National Portrait Gallery Presents Portrait of Charles M. Schulz to Commemorating the 60th Anniversary of "Peanuts" Debut
A photograph of “Peanuts” creator Charles M. Schulz (1922–2000) will be presented to the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in a ceremony for invited guests Oct. 1. The event recognizes the cartoonist’s impact on millions of people worldwide and coincides with commemorations surrounding the 60th anniversary of “Peanuts.” The 1986 photograph, created by acclaimed portraitist Yousuf Karsh, is the Portrait Gallery’s first image of the famed cartoonist. In the image, Schulz is at his drawing board with pen in hand. Before him is a partially completed “Peanuts” full-page comic featuring the perennially popular story line in which Lucy snatches the football away from Charlie Brown and sends him hurtling through the air. The photograph, with the accompanying original comic strip, will be on view to the public immediately following the ceremony in the museum’s “New Arrivals” exhibition.
“The Portrait Gallery has many editorial cartoonists and their cartoons in its collection, but this is the first of Charles Schulz and his adored characters,” said Martin Sullivan, director of the museum. “Schulz dealt with life’s everyday moments with humanity and humor.”
On Saturday, Oct. 2, the museum will host a friends-and-family day for all ages with programs inspired by the cartoonist and his characters. Snoopy will be available for photographs; Joe Wos, cartoonist in residence at the Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, Calif., will offer workshops throughout the day; and Sean Lane and the Bay Jazz Project will provide musical entertainment. Children will be invited to join the band to play percussion instruments. Later in the day, the museum will screen the popular “Peanuts” special It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. Lee Mendelson, a longtime friend of Schulz and executive producer of all the classic “Peanuts” specials, including Great Pumpkin and A Charlie Brown Christmas, will be on hand for a discussion and to answer questions from fans.
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History will also mark the 60th anniversary of the “Peanuts” strip with a case that will feature objects from Schulz, including drawing utensils, an animation cell from the television special It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and two comic panels that show the cartoon’s progression from rough pencil sketches to finished ink strips.
Schulz once described himself as “born to draw comic strips.” A Minneapolis native, he was just two days old when an uncle nicknamed him “Sparky,” after the horse Spark Plug from the “Barney Google” comic strip. Throughout his youth, he and his father shared a Sunday-morning ritual of reading the funnies. After serving in the army during World War II, Schulz got his first big break in 1947 when he sold a cartoon feature called “Li’l Folks” to the St. Paul Pioneer Press. In 1950, Schulz met with United Feature Syndicate, and on Oct. 2 of that year, “Peanuts,” so named by the syndicate, debuted in seven newspapers. Schulz died in Santa Rosa, Calif., Feb. 12, 2000—just hours before his last original strip was to appear in Sunday papers.
“Peanuts,” one of America’s most beloved comic strips, ran without interruption for nearly 50 years. Encores of the comic strip appear today in more than 2,200 newspapers in 75 countries and 21 languages. “Peanuts” animated specials have become seasonal traditions, and thousands of consumer products are available. Charlie Brown kicking the football, Linus and his blanket and Lucy leaning over Schroeder’s piano are images to which everyone can relate. Phrases such as “security blanket” and “good grief” are a part of the global vernacular.
The photograph of Schulz has been donated to the National Portrait Gallery by Estrellita Karsh, in memory of Yousuf Karsh.
McEvoy Auditorium, Lower Level American Art Museum, National Portrait Gallery
The American Pictures series offers a highly original approach to art and portraiture, pairing great works of art with leading figures of contemporary American culture. Each American Pictures event features an eminent writer, thinker, historian, or artist who speaks about a single, powerful image and explores its meaning. The series director is historian and essayist Adam Goodheart, who is director of the C. V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience at Washington College.
Lectures begin at 4:30 p.m. Free tickets available in the G Street lobby one hour prior.
Saturday, April 17, 4:30 p.m. Cartoonist Jules Feiffer on Bob Landry's Fred Astaire in "Puttin' on the Ritz"
Science fiction, children's book and occasional Mad comic book artist James Warhola will be at the National Portrait Gallery on June 20th at 12:15 for their Warholapalooza! event. He'll be reading from and signing his children's book about his uncle Andy Warhol, but I imagine he'll be open to questions or signing other material.
Roz Chast, Harold Holzer, Jamaica Kincaid and John Waters Participate in Second Annual Lecture Series
WASHINGTON, DC.- This spring, the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, in partnership with Washington College in Chestertown, Md., present the second annual “American Pictures Distinguished Lecture Series.” The 2009 series speakers are Roz Chast, internationally recognized cartoonist for the New Yorker; leading Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer; critically acclaimed novelist Jamaica Kincaid; and actor, writer, visual artist and filmmaker John Waters.
“American Pictures” pairs great works of art with pre-eminent figures of contemporary American culture. Each lecture features a writer, critic, historian or artist who chooses a single image and investigates its meanings. In the process, the speaker also explores how works of art inspire creativity in many different fields and reveal American identity or a shared history. The series director is historian and essayist Adam Goodheart, who is director of the C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience at Washington College.
The series debuts Saturday, March 21, when Waters offers his insights into Cy Twombly’s drawing “Letter of Resignation” (1967). Kincaid will discuss the painting “Kept In” (1889) by Edward Lamson Henry Saturday, April 11. Holzer will examine John Henry Brown’s portrait of Abraham Lincoln (1860) Saturday, April 18. The 2009 series concludes Sunday, April 26, with Chast’s exploration of Charles Addams’s famous cartoon “Boiling Oil” (1946).
Additional information about the series and the speakers is available online at americanart.si.edu and npg.si.edu or in a printed brochure that is available at the museums’ information desks.
“American Pictures” is made possible through the pioneering partnership among Washington College, the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Additional support comes from the Starr Foundation, the Hodson Trust, the Hedgelawn Foundation and other donors.
Here are reviews for the fall issue of the International Journal of Comic Art that I just turned in tonight. I'm posting them here first because I usually say that I'll be doing a more complete review, but don't get around to it until the last minute. 2 of these shows are gone, but the Herblock exhibit is still up and well worth seeing. Scrooged! Arnold Blumberg, Andy Herschberger, and John K. Snyder Jr. Baltimore, MD: Geppi’s Entertainment Museum, February 29-May 31, 2008. http://www.geppismuseum.com/
Thanks to the generosity of curator Arnold Blumberg, I saw this exhibit almost a month before it officially opened. All the artwork had been hung, but its final form was different with more labeling and information. Carl Barks was the focus of the exhibit – the title derives from Uncle Scrooge, Barks’ most enduring creation for Disney. The exhibit was rather diffuse, not focusing on any particular aspect of either Scrooge or Barks. It included the complete original artwork for the Scrooge story “North of the Yukon,” oil paintings of the Disney Ducks, oil paintings of landscapes from the 1960s, prints of “Famous Characters In Fictions As Waterfowl,” i.e. Robin Hood as a anthropometric duck, from when Disney was not permitting Barks to paint their ducks, pencil sketches of Disney work, and Another Rainbow objects such as a Faberge egg with Scrooge inside. All the items exhibited are apparently owned by museum founder and Diamond Distributors owner Steve Geppi.
Certainly displaying the entire original “North of the Yukon” artwork is justification enough for a small exhibit on Barks, and I enjoyed this show even though it did not really hold together. See Barks’ small landscapes which were obviously done for his own pleasure, scenes as so many cartoonists do in their retirement, was satisfying. Seeing him draw rather sexy dancing female ducks was odd, but interesting. Blumberg said to me, “I found it most fascinating looking at the paintings. There’s something really luminescent in the way the characters leap off the painting. It’s so much more than a casual viewer expects from a cartoonist.” Blumberg may be selling many cartoonists a bit short, but there is a peculiar fascination in seeing Donald Duck rendered using Old Master techniques, and the exhibit was worth visiting to see examples of Barks’ art beyond the pages of the comic book.
The museum’s current exhibit is “Out of the Box” – a playroom for the type of toys that will eventually make it into the Museum.
Heroes of the Negro League. Mark Chiarello, Michael Barry and Leslie Combemale. Reston, VA: ArtInsights, March 29-May 30, 2008. http://www.artinsights.com/
This exhibit is reviewed by virtue of Chiarello’s position as art editor for DC Comics. In 1990, Chiarello, in collaboration with his best friend Jack Morelli, created baseball cards for forgotten baseball players from the Negro Leagues, who had never had cards in America before. These paintings were watercolors over pencil that were based on photographs. The exhibit came about as the paintings were collected in a book, Heroes of the Negro Leagues (Abrams, 2007; $19.95, ISBN-10: 0810994348). Chiarello and Morelli did research at Cooperstown and the Schomburg Center in Harlem, and Chiarello painted the images from photographs and, surprisingly baseball cards – which had been issued in Cuba and Venezuela for some of the players.
Gallery co-owner Leslie Combemale interviewed Chiarello for a March 10th press release that is no longer on the gallery’s website. An exchange on Chiarello’s techniques is worthy of reprinting here:
LC- The Negro Leagues players portraits have a depth that goes beyond just (an image) How do you find the perfect picture to use? MM- I can look through 200 or more pictures and only one is just right. With my portraits, I try to let the viewer know who that person is, just by looking in their eyes. I think the Cool Papa Bell is the most successful at that...it's why I chose it for the cover. I know the moment I find the right picture for reference, and I'll keep looking as long as it takes... LC- Once you find that picture, how do you proceed from there? MC- I pencil it out as tightly as I can. It’s my roadmap, so there's not much guesswork. After that I just try to get out of the way. LC- I see your two styles of painting as so different from each other. One being the watercolor you used for the Negro League illustrations and the other the style you paint in oil, used for the Star Wars Celebration "Enlist Now" propaganda limited edition. I think of watercolors as unforgiving, hard to do, and hard to control. MC- A lot of people say that and I disagree. Maybe it can't be controlled, but that's what's so great about it. After I pencil the image in, painting in watercolor is all about feel, control is beside the point. Your brain has to stay out of it and you have to stay out of the way of the paint. It becomes itself. LC- What do you mean by that? MC- For me it becomes about the emotional connection between the artist, the subject, and the wetness of the paint. The watercolor helps you- LC- If you know what you're doing... MC- Watercolor is in the moment. It flows into weird shapes and if you corral these shapes, they form the person's face. But you'll never see it if you have expectations or try to control the outcome too much from the beginning. With watercolor, once you have the roadmap a drawing creates, you've done most the work. After that you just have to enjoy the ride...Really my two styles are diametrically opposed. When I paint in oil it's very cerebral, I have to map the entire piece out from start to finish. It’s very precise work. Watercolor is all about flow.
Chiarello was also featured in the April issue of Juxtapose magazine for anyone who would like more details on this project; the paintings were technically excellent and appealing and the exhibit was worth seeing.
The gallery, which sells artwork (including the Negro League paintings) had other items of interest to IJOCA readers. There was an original story book artwork page from Snow White as well as an original movie cel with a background. Other cels from Lady and the Tramp, The Fox and the Hound, Aristocats, Fantasia and Peanuts lined the walls. Combemale told me that for fourteen years the focus of the gallery had been on animation, but recently they were widening their scope. "Tim Rogerson's World of Disney Color," their next exhibit, opens on July 12th.
Herblock’s Presidents: ‘Puncturing Pomposity’. Sidney Hart. Washington, DC: National Portrait Gallery, May 2-November 30, 2008.
Herbert ‘Herblock’ Block died in 2001, but his images linger on in Washington, at least partly because his estate donated over 10,000 of his cartoons to the Library of Congress with the proviso that they be displayed regularly. Curator Sidney Hart, a historian by trade, undertook the current exhibition and did a very credible job. Hart made two key decisions to define the show – it would be on presidents and the cartoon had to be negative. Hoover was not included because he “didn’t fit the theme of our show.” The two decisions had three points backing them up – 1.) Herblock’s presidential cartoons were among his most powerful, 2.) a negative cartoon was a more constructive force and, 3.) the exhibit went into the Presidential Gallery space.
The show was arranged by president beginning with Roosevelt. Herblock’s line was visibly smoother and he used the texture of the paper for shading. On the gallery tour, Hart pointed out some of his favorite cartoons. In one on McArthur and Truman, Truman is on a treadmill that McArthur is pulling in a different direction. For Eisenhower, Herblock drew him in a boat, blowing on a paper sale, while not running the motor on the boat. Another Eisenhower cartoon featured Herblock’s hated foe, Senator McCarthy, who is shown mugging the State Department and the Army, while Eisenhower is told, “Relax – he hasn’t gotten to you yet.” Hart noted the curious omission of no Kennedy cartoon for the Bay of Pigs; the JFK cartoons were usually positive so it was harder to find ones for the exhibit. Herblock’s best cartoon of Lyndon Johnson, from January 6, 1967 read “That’s a little better, but couldn’t you do it in luminous paint.” It showed Johnson looking at a painting of himself and referred to his official White House portrait -- which showed a heroic Johnson, but since LBJ did not like it, it rests in the next gallery over in the Portrait Gallery. Herblock’s Nixon cartoons were among his most famous – the exhibit included ones of Vice President Spiro Agnew in a sewer and the Saturday Night Massacre when Justice Department investigators of the Watergate break-in were fired on Nixon’s orders.
The Ford cartoon that Hart focused on showed both the President and the economy going to hell in a hand basket. Reflecting Block’s fondness for Alice in Wonderland, Jimmy Carter was depicted as the Cheshire Cat. One of the Carter cartoons showed an amazing detail from Block’s working methods – the paste-up corrections were done on mailing labels! Reagan and Nixon got the most cartoons with five each. Reagan was the president that Block disliked the most and his cartoons showed it. Clinton disappointed Herblock and his cartoons frequently showed Clinton with mud from scandals on him.
There was one major flaw in this exhibit for viewers. Some cartoons were matted badly and had their titles covered, or had no titles on them. The June 28, 1990 cartoon of George H.W. Bush crossing a bridge labeled “no new taxes” makes little sense without its caption “Anyhow, it got us across.” Frequently the individual cartoon labels, while full of historical information, were no where near the piece they were describing.
Also on display were Block’s Pulitzer Prize from 1941, a Reuben Award from 1956 and his Presidential Medal of Freedom from 1994 as well as some of his art supplies. A kiosk in the corner had hundreds more cartoons on it. The exhibit had only forty cartoons in it, but they were well selected. The exhibit was of the artwork, not necessarily the content, and seeing the cartoons on a screen detracted from the ideal of the museum in this reviewer’s opinion. As a museum curator myself, I would have stuck the kiosk in the exhibit as well since one always feels that more information is better, but it was not really needed in the show. I believe it became technically possible this year as the Herblock Foundation is planning on issuing a book with an accompanying DVD of 16,000 cartoons for Block’s 100th birthday next year.
Herblock: Drawn from Memory was an accompanying program by Hart who moderated with Pulitzer prize-winning Washington Post reporter Haynes Johnson, Washington Post editorial writer Roger Wilkins and Pulitzer prize-winning cartoonist Tony Auth. The three men mainly talked about Herblock’s mid-career at the Post, especially the Nixon and Johnson years. Block’s internationalist, and thus interventionalist, approach to foreign policy and the display of this in his cartoons was a particularly interesting part of the evening. Auth also made an extremely interesting observation. While Block was a good enough caricaturist to avoid labeling everyone, he still used labels on characters regularly. Auth said, “I was struck going through the exhibit here today – I always thought of cartoons as having kind of a half-life. They being to lose their power – and sometimes it’s a very long half-life and sometimes it’s eternal because it’s beyond the moment – but many cartoons have a relatively short half-life. I realized his use of labels extends that so that coming to a cartoon of his that was done forty years ago, you really can figure out what it’s about whereas a lot of cartoonists expend a lot of energy trying to get away from labels and they end up with cartoons that maybe a week, or two weeks later, you can’t figure out because you don’t know exactly what stimulated this drawing.” For those interested in the program, a recording of it can be found at http://www.archive.org/details/Herblock-drawnFromMemory
Overall Hart did an excellent job boiling down a massive amount of material to a coherent exhibit which, while not large, was well-done and informative.
I caught the National Portrait Gallery's excellent panel on Herblock last night. Thanks to the miracles of modern technology, here's a link to download it. The NPG's description of the event read: The political cartoons of Herbert Lawrence Block (1909-2001), known by the pen name "Herblock," appeared in American newspapers for more than seventy years. National Portrait Gallery senior historian Sid Hart, Pulitzer prize-winning reporter Haynes Johnson, historian Roger Wilkins together with Pulitzer prize-winning cartoonist Tony Auth, will join in a conversation about the life and work of one of the nation's greatest political cartoonists, Herblock.
More commentary to follow after I visit Afghanistan (at the National Gallery of Art) and Bhutan (Smithsonian Folklife Festival). Also Bruce Guthrie took photographs which I'll track down
Actually, although the exhibit is about three miles from their main building, they ran an AP article yesterday. See "Herblock lampoons the presidents again" By Brett Zongker - ASSOCIATED PRESS, Washington Times May 22, 2008.
The extensive site was recommended by the Journalista today. It reproduces the art in the exhibit, but not the content of the computer kiosk. It's a good look at the exhibit for those who can't make it to DC as it's arranged like the exhibit is.
I was fortunate enough to attend a preview of the National Portrait Gallery's new Herblock exhibit today - I'll post about that in the next day or so - and met Ms. Jean Rickard, Herb Block's Girl Friday for decades. She mentioned a project that the Herb Block Foundation is doing next year. It's a book about Herblock with DVDs of 16,000 of his cartoons included. The book includes a 4,000 word essay by Herblock's former colleague at the Post, Haynes Johnson. It comes out on his 100th birthday, October 13, 2009.
The great Mexican caricaturist has material - "portraits of and by" - borrowed from the National Portrait Gallery in the exhibit "Mexican Treasures of the Smithsonian" in the underground Ripley Center from September 4 - November 11.
Last year's exhibit of his work was well worth seeing. Here's the review I wrote for the International Journal of Comic Art 8:2:
Miguel Covarrubias: Mexican Genius in the United States. Washington, DC: Cultural Institute of Mexico, May 3-July 7, 2006.
Covarrubias, while little remembered today, was a giant in magazine illustration and caricature from the 1920s though the 1940s. According to the promotional material for the exhibit, he illustrated for Vanity Fair, Vogue, The New Yorker, Fortune, Life and Time while also illustrating over twenty books. Surprisingly, he also did pioneering cultural anthropology research when he visited Bali with his wife in the 1930s.
This exhibit also consists of two smaller shows. On the ground level of the building, an aging mansion, sketches and studies from the Universidad de las Américas were displayed in a set of unadorned side galleries off the lobby. The fifty-two sketches appeared to be studies for more complete work. They were mostly on cheap newsprint paper, and the identity of the subject was frequently lost except for the famous like Marlene Dietrich, D.H. Lawrence, Joe Louis, Walt Disney, and Benny Goodman. The sketches showed Covarrubias working with a quick, forceful stroke, and "Unknown Character" in the first room demonstrated that Edward Sorel must have been familiar with his work. In the final room of the galleries, two or three films were supposed to be showing, but none were. The press release listed two films by José G. Benítez Wall, A Mexican in New York (1997) and Miguel Covarrubias 1904-1957 (1996) and the wall text listed a third, A Master Artist's Trade (1997). Returning to the lobby, the visitor (of which I was the only one) could examine exhibit cases with published versions of some of his book and magazine work. Books he illustrated included non-fiction and non-cartoon works such as The Aztecs: People of the Sun. He wrote and illustrated Mexico South: The Isthmus of Tehuantepec (Knopf 1967) and drew striking maps and Olmec heads for it. In Fine Art Color Prints (Chicago: Peoples Book Club, 1945), Covarrubias contributed a very well done and very complex "Map of America" showing the distribution of natural resources. The exhibit cases also included Vanity Fair from June 1933 showing one of his series of Impossible Interviews -- "#18 Herr Adolf Hitler and Huey S. 'Hooey' Long versus Josef Stalin and Benito Mussolini." These Impossible Interviews were a major component of the second part of the exhibit, which was up four flights of red, fraying but thickly carpeted stairs, lined by mural scenes painted by Cueva del Rio from 1934-1941.
The fourth floor held the exhibit Miguel Covarrubias: Caricaturista, curated in 2004 by Kathryne B. Tovo for Humanities Texas with the University of Texas' Ransom Humanities Research Center. It was not readily apparent if the original show consisted of all reproductions, but the traveling version did. Given the quality of Covarrubias' artwork, the use of reproductions was a considerable disappointment, especially since the Ransom Center appears to have had access to the original works. In spite of that, this exhibit was a good representation of the breadth of his career, and was very well-labeled with biographical information on his subjects including scientists and explorers like William Beebe and Richard E. Byrd.
The label for the Impossible Interview in Vanity Fair of December 1931 succinctly explained the series rationale:
This regular feature paired two people who could not meet in real life in an imaginary conversation. Featuring such ill-matched celebrity pairs as a birth control advocate with the mother of quintuplets, a speakeasy hostess with the president of the Women's Christian Temperance Union, or a sultry Marlene Dietrich with moralist Senator Smith Brookhart, each interview offered rich potential for comic conversation and visual contrasts -- with the less respectable figure often achieving a slight edge.
Sorel's debt to Covarrubias can again be seen in his recent similar series for the Atlantic Monthly collected as First Encounters: A Book of Memorable Meetings (Knopf, 1994). The time is overdue for a collection of these original Interviews. These rooms were filled interesting illustrations. Two especially worth noting were a skillful parody of Rockwell Kent that Covarrubias did in Kent's style in 1932, and an illustration of Walt Disney in Noah's Ark with all of his characters, done for Vogue in 1937. The Disney caricature was the finished version of the sketch seen on the first floor, and the failure to display the two side-by-side highlighted a disappointment of this exhibit. Overall, the show should have been better, but for those with little knowledge of Covarrubias' long and varied career, it was an adequate introduction to his work.
Chris Shields, of the cIndy.com interview podcast site (linked on the right), reports, "I had lunch with Fred Van Lente at Zola earlier today. The attached picture is in front of the National Portrait Gallery where he is doing some research for his upcoming "Action Presidents" title. He was heading over to the "Hall of Presidents"...
Van Lente does the excellent Action Philosophers comic book filled with hard-hitting Kantian action. Visit his blog where he reports that he was in town for the ALA convention and mentions the new title.