One evening last week sculptor Alan Binstock became an instant celebrity at his local pool. He owed his popularity to the pink foam crocodile head he was carrying. Binstock was there to meet 14-year-old Andrew Melton, who will wear the crocodile costume in a community production of "Peter Pan" to be performed in the pool this weekend. But before Binstock could reach Andrew in the deep end, he had to field questions about the sculpture from curious onlookers, a few of whom couldn't resist touching his creation.
After his five minutes of fame vanished and everyone returned to lounging on their poolside chairs, Binstock went to work fitting Andrew for his new head. The boy, a good swimmer, flopped onto the bottom half, which looks like a pink kickboard, while Binstock busily checked the top part and chin rest and did some measuring. "You wouldn't want him to have a nasty overbite," Binstock said. When the sculpture is finished, the foam will be swathed in green bubble-wrap, and red reflectors will cover the eye sockets. "I'm toying with the idea of introducing an element in front of the face, like a tongue, but time is not on my side," said the artist. He's also working on a body that floats behind the head.
The crocodile is a departure from Binstock's abstract, often spiritual work, which he molds using heavy materials such as metal and glass. The foam sculpture weighs less than five pounds. Plus, he hasn't done any work geared toward children in 20 years.
Binstock had not planned on spending his last few weeks of summer covered in a film of pink foam dust, but Anne Williams, "Peter Pan's" director as well as Binstock's Mount Rainier neighbor and friend, asked him for help at the last minute after another sculptor bailed out of the project. So instead of working on two solo shows coming up next year, Binstock is donating his time and materials to creating Captain Hook's nemesis. For the last two weeks Binstock has risen early before driving to his day job at NASA to figure out design elements. "It has the same demands as a sculpture even though it doesn't have to last as long," he said.
His biggest challenge, besides making sure the crocodile floats, is not to frighten the many children who will be in the audience. "I think if I scared kids I'd be sad," said Binstock, the father of a grown son. "It has more of an intended excitement element."
"Peter Pan" will be performed at the Prince George's County community pool, 34th Street and Buchanan, Mount Rainier, tonight through Sunday at 8:30 p.m. $6-$10.
Long Live the LP Cover
Some kids collect bottle caps, others collect pennies or stamps. Growing up in Georgetown in the 1960s, Eric Kohler collected vintage records, about 5,000 of them. And he's still going strong, slowly filling up the bowing bookshelves of his one-bedroom apartment in New York. Now a graphic designer, Kohler has recently combined his love of design and music into a book, "In the Groove: Vintage Record Graphics, 1940-1960," published this summer by Chronicle Books.
A homage to the artists who designed the very first album covers, initially for 78s and then for LPs, its 132 glossy pages brim with the often jaunty, colorful and inventive pictures of the covers themselves, most from Kohler's own collection. He considers this period--before photographs came into widespread use on album covers--to be the heyday of record cover art, when a design had to be invented that jibed with the music inside the cardboard sleeve.
Of the handful of artists discussed in "In the Groove," Kohler selects Alex Steinweiss and Jim Flora as having the greatest influence on the form. Steinweiss invented the LP's protective cardboard jacket and also created the cover for Columbia's very first long-playing pop release, in 1948: a recording of--guess who--Frank Sinatra. With a salmon-pink background and black block lettering, it featured an oversize music stand with images of a baton, metronome and score.
While Steinweiss worked mainly on classical and pop albums, Flora worked mostly on jazz recordings. Trained as an illustrator rather than a designer, Flora had different ideas of what would capture the public eye. "I love the style he works in," says Kohler. "He's completely insane." One of Flora's busy drawings, for the album "Bix and Tram," is featured on the cover of "In the Groove." It shows a caricature of the two musicians, Bix Beiderbecke and Frankie Trumbauer, playing their instruments back to back with a little heart tying them together, a symbol of their collaboration.
After an early, unglamorous start designing packaging for products such as Velveeta, Kohler has become an album designer himself. Although it is only part of his freelance graphic design business, he enjoys that kind of work the most, often drawing by hand instead of using a computer. He recently created covers for re-releases of jazz and big band music that he first bought 25 years ago. Kohler laments that these days he doesn't have the luxury of twelve inches for his work. "The CD is so small, it doesn't have the impact an LP did," he says. "You have to work a lot harder to make the image jump off the page."
Kohler, who researched, wrote and designed "In the Groove," came up with the idea almost a decade ago. He then spent time scouring flea markets and stores looking for album covers he wanted to include, hassling with lawyers to secure reprint rights and searching for credit information. He's hoping to turn 100 images he had to cut from the book into a second volume, so the hunt for covers continues and the shelf room in his apartment continues to shrink. "Sometimes I'm happy if I find the cover I want but the record is missing," says Kohler. "It takes up less space."
CAPTION: Onlookers were agape when they saw Mount Rainier's Alan Binstock display his foam crocodile for "Peter Pan."
CAPTION: "In the Groove" author Eric Kohler is a fan of Jim Flora's jazz album covers.