art teacher noticed them and told me I should be in her art class. So, I went back to a Grade 9 level art in Grade 13 (carrying my Masterpiece cards with me as a talisman) and had another go. Art was not to be in my repertoire that year as the rigours of Family Studies, History, World Geography and English conspired to distract me. Oh well!

In any case, I still love to draw, fool around in “Paint” on my computer and collect strange original works of art that pop up in my local thrift stores. We currently have two large abstract oil paintings by the same artist, done in 1962. We love them both and although we tried to find out more about the artist, failed miserably, until one day we were in our local gallery and my husband stopped in front of a painting with a stunned expression on his face. He called me over and my mouth joined his in dropping. It was the same artist as we own. We got the paintings for a song at the thrift store, but honestly, if they were worth a fortune, we’d NEVER give them up because they are a part of us. Turns out, there’s a massive mural on our city library wall, done by the same artist! How cool is that?

So, how did Masterpiece affect my adult life? Well, I married an Art History major, I watch art programs in HD on tv, I am surrounded by various pieces of art in my own home and I dabble a bit myself. Mind you, I am Poetikat first and foremost, but I guess that’s just “painting with words”, isn’t it?

By the way, we never owned a “velvet Elvis” – a velvet toreador, but never Elvis.


Incidentally, my favourite artists are:

Alex Colville
A.J. Casson

These days when I want to learn more about art, I can always count on a lesson from Blicky Kitty.

N.B. I just had a twigging of my memory over at My Side of the Story, where Anna Lefler of Life Just Keeps Getting Weirder mentioned Doodle Art. How could I forget that? What? Was there a little black hole in my brain that had that stored away? I was the Doodle Art queen! I had one of the jungle, one of the ocean and another one I can’t remember. Know what? I never finished them…I think I still may have that jungle one somewhere. Hey, if you don’t hear from me for a while, you’ll know where I am.

Kathleen Mortensen©2009

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27 thoughts on “Do I hear $400 for the Velvet Elvis?

  1. Another wonderful memoir to read. My experience was similar. I had very little exposure to art as a child, and I now I love collecting art. I don't have the money to buy my favorites – mostly local Oklahoma artsists, but I've managed to gather up some very interesting finds over the years at flea markets, thrift stores and garage sales. I have some I bought off ebay. I have never heard of that game. I'd like to have a copy of it for my kids. Speaking of ebay…My favorite Oklahoma artists are Michi Susan, Jean Richardson, Thomas Batista and Robert Lamell. CANNOT STAND T. KINCAID PAINTINGS and the LIKE…


  2. I don't have an artistic bone in my body. I will say, when I look at a piece of art I want to recognize what it is. So, no abstract art for me. On my bedroom walls I have mirrors of different shapes and sizes, Why? Because I like mirrors!I get tired of the same old pictures hanging on my bedroom walls. A mirror changes every time you look in it! So see I am a bit quirky too.But, I must say the other rooms have pictures and they have been hanging in the same place for ten years. No excitement here!


  3. Deb – we had tons of board games in our house I played them with friends, with my parents (and my little sister, when I LET her).Petra – Ooh! A Marilyn? Surely that was worth something? In our house, you could hardly see the dining room table for either board games or jigsaw puzzles (hmmm…next post perhaps)?Jen – I'm so with you on the T. Kincaid, but let's not forget T. Romance? (Really, is that her name?) Nothing against them, personally – I mean they have genuine talent at recreating scenes, but I wouldn't want to own one.Kat


  4. That was a good blast from the past. Our Art Work growing up at home was probably a calendar. I don't remember much in the way of decorating until after I moved out. I do think there have been some talents that never developed in my family though, in regards to art. Maybe that is true for many families. You never know until you at least try at something. My husband has several Rousseau prints, and Picasso and Paul Klee. Sadly, I don't appreciate them all that much. I like pictures that I can look at many times and see something different, like a good movie.


  5. Wow! That's a wonderful blast from the past, Poetikat!I love the sound of the 'Masterpiece' game – if only it could be recreated … We had board games in my family, but I always found them rather boring – but that one I would have loved!What I do remember is a memory game, where you threw lots and lots of little square cards face downward on the floor, and then took it in turns to turn over two. The cards were pairs of images – some of which were very attractive designs. The idea was to remember whereabouts they were on the floor, to collect as many pairs as possible. I loved that game!Klimt is one of my favourite artists too, and Rousseau. I also like a lot of English watercolourists, especially early 20th century garden painters. And the wonderful Alex Ross, painter of Batman and other superheroes!


  6. Brenda – You can't argue the value of a good movie. Sounds like your husband has some nice prints.WOR – I didn't know anyone else who owned it in MY day! Apparently, it's hard to get now, so if you ever see one…pick it up for me, will you? I told Matt I'd send him a Spirograph.Raph – I remember that game very well! I used to be a Teaching Assistant for kindergarten kids and one child I had loved to play the “Memory Game” with me as often as he could. I used to be able to whip him at it, but nowadays, I think most kids could whip me! I do admire the English watercolourists as well.Kat


  7. HaHa! As an artist and an art teacher, I really enjoyed this post! I never heard of that board game. I must tell you I found the best black velvet painting ever! Better even than Elvis! (I'm so excited to write about this!)Years ago a dear friend of mine had a 40th birthday party and insisted that no one bring gifts. On my way to her party I passed a a yard sale. I spotted a Black Velvet painting of Jesus in the air blessing a tractor trailer. The price was one dollar. I wrapped it up for Deb. (She thought I painted her a picture and was mad that I went through so much trouble). She roared with laughter when she opened it. Her grown children have been fighting over this painting now for years! (they rotate it between their houses)


  8. Neetzy – that is hilarious! You do a lot of that rotating of “art” don't you – the boot, the velvet Jesus…what else are you sharing in the family, the Stone of Scone?Carol – “Masterpiece” is hard to come by…I wish I'd hung on to mine! Smoky Mountains – they must be beautiful in art. I've been through Kentucky and Tennessee (I was 13 and we were en route to Florida). Climbed Mt. Washington in New Hampshire in the old Galaxie 500 – that was trip! (I spent it on the floor of the car.)Kat


  9. Linda – Something to be grateful for from your father. I have not heard of Walter Foster (any relation to the beer co.)?You may not draw, but you certainly can paint.Neetzy – tacky, weird and unusual are things that I am drawn to! I have a great black and white ceramic piggy-bank – with a plastic dummy in its mouth! (We call him “Bill”).Kat


  10. Maybe I should start a new blog, or at least a special posting entitled “Neetzy's Tacky Treasures”. Unfortunately, I have never found another “18 Wheeler” painting.


  11. Okay, a few things to say. I'll try to not write a whole blog right here in your comments. LOL!#1. I too had the two immense real oil-paintings in the gaudy gold frames that hung in the living room. They were of Sea scenes of ships being tosed by rough waters. They also came complete with the long brass light above each one.#2. Your mother's cousin, Jean Khanbegian is an awesome artist! Her paintings remind me of those paintings we had on our walls.#3. I LOVED that game. And yes, WE OWNED IT!!! As a lot of my old things, I wish I had it today!#4. Becky and you are a lot alike. I, like your hubby, am a Art History Major and I tend to keep the “art stuff” around as much as possible.#5. This is my first V.E. meeting… Hello, my name is Matt… and I am the owner of a Velvet Elvis.I S&%t you NOT!I bought it from some guy selling “art”, posters and blankets in a gas staion parking lot about 20 years ago. LOL!Great post as always!Later Tater


  12. OOps!Sorry Matt, I forgot to comment back on your great comments. Thank you for your compliment to my 2nd cousin, Jean Khanbegian.I think you need a 12-step program for collectors of velvet paintings (of course, I don't own one myself).I would love to get my hands on a copy of the game.Invinsible Black River – your blog is unique and informative. I will be a regular. Thanks for dropping in!Kat


  13. Thank you for your fun comment on “Godivas,” Kat! *laughing* I have no idea what her husband looked like though I'm sure his money might have had much to do with it. Hope you enjoy “The Hunchback of Hollywood”. My way of saying enough with the obsession of looking perfect!Hoping you're shoulder is feeling much better! Petra


  14. Poetikat – there's an Award waiting for you via my blog…(I've been trying to look at your Keepsakes blog too, but my computer keeps getting shut out – this has only started happening over the last couple of weeks . Wonder what that is?)


  15. Oh, what a delightful post! Your blog looks like fun….I will enjoy visiting here.My siblings and I received “Masterpiece” one Christmas and we played it often over the years. You're right….a bit of art info may have entered our heads and stayed because of that game.


  16. Reading your posts is like looking in a mirror for me in some ways. From woven potholders to abstract art and art history majors (my children, not me — but I believe I “passed it on” ) to games that teach. My sister even has a velvet Elvis – no kidding. She lives in an area called Graemont, so she had my dad make a sign for a tree that borders her property: Graeceland. The Elvis gifts ensued.My parents must have noticed my artistic talents (minimal – better at appreciating than executing) when I was a child because I remember one of my favorite Christmas gifts ever was a John Gnagy Art Kit. I was probably ten. To this day, I can't think of anything I'd rather smell than crayons.


  17. Oh, and by the way, we didn't have the art game, but my sister and I had author cards and art cards.Do you think this thing is psychic? Word Verification: Bernine (okay, wrong spelling, but read it!) LOL


  18. Hi Jeannelle! Sorry this response has taken a while, we've had some family commitments this weekend. Glad you liked the post. Do you still have the game?Karen – Graeceland – that's cute! I used to love paint-by-number sets too, but you're right, I spent many, many hours with a colouring book and my Crayolas – a fresh box of crayons held a world of possibilities didn't it. Oh, but I loved pastels too!I would have loved to have Author Cards. That would have been great!Bernini? What a coincidence!Kat


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