Thursday, September 13, 2012

An addition to the van Gogh list

Earlier this year I first floated the idea of the van Gogh list -- creating a list of living people whose contributions to the world you especially appreciate, so they can be aware of the positive influence they have been in others' lives.  Sadly, my personal van Gogh list has been diminished with the passing of Ray Bradbury, and today it occurred to me that another person should be added to the list (actually, several other people should be on the list, but all in good time).

Here's the newest entry:

(photo credit: author's website)

I come from a family of readers, but also from a family of artists and illustrators.  The practical upshot of this was that my siblings and I devoured picture books when we were children -- and we favored books with illustrations so colorful and richly detailed as to be a feast for the eyes.  There were many favorites around our house -- Baba Yaga by Blair Lent, The Blue Bird by Fiona French, Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola, and all manner of titles by Ed Emberley, Richard Scarry, Mercer Mayer, Maurice Sendak, Arnold Lobel and Trina Schart Hyman -- but my favorite picture book as a child, bar none, was Anansi the Spider by Gerald McDermott.  If you grew up in the 1970s, there's a good chance you read one of Mr. McDermott's books, saw at least one of his short animated films in school, or watched one of several short pieces he made for the PBS television series The Electric Company.  Mr. McDermott started his career as an animator, and his illustrations -- especially in his earliest books, such as Anansi, which were adapted from the short films he created -- reflect a strong animation aesthetic, with highly geometric character designs, often supersaturated with color and with a distinct sense of movement.  His work is visually unique, it is respectful of folk tradition, and it is beautiful.

Never seen one of his films before?  Well, then, here's your chance (thanks, YouTube!):

The children's book section of our family library is full of McDermott titles picked up over the years. I only wish someone would remaster all his short films -- The Stonecutter, Sun Flight, Anansi the Spider, The Magic Tree, Arrow to the Sun -- and some of his Electric Company shorts, and put them all on one DVD. I'd buy that thing so fast it'd make your head spin.

NOTE: I am very sorry to report that Gerald McDermott passed away on December 26, 2012 at the age of 71.

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