Friday, January 8, 2010

A Warhol Missing Link?

DISCOVERIES IN THE ART WORLD COME ABOUT IN A MYRIAD OF WAYS. Sometimes new insight opens up after years and years of hard work and sometimes it comes about by new technology, like a scientific imaging device which may reveal an unknown new image underneath a long known painting.

And sometimes, it comes about on nothing more than a hunch. Yep, a hunch. And that’s why I want to tell you all a story. What I am about to tell you is interesting, to say the least. And potentially, a small piece of undiscovered art history.

About a month ago, recent Grammy nominee, longtime American folk art and popular culture expert Jim Linderman tossed out a nugget on his blog Dull Tool Dim Bulb which proposed an interesting theory: what IF Andy Warhol, one of the greatest, most original creative thinkers and artist’s of the 20th century, had actually been influenced very early in life by a simple children’s tracing book put out by the Heinz Company? His theory just may have provided an important piece of source material that any doctorate student would have given his eye tooth for as a departure point for his/her thesis.

It was just a “what if” theory proposed by Linderman, but this “what if” is starting to get some traction. Like an episode of CSI, here is how this discovery is playing out:

The Heinz Company, (makers of ketchup and other products) and headquartered in Pittsburg, PA, put out a children’s sales promotional booklet in 1927 complete with tracing paper, encouraging kids to actually trace Heinz products (see above). Linderman, who found an original book at an antique shop a few years ago, actually remembered that Andy Warhol was from Pittsburg. Hmm-m? Noting that the tracings (done by an anonymous child), were remarkable similar to Warhol soup cans of the early 1960s, Linderman double checked the year Warhol was born. Whoa!?? Warhol was born in Pittsburg in 1928, one year after the booklets came out. Could it be possible that young Andy, as a small child, actually used one of these booklets to trace Heinz canned products?

I quote Linderman here: The images here come from the Heinz book number 6, so the series was well established and local Pittsburgh residents would have surely picked up the premium, which was free, for their children to play with. Although not as famous as his Campbell’s images, Warhol did produce art with the Heinz logo, just like the branding experts at H. J. Heinz apparently hoped he one day would! As the similarities are quite striking, and the location and dates too much of a coincidence to ignore, I believe Mr. Warhol may have played with books from the series and remembered it some 40 years later when he began using similar (in fact, nearly identical) images in his work. I am not speculating that Mr. Warhol traced this copy, as thousands of children would have had the book, but he clearly would have had access to another copy.”

Another blog picked up on this interesting “Warhol missing link” here.

Linderman shared with me an email he just received from Matt Wrbican, an archivist from the Andy Warhol Museum who wrote to Linderman this email— dated Jan 7, 2010:

“That’s an interesting theory. To my knowledge, neither of Warhol’s brothers has ever mentioned such a book being in the family’s possession. We’ve had them speak at the museum on many occasions over the past 15 years, and they have shared memories of Andy playing with newspaper comics (somehow projecting the image on a wall), entering a contest by carving a bar of Ivory soap into an elephant shape, winning a prize for the best flower garden in elementary school, getting a camera when he was about 8 years old (and converting a root cellar into his darkroom), breaking his leg, etc., etc, but not a Heinz coloring book. I’ve written to a Warhola family member to see if they have a recollection of this having been in the family’s possession, and will let you know if he has a positive response.”

If you are an art historian—what do you think? If you read this blog, what do you think? I think it is quite possible. But we may never know for sure—or will we?

Let’s hear your thoughts... and stay tuned.


Jan said...

Seems possible.
Please keep us updated.

darby said...

thank you for sharing! I wish this sort of stuff was taught in art history, it makes a lot of sense and makes icons into human beings. This sort of simple explanation helps explain how history is really made, thanks

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