Mel Birnkrant Presents:
All of the Art on this site is one of a kind, created by CHARLES PONSTINGL, for the sheer joy of it.
He intended it as loving homage to the Great Comic Artists of former days.
The images are based upon the work of many, including some that were created by, and are
“Copyright The Walt Disney Company” The writing and photography is “Copyright Mel Birnkrant”.
Toy dealers and toy collectors are often one in the same. Many dealers begin as collectors, and sell to others in order to maintain their hobby. Then, over time, some collectors become fulltime dealers, but, nonetheless, the inspired quest to discover treasures remains unchanged. The most creative dealers are gifted with an “Eye”, able to see uniqueness and beauty in objects others would see as ordinary. Then, they have to take the chance of investing their money, in the hopes that some collector will verify their foresight by purchasing that object at a profit. The most gifted dealers know exactly how to price an item, based solely on its rarity or intrinsic aesthetic merit. These dealers love collectors who verify their vision, and visa versa. They often become the best of friends.
On the other hand, there are some dealers, who are just in it for the money; for them, the word “customer” is synonymous with “victim”. They price an item based on their cunning ability to intuit a customer’s level of obsession, and ask whatever outrageous price they sense their dependency will bear. And so it is, toy dealers run the gamut, from Princely to Predatory. As a collector, I have tiptoed through the two extremes, smitten with many dealers, bitten by a few. It is from this rarified group of unique individuals, toy collectors and toy dealers, that I have collected most of my best friends, and perhaps, an enemy or two.
And so the tale begins: Ron Van Anda, a friend and gentleman, is one of the princely dealers. Among the wide range that antique dealers span, he’s one that I always considered a Class Act. Ron has a fabulous “eye”, particularly for folk art, and, occasionally, Comic Characters. He has sold me many amazing things over the years; and he and his wife Sandy are among the small list of trusted dealers. who were always welcome visitors here.
On the first day of the first Brimfield Flea Market of 1978, Ron told me he had something he thought I would like. And took me to his van to show me four shadow boxes with scenes carved out of wood. They were a little primitive, a little naive, but quite fabulous. Ron, as usual, was right; they were, indeed, something I would like. He explained that they were four of sixteen, the rest of which were various sizes, some smaller, some larger. He had put four in his van to show me and left the rest at home. If I was interested, he would deliver the other twelve to me.
It is amazing how even these, the first four carvings that Ron showed me displayed characteristics that proved to be prophetic; touches of unspoiled freshness that have never faded from Charles’ art, in the many years that followed. This first, in which the Little Bad Wolf is handing his dad a can of beans, while Papa studies a book of pork recipes, is typical of Charles' propensity to portray a scene that often seems elusively arbitrary; characters caught in mid-action, rather than posing for the camera in an iconic fashion. Then, he freezes the moment in wood for all Eternity.
And this is the story that Ron told me: An old time toy dealer, who I’ll call “Tom”, had acquired these carvings, of which there were twenty. It seemed that Tom was keeping four and sold the remaining sixteen. They were the work of a man who Tom’s son had met at work. This guy was described as a “crazy old coot”, a cantankerous old timer, who refused to take suggestions or requests, and just carved what he pleased. None of that mattered, anyway, as has he had stopped at twenty carvings, and was never going to carve again!
Another toy dealer, Jimmy Maxwell, famous for unique finds and record breaking prices, both as a seller and a buyer, had gone into partnership with Ron, and together they purchased the sixteen carvings from Tom. Then, Ron bought out Jimmy’s share, and offered all sixteen pieces to me for $2,000! Huh? The price seemed unbelievable! All these high-priced dealers, passing them from one to another, and they ended up at $125. each! That was ridiculous! Of course, I wanted them! I wondered what Tom gave the poor old man who did them? Well, part of the story Tom told Ron was that the guy who carved them put them on display in a bank, priced at $20 each, and nobody bought any. Knowing Tom, I could speculate with some certainty that he bought them from the carver for even less than that.
So, I carried the first four carvings to my vehicle and spent the next few nights, throughout the week of Brimfield, sleeping in my station wagon with the four carvings beside me, admiring them and wondering what the subject matter of the other twelve might be.
This second carving was my favorite. Admittedly, the pigs were a little crude, and the composition a little bottom heavy, but Oh my God, look at that fireplace! Pure insanity! The brave and brazen audacity of carving splashing water out of wood blows me away! And the slap-dashes of flame! Either the room is bathed in golden light, or the pigs have been playing with orange paint.
Before photographing the many carvings that appear on this site, I had to carefully clean each one, and sweep away decades of dust. I thought it would be a tedious task, but, actually, I enjoyed it immensely. In the process, I rediscovered nuances that I had long ago forgotten, and discovered others that I had, incredebly, never noticed until now. Viewing the newly cleaned carvings through the camera’s objective eye, enabled me to see each one of them anew, and fall in love with them, all over again.
This is only the beginning of a story that spans nearly 40 years! You aint seen nothin' yet! As you travel from page to page, be prepared to be AMAZED!
Charles' off the wall solutions to impossible challenges are always surprising. Blotches of orange paint on everything! And yet it works! Over time, he would find other ways to portray light. But for now, OW! The flames have licked the heel of that wild and crazy wolf foot, protruding from the pot.
Bugs and Elmer is pretty much straight forward. Charles finds this early carving most amusing, as Elmer has two right hands. That's the kind of mistake he would never make again.
Last of the four, is Bucky Bug. How I loved this offbeat comic strip when I was a kid! This carving exemplifies Charles’ playful tendency to not supply a single straight-on perfect viewing angle. Here, two main Characters, “June” and “Bo”, are only visible from above and to the side. And Bucky's head is turned away.