David Bruce: The Coolest People in Art — Mothers, Movies, Names and Titles

Mothers

• Mordecai Gerstein won the 2004 Caldecott Medal for illustrating the book The Man Who Walked Between the Towers. When he was a child, his mother made a scrapbook for him. In it were photographs of famous works of art that she had cut out of magazines. Mr. Gerstein says, “It was my own little art museum, and I lay on the floor and went through it over and over again ’til I’d memorized every picture.”

• What kind of a family does an artist come from? From a family of eccentrics and non-conformists? Not necessarily. The mother of renowned American artist Cy Twombly was hardly eccentric and non-conformist. Cy said to her, “You would be happy if I just kept well dressed and [had] good manners.” She replied, “What else is there?”

Movies

• In 2008, HBO broadcast the TV miniseries John Adams, which starred David Morse as George Washington. Much attention was paid to detail, and craftspeople built much period furniture. In fact, Mr. Morse saw a portrait of George Washington on a set, but when he looked closer at it, he saw that “it was actually a portrait of me as Washington, that they’d made a point of making sure the portraits were of the actors as the characters.”

• Film director Josef von Sternberg was an artist. One day, he was preparing to take a full-length shot of Marlene Dietrich. Celebrity photographer John Engstead noticed some dirt on the floor and asked him if he wanted it cleaned up. Mr. Sternberg replied, “If anybody looks at the dirt instead of Ms. Dietrich, none of us are any good.”

Names and Titles

• When illustrator Erik Blegvad was growing up, his mother always encouraged him. Mr. Blegvad writes that their home always had lots of art books, and his mother gave his artistic endeavors “only lavish praise and encouragement.” In July 1947, following World War II, a more grown-up Mr. Blegvad went to Paris, France, to find work as an illustrator. He took with him a bicycle, many drawings, and 10 pounds of butter that his mother said was “as good as gold” because of food shortages. However, Mr. Blegvad arrived when Paris was full of partiers celebrating Bastille Day, and he partied along with him. When the days-long party with much dancing in the streets was over, his pockets were empty and his butter had melted. Fortunately, he found work quickly. By the way, he and N.M. (Niels Mogens) Bodecker, his friend and fellow Danish illustrator, lived for a while in Westport, Connecticut, where in their studio they kept a large bulletin board on which they put a collection of letters and other documents bearing their names — which had been variously misspelled.

• George Catlin sought to paint Native Americans and Native American culture in the first half of the 1800s before their way of life was lost. One place he wished to see was the Pipestone Quarry, from which the native Americans mined the red mineral from which they made the bowls of their pipes. Eventually, he found it in southwestern Minnesota. He sent some samples to noted mineralogist Charles T. Jackson, who stated that Mr. Catlin had discovered a new mineral. Mr. Jackson named the mineral Catlinite. During his earlier travels throughout the West, Mr. Catlin made a realistic painting of the Sioux Chief One Horn, then showed it to other Native Americans, who had never seen a realistic painting before. Astonished, they gave Mr. Catlin the name “Medicine Painter.”

• Japanese painter and printmaker Katsushika Hokusai changed his name more than 30 times — whenever he wanted the meaning of his name to change. “Hokusai” means “Star of the Northern Constellation,” while his final name, Gwakio Rojin, which is written on his gravestone, means “Old Man Mad About Drawing.” He is most famous for his series of prints titled Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji. One of the prints is The Great Wave, which shows an enormous wave about to crash onto three boats — Mount Fuji can be seen framed by the curve of the wave.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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THE COOLEST PEOPLE IN ART

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