Andy Warhol & Me
Except that I would wear all black every day if I could, and I love shoes (although I don't design them), I’m not very “Warholian,” as art historians call things influenced by Andy Warhol. Any pilgrims to my grave will probably leave a spray bottle of Paul Mitchell’s Freeze ‘n’ Shine not cans of Campbell’s soup or blonde wigs. And I am more comfortable in front of my own fireplace than I ever would have been at The Factory or Studio 54.
Still, I feel a kinship for Warhol. Separated by a generation, we both were Tam O’Shanters. Tam O’Shanters, named after the tasseled berets some artists once wore, were the 100 children in grades 5-7 selected countywide each year for scholarships to Carnegie Institute’s Saturday art classes. There was a range of talent at “art school,” as kids called it. Warhol and others who became famous such as Mel Bochner, Duane Michals and Phillip Perlstein likely were regular “easel artists,” who spent most Saturdays on stage at Carnegie Music Hall, recreating their drawings from the previous week for the benefit of the more moderately talented children in the audience, like me, as renowned Pittsburgh Public Schools art teacher Joseph Fitzpatrick delivered the week's lesson.
Being chosen an easel artist (I was picked maybe three times) was like winning an Academy Award. Tam O’Shanters who performed well and had near perfect attendance graduated to Palettes, an even more select group of young teens who painted in tempura on easels set up on the glass block floor at the top of the museum above the museum's Hall of Architecture. I was a Palette; I don’t know if Andy was a Palette, but I definitely can imagine him soaking up everything that art school and Carnegie Institute offered, as well as the chance to explore Pittsburgh on his own on Saturdays, as I did.
After art school, my friend Bonnie, who became a well-known Hollywood costume designer, and I would roam the art museum galleries (carrying the orange juice cans stuffed with paintbrushes and cleaning rags that defined us as artists) and deliberate about our favorite old masters (there was no contemporary collection then). Or we’d take in the dinosaurs, the dead birds and insects, the Indian diorama and the scary mummy in the Museum of Natural History and wind our way through the building to the adult library, where we proudly first used our cards when we were 12. Then we’d catch a streetcar on the island in the middle of Forbes and head downtown, where we’d mug in the photo booth at Kresges and try on high heels at Chandlers before taking the 38 Mt. Lebanon home. (I’ll bet Andy did a lot of the same things, including the photo booth, but back then they probably wouldn’t have let him near the high heels!)
Last weekend, I visited the Museum of Art for the first time in a while. My goal was to see the Carnegie International, which I have never missed, and I enjoyed it. But what I really loved was seeing that Tam O’ Shanter and its offshoot, Art Expressions, still are going strong—more experiential than when the program started in 1928 or during my time, but still providing an enlightening Saturday experience for young artists. As I ventured through the International into the permanent collection, there were young artists everywhere, sketching famous works by artists ranging from Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock to James McNeill Whistler and John Singer Sargent.
I gravitated to my longtime favorites, one by William Merritt Chase and two by Sargent, along with William Michael Harnett’s “Trophy of the Hunt,” dubbed “Bunny Upside Down” by my daughter, who at age 3 did not understand that the poor creature was dead. Then I circled back a second time to say good-bye to them, as I always do.
I’ll bet Andy Warhol, who was very good to his mother, by the way (and that is not Warholian), would have done the same thing.