The SOWA Vintage Market has a little something for everyone. Open every Sunday in Boston’s South End neighborhood, it has three long rooms housing a variety of vintage ware dealers. Some dealers are there regularly, while others rotate in and out. The fun, energetic music adds to the charm of discovering clothes ranging from glitzy 50’s-era cocktail dresses and sparkly baubles to clear acrylic platform shoes, feathered hats and Jackie-O style jackets with big buttons and 3/4-length sleeves. Non-wearables might be anything from record albums and old paintings to repainted furniture, ceramic ramekins, lamps, signs, curious storage containers and carry-alls, and giant metal mixing paddles for commercial mixers. This past weekend, one of my companions picked up a pair of square-toed black velvet Ferragamo pumps in great condition for $22.
This winter I found a copy of LIFE Magazine there from September 5, 1969. I bought it for $15. What attracted me to this particular issue was the image on the cover of the head of a then young Peter Max floating upon a pastel pink, blue, lavender and yellow sea of his own artwork. The artwork is made to look as though it is being peeled away like an onion skin to reveal rows of dollar signs behind it. And the headline — Peter Max: Portrait of the artist as a very rich man.
In 2010, I wrote a blog piece called Circling Back to Peter Max in Another Galaxy, reminiscing about his artistic influence on me and about meeting him at an art reception in Providence, RI. Naturally, I was interested in this LIFE Magazine issue, published when I was 11 years old and just becoming aware of Max’s art. I knew he’d gained fame and wealth at a young age, so I wasn’t surprised that this article described him as a tycoon at 29, owning five companies and licensing his designs to 50 other companies.
Its author, whose name is not given, describes Max’s art at the time as “a savory rehash of art nouveau, pop and op. It’s every bit as exotic and eclectic as his three-continent background: he was born in Berlin and brought up in Shanghai, Israel, Paris and Brooklyn.”
One of several two-page spreads in the article is captioned “Self-portrait of the artist voyaging through a kaleidoscopic cosmos.” It features a poster which, “created especially for LIFE, is a pictorial autobiography of the artist. Entitled Portrait of the Artist at the Dawn of the Golden Age, it chronicles Max’s terrestrial and spiritual journey through life.”
It’s a weird little slice of 20th-century American history to see this in the Art section of this old magazine, beside a story about Japanese GI babies coming of age, and another about Richard Nixon’s five-acre retreat at San Clemente, complete with photos of top aides H.R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman bare-chested and preparing their sailboat for a cruise off the California coast. There are ads for Del Monte canned creamy-style corn, for Sony’s Digimatic Forget-You-Not clock radio in Deluxe Hardwood sporting a handy speaker that hides under your pillow, and for Viceroy and Marlboro cigarettes. The magazine’s cover price: 40 cents.