• Steven Heller

Shootin Something in a Barrel

A couple of weeks ago, Barry Blitt‘s illustration for Frank Rich’s column in the Times featured George Washington’s Wall Street effigy wearing a barrel (below). I always loved the barrel image. It was used in the early part of the previous century* to show that someone was in such dire financial straits that he’d literally “lost his shirt,” and everything else (‘cept for socks) and has to resort to wearing a barrel, usually held up with suspenders. This image may have derived from an actual punishment for public drunkenness in Germany and England, where besotted souls had to wear a booze barrel (also known as a “drunkard’s cloak”). It’s unclear how barrel wearing became associated with bankruptcy (perhaps public drunkards are always hard up for money?), but the symbol stuck and is loosely fitting for these times. Do you have any examples of barrels in this or other contexts, or any other images of financial woe? (no apples please)

Also, for an interview with Barry Blitt in this issue of Varoom, click here for info.

*This sentence has been updated.

About Steven Heller

Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes frequently for Wired and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 170 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal and is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.View all posts by Steven Heller →