Thursday, March 15, 2012

Happy Birthday James Warhola - March 16

Happy Birthday James Warhola - March 16

It would come as no surprise that I love hearing birthday stories. Last summer at the Mazza Museum Summer Conference, I heard James Warhola tell the story of the birthday card he gave his Uncle Andy Warhol, a famous artist, at the age of 7.  On the birthday card was a hand-drawn Campbell's Soup can (click here to see the postcard, near the bottom of the webpage) and it said Happy Birthday Uncle Andy, August 6, 1962 from James. The intriguing thing about this card was that it was made before the Campbell's Soup art became popular. However, James knew from visiting his Uncle Andy's house that it would make the perfect birthday card.

James Warhola has published over 30 books for children including If You Are Happy and You Know It: Jungle Edition, Bigfoot Cinderrrrrella by Tony Johnston, and The Wheels on the Race Car by Alex Zane. He began his career illustrating over 300 science fiction book covers -- a few I actually remembered from when I was younger!  His reputation for excellent book covers caught the eye of Mad Magazine where he later became a frequent contributor. Additionally, he also was one of the artists behind the popular Garbage Pail Kids trading card series (my mom never let me buy these cards!)  In 1987, he illustrated his first children's book, The Pumpkinville Mystery by Bruce Cole after he was "handed a kid's book manuscript by an art director and was instructed to do as he pleased." (

This week we enjoyed reading Uncle Andy's: A faabbbulous visit with Andy Warhol.  James Warhola's father, Paul, was Andy Warhol's oldest brother.  Andy dropped the A from his name simply because he thought it was easier to say. Uncle Andy's is about one of James' family trips to visit his Grandmother and Uncle Andy in New York City around the year 1962. My favorite illustration in the book is one where James is sleeping in a room of Campbell's Soup boxes from floor to ceiling! The text on the page says, "Uncle Andy didn't buy those soup boxes, he built them out of wood and painted each one.  They were art and really important too, because Uncle Andy told us not to touch any of it."

When we finishing reading Uncle Andy's, my daughter said, "I know what we can do! We can paint!" She went to the kitchen to find a common item to paint in the style of Andy Warhol. I assumed she would come back with a Campbell's Soup can, but instead she came back with a -- BANANA! In the meantime, I had found a YouTube video on Andy Warhol.  We watched it before heading downstairs to paint.
Before she started sketching, I tried to talk to her about the paintings that she had just seen by Andy Warhol in the video to help her with her painting.  However, she explained she had a clear understanding of Pop Art.  Her mind was set on what she was going to do and I wasn't going to get in her way! 
This gave me the opportunity to set up the little man with a canvas of his own. 
While her Banana-Pop-Art painting was drying my daughter asked for another canvas.  She must have been inspired by Andy Warhol's 25 siamese cats that were all named Sam. You can read more about these cats by reading Uncle Andy's Cats by James Warhola.
This painting my daughter called Love Cats.
This one she called Banana Smile. Maybe someday these paintings will bring over a million dollars at auction like many of Andy Warhol's paintings!
I was intrigued by James Warhola's stories about his family's junk business in Uncle Andy's.  It is obvious that there was stark contrast within the Warhola family -- Jame's dad was a junk dealer from Pennsylvania and his uncle was famous artist from New York.  However, from reading the book and doing a little research, James Warhola explains that his junk-dealing father was somewhat of an artist too. "My dad was almost a frustrated artist in his own right. He had a good eye for things. In fact, early on he was always bringing home things for me to make art out of.  I was more of a traditionalist in certain ways and I couldn't see it the same way as my father." (NPR).

The experience reading Uncle Andy's helped inspire my son to build a bug out of junk.  This week is Right to Read Week at his preschool with the theme "Camp Read A Lot". Every child was asked to make a bug to display at school. I thought of James Warhola's father as I was gathering up a bunch of odds and ends from the garage for him to make his art project.

I told my son that he could use anything in the box to make his bug.  Then by coincidence, I was pulled away by my youngest son (probably to change a diaper!) and I left my other two kiddos alone in the garage.  I came back to a bug that already had legs, a body and a head!
I shooed away his sister after creative differences started to surface.  He added a few final touches like  eyes, a nose, and wings. 
Here is my son with his Ship Bug 2000.  He thought the wings made his bug look like a ship from Star Wars. I think he learned what James Warhola learned early on from his father and Uncle Andy "that art can be anything and is all around us all of the time." (
Just like last week with Harry Bliss, I have to share a photo from last summer 2011, at the Mazza Museum in Findlay, Ohio.  In this photo James Warhola is talking about the first children's book that he illustrated in 1987, The Pumpkinville Mystery by Bruce Cole.

1. James Warhola's Website
2. At Home with James Warhola - NY Times
3. James Warhola Biography - PA Libraries, MICA
4. Virtual Art Gallery of James Warhola fantary/science fiction paintings - ImageNETion
5. Andy Warhol Family Album - + Uncle Andy's
6. Fresh Air: James Warhola - NPR (listen below)

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