Transitioning into the new Millennium

by Alden Cole on July 23, 2017 · 0 comments

1999: The Choice is Ours #1 • oil on canvas, 12″ x 16″ • collection of Betsy Alexander and Burnell Yow!

The end of the 90s and the transition into the new millennium was marked by radical changes in my life. In 1996, Roberts & Raymond Associates, the advertising agency where I had been working for the past decade, since moving to Philadelphia, closed its doors. Once again, I was out of a job and looking for work. Full-time employment eluded me, but I picked up temporary work through MacTemps for a while, until I found a more regular free-lance situation with Articus, Ltd. – another advertising agency that coincidentally was located on the fourth floor of the same building where I had worked from 1988-90, when Roberts & Raymond rented office space on the ground floor of the renovated four-story atrium building at the corner of 22nd Street and Arch Street, that had once been the Philadelphia Women’s Prison. Deja Vu!

2000: The Choice is Ours #2 • oil on linen, 14″ x 18″ • collection of Lezley Steele

Despite the uncertainty of my daily working situation during this time as a free-lance pre-press production artist, I would continue to sporadically turn my attentions to making art for my own enjoyment; including these three variations seen here, above and below, on the theme of choice, all of which were painted during the millennial change – between’99 and ’01. The concept for the three oils went back to early idea sketches in pencil of which I had first drawn variations in small sketch books and on file cards (which I still have) as early as the 80s.

2001: The Choice is Ours: #3 • oil on linen, 11″ x 14″ • collection of Lou Szyumski.

Finally in the late 90s, in response to more free time on my hands without a full-time job, and occasionally even whole weekdays on my hands, I gave form to the ideas that had been brewing in my mind for quite some time, starting with the one at the top of this posting, which was the loosest, most easily accomplished. With the others, I worked harder at physical definition and a more polished surface, possibly at the expense of vitality as well as ambiguity. THe jury is still out on this one.

1996: Silent City • oil on linen, 13″ x 65″

Unfinished Business: Inspired by the view of Center City Philadelphia from my third floor roof, I decided to dedicate a painting to that skyline, the first of many, using a particularly panoramic canvas for the job. The process was a bit tedious: scanning the original photo I planned to work from, then enlarging sections of it in photoshop, printing those sections, taping them together, then transferring the drawing of the skyline itself to the canvas. Painting the silhouetted city first, I then went on to paint an evening sky. The plan was to eventually fill in the details of the city buildings in a night scene. But as with many projects I’ve started over the years, my enthusiasm flagged knowing all the precision work that was ahead if I stuck to my original plan. I’ve even reached a point where I enjoy the stark silence of the piece; so who knows if the long hours of finishing work will ever be accomplished. Maybe someone else with more talent than myself will rise to the occasion of giving the city what it needs: Light.

1995: Night & Day Bed – head- and foot-boards for a four-poster rope-bed; turned posts are maple, panels with Night & Day oil paintings are pine. Each
measures 44″ high x 54″ wide x 4″ diameter posts. At left are details of the two panoramic paintings.

Truth to tell, I did very little easel painting during the 90s. The blog posting prior to this one shows some of the major pieces done during the early part of the decade. I had a full time job and had moved into my own first house in 1991. In my leisure time, the new focus was on the 3-story row-house I called home, turning it into a work of art. My intent was to create a unique environment that could function as a studio and gallery as well as my base of operations and heart-home. Along the way, it also became my castle, my sanctuary, and my storage unit, all rolled into one. The goal was to furnish this new spacious acquisition inexpensively, elegantly and comfortably. I started bringing old furniture from Maine where it had been in storage, and restoring those pieces. For instance, my aunt Charlotte had first given me all the parts to the old-fashioned rope-bed seen above, including its side-rails, back in the 1970s while I was still living in NYC. At the time, all pieces were painted white, probably lead-based. In the mid-90s as I was settling into 717 Federal Street, I took the time to strip all these pieces down to raw wood which had been originally stained with an old traditional recipe of brick-dust and buttermilk, which gives the wood that lovely ruddy color. The decision to paint panoramas on the pine panels was an afterthought. Unfortunately, the bed has only been roped together and made functional for showing once, when the Dumpster Divers had a store-front on South Street back in 2009.

The Desiderata by Max Ehrmann (26 Sep 1872 – 9 Sep 1945)

“Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexatious to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become bitter or vain; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in our own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time. Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism. Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is perennial as the grass. Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.”

1994: The Desiderata was the fifth poster printed by Conscious World Art. Unfortunately I was only able to print an initial edition of 500 copies because the copyright holder would not renew my usage contract; by his lights, I was not selling enough copies fast enough to warrant a renewal of the $300 lease. Go figure… Those 500 copies will be collectors items someday folks…

“You, who are with me in this life for my guidance and protection, I light this candle in thanksgiving for your constant help and guidance.”

1993: Guardian Angel poster – printed b&w on cream-colored card stock 14″ x 11″ – $10 each. This was the fourth poster published under the imprint of Conscious World Art, using a photogravure of a painting by German artist Wilhelm von Kaulbach (15 Oct 1805 – 7 Apr 1874) one of the most popular portrayals of the Guardian Angel.

1992: LipBoat #3 – colored pencil on black presentation board, 8.5″ x 14″ – collection of Nellie Burano

The artwork at left was a development of/inspired by LipBoat #2, the first drawing from the “Anatomy of a Love Affair” series of four artworks featured in the posting before this. Inspired by Mary Renault’s passionately and sensitively written novel, The Persian Boy, volume two of her extraordinary tale of the life of Alexander the Great which I read in the late 80s, while on a Mary Renault roll, reading most of her published work at the time dealing with the glory that was Ancient Greece. The Mask of Apollo is one of the Great Novels in my estimation. Makes me want to reread it after all these years…

1990: Creating Your Giant Self – luma dyes and colored pencil on paper, 16.5″ x 10.5″ – original has faded somewhat with time.

In 1990, Jim Wasserman of Studio 31 in Florida, whom I had known since we both worked at Weiser’s in the mid-70s, commissioned me to create cover artwork for a self-help book by Dr. Robert Rose. Of the several ideas submitted, this is the one developed from rough sketch to finished art; my last completed illustration project using an air brush. And I have to add, I haven’t missed working with an air brush since; despite the magic that one can create with an airbrush, they are a pain to work with, and demand incredible patience, especially when they spatter paint, as they sometimes do, over a nearly completed artwork, requiring you to start all over again…

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Expansion/Contraction in the Early ’90s

by Alden Cole on July 4, 2017 · 0 comments

AmongTheMythyMountainsWPAmong the Mythty* Mountains • oil on canvas, 36″ x 78″

On 19 April 1991, I moved from the 2-room apartment on South 6th Street at Greenwich, where I had been living for the first five years of my Philadelphia experience, into the first ‘real’ home of my own – a 3-story row house at 717 Federal Street – where I still live to this day. Excited to have such an expansive ‘canvas’ on which to create, I started moving a number of items south – art supplies as well as household furnishings which I had been storing in my dad’s barn in Dayton, Maine – transporting them to my new base of operations in Philadelphia. Always a collector of the beautiful, in whatever form I found it, particularly if it was free, as in being discarded as no longer useful, I had managed to accumulate quite a number of interesting items on the cheap – decorative as well as functional – during my initial eighteen years in Maine, plus my four years of art school in Providence RI, a decade in New York City, then four years in Portsmouth NH, before moving to Philadelphia in 1986. It was the time to expand my creative horizons by incorporating these diverse collections into a single creative entity – my ultimate art project – home of Conscious World Art.

*mythty – a word combining ‘mythic’ and ‘misty’

Buddha-BuddhessWPBuddha/Buddhess • oil on canvas, 36″ x 78″

Among the items that made their way from Maine to Philadelphia were a quartet of stretchers, all measuring 36″ x 78″ originally found at the top level of my grandfather’s barn, back in the mid 70s. They had been covered with muslin, some tattered remains of which were still attached to the stretchers when I found them; their function had been as parts of a cold frame used to protect young plants in the springtime on the southern side of the barn. When I first found them, heavily layered with dust, indicating many years of non-use, my initial thought was “these will be perfect for BIG paintings”. And that is exactly what has happened to three of the four stretchers so far, including the two seen here, which were started sometime in 1993. Like many large pieces here at 717, they are works in progress. I like to think that the stretchers were originally made by my great-grandfather Clark Remich Cole (1841-1915), who was quite a creative individual himself. I’ve often wondered what he would think of how his beautifully crafted stretchers have been repurposed into substrates for art; and art such as I have made. I tend to think he would be proud of my creativity, but it’s possible he might find the work simply curious. After all, beauty IS in the eye of the beholder.

SmallWorldWPSmall Worlds • watercolor on paper, 7″ x 10″ • collection of Betsy Alexander & Burnell Yow!

During the two-year period from 1987-89 when I worked part-time at the Garland of Letters, I made the acquaintanceship of a young woman named Kathy, who became a great admirer of my art. She first became familiar with my black & white posters which were for sale at the Garland, all seven of which she collected. Eventually she approached me with an exciting offer – a commission for a painting. Of what she wasn’t sure, but she was quite sure that I would come up with something extraordinary. Intrigued, I asked how much she was willing to spend on such a project; her response was that she could afford $500. Challenged to come up with an idea that could lead to my first commission in quite sometime, I set to work, coming up with the small watercolor above, plus some other sketches on paper that no longer exist.

BalconyLoverWPBalcony Lover • oil on canvas, 16″ x 20″ • provenance unknown

After an initial consultation to discuss the ideas I had come up with, I painted the oil sketch at left; a concept which Kathy approved, giving me a check for $150 as down-payment. I set to work immediately, procuring canvas and stretchers then preparing my painting surface using traditional methods: stretching raw linen, sizing the surface with rabbit-skin glue, sanding then priming the surface with two coats of white. After a modeling session with Kathy to capture the central figure, I transferred the composition in pencil to the canvas, then proceeded to paint. In relatively short order I had done the underpainting for all the color areas in the composition. Thereafter, progress became fitful. Doubts assailed me; insecurities encouraged me to take long periods between painting sessions; the project dragged on over a two-year period, being finally completed and signed sometime in 1993.

LivingOnTheEarthWPLiving on the Earth • oil on linen, 27″ x 41″

At left is the finished product. The project had taken so long that by the time I was ready to deliver the painting, Kathy had moved from Philadelphia to Gloucester Massachusetts. I delivered the painting on one of my annual vacations back to Maine. Kathy was thrilled with the finished painting; however, she indicated that her financial status was uncertain. She wrote out a check for the $350 owed, asking me not to deposit the check for a few days, as she was expecting another check any day now which would cover mine. By the time I was back in Philadelphia, Kathy called me to let me know that she was unable to cover my check; she apologized profusely for her changed circumstances, then asked if I would be willing to take the painting back if she was unable to come up with the money owed before my the next trip to New England. I agreed, and that is exactly what happened. For a number of months Kathy got to live with this masterpiece which she had challenged me to create. And then my alter-ego – this Lady on the Balcony about to take flight – became mine again, and has lived with me ever since, except for those occasions when I’ve placed her in shows to be seen yet again by the general populace.

4MoreDavidoffCoversWPAnother creative upshot of my working at the Garland of Letters bookstore, Philadelphia’s New Age emporium on South Street where I worked part-time from February 1987 to June 1989, then again from February 1997 to the spring of 1999, was being commissioned to design covers for a series of CDs (as well as 8-track cassettes initially) featuring the music
4DavidoffCoversWPof New Age composer PC Davidoff, at the time one of the Garland’s principals. At left are the eight covers I created for Philip over a decade. Calm Body Calm Mind, the cover at right in the second row, even features a detail – chosen by Mr. Davidoff himself – from Living on the Earth, the commissioned painting featured above, which also has its Garland of Letters connection as described. Just a coincidence?
YabYumWPOther note-worthy tidbits. Bamboo (bottom left) was my first cover created entirely on computer, using Abode Illustrator; the one and only time I did so. Buddha (bottom right) uses one of the few photographs I’ve taken that’s been reproduced as part of a cover design. And the artwork for Secrets of the Jade seen at left – my updating of the traditional Tantric Yab Yum position – was the last time I used an airbrush to create artwork.

1980-90;TantricasWPTantrikas • oil on mylar-coated canvas, 18″ x 36″ • Another variation on the traditional Tantric Yab Yum position is this free-form interpretation that I started sometime in the 80s, then brought to its present state
1.DividedBannerCRWPin the early 90s. This painting is a prime example of how a substrate used for one purpose can easily become the basis for another. Originally it was part of the banner seen at left created around 1980 for a Christmas pageant at the Alexander Robertson school in NYC, where my friend Harold Stover was the music teacher. When I got the banners back the bottom section was looking pretty wrinkly, so I took ’em apart, got creative, recycling what I could, eventually attaching the top section of canvas to stretchers, then adding intense color to create the vibrant composition that I live with daily in my office.

LoveAffair1LipBoatWPAnatomy of a Love Affair – Part 1: Passion on the LipBoat • colored pencil on black presentation board, 8″ x 10″ • collection of Eric German

In the fall of 1991, the same year I moved into my home at 717 Federal Street, I had an affair with a physically
LoveAffair2RaptureWPbeautiful young man that only lasted for a few months, until I realized that I was already playing second fiddle to someone else. Yet again I experienced the dashing of hopes that ‘this time it will be different”. As I’ve learned repeatedly over the years, it’s rarely different because our hopes, aka expectations, never really change substantially. “Without expectation there can be no disappointment.” Being Here Now with no expectations is challenging to say the least.

LoveAffair3HeartEaterWPPart of moving beyond the disappointments is turning those heart-rending experiences into art. These four pieces as a suite attempt to convey some of the highs and lows produced by falling in love with love, which as the old standard says, “is falling for make believe”. Let’s face it, it ain’t easy being a realist.

LoveAffair4SolaceWPThe other three are:

Part 2 – Rapture, a complex tapestry of internal imagery evoked by the experience of intense attraction;

Part 3 – The Eaters of Heart are Abroad – my warning to others that the object of my affections is really just a knave of hearts, collecting as many tokens as his ego demands;

Part 4 – Solace, which speaks for itself about where the strength to keep moving comes from – inside!

YinYang3WP1992: The Marriage of Night and Day • colored pencil on black presentation board 7″ x 24″

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“My Fabulous Career” as a Scenic Designer

by Alden Cole on June 11, 2017 · 1 comment

NutcrackerIgloo#1WP1984/5: Truth to tell, my experiences as a scenic designer would hardly qualify as a career; instead it was delightfully avocational, a chance to explore some new creative territory, make some new friends. I was living in a sweet little apartment in
NutcrackerIgloo#2WPPortsmouth NH, working in Cape Neddick ME for Samuel Weiser Inc. as art director. In my off hours I was foot-loose and fancy free. So when the opportunity first came along in the early fall of 1984 through Betty Lundsted Weiser (there’s that Weiser connection again) to do some volunteer
NutcrackerIgloo#3WPwork as a scenic designer for the Portsmouth Ballet, a small regional company, I jumped at the chance. The challenge: designing & painting scenic drops for the
NutcrackerIgloo#4WPcompany’s upcoming production of a seasonal favorite – The Nutcracker. However, for this production the locale of the first scene was changed; from the house of the heroine Clara where the opening
NutcrackerIgloo#5WPChristmas party is usually held, to a scene portraying Santa’s Workshop instead. Rationale for this change? I’m totally clueless at this point. Regardless, I had a great time coming up with the six sketches of varying sizes seen at left and above,
NutcrackerIgloo#5VersoWPfor this imaginative change of scene, where I turned the workshop from a more traditional image into an igloo-like structure appropriate for the North Pole. The sketches reveal an illustrative interest in detail that I had forgotten about,
1984PalaceoSweets.7x13WPand which was fascinating to review when I resurrected these drawings from the files about a month ago, after not having perused them in over a decade. The fifth drawing down, the last
1984LandoSweets2-22x28WP in color, was the one selected for enlarging onto a scenic drop measuring approximately 12″ high x 30″ wide, one of the largest surfaces I ever worked on. The sixth drawing is a pencil sketch on the verso of the fifth – the final color version – indicating a much more detailed selection of toys displayed on shelves in the igloo, including a surprising
1984PalaceoSweets.7x12WPcollection of small elves doing various tasks for the season at hand. For the second act in the “Land – or the Palace – of the Sweets” I came up with the set of five drawings seen at left, based on the themes of lollypops and ice cream cones, the
1984PalaceoSweets4.14x30WPlast of which was developed into the actual drop for the production, same size as the igloo scenic. Memories of painting these pieces is exceptionally dim; however I do remember that I painted them in the gym of a local
1984PalaceoSweets5.17x30WPhigh school, working flat on the floor, which created interesting challenges of perspective while plotting out the design on such a large scale. Unfortunately, no photographs exist (to my knowledge) of the finished scenics to prove I even painted them; just vague memories of the process sparked by these sketches done in both watercolor and acrylic.

1985.CandyLandWPFor the Portsmouth Ballet’s 1985 production of The Nutcracker I again volunteered my services as scenic designer to Nana McCarthy, the company’s creative director. I first came up with the whimsical design at left, but then turned my energies to designing a much more
1985PalaceoSweetsWPcomplex, multi-layered concept inspired by a set design from one of my favorite Art Nouveau geniuses, Alphonse Mucha. For painting this scenic, Nana had secured the use of the University of NH’s theater department, which allowed me to work
1985Sketch&PhotoWPprofessionally: vertically, raising and lowering the canvas as needed through the traditional gap in the floor, made specifically for the purpose of painting drops. Compared to the year before working flat on the floor, painting this scenic was a dream; and with the help of Portsmouth friends Robert Boardman and Drew Chicester, the task flew by. Although I didn’t capture any photographs of the entire drop once finished and in place, I did capture a few photographs of young dancers in repose during breaks in rehearsal, standing in front of the central detail of the piece, revealing a recurring motif in my work – the citadel on the hill in the distance.

An anecdote: as a result of painting the last scenic – I discovered that paint can go ‘sour’ – a fact I hadn’t known before. Unknowingly I painted a fairly large section – the floor of the Palace of the Sweets – with a black paint that had gone quite sour. I had noticed the smell after opening the paint can, but naively thought the smell would dissipate upon exposure to air. It didn’t – at least not entirely; you could smell it onstage, but fortunately that rank odor didn’t drift out into the audience, so the production went on anyway – a performance that definitely stunk for the dancers on stage…

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Honoring Betty Lundsted Weiser (1941-2001)

by Alden Cole on June 4, 2017 · 0 comments

1988.Don&Betty721988 photo of Don Weiser & Betty Lundsted Weiser hosting the annual Holiday Party in Weiser’s Bookstore, at the East 24th Street address, NYC.

A virtual continuation of my April 23rd posting honoring Donald Weiser (1928-2017)

On Wednesday evening, May 31st, I attended a memorial honoring Donald Weiser at the Open Center, 22 E. 30th Street in Manhattan. About one hundred people turned out for the event memorializing a man whose influence on many lives, not just my own, was far reaching, way beyond the limitations of the initially-small publishing business which put him on the map among specialty book publishers. Taking over a small used-book business started by his father Samuel who had started his own career in books as a peddler buying and selling used books from a cart in lower Manhattan, who eventually prospered enough to rent a store-front on W. 14th Street, Donald turned the business into a success story. Samuel had realized that there was a market for used books dealing with esoterica and the occult, so he started specializing in a field that ultimately drew a lot of interested attention in the late 60s and the decade of the 70s when Donald was taking over the business and Sam was retiring to Florida. As his first publishing venture, Donald selected books that were in the public domain, with expired copyrights; starting with reprints of Aleister Crowley’s extensive Equinox series, as well as other of his works. With time that small line of public domain titles expanded to include the works of living authors. Eventually Samuel Weiser Inc. became one of the largest publishers of books on the occult, esoterica, eastern religions & New Age in the world, as well as a distributor for other small publishers. I started working there in 1974 when that transition from bookstore to publisher was happening; as a result of being there at the right time, I had the opportunity to design over one hundred and thirty book covers for Samuel Weiser Inc.

1981.WeiserXmasCR721982 photo of a Christmas Eve celebration at Don & Betty’s house in Cape Neddick, Maine. At least three of the six people in the photo are now deceased: Betty Weiser, left; Donald Weiser, rear right; Barbara Somerfield, extreme right. Are either Doris Hebel, to my right, or Kim ??, in the foreground, still alive? I’m clueless. Sobering reminders that no one gets out alive…

Wednesday evening in NY was highlighted by reconnecting with old friendships going back over forty years, people with whom I had worked in varying capacities at Weisers over the 12 year period from 1974 to 1986. Foremost among them was James Wasserman, whom I had known from day one, that fine spring morning when I started working in the office as an invoice typist, radically altering my life forever. At the time Jim was working in the back stacks of stock, pulling and packing books for shipment to bookstores scattered over the USA far and wide, abroad as well, including Philadelphia’s own Garland of Letters, a name that caught my fancy at the time. Whodathot then that twelve years later I’d be working part-time at that same store, Philadelphia’s occult emporium. I can still evoke the memory of the smell of incense as you walked in the door, to the sound of New age music. But I digress…

1983.ParsonsBeach.oilsWPParson’s Beach, ME • same view using different mediums • at left; oils on canvas, ca. 9″ x 12″ • below; watercolor on paper, ca. 7″ x 10″• both, Estate of Donald Weiser. Thank you Jim Wasserman for providing photos of these works for which I had no record.

1984.ParsonsBeachWatercolorWPJim, who had became one of Donald’s closest protégés, and was living close to him in Florida when he died April 12th, hosted the evening. He introduced the various speakers, at least a dozen, which included myself as well as old friends Clark Stillman and Don Rifkin whom I hadn’t seen since 1988, both of whom had worked in the store, where I only saw them occasionally, since the office was several blocks away. Donald Weiser’s son Jay, with whom I had worked briefly in Maine, was there with the next generation, his son Samuel.

BuddhaPhotoWPA framed original b&w photograph I took in 1976 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which was reproduced as the cover for D.T. Suzuki’s “Living by Zen” seen below. An anomaly: the only book cover I designed for Weiser’s using my photography. Estate of Donald Weiser.

Another protégé, Ehud Sperling, founder of Inner Traditions Ltd who had already started his own publishing business while in his 20s, when I met him in the late 70s, was there with his lovely wife and handsome 19-year old son Mahar, who is planning to follow in his father’s footsteps
LivingByZenWPin the publishing world; may he be successful! I discovered sadly that another protégé of Donald’s, an early fan and supporter of my work, who had moved to Santa Fe for her health, was no longer living: Barbara Somerfield (14 Jun 1948 – 11 Aug 2015). Balancing that sadness was the delight to see that Kathryn Sky-Peck, with whom I worked during four of my six years in Maine, was definitely alive and well. Between the time she started working for the Weisers in 1982 until April 1986 when I moved to Philadelphia, we had done the prepress work for publishing many a book together – she as editor and production manager under Betty’s tutelage, myself as art director. Last but not least, I got to met Yvonne Weiser, who was Yvonne Paglia when I met her briefly during the early 80s while she was visiting Don & Betty in Maine. After Betty deceased in 2001, Yvonne married Donald, becoming his primary caretaker during a slow decline, after selling the house on the hill in Cape Neddick and moving operations to Florida. Donald’s love of books and publishing was never ending, and ever inspiring.

TheInitiateDrawingWPAnother anomaly in my oeuvre; a ball-point pen drawing, used as cover art for a series of three books published by Weiser in 1978, pictured below, written by British composer Cyril Scott, first published anonymously 1920.

And what of Betty Lundsted Weiser (7 Apr 1941 – 7 Jul 2001)? I met Betty Lundsted sometime in the late 70s while the publishing office was still in NYC. Donald and Betty had become an item sometime after Don’s divorce from his first wife. My contact with Betty at that time was pretty minimal, as she had her own practice as an astrologer, so her visits to the office were relatively infrequent. In the spring of 1980, months after I had technically moved back to Maine, out of NYC for the second time, I was in the city doing free-lance work for Weisers, when Betty announced to me that the publishing office was moving its base of operations from Houston & Broadway in Manhattan to Cape Neddick Maine, approximately twenty-five miles south of where I was living in Dayton.

InitiateSeries72Despite my initial incredulity about the move, that is exactly what happened that fall. And with that change, I became a full time employee for the first time in many a year, with lots of responsibilities rather than an artist with the joys of free-lance freedom as well as the attendant insecurities. From the fall of ’80 to the spring of ’81, when I temporarily moved into a house by myself in Dayton, I lived with Don & Betty in their house on the hill overlooking the often-photographed Nubble Light House at York Beach in the distance. During that time of working closely together as well as my being a virtually permanent house-guest, Betty and I become good friends, a mentoring relationship developing between us, based on her extensive experience in publishing which she shared with me, challenging me to expand my horizons and acquire new skills. It worked, despite the times when I arose to those challenges virtually kicking and screaming. Thank you both Donald and Betty for your patience, for recognizing and encouraging my capabilities before I acknowledged them in myself.

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Remembering Donald Weiser (1928 – 2017)

by Alden Cole on April 23, 2017 · 0 comments

Memorializing Donald Weiser (9 Jan 1928 – 12 Apr 2017), a friend who saved my life on numerous levels, numerous times, starting in 1974. Below a photo of Don taken in 1988 at Weiser Bookstore’s annual Christmas holiday party, held at the 24th Street location, the last of the three storefronts I was familiar with in lower Manhattan, while associated with Samuel Weiser Inc. So how do I condense 12 years of memories into a single blog posting? impossible, but at least I’ll touch upon some early highlights mingled with seeming coincidences that still give me pause to reflect on destiny and karma.

DonaldWeiser(1928-2017)WPI met Don Weiser when he was 46 years old; I was just a few months shy of my 30th birthday. My first Saturn return the summer before had been marked by the end of a two year relationship with Robert Mayberry, a fashion model who moved on to browner fields in California via Indiana, leaving behind a bunch of broken dreams. Restless with my renewed condition as a single gay man in Manhattan, who felt anything but gay, and the breakdown of some long cherished illusions, I was at odds with myself. I tried a little consciousness-raising in January through a group found on the back of the Village Voice. The upshot was that I burned my fashion illustration portfolio, which technically put me out of a job, since I had been free-lance illustrating fashion for about four years at that point. Confident that I still had a mark to make as an artist, I knew it was time to start looking for a humdrum job to support my painting habit which had started the summer before, as part of my first Saturn Return, time to get serious about my life. After all, I knew I was a genius, even if the world didn’t, and I was cool with biding my time.

EmissionWPEmission • acrylic on watercolor paper, 18″ x 18″ • painted in March 1975 • estate of Donald Weiser

My hunt for a 9-5 job was dispirited and depressing. Desperation to pay the rent finally forced me into activity in late February ’74. Taking a break from the employment search one day, fate guided me to the front door of Weiser’s Bookstore at 734 Broadway, just south of 8th Street and Astor Place. Reaching for the door handle, my eyes caught sight of a small 4×6 card in the window with those classic words hand-written: “Position Available – Inquire Within”. I thought of Dante’s words from the Divine Comedy as he prepared to cross the threshold into the underworld under Virgil’s tutelage: “In the middle of the journey of our life, I came to myself, in a dark wood, where the direct way was lost.” With a certain amount of trepidation I walked into Weiser’s Bookstore in Greenwich Village that day and met my fate face to face in the person of Donald Weiser, who was obviously a seer, since he recognized my genius long before I did. He was one of those personages in my life who understood what I was capable of before I was aware of it myself. Without his tutelage, who knows where I might have wound up in my downward spiral into self-pity that threatened to consume me.

Denderah1WPThe Denderah Zodiac #1, based on a design by 19th century astrologer Raphael • luma dyes and colored pencil, 18″ x 18″ • painted in August 1976 • estate of Donald Weiser

My initial screening and employment interview with Don’s young office manager Louise was memorably brief: there were only three basic questions which took less than a minute: “What sun-sign are you?” (Germini). “Can you type??” (yes). “When can you start???” (tomorrow). Surprisingly there was no paperwork to fill out, so after a few more minor comments/queries, I was introduced to Don, who asked a few questions of his own, then nodded his approval. And so the adventure in consciousness began. I showed up the next day at 8:30 to start my first day typing invoices to stores like Philadelphia’s Garland of Letters, plus the myriad of other bookstores across the country that were tuning into the esoteric and the occult – The Journey to the East, as Hermann Hesse would describe it – with a lot of Self-Help and New Age thrown in for good measure. The times they were definitely a changin’.

After working in the office as an invoice typist for 3 months, I decided to leave NYC and move back to Maine because I was convinced that NYC was about to explode in apocalypse. Truth was, I was about to explode, and I needed a safe place to do it – Home Sweet Home on the farm in Maine. I lasted there from June to October, then moved back to NYC where a job with Weiser’s awaited me. Shortly thereafter I designed my first book cover for the company, and soon I was no longer typing invoices, I was a commercial artist again, a graphic artist designing book covers this time.

5-FortuneCoversWPAt left, book covers for a series of occult novels by Dion Fortune, pen name for English occultist Violet Firth. These particular covers were some of my favorites to create, fulfilling on a certain level my teenage desire to illustrate Harlequin Romance book covers. Yeah, I’m serious about that. Self-knowledge is always interesting, when we get over kidding ourselves.

I’ve detailed my odyssey with Weiser Books in numerous postings going back to early 2015, including the following posts from February and March of that year which give a variety of details about that early period with DW that would be redundant to write about here.

1975: A New Career in Publishing

The Weiser (pronounced ‘wiser’) Experience

3-4colorFigure+WPAt left and below, more full color covers done for Weiser Books between 1975 and 1986 when I moved to Philadelphia. The move here was also effected through Weiser connections detailed in earlier posts. Looking
3-4colorProcessMidWPback over my life now, I can safely say that the most pivotal single individual in my growth as an artist and person in my maturity was Donald Weiser, a man of great qualities who inspired and helped many needy
3-4colorProcessEarlyWPindividuals, not just myself. Those memorable qualities included patience with my occasionally obstreperous personality, a droll sense of humor that saved many a day, a genuinely caring manner, and an interest in seeing me fulfill my own
3-4colorProcessLateWPpotential.

Thank you Don.
Requiem in Pacem.

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Painting by the Phases of the Moon – Part 1

by Alden Cole on April 16, 2017 · 0 comments

Bartram'sLilyPondWP2008: Lily Pond at Bartram’s Garden • oil on linen, 16″ x 12″ • collection of the artist • $100 plus shipping and handling

Years ago a knowing friend suggested that I consider making art by the phases of the Moon; starting new projects after the new moon, and completing older projects after the full moon; a fortnight each of focusing on the new and the old. I’ve dabbled with the concept over the years from time to time without any commitment to testing the strength of the idea by persistent application. Until two months ago, when I decided to put it to the test. And the results have been surprisingly delightful. As an artist there are always new ideas bubbling up, constantly, some demanding at least a quick sketch, others a more thought-out drawing. My files are filled with drawings on paper in various stages of development. Narrowing the multitude of concepts down to one or a few possible projects to pursue is always a fun challenge.

DetailOld&NewWPIn addition, I go through old sketches on a somewhat regular basis, often in springtime, to see if any old idea strikes a resonant chord demanding contemporary expression. In the process I often come across old work that has been put aside uncompleted, just waiting for the right moment for me to take up the correct tool and bring that piece to a level of finish that usually encourages me to sign the work at last. Or sometimes, as with the painting above which I had decided to submit to The Plastic Club’s April show – Community & Point of View – I suddenly see what has been missing in a painting that I thought finished, signed even. With this particular painting, the missing element was depth in the painted lily, which had remained a flat yellow since painting it in 2008. Inspired to bring the painting to true completion, I got out the paints and in less than a minute I had added those touches of orange that you see in the comparison details above which turned an ordinary painting into an extraordinary painting. What a rush of satisfaction!

MississippiFromEagleRidgeFRWP2014-2017: The Mighty Mississippi as seen from Eagle Ridge, Ferryville WI • acrylics on canvas-board, 12″ x 24″ • collection of Lynn & Chris Amundsen, Colorado.

In 2014 while visiting my
LastDay@EagleRidgeWPfirst cousin Marge Cole Thompson at her home in Wisconsin, which features an extraordinary view of the Mississippi from the high bluffs where their extraordinary house is situated overlooking the river, I started a painting with a quick pencil sketch from Sunset Point, where Marge and her husband
3StagesWPDewey often toast the evening on a summer night. The spot has an amazing view, as you can see from an actual wide-angle photograph of the scene, above. My would-be painting remained in the pencil-sketch stage until October 2015 when it received its first coloration; however I failed to bring it to a finish at the time, who knows why? A whole year and a half passed before I committed the time and energy (during the March waning moon I might add) to bring the painting to a state of completion. If I do say so, I think it’s one of the finest landscape paintings I’ve yet produced.

InkedDiamondGS-WP1984-2017: Connectivity • pen & ink drawing on paper, 11.5″ x 11.5″ • collection of the artist • drawn on the reverse side of the drawing Sagittarius, below.

Another waning moon project was to bring two drawings that are back-to-back on a single piece of paper to a finish. The original sketch for the drawing at left was done in non-repro blue pencil, which was so lightly suggested that it was virtually impossible to read the drawing’s details. Started sometime in the 80s, I inked the drawing during March’s waning moon.

Sagittarius-Pencil&InkedWP1984-2017: Sagittarius • pencil plus pen & ink on paper, 11.5″ x 11.5″ • collection of the artist

During the 80s while working for Samuel Weiser Inc. in Cape Neddick Maine,
SagittariusInkedDuoGS-WPI conceived the idea of doing a series of arts depicting the astrological signs. However I didn’t get very far, devoting time only to a drawing of Sagittarius, the centaur. On the left is how developed the original drawing was, using both non-repro blue pencil plus regular graphite pencil. On the right, is the inked art, finished during March’s waning moon after having looked at this particular drawing many times over the years. Once accomplished, I started experimenting with the resultant graphic, seen above; another candidate for the AldenArt Coloring Book.

(to be continued)

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A Miscellany of Then and Now

by Alden Cole on March 26, 2017 · 0 comments

1986-AffirmationWPOne of the most challenging aspects of writing/creating this Slow Motion Memoir – this autobiography of sorts, one posting at a time – is the fact that my verbal and visual records are anything but uniform, or chronological, or in one place easily accessible for evaluation in a truly systematic manner, although I am working more actively now on getting my records to that state. Pieces of my past are all over the place in the files. As I keep working to better organize the various pieces of information chronologically, new surprises keep resurfacing in places that make writing a neat assessment of my past as it happened difficult. This kind of correct sequential in-depth view will obviously have to wait for The Book. Discovering a vital artwork that is out of sequence with the evolving story (presently dealing with the late 80s) is the case with the piece above, a sample of my calligraphy in the form of an affirmation, which I penned shortly after moving to Philadelphia in 1986. It was given to me by JMH, my spiritual counselor, to learn and repeat each morning, which I did, for a number of years with good results. In case you can’t read the calligraphy which is loosely based on a Chancery Italic I had learned at RISD back in the early 60s, here are the words:

“I give thanks that I am well, strong, healthy, free, independent and confident. I am at peace with all those around me. Each and every day that I strive for improvement in my life, I become more effective and better able to function without limitation. I am a warm friendly well-liked person. My success in life is assured and does not require me to take advantage of any other person. Rather, it obliges me to help others, without telling anyone about my good deeds.”

When I first arrived in Philadelphia May 1, 1986, my attitude toward self was anything but healthy. I was in a state of deep self-loathing that few people were aware of, because I had become so adept at pretending that my world was fine, both to myself and to family and friends in New England where I had been living for the last six years. From 1985 onwards, I had been experiencing a downward spiral of self-confidence that was resulting in difficulties at work, as well as compounding difficulties in the few friendships that I had established in Portsmouth NH. Suffice it to say that shortly after arriving in Philly I developed a new set of personal rituals, which included the repetition on a daily basis of this affirmation that I had been given, to be repeated preferably in the morning shortly after arising. With time and persistence I developed an understanding of the power of belief, and the role of affirmations in reprogramming old negative patterns of thought into positive perceptions of the self. I’ll admit that the process takes time and conscious work, but it is efficacious if one is willing to expend the effort. From personal experience I know it’s worth it. What more can I say??

DownTheIntervale#3WPThe landscape you grow up in speaks to you in a way that nowhere else does.” – Molly Parker

Down the Intervale #3 • oil on canvas-board, 9″ x 24″ • collection of the artist

Late ’80s: Although I was living in Philadelphia my heart still had a great big soft spot for Maine, and the farm where I had grown up. On occasion I gave expression to the emotional pull of the landscape I so loved in pieces like the painting above, one of many portraying the rolling hillocks of Dayton landscape behind my dad’s barn leading down to the intervale of the Saco River between the rows of trees in the distance, my primary playground as a child.

An annual spring ritual is taking a reevaluating look at old unfinished work, particularly on paper; work that’s been languishing in the files, incomplete but still showing promise that hasn’t been fully developed. In mid March I was inspired to rework a number of these compositions from various time periods that have come to light. Below, a selection of these recently reworked and finished artworks. Enjoy!

May'14-March'17WPInside, Looking Out – Variation #4 • acrylic on paper-board, 20″ x 16″ • collection of Matt & Judy Fichtenbaum

In 2014 I started a series of works based on a theme first developed in my second oil painting, done in 1973, as I was transitioning out of a career in fashion illustration and into whatever was next. The scene is one looking out the back doors of the barn belonging to my dad on his farm in Dayton, Maine. This fourth variation, portrayed on the left, was where I started (and stopped) on 12 May 2014. The right side however shows how I transformed the painting on 17 March 2017, bringing it to a successful conclusion and immediately packaging it up for shipment to my friends and generous patrons the Fichtenbaums. Thank you Matt & Judy.

Madonna&Child.Muskie&ColeWP1978?: While searching recently for something else in my archives, I came across two old drawings from a 14″ x 11″ sketchbook I maintained while living in NYC during the late ’70s. The two-page spread at left shows a small newspaper photograph of a mother and child that inspired the finished pencil sketch on the opposite page. You can even see where the clipping has left a shadow of pale sepia on the drawing, from years of facing each other in my sketch book. The season was obviously Christmas, as the poem inscribed on the left page with the clipping is ee cummings evocative “from spiraling ecstatically this” which my friend Harold Stover turned me on to years ago. The inspiring photograph is by fellow Maine native Steve Muskie of his wife and child, from the Biddeford Journal, date unknown. Another research project…

WiseAsSerpents-14x11WPThe drawing at left actually preceded the spread above in my sketch book; you can see the same faint sepia shadow from the newspaper clipping that has bled through the paper. Until the Ides of March, this was a blue-pencil sketch almost too light to read as a drawing. I figured it was time for a little transformation: with my trusty H pencil I redrew it, adding new details to arrive at a point where I finally recognized myself. Yes indeed, that’s yours truly at age 34, wearing big ole headphones, with a snake and bird coming out of the top of my head; the inscription off to the right side, still in blue, reads “WISE AS SERPENTS & HARMLESS AS DOVES” – a biblical saying I grew up with. My goal then, as now…

1977-2017-DragonLoreWPDragon Lore – Then & Now, a 17″ x 14″ pencil drawing on paper from 1977 that got inked & colorized in March.

“We’re our own dragons as well as our own heroes, and we have to rescue ourselves from ourselves.” – Tom Robbins (22 Jul 1932 – )

DragonTamerWP2002-17: Dragon Tamer • oil, acrylics, and colored pencil on paper, 18″ x 18″ • collection of Jeff Miller

I’ve always been fascinated by images of serpents, and their kin the dragons, and early attempts at portraying them go back to childhood, with a relatively serious attempt at artfulness while I was a student at RISD, which unfortunately no longer exists. Above is a piece I started in 2002, dedicated to my Tai Chi teacher William Bengochea. I finished it two weeks ago after a decade and a half of being distracted with other projects, and almost immediately found a buyer in a new friend who happens to live just down the street. I’m a lucky guy.

SheSpeaks.2stagesWPShe Speaks • pencil and ball-point-pen drawing on paper 12″ x 18″ • collection of the artist

I can’t remember when I started the pencil sketch seen at the top of the image at left, which is so lightly drawn that most of the details are barely perceptible; possibly the late 80s, although something about the style indicates the timing was more probably from the early to mid 90s. Inspired to make it read as a finished drawing, I brought it to completion on Saturday 18 Mar ’17, with no plans to colorize it.

SpringRitualsenBleuWPSpring Rituals aka Aloha from Lake Woe Be Gone Where the Women are Strong and the Men are Good Looking • acrylics on paper-board 19″ x 26″ • started 4 March 2017, signed 14 March 2017 – the first all-new work of art to emerge in quite some time.

SpringRitualsColoredWP

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Philadelphia Flower Show 2017

by Alden Cole on March 20, 2017 · 0 comments

WonLee@FlowerShowWPHolland Flowers the World was the theme of this year’s Philadelphia Flower Show, which I attended last week; the first show of this nature that I’ve been to in many a year. First stop was Booth 324 in the vendor section, where I was able to thank Won Kyoung Lee (seen at left) and husband Matthew Alden Price (who was working back at the studio) for making this event possible by gifting me with a ticket left at my door, thank you very much. We had met last spring through one of their projects – My Philadelphia Story – which I promoted in emails and blogs at the time. Shortly after meeting each other, Matt and I deduced that we’re probably distant cousins since we share the Alden name, plus the fact that we were both born and raised in Maine. Jonathan Alden, the name of Matt & Won’s company, named after John Alden – the ship’s carpenter aboard the Mayflower, that conveyed that intrepid group of Pilgrims from England to the the New World back in 1620 – features very elegantly worked items in wood, as seen in the background of this photo of Won taken last Wednesday. Check out some of Matt’s mastery at his website: https://www.jonathanalden.com/

Spectacle1WPNeedless to say, this year’s Flower Show was Spectacle with a capital ‘S’. I found myself delighted but virtually overwhelmed by the sights, smells, and even sounds of the event; this was Entertainment on the Grand Scale for the masses. And for $35 a pop at the door, it should be. I noticed
3PrizewWinnersWPthat colorful LED lighting has really taken center stage in events of this nature. I found myself constantly switching between wide angle shots of the space, and close-ups of the various
AsparagusFernWPcolorful arrangements. Very impressive, and a lot of fun. AND I’ve never seen so many people taking pictures with their cell phones; it was amazing to watch. On the way home I snapped some photos of the Chinatown bronze dragons that protect a parking lot, as well as a billboard featuring a bowler hatted chap that reminds
Scarlet??WPme of my friend and fellow artist Burnell Yow!
Enjoy the virtual tour! Sorry it’s not Scratch ‘n’ Sniff!

Spectacle2WP

3IkebanaWP

Spectacle3WP

3CloseupsWP

WhatIzIt?WP

Tulips&DaisiesWP

BlueBridgesWP

3DetailsWP

LushBouquetWP

Let'sDoLunch?WP

ChinatownDragonWP

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a late ’80s miscellany of artworks

March 13, 2017

The World Is Not Interested In The Storms You Encountered, But Did You Bring In The Ship? • gouache and acrylic on paper, 24″ x 18″ • collection of Bonnie Schorske, Philadelphia 1988: After I had been working for Roberts & Raymond Advertising Agency for a couple years, company president Bob Sulpizio approached me one […]

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Late ’80s: leisure time illustrations

February 28, 2017

“You cannot escape the results of your thoughts. Whatever your present environment may be, you will fall, remain or rise with your thoughts, your vision, your ideal. You will become as small as your controlling desire; as great as your dominant aspiration.” – James Lane Allen (21 Dec 1849 – 18 Feb 1925) Distance Lends […]

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A Life Obsession: The Art of the Make Over

February 13, 2017

“You never actually finish a painting. You either run out of time or you give up.” – Ron Rizzi (1941 – ) 1986: Self at 42 • left: oil on canvas-board, 20″ x 16″ • right: pastels on paper, 18″ x 14″ • both, collection of the artist. These two self portraits done only months […]

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The Late ’80s: doing my own thing…

February 7, 2017

With These Hands • oil on canvas, 22″ x 34″ • started in NYC in 1978; finished in Philadelphia in 1989 • collection of Sharon Gold Sharon Gold and I met through Roberts & Raymond Associates, in early 1987, shortly after R&R moved into its own office space at Arch and 22nd Streets in Philadelphia, […]

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The Late ’80s: working in advertising

January 29, 2017

Artwork created for use in a print-ad for Lotrisone, an anti-fungal cream produced by Merck & Co., one of the major clients of Roberts & Raymond Associates, the Philadelphia advertising agency for whom I worked from 1986-96, my first decade in the city. On May 1, 1986 when I arrived in Philadelphia, I was jobless; […]

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Self-knowledge: I am a serial limerent

January 22, 2017

lim·er·ence/ˈlimərəns/ noun “the state of being infatuated or obsessed with another person, typically experienced involuntarily and characterized by a strong desire for reciprocation of one’s feelings but not primarily for a sexual relationship.” I was 41 and living in Portsmouth NH when I first heard the term “limerence” during a psycho-therapy session with a fellow […]

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1986: the beginnings of Conscious World Art

January 15, 2017

In June 1978 when I was in Santa Fe NM visiting friends Pasha Buck and Amelia Hartzel I first encountered the Creed of the Magi (quoted in full at the end of this posting) which immediately struck a responsive chord in me. Once back in NYC I was inspired to create a b&w poster incorporating […]

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