Wednesday, September 14, 2011

“Big Dawgs Playing Poker”

'A Friend in Need' by C.M. Coolidge (1903)Spent a little time today in my “Poker in American Film and Culture” class discussing that “Dogs Playing Poker” series of paintings by Cassius Marcellus Coolidge. I can see this becoming a favorite part of the syllabus for me, with the students’ responses to my invitation to analyze the paintings often including some interesting observations.

Back in 1903, Coolidge executed a group of 16 different paintings of dogs, nine of which showed them playing poker. The paintings are significant in poker’s history not just because of their eventual rise to a kind a iconic emblem -- for poker and/or for American schlock -- but for showing that poker had spread beyond steamboats, saloons, and gaming dens and into respectable-looking living rooms and other domestic settings.

That is to say, the paintings help demonstrate that poker was no longer just a game played by outlaws and gunslingers, but by just about everyone, including the lawyers and judges and other upper-middle class types on whom Coolidge based his dogs. (For more on Coolidge's paintings, see this “poker & pop culture” column I wrote for PokerNews a while back.)

'Grand Ol Gang' by Andy Thomas (2007)Coolidge's series has spawned numerous pop culture references, not to mention endless imitations and spoofs. One interesting example of an imitation-slash-homage is Andy Thomas’ 2007 series “Big Dawgs Playing Poker” in which he depicts past American presidents sitting around poker tables.

Thomas segregates his subjects into two groups, the Republicans (in “Grand Ol Gang”) and the Democrats (in “True Blues”). (Click on each to enlarge.)

'True Blues' by Andy Thomas (2007)If you’re curious, you can learn more about Thomas and his paintings at his website. Or check out this piece Jen Newell wrote for PokerWorks in which she gives further background on both Thomas and the series.

Thomas’ paintings are interesting for a few reasons, including the way they implicitly support that argument I find myself making over and over in my class regarding poker’s relevance to American culture.

Also, just like it’s humorous to see the dogs acting like humans, it’s sorta funny as well to see the presidents here imitating Coolidge’s dogs.

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Blogger Littleacornman said...

Interesting post Sir.I have the dogs playing poker pic on my digital photo frame but I didn't know the story behind it.I'd also never noticed the cigar smoking bulldog passing an Ace to his friend under the table before!

9/15/2011 8:25 AM  
Blogger Short-Stacked Shamus said...

Haha, yes... helping out "A Friend in Need." It doesn't look as though Thomas repeated that detail in his version with the presidents.

9/15/2011 8:55 AM  

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