May 21, 2014

Nothing MINOR About This Exhibit: Time's Running Out

Things have been pretty hectic in my life lately, in a very good way. 

Published by Norman Rockwell Museum, 2013

Still, I'm compelled to take time to remind readers to get to the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts before it's too late to view WENDELL MINOR'S AMERICA. He has enjoyed forty years of success in the very competitive arena of illustration, but the exhibit  celebrates the twenty-fifth anniversary of his picture book art. The exhibit concludes May 27, so the clock is ticking.
Here's a description from the exhibit site:

"Wendell Minor’s America celebrates the artist’s four-decade career, highlighting his twenty-fifth anniversary as a preeminent illustrator of children’s books, each inspired by his love of history, art, science, and the natural world. More than 150 artworks gleaned from his expansive visual chronicles, and commentary reflecting on his collaborations with our nation’s most prominent authors, scientists, and historians, showcase a quarter-century of unforgettable picture book art."

I was lucky enough to have an extended interview with the artist a few weeks ago and will share some of his remarks about the exhibit here, with more to follow on other topics in coming weeks. After discussing his childhood, art training, and early years in commercial work, he described his earliest days in New York City:

WM:  "When I left for Manhattan I had a portfolio and a lot of dreams but I had no idea what was in store for me. Within three weeks I got a job. I got paid for forty hours a week and worked a hundred hours."

Further into the conversation he discussed the current exhibit of his twenty-five years as a picture book artist:

WM: David McCullough came (to the museum) to deliver the opening lecture for my exhibit and we did an open seminar the next day. He asked if I would walk him through the gallery before it was opened for the crowds. There are three major galleries for this show, with 350 major pieces. 
He said to me: How do you have time to do all this? 
And I just said: Look who’s talking. (Link here for more about David McCullough.)

Painting is a Zen experience. It’s a universe you can get lost in and almost be unconscious of the world around you. When I looked at the exhibit with David it was one of those seminal moments when you look at your own life and say: My God, look at all this work, and this is only the tip of the iceberg!

But, you know, you get one day at a time, and you get X number of hours in that day, and depending on how you utilize that time determines what you can produce.
I do think my obsession with work is legendary, but I have only a fixed amount of years on this planet and I want to make the most if them.

SB: I can certainly see why, given your medical history. It must be on your mind often. (Earlier in the discussion he had described the limiting conditions of his congenital heart defects, surgeries, and more recent aortic aneurysm surgery.)

WM: It is in my mind every minute of the day. I have an artificial heart valve now, too, … so I’m like an old car- (laughs) I had my valve replaced and my hoses replaced, but I keep chugging along.
I’ve become very health conscious and do everything mentally and physically possible to take care of myself and last as long as possible. 

...Extended discussion ensues on other topics...

WM: I like to tell kids- whatever you can imagine for yourself,  don’t take no for an answer. If someone else tells you that you can’t, it’s only because of their limited perspective in not being able to see the possibilities that you see for yourself.

The interview was full of wise advice, laughable anecdotes, and personal reflections. I look forward to sharing more in future posts. It's obvious this retrospective and related lectures, appearances, and interviews have Wendell Minor reviewing his life in detail. In fact, an autobiography is under consideration, and I sincerely hope he makes that come to pass.

If you, like me, are limited by location and schedules so that you won't be able to attend, at least read through Anita Silvey's Book-A-Day Almanac post on the commemorative book published (for adults) in connection with this exhibit. (Buy it here.

The very good news is that arrangements are underway to allow the exhibit to travel to major art venues around the country. Stay tuned for more about this as plans are released. 

And a huge thanks to Florence Minor, for first introducing me to Wendell, and to Wendell Minor for the generosity of his time and the dedication of his talent to the world of picture books.

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