Category Archives: art my Grandpa loved

Winsor McCay

One work of comic strip art stands alone as having earned the artist, Winsor McCay, a full-fledged exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.  Little Nemo in Slumberland is a one-of-a-kind achievement in fantasy art.

Winsor McCay lived from his birth in Michigan in 1869 to his finale in Brooklyn in 1934.  In that time he created volumes full of his fine-art pages of full-page color newspaper cartoons, most in the four-color process.  

The New Year’s page 1909

As a boy, he pursued art from very early on, before he was twenty creating paintings turned into advertising and circus posters.  He spent his early manhood doing amazingly detailed half-page political cartoons built around the editorials of Arthur Brisbane,  He then became a staff artist for the Cincinnati Times Star Newspaper, illustrating fires, accidents, meetings, and notable events.  He worked in the newspaper business with American artists like Winslow Homer and Frederick Remington who also developed their art skills through newspaper illustration.  He moved into newspaper comics with numerous series strips that included Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend and Little Nemo in Slumberland.  And he followed that massive amount of work up by becoming the “Father of the Animated Cartoon” with Gertie the Dinosaur, with whom he toured the US giving public performances as illustrated in the silent film below; 

The truly amazing thing about his great volume of work was the intricate detail of every single panel and page.  It represents a fantastic amount of work hours poured into the creation of art with an intense love of drawing.  You can see in the many pages of Little Nemo how great he was as a draftsman, doing architectural renderings that rivaled any gifted architect.  His fantasy artwork rendered the totally unbelievable and the creatively absurd in ways that made them completely believable.

I bought my copy of Nostalgia Press’s Little Nemo collection in the middle 70’s and have studied it more than the Bible in the intervening years.  Winsor McCay taught me many art tricks and design flourishes that I still copy and steal to this very day.

No amount of negative criticism could ever change my faith in the talents of McCay.  But since I have never seen a harsh word written against him, I have to think that problem will never come up.

My only regret is that the wonders of Winsor McCay, being over a hundred years old, will not be appreciated by a more modern generation to whom these glorious cartoon artworks are not generally available. 

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In Praise of Louis L’Amour

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This man was my Grandpa Aldrich’s favorite author.  Grandpa had ridden the range in the Dakotas in the 1920’s and early 30’s.  He was basically an Iowa farmer for his whole life, but he rode horseback on the plains just long enough to become addicted vicariously to the life L’Amour so vividly describes in his many western novels.

Grandpa read every Louis L’Amour book the Rowan library had.  He read a few more besides.  And I have no idea how many he read twice, three times, or more.  For the last decade of his life, he did very little sleeping, being used to two hours of actual sleep a night, and spending the rest of the time reading westerns while he rested.

This reading addiction is not only one that I understand, but share.  I, too, love the westerns, the heroes, the manly and poetic prose, and the sheer story-telling ability of Louis L’Amour.  I have not yet read every single book he wrote while he was alive.  But I am working on it.

Recently I reread the book The Daybreakers, a critical cog in the story-cycle of the Sackett family.  Here is my review from Goodreads of the third time I read this book.

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The Daybreakers 
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Michael Beyer‘s review

Jul 01, 2018  ·  edit
it was amazing


This book is as much a hero’s journey as Star Wars. In some ways it is more complex. And in many ways it is a better story.
Louis L’Amour is a master storyteller. He created the narrator hero, Tyrel Sackett, as a young Luke Skywalker. His natural Force abilities are those qualities which make him a competent Westerner and a powerful gunfighter. His brother Orrin Sackett takes the Han Solo role from rogue pilot to New Mexico Sheriff and eventual congressman. Jonathan Pritts is the evil Emperor. He wants to take over the Mexican land grant belonging to the Alvarado family (Princess Leiah’s family on Alderaan). (Drusilla Alvarado is the Princess Leiah character). Ironically, Tom Sunday is a reverse Darth Vader. He befriends Tye, teaches him to read and how to be a good cattleman. And then he later turns on the Sackett family because of a wrong he feels from Orrin. The confrontation between Tye and his dark-side father figure is inevitable.
The writer abilities I see in the author deserve a much more detailed analysis than I can write here, but I loved this great American novel and strongly recommend it.

We have lost Louis L’Amour.  He will never write another book.  Which gives me a chance to read everything he wrote.  But he writes so well, and is such an important part of American literature, that is only the smallest of consolations.

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The Doctor’s Bill Comes Due

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I am in the middle of a family health meltdown.  In this time when the yearly flu epidemic is turning deadly, my two kids living at home and still in high school are both home sick.  And I am finding it difficult to pay for illnesses.  My recent trip to the hospital for a faux heart attack has left me staring down an incoming tidal wave of doctor and hospital bills.  I have been paying more for health insurance than ever before.  The lovely caring government has been mucking about with health care issues to the point that, even though I am paying thousands of dollars more per year for health insurance than I did ten years ago, I have huge medical bills that, due to higher deductables, leave more for me to pay as my portion than ever before.  I am paying twice as much for a three day stay in the hospital than I did five years ago when I had pneumonia, and was hospitalized for five days.  The Princess’s doctor visit yesterday cost me $77 dollars.  Number two son goes to the doctor this afternoon, and I have to hope it won’t cost more than that, because I am running out of Uber money for the month.

Gone are the days when I could afford to be sick.  Now, bankrupt and with no credit left to my name, I am going further into the dark lake of debt, hoping for the mercy of lawyers and credit collection agencies.  They may as well grind my bones to make their bread.  I have little else to give them.

If this sounds like a complaint rather than the humor I usually shoot for, well, that’s because that’s what it is.  I am sick and tired of always being sick and tired.  But I have to do my part to help the American economy.  It is really booming right now.  Probably because people like me are investing so much in health care, right before we die because we can’t afford to pay for the medicine the doctor prescribes.

My thanks go out to the ghost of Norman Rockwell for providing the illustrations for this post.  The pictures make me long for the good old days when doctors actually cared, and weren’t just making lots of money.  Of course, it isn’t the doctors who are making most of the money off piratical health-insurance schemes.  Whoever those people are, we never actually see their faces, and the voices we argue with over the insurance help lines are just their employees.  Anyway, I am not myself sick yet.  That probably comes later.  So I will hunker down and burrow my way through a potentially terrible week.

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Dawn in Iowa, Sunset in Texas

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The recent Iowa trip has been more or less a metaphor for my life as a whole.  I don’t mean to be funny but… wait just a minute!  Yes I do.  This is corn-shucking humor blog, after all!  But the metaphor is still there.  I was born in Iowa.

Dawn broke over the farm yesterday where Uncle Harry used to live with his wife, Aunt Jean, and their three kids, Karen, Bob, and Tom.  Bob was in my class at school.  We got into a fight once over who should be Robin Hood when we were playing with all the cousins in the old brooder house on Grandpa Aldrich’s farm, the farm where mom and dad now live.  It was a fight that got so intense that we were throwing broke flower-pot shards at each other in anger.  Bob’s hand got cut so badly that he had to go to Belmond and get stitches.  Dang, was I in trouble after that.  Bob’s version, the shard I threw hit him right in the hand, directly between his thumb and pointer finger and cut him.  My version, he cut himself as he threw a pot shard at me, and it cut him leaving his hand.  Everyone believed Bob, of course.  I’m the nutty kid that always told the stories that gave the girls nightmares.  And those stories were never true… mostly.  So they couldn’t believe my version.

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Mom and my sister Nancy designed and executed the painted barn quilt on the work shed that used to be the chicken house.

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Bucolic farm scene to represent my Iowegian past.

But life, like days and car trips, moves on.  We had to pack up the little Ford Escort that brought me home and take off once more for Texas.  I was a little bit worried about the dog.  She didn’t poop as much in Iowa as she normally does in Texas.  Well, we figured that out on the way back.  She pooped a lot of funny colors at every rest-stop dog park on the way back to Texas because of all the people food she had eaten.  She got fed better in Iowa apparently.  And it was stuff like stolen Doritos and other stuff that is so not-good-for-her.

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But going back to Texas with two kids and a dog is a lot like me after college, moving to Texas via Trailways bus in order to become a teacher.  I got a job in Cotulla, Texas, the place where LBJ taught way back when he was a young Texan and still working at being good at telling the REALLY BIG LIES.  I think I mentioned this before, but all the kids in the painting above were real kids I taught in my first year teaching (except for the kid sleeping.,, nobody did anything but hop around and yell at me my first year as a teacher… including the principal).  Oh, and the window is imaginary.  I taught for three years in a windowless concrete box with only buzzing fluorescent lights to keep the monsters from killing and eating me… or each other.  Within a decade of that first class, two of the boys had been to prison, three were already dead, and one became a star lineman for the Texas A&M football team.

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And over time I got closer and closer to my goal.  My skills became bigger and better as a teacher.  I grew in wisdom and power.  Honestly, the grass in the picture was closer to the camera than I was, so I am looming in the sky above the photographer, not tiny and smaller than the grass.  So maybe I better claim the picture was taken by fairies.  Yeah, that’s it.  Down there in the grass.  Iowegian fairies got a hold of my camera and took the picture.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.  (See.  I never really learned to get away with the REALLY BIG LIES.  A teacher, as a storyteller, has to also be a truth-teller.)

fulldance  So we returned to Texas, and that is probably where the sunset of my life will take place.  I am retired from teaching now.  I am blogging and telling lies instead… well, writing fiction.  I should have another book published soon.  And it has fairies in it.  So maybe there is still time to pull off the REALLY BIG LIES.

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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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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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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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