David Bruce: The Coolest People in Art — Animals, Beauty

From Bruce Anecdotes


• Artist Jeffrey Vallance grew up with a father who hated the snails in the family’s garden — he would stomp on them. Therefore, on 4 July 1976, Jeffrey gathered as many of the snails he could find and painted an American flag on their shells. He thought that would stop his father from stomping on the snails, but actually the flags made the snails more visible to his father. Therefore, Jeffrey asked his father to stop stomping on the snails, and his father complied. A local newspaper did a couple of local-color articles about the snails, but his father eventually poisoned the snails and killed them. Jeffrey gathered the snails’ shells and then mounted them along with copies of the newspaper articles. He then began selling the snails for $200 each and told his father that “every time he was putting his foot down [and crushing a snail], that was like $200 gone!” Money was something his father understood.

• As a kid, children’s book illustrator/author Diana Cain Bluthenthal did not have any real pets: Her parents did not want the fuss of taking care of real pets. Therefore, Diana’s “pets” were mainly two houseplants. In addition, she carried pussy willow branches in her pockets, and they became her pets. She says, “When their fur fell off, I was so upset. I was truly a child in need of something to love and something to love me.” As an adult with a family, she has many pets: a small snake, two pet rats, a tank of fish, and two dogs. During warm weather, the family has many more pets in what she calls her family’s “summer catch-and-release program”: ants (in an ant farm), caterpillars, crickets, frogs, lizards, salamanders, toads, and turtles. She says, “I’ve never been accused of having a farm, but once my husband did say to me the place was becoming a zoo.”

• In 1969 and 1970, punk singer Patti Smith and photographer Robert Mapplethorpe lived together in the Chelsea Hotel, along with many other artists and eccentrics. She often sat in the lobby, people-watching. One day she sat in the lobby after buying a stuffed black crow from the Museum of the American Indian. Salvador Dali, dressed in a black and scarlet cape, saw her holding the crow. He touched her shoulder and said to her, “You are like a crow, a gothic crow.”

• Children’s book illustrator Ted Lewin grew up in a household with lots of unusual animals as pets — a lion, a chimpanzee, and many monkeys. (Their neighbors called the Lewins “the circus people.”) One afternoon, young Ted made many drawings of Jago the chimpanzee as he lay on the porch. When Jago woke up, apparently he didn’t like the drawings — he immediately bit Ted.


• Celebrity photography can be an art, and photographers appreciate actresses who truly know what kind of makeup works for them. In 1944, Ingrid Bergman had a sitting with celebrity photographer John Engstead, who had been told by David Selznick’s assistant producer William Perreira, “We’re going to change Ingrid Bergman’s image. We’re going to glamorize her … a new makeup, a new hairstyle, and a new wardrobe, and we’d like you to photograph her.” Mr. Engstead set up his lights while Ms. Bergman’s image was changed, and eventually the “transforming” man came out of the “transforming” room and told him, “She’s changing. She looks great. I changed her eyebrows, added false lashes, and shaded the face.” When Ms. Bergman came out, however, she did not look transformed — she looked like the same beautiful Ingrid Bergman. She explained, ‘I don’t mind trying something new, but I think I know what is best for me and this glamour makeup is not right. I look better with nothing on my face.” After the transformation, Ms. Bergman had washed off the makeup and combed her hair in her own way. Of course, she was beautiful and she looked beautiful, and her photographs that day showed her beauty.

• African-American artist Tom Feelings knew that he had to make the point that black is beautiful after traveling to the American South in 1961. He met a seven-year-old black girl whom he thought was beautiful, but the girl told Mr. Feelings, “Nothin’ black is beautiful.” Mr. Feelings created with his wife, Muriel, such books as Jambo Means Hello (1974), which emphasizes black beauty. The book contains this passage: “Uuzur imeans beauty. Beauty means different things in different parts of Africa. In one, it is a woman with a clean-shaven head; in another it is a great crown of braided hair.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved



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