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"Wars of the Taste Police: The Battle Against Lawn Ornaments"

George Catlung

Young Catlung was one of the earliest painters to document the opening of the American West. He painted innumerable portraits of members of Indian tribes, and even more pictures of buffalo until he realized there was no money in it. As poverty and depression set in, he began considering a career as a political cartoonist, although he knew full well it would have broken the heart of his mother, who thought Nast was nasty.

He was fortunately recruited at a critical moment to document the activities of the Taste Police, a group founded by Minot Vandermorgan, shown at the lower left in this painting. Vandermorgan was affronted by the lowering of aesthetic standards in the burgeoning frontier towns. He was horrified to discover that yellow was the most popular color for a hotel, and he once left a town after seeing a lavender outhouse. Upon discovering the prevalence of lacquered papier-mâché ornaments as a substitute for the honest craftsmanship of carving, casting and turning, he and his army of volunteers set forth to raise national standards by any means necessary.

In this painting we see Vandermorgan about to lead a raid on Pokey's Flamingo Paradise, where hundreds of the cheap lawn ornaments had been set out to dry after being painted a dreadful shade of pink that Vandermorgan described as "rose-barf." The highly successful attack was estimated to have kept over 800 households from the ignominy of such a tasteless front-yard decoration.

Catlung's complete series, which includes "Dynamiting a Traincar of Little Windmills," "Assassination of the Inventor of Miniature Golf" and "Death of a Checkered-Suit Salesman" is in the private collection of the Archie McPhee Family Trust and not viewable by the public.


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