Category Archives: art my Grandpa loved

A $3.00 Treasure Trove

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If you cruise the bargain sections in an old used book store like Half-Price Books, eventually you are going to find something priceless.  This book I am showing you is that very thing for me.

It was copyrighted in 1978.  The inscription inside the front cover says this was a Father’s Day gift on June 19th, 1988.  Someone named Gary gifted it to someone named Claude in Burleson, Texas.  It was probably a cherished book until someone passed away and the book changed hands in an estate sale.

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Howard Pyle

The book chronicles the height of the publishing era when being able to print books and reproduce artworks began entertaining the masses.  Always before painters and great artists worked for a patron for the purpose of decorating their home in a way that displayed their great wealth.  But from the 1880’s to the rise of cinema, magazines and books kept the masses entertained, helped more people to become literate than ever before, and created the stories that made our shared culture and life experiences grow stronger and ever more inventive.  The book focuses on the best of the best among a new breed of artist… the illustrators.

These are the ones the book details;

Howard Pyle, N.C. Wyeth, Frederick Remington, Maxfield Parrish, J.C. Leyendecker, Norman Rockwell, Charles Dana Gibson, Howard Chandler Christy, James Montgomery Flagg, and John Held Jr.

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N.C. Wyeth

Wyeth was most famous as a book illustrator for Treasure Island, Kidnapped, other books by Robert Louis Stevenson, Mark Twain,  and a famous volume of tales about Robin Hood.

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Frederick Remington

Remington is a name you probably know as a maker of Western art.  He was a famous painter of cowboys and Indians and the American frontier.

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Maxfield Parrish

Maxfield Parrish is my all-time favorite painter.  His work is something I gushed about in previous posts because I own other books about his fanciful works painted in Maxfield Parrish blue.

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Also Maxfield Parrish

 

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J.C. Leyendecker

You will probably recognize Leyendecker’s work in magazine and advertising illustration as the standard of the Roaring 20’s.  His paintings set a style that swept American culture for more than a decade, and still affects how we dress to this very day.

 

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More Leyendecker

 

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Even more from Leyendecker

 

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Norman Rockwell

Norman Rockwell and his work for The Saturday Evening Post is still familiar to practically everyone who reads and looks at the illustrations.  As you can see he was a master of folksy realism and could do a portrait better than practically anyone.

 

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Also Rockwell

I have also written about Norman Rockwell before too.  I have half a dozen books that include his works.  My wife is from the Philippines and she knew about him before I ever said a word to her about him.

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Charles Dana Gibson

As you can plainly see, Gibson was a master of pen and ink.  His work for Collier’s and other magazines thrills in simple black and white.  More cartoonists than just little ol’ me obsess about how he did what he did.

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Also Gibson

 

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James Montgomery Flagg… with a name like that, who else could it be?

 

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John Held Jr.

The work of Held is stylistically different than all the rest in easily noticeable ways.  He’s the guy that made all the big-headed Pinocchio-looking people in the 1920’s.  You may have seen his work before, though you probably never knew his name.

This bit of someone else’s treasure hoard will now become a part of my own dragon’s treasure, staying by my bedside for quite a while, while I continue to suck the marrow from each of its bones.  I love this book.  It is mine, and you can’t have it… unless you find your own copy in a used bookstore somewhere.

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Filed under art criticism, art my Grandpa loved, book reports, book review, humor, illustrations, imagination, oil painting, old art, old books, pen and ink, Uncategorized

Goodbye, Sweet Gene

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I’m going to miss him.  I’m really going to miss him.  I know he suffered from Alzheimer’s and hadn’t really done anything new and exciting in a while, but still, I always knew that he was still there.  He was still Gene Wilder.  Not only that, he was still Willy Wonka, still the Waco Kid from Blazing Saddles, still Dr. Frankenstein from Young Frankenstein, which he not only starred in, but wrote.

He was also Gilda Radner’s husband.  The great love of his life, gone too as a victim of cancer back in 1989.

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The first time I ever saw him on screen was in college, in film class.  We watched Mel Brooks’ The Producers on the classroom projector.

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We studied the movie in class as evidence that comedy films are difficult to make, but have a potential to be truly great film achievements.  That same year, both Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein hit the big screens in Ames, Iowa.   I saw and loved them both.  Of course, I had watched the televised version of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory on Grandma Beyer’s color TV sometime before that.

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Gene Wilder helped me see that I could live in a world of pure imagination.  And that I could be whatever I truly wished to be.

I’m definitely going to miss that man.

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Filed under art my Grandpa loved, artists I admire, feeling sorry for myself, finding love, humor, movie review

The Clock on the Wall

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Who in their right mind writes an essay about a clock on the wall?  Well, the “right mind” thing gives me an out.  I do watch the clock on the wall.  Especially now that I am old, and the sand in the hour glass is running out.  The clock on the wall can be quite entertaining.  Especially one like the cuckoo clock that hangs in my parents’ front entryway.  On the hour, the dancers twirl and the two goofballs in lederhosen saw away at the log they will never be able to cut in two.

My wife and I gave that clock to my parents as a gift for their 50th wedding anniversary.  We bought it in Texas and brought it on a visit back to the family farm in Iowa.  Having old German relatives as a boy, I remember waiting impatiently for the clock to strike in Great Aunt Selma’s house, anxious to see the cuckoo pop out  and the clockwork entertainment do its little mechanical show.  I’d have gladly wished on a star for the hours to pass instantly… to see the show again right away… and be older and wiser and able to do more.  Back then it seemed like older folks like Aunt Selma lived forever, with her dried-apple face and German accent.  Accumulated time seemed to have majesty and power.  It was magical.

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But now I am old.  My joints hurt every time I move.  I can’t get out of bed of a morning easily.  Parts of me that I used to take for granted no longer work.  I have forgotten what it feels like to feel good and full of energy.  The time on the face of this old clock hasn’t changed in nearly a decade.  My parents don’t keep it wound.  We no longer look forward to the clock-Kinder dancing so often.  If the clock stays forever at five after four, maybe the grim reaper won’t come knock at the door.

I have always believed that there was magic in old cuckoo clocks.  It was a simple, earnest faith in magic that only a child can truly know.  But now, as an old man, I remember.

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Filed under art my Grandpa loved, autobiography, commentary, family, feeling sorry for myself, humor, metaphor, strange and wonderful ideas about life

The Lovely Lennon Sisters

Grandpa and Grandma Aldrich lived on the family farm outside of town, a little more than two miles from the tiny farm town of Rowan, Iowa.  I walked it more than once.  It was faster to walk the railroad tracks between the two places.  About a mile and three quarters as the crow flies… three hours as the boy investigates the critters in the weeds, throws rocks at dragonflies, and listens to the birdsong along the way.  But the point is, my maternal grandparents lived close enough to have a profound influence on my young life.  Much of what they loved became what I love.  And every Saturday night, they loved to watch the Lawrence Welk Show.  And that show had highlights that we longed to see again and again… on a show that never really went into reruns.  We lived to see Jo Ann Castle play the old rinky-tink piano, Bobby and Cissy doing a dance routine, and most of all… the lovely Lennon Sisters.

I always wanted to be the things they wished me to be in the song “May You Always”.  I wanted to “walk in sunshine” and “live with laughter”.  They presented a world of possibilities all clean and good and wholesome.  As a young boy who hated girls, I had a secret crush on Janet Lennon who was the youngest, though a decade older than me, and on Peggy Lennon, the one with the exotic Asian eyes.  They sang to me and spoke directly to my heart.

You have to believe in something when you are young.  The world can present you with so many dark and hurtful experiences, that you simply have to have something to hang onto and keep you from being blighted and crippled by the pain.  For me it often came in the form of a lovely and simple lyric sung by the lovely Lennon Sisters.  When you are faced with hard choices… especially in those dark moments when you think about ending it all because it is all just too much to bear, the things stored in those special pockets of your heart are the only things that can save you.  For me, one of those things will always be the music of the Lennon Sisters… especially when watched on the old black and white TV in the farmhouse where my grandparents lived, and helped to raise me, every Saturday night in the 1960’s.

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Filed under art my Grandpa loved, battling depression, Celebration, humor, inspiration, nostalgia, strange and wonderful ideas about life, TV review

Big Eyes

141202210752_margaret_keane_304x171_margaretkeaneYesterday, before the big game, I watched the DVD I bought of Tim Burton’s Golden Globe Award movie, Big Eyes.  It is the true-story bio-pic of an artist I loved as a kid, Margaret Keane… though I knew her as Walter Keane.

This movie is the bizarre real-life tale of an artist whose art was stolen from her by a man she loved, and supposedly loved her back.  I have to wonder how you deal with a thing like that as an artist?  I live in obscurity as an artist.  My art has been published in several venues, but I have never been paid a dime for it.  All I have ever gotten is publication in return for “exposure”, and limited exposure at that.  But my art always brought vigor, joy, and light to my career as a school teacher.  My art was always my own, and had either my own name on it, or the name Mickey on it.  I shared my drawing skill in ways that directly impacted the lives of other people.  It enriched my “teacher life”.

Mrs. Keane’s hauntingly beautiful big-eyed children appealed to the cartoonist in me.  They expressed such deeply-felt character and emotion, that I was obsessed with imitating them.  In fact, the “big-eye-ness” of them can still be detected in some of my work.  I remember wondering how these children, mostly girls, could be drawn by a grown man.  What was his obsession with little girls?  But the true story reveals that he was a man so desperate to have art talent and notoriety that he put his name on his wife’s work, made her paint in secret, and eventually convinced himself that it was actually his.  He had a real genius for marketing art, and he invented many of  the art-market ploys that would later inform the careers of homely artists like Paul Detlafsen and Thomas Kinkaid.  One wonders if Mrs. Keane could’ve ever become famous and popular without him.

 

The movie itself is a Tim Burton masterpiece that reveals the artist that lives within the filmmaker himself.  I love Burton’s movies for their visual mastery and artistic atmosphere.  They are all very different in look and feel.  Batman was very dark and Gothic, inventing an entirely new way of seeing Batman that differed remarkably from the 60’s TV series.  Edward Scissorhands was full of muted, pastel colors and gentle humor.  Alice in Wonderland was full of bright colors and oddly distorted fantasy characters.  Dark Shadows was Gothic melodrama in 70’s pop-art style.  This movie was true to the paintings that inspired it and visually saturate it.  It is beautiful and colorful, while also serious and somber.  It makes you contemplate the tears in the eyes of the big-eyed waifs in so many of the pictures.  It is a movie “I love with a love that is more than a love in this kingdom by the sea”… if I may get all obsessive like Edgar Allen Poe.

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So, there you have it.  Not so much a movie review as an effusion of love and admiration for an artist’s entire life and work.  I am captivated… fascinated… addicted… all the things I always feel about works of great art.

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People All Have Worth

2nd Doctor  I know that you are probably immediately listing all the reasons that my title is totally wacky monkey-thinking in your head.  And if you want to lay into me in the comments, you are more than welcome.  But the reality is that teachers have to develop the mindset that all kids can learn and all people have value… no matter what.  That can be hard to accept when you factor in how corrupted, warped, and badly-taught so many people have turned out to be.  It honestly seems, sometimes, that when faced with the facts of how people act… being violent, or greedy, self-centered, thoughtless, un-caring, and willfully stupid… that they really don’t even have value to others if you kill them, let them rot, and try to use them as fertilizer.  The plants you fertilize with that stuff will come up deformed.

But the Doctor I have pictured here, the Second Doctor played by Patrick Troughton always seemed to find Earth people delightful.  Alien people too, for that matter, unless they were soulless mobile hate receptacles in robotic trash cans like the Daleks, or mindless machines powered by stolen human brains like the Cybermen.  There is, indeed, music in every soul, even if some of it is a little bit discordant and awkward.  And people are not born evil.  The classic study done on Brazilian street kids showed that even with no resources to share and living empty, hopeless lives, the children helped one another, comforted one another, and refused to exploit one another.  As a teacher you get to know every type that there is.  And there are stupid kids (deprived of essential resources necessary to learning), and evil kids (lashing out at others for the pain inflicted upon them), and needy kids (who can never get enough of anything you might offer and always demand more, MORE, MORE!)  Sometimes they drive you insane and make you want to resign and leave the country to go count penguins in Antarctica.  But the Doctor is right.  No matter what has been done to them, if you get to know them, and treat them as individual people rather than as problems… they are delightful!  Andrew

So let me show you a few old drawings of people.

Cute people like Andrew here.

Or possibly stupid and goofy people who never get things right.

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Or long-dead people who made their contributions long ago, and sacrificed everything to make our lives different… if not better.DSCN4448

Supe n Sherry_nOr young people who live and learn and hopefully love…

And try really hard at whatever they do… whether they have talent or not.

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And hope and dream and play and laugh…

And sometimes hate… (but hopefully not too much)…

And can probably tell that I really like to draw people…

Because God made them all for a reason…

even if we will never find out what that reason is.

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Filed under art my Grandpa loved, humor, Paffooney, philosophy

Toonerville, a Place I Once Lived In

There is a place so like the place where my heart and mind were born that I feel as if I have always lived there.  That place is a cartoon panel that ran in newspapers throughout the country from 1913 to 1955 (a year before I was born in Mason City, Iowa).  It was called Toonerville Folks and was centered around the famous Toonerville Trolley.

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Fontaine Fox was born near Louisville Kentucky in 1884.  Louisville, of course is one of the two cities that claims to be the inspiration for Toonerville.  Apparently the old Brook Street Line Trolley in Louisville was always run-down, operating on balls of twine and bailing wire for repair parts.  The people of Pelham, New York, however, point to a trolley ride Fox took in 1909 on Pelham’s rickety little trolley car with a highly enterprising and gossip-dealing old reprobate for a conductor.  No matter which it was, Fox’s cartoon mastery took over and created Toonerville, where you find the famous trolley that “meets all trains”.

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I didn’t learn of the comic strip’s existence until I was in college, but once I found it (yes, I am the type of idiot who researches old comics in university libraries), I couldn’t get enough of it.  Characters like the Conductor, the Powerful (physically) Katrinka, and the terrible-tempered Mr. Bang can charm the neck hair off of any Midwestern farm-town boy who is too stupid to regret being born in the boring old rural Midwest.

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I fancied myself to be just like the infamous Mickey (himself) McGuire.  After all, we have the same first name… and I always lick any bully or boob who wants to put up a fight (at least in my daydreams).

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So, this is my tribute to the cartoonist who probably did more to warp my personality and make me funny (well, at least easy to laugh at! ) than any other influence.  All of the cartoons in this post can be credited to Fontaine Fox.  And all the people in them can be blamed on Toonerville, the town I used to live in, though I never really knew it until far too late.

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