The American Experience Through a Box of
hard to believe it has been twenty years since the retirement
of Raw Umber. Along with seven other colors, it went off to
the Crayola Hall of Fame (August 7, 1990 to be exact).
We remember the moment well. And even referred to its passing
in the closing lines of our poem “Corporate Colors,”
written just a few years after:
I’m about thisclose
to replacing all the “corporate-logoed” pens
with a box of Crayolas—
all 64 in perfect array;
eight New Age colors
joining the fray.
Which raises the question:
Why the mourning the death of Raw
It is quite apparent
the world wants Fuchsia
and there will be no turning back.
The world apparently also wanted Cerulean,
Vivid Tangerine, Jungle Green, Dandelion, Teal Blue, Royal
Purple and Wild Strawberry.
And so we are left with a commemorative box
of rejects for posterity. In an age of planned obsolescence,
even deciding what is to be “collectable” or nostalgic,
is predetermined and marketed.
Binney & Smith, the company that makes Crayola,
goes as far back as 1885. But that first box of crayons for
mass usage— containing eight basic colors— wasn’t
introduced until 1903. According to Wikipedia:
“The Crayola name, coined
by Edwin Binney’s wife Alice, comes from craie
the French word for chalk, and ola,
from oleaginous” (resembling or having the properties
Another reason to hate the French.
We wonder if even way back then, kids were
being admonished to “stay within the lines,” when
au contraire, going “outside the lines”
and “thinking outside the box” is so embedded
in the American DNA. Anyway, it wouldn’t be until 1958,
when that first mega box of 64 crayons— with a built-in
sharpener!— would be introduced; its first appearance
being on the Captain Kangaroo Show.
Suddenly, all things were possible. Those school projects
on white construction paper, (with glued on cotton for clouds?)
could rise to heights heretofore unimagined. Yes, we remember
those days well, if you will forgive us for “waxing”
nostalgic on this “point.”
Yet this cornucopia of hues, would prove in
time to cause some controversy. For as un-politically correct
as you could possibly imagine, the box contained a color called
“Flesh.” As in… “Caucasian.”
Though fairly soon after in 1962, partially in response to
new sensitivities brought about by the burgeoning Civil Rights
Movement, the company changed the name to “Peach.”
Ironically, it had never dawned on a company in the color
business, that flesh indeed comes in many colors.
Even up until the 90’s some controversy
persisted, as “Indian Red” was changed to “Chestnut.”
Apparently school children were wrongly perceiving it to be
the skin color of Native Americans. We wonder where they got
that idea? (Washington Redskins anybody?) Although in reality,
the name of the color was inspired by a pigment used in paint
oils produced in India.
Speaking of Native Americans, this exquisite
portrait of Sitting Bull was done entirely with Crayolas
by a guy named Don Marco. For the past 35 years he has used them as his only medium.
Yet even he misses it. The “it”?
INTERVIEWER: “What have you done
with respect to the some of the colors that Crayola has officially
retired, such as the 8 in 1993 and 4 in 2003?”
DON MARCO: “Some of the colors I was able to get along
very well without. But there was one in
particular I really miss - and that one is ‘Raw Umber.’
Meanwhile, back at the box, as if to overcompensate for any
past perceived racial insensitivities, Binney & Smith
introduced a Multicultural pack, of which we are in proud
To quote the backside:
This Multicultural assortment contains
16 different skin, hair and eye colors for coloring people
around the world.
Oh yes, and of course, the crayons are “Certified
Non-Toxic.” Though we have always found the scent of
Crayolas to be quite intoxicating, if you
will. Apparently, we are not alone. Again according to Wikipedia:
A Yale University study found that
the smell of Crayola crayons is one of the most recognizable
scents for adults, ranking out cheese and bleach which
placed at 19 and 20.
We were heartened to learn of the valuable
contributions an Ivy League school is making towards the betterment
of America. No other country can make a crayon whose scent
can hold a candle to ours. And we’ve got the numbers
to prove it!
Reflecting our new culture of empowerment
and 15 minute fame cycles— as evidenced by reality shows,
wherein any Joe-the-Plumber has a say in who stays or leaves
the island—Crayola marked its 100th anniversary
in 2003, by asking consumers to name new colors. And conversely,
voting others out of the box. Here’s how that went:
|Wild Blue Yonder
And finally, In keeping with today’s
business mantra of “Building the Brand” —
with all its attendant businessspeak— Crayola
is very much in step. According to its licensing management
help extend the unique, vibrant, and fun aspects of the
brand into the home, personal care and food categories.
Nancy Bailey & Associates, Inc. has licensed 24 manufacturers
to develop innovative licensed products leveraging Crayola’s
brand equity of color, creativity and imagination.”
In short, the evolution of Crayola
as a product and a brand, has tended to mirror the changing
sociology of America in the past century. And dare we say,
it has been a change marked increasingly by fragmentation.
The American experience has come to mean different
things to different people. There seem to be far fewer things
that we all share or have in common. Sad we think, but perhaps
inevitable. Yet who has not felt the joy, if even through
the extended hand of a beloved child, in taking a Crayola
crayon to a sheet of paper? And in so doing, as if to announce
to the world: “Look at me. I’m here! I’ve
got something to express.”
by Ron Vazzano © 2010
Happy 90th Birthday to Ma and to the 19th Amendment!
Our mother, who art in Jersey, turns 90 years of age
this month. We are blessed to not only still have her,
but have her in good health and still acting like a
mother. To which the following exchanges will attest.
And bear with us if you’ve heard them; we speak
of them often.
This first one took place a couple
of years ago when we stayed at her house and got in
at 2:30 AM one morning.
just getting home now?
ME: Ma…I’m 62!
This next one occurs almost
every time we head out the door from her house, to grab
a bus to “the city.” (i.e. New York).
MA: Be careful.
ME: Ma…I’m on Social Security.
Although, regarding the
latter, she may have a point. “ME” may be
too old to go into the city by himself now.
On a more universal note,
it strikes us as we plan a big bash this month in celebration
of her long life, that she was born about the same time
that women were given the right to vote. In this context…
only 90 years ago. We are not talking ancient
The 19th Amendment was
ratified by the Tennessee General Assembly on August 18,
1920, which as the 36th state to ratify, gave the amendment
three-quarters of the states it needed for passage. Finally!
Apparently the Founding
Fathers never found it in their hearts or minds to give
women the vote at the outset. Or to put it in another
perspective, this ratification came a full fifty years
after, even those once considered chattel by law—
male slaves— were given that right. And this only
happened, as the story goes, because a 24 year old legislator
named Harry Burn, changed his vote at the last minute
at the behest of his elderly mother.
We imagine this exchange
between Mother and Harry Burn, who we think bears a striking
resemblance to Norman Bates:
||Harry. How are you
||Well, mother, I,
er…don’t think women are…er, ready to
||Then find your own
motel to run when I’m gone! Pass me that knife.
||(Holding his ears)
||MOTHER!!! Now look
what you’ve done. I’ll vote
||(Whee, Whee, Whee, Whee, Whee)
And then again, “hey,
not so fast.” Consider that almost a quarter of
those voting in the House of Representatives— 89
out of 393—still thought women unworthy of the right
to vote. In the Senate, the percentage of naysayers, was
even higher. Then we have, what we will call, the “back
Astonishing as it was
to us in having only recently made this discovery, these
states did not ratify—that is to say…
did not give formal approval to the passed 19th Amendment—
until the years indicated:
• Maryland - 1941
• Virginia - 1952
• Alabama - 1953
• Florida - 1969
• South Carolina - 1969
• Georgia - 1970
• Louisiana - 1970
• North Carolina - 1971
• Mississippi - 1984
1984? Yes, 1984. It boggles
We can’t help but
think of all of this now, when we consider some of the
debates in our “modern day,” about human rights
issues. We hear those in opposition proclaiming that “it’s
never been done this way… and there must be a reason
for that” or… “it isn’t the natural
order of things.” Forgetting of course, that at
one time, those very objections were made against a woman’s
right to vote. And worse, to keep human beings enslaved.
So while Happy Birthdays
are in order, a belated Thank You note to
Harry Burn’s mother.
Labor Day Reprised
It has been said that a poem is never really finished, just
abandoned. We suppose the same could be said for most creative
art forms. How did Jackson Pollack know when he was done?
With that in mind, we issue a re-dripping
of a Labor Day poem we presented here four years ago.
Somewhat altered, seduced and abandoned once more …
though the obvious title remains.
A group had gathered about the grill
to check on the steak and sizzle in progress;
a ritual steeped in praise of meat.
Even more of the usual tribe was missing.
Chalk it up to estrangement and churn.
The long drawn out marriages
that have melted like butter.
Those we’ve decided to no longer talk to.
Others who’ve upped and moved away
for reasons as old as pilgrims.
Still others now lie six feet under
if not—in the new fad—cremated.
Chalk it up to the play of seasons.
The constant hand of change. The deck
of time reshuffled, worn, discarded.
Still that one bee wearing his best yellow jacket
always seems to wind up at the bottom
of a bottle of beer by end of day.
And someone will notice as someone did
the year before, and the year before that,
and remark about how drunk that bee must be.
Small laughter in the small play on words
will follow. Then another will say:
“I can’t believe the summer is over.”
one can remember Memorial Day.
Then an Irish toast at the wake of summer:
“To the rib eyes! And how long did they marinate,
Since man first threw flesh on the fire.