Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Signal Event

Returned from New England on Sunday, after a working day at the Norman Rockwell Museum on Friday. The folks at the Rockwell have assembled an impressive group of people and organizations variously invested in the history of illustration. I was there as an advisor and as one of three representatives of Washington University in St. Louis, an institution with a significant and growing committment to modern graphic culture.

Among the highlights:

Had dinner on Thursday night with my friend Stephanie Plunkett, the Rockwell Museum curator, and Dennis Dittrich, illustrator, President of the Society of Illustrators and stand up comedian. We had a lively discussion of the academic landscape of illustration, art history, and culture studies, and laughed a great deal.

I got to meet the great Walt Reed, the historian of American illustration and founder of Illustration House, an auction house devoted to illustration and cartooning. (Reed's first history of illustration in the United States appeared in 1964.) What a charming, thoughtful and engaged fellow. He made the arresting observation that if he were to write a new history of illustration, he'd begin the narrative "six months ago." How about that for intellectual flexibility from a nonagenarian! It was also a treat to meet Walt's sons Roger and Jeffrey.

I met the new curator of the Rockwell Center, Joyce Schiller, an omnivorous scholar of illustration and with an arch sense of humor and a voice that would have brought her cash and fame had she gone into radio.

I got to hear a stem-winder of an art history talk by Alex Nemerov on an Edward Hopper painting. (Ground Swell, 1939; below)

I got to sit with Danielle Rice (Director of the Delaware Art Museum, a museum educator by training) and Christine Podmaniczky (Associate Curator of the Brandywine Museum) guardians of the Pyle-Wyeth nexus. We had a blast talking among ourselves and Laurie Norton Moffat, Rockwell director, about all the great exhibitions we'd curate together given a chance.

Danielle, a fellow blogger, has posted a thoughtful reflection on art and illustration as a follow up to our dinnertime chat.

I also met Douglas Hyland, director of the New Britain Museum, and got a chance to sneak down to New Britain before I left, where I saw the newly acquired N.C. Wyeth painting of Jim Hawkins and Israel Hands in ship's rigging, just before the former shoots the latter. From Wyeth's Treasure Island work of 1911. (Below.) Most (all?) of the rest are at the Brandywine museum, if memory serves.

Also got to see my friend and Washington University colleague Jeff Pike, who I hadn't seen in months.

It was a great group, devoted to great project. I'd have enjoyed speaking at length with everyone there, and hope to get the chance next time.

Publication watch: Look for the new Frank Schoonover catalogue raisonne, (Schoonover, Smith and Dean) and for Walt Reed's upcoming book on the career of Harvey Dunn–two reverberating, Brandywine-inflected careers. As a side note, I can't wait to get to Wilmington to see the Schoonover studio, the Delaware Museum, and (again) the Brandywine.

Regular GT readers will recognize the theory and history of illustration and cartooning–plus the historiography of same–as central concern of this blog.

For background, here are some representative posts on the subject: on the influence of Immanuel Kant in this field; on analytical separatism; on visual culture, race and ethnicity; my recent commencement address to students from the College of Art at Washington University, re the new visuality; more in the context of studio teaching: on storyboarding, and on narrative illustration and economy one and two.

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