“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

by Alden Cole on March 13, 2017 · 0 comments

WorldIsn'tWPThe 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 day to ask if I’d be interested in submitting an idea for what would ultimately be a commission from one of his friends for a boat-portrait. Intrigued, I said I’d be glad to give it a shot. The only information supplied was that the boat in question was a three-masted sailing ship named Semper Verde – Always Green – and the gentleman’s rather lengthy motto was to be included in the work somehow. Hopeful for a free-lance gig, I quickly came up with the artwork seen above. My idea proved too conceptual however. When I finally saw the finished product that won the commission, I understood why I had lost out to another artist: a rather bland, standard portrait of a three-masted ship in full-sail, seen in profile, at sea against an idealized sky, with the motto engraved on a brass plate attached to the frame; a painting I never could have created. My disappointment was eventually turned to satisfaction when my friend Bonnie expressed her desire to own the painting. Thank you.

MetatronWP“It is written that the figure of a bird represents Metatron [the highest ranking angel]. His head is the letter ‘yod’ and the body is the letter ‘vav’ and the two wings are the two letters ‘hai’… his head symbolizes the intellectual aspects… whilst the two wings – fear and love – refer to the higher ‘hai’ which is love, and the lower ‘hai which is the lower fear… nevertheless they are called wings, for the consummation of love is the service out of love and love without service is a ‘love of delights’.”

ManIsMade...OriginalWP1987: my spiritual teacher whose interests are far ranging and not confined to any one tradition, suggested the above drawing to me shortly after I moved to Philadelphia, utilizing the Tetragrammaton (the Hebrew name of God transliterated in four letters as YHWH or JHVH and articulated as Yahweh or Jehovah). After its creation, he suggested another variation which had been revealed to him by a friend, Rabbi Zalman Schecter. At left is the first drawing I came up with in response to this challenge; this in turn was
ManisMadePosterWPfollowed by another drawing, seen at the lower left. This became the artwork for my third poster created for Conscious World Art since moving to Philadelphia – Man is Made in the Image of God – published in 1987, another 11″ x 14″ b&w poster on cream-colored card-stock (don’t be fooled by the stark white of the reproduction at left). Copies are still available from yours truly for only $10 a piece, mailed directly to you from 717 Federal Street in Philadelphia with my gratitude.

TearDowntheWallx2WPTear Down the Wall – Then & Now/1988 & 2017 • markers on clear acrylic and vellum tracing paper; each, 18″ x 9″ • collection of the artist. For full effect, read the arts from the bottom up.

What a difference thirty years makes! In 1988, as a result of the ‘inner self’ work I was doing by studying with my teacher, I came up with the left image above, inspired in large part by Pink Floyd’s The Wall, focused on a number of negative inputs I remembered from childhood and beyond, words that may not have broken my bones, but they hurt anyway. Just two weeks ago, I decided to develop an idea that had been formulated around the same time as the original, but never acted upon, beyond a simple pencil sketch. Now we have the two of them: the power of NO contrasted to the power of YES! Next, to enlarge these two images onto life-size panels followed by having the words – moving and ever changing – projected onto the panels, rather than being painted onto the surfaces, as indicated in these initial sketches.

TheTree&IWPThe Moon, the Sky, the Pine, and I • oil on linen, 24″ x 32″ • collection of Marge and Dewey Thompson, Wisconsin

At some point in the mid ’80s I painted this reverie on the power of solitude; a memory of my time living alone in Dayton, Maine – in the country where I had grown up, and where part of me longed to be – the fool living on the hill; while another part of me longed to escape the intense loneliness I had always experienced living in the country, by fleeing to the city. This life has been consistently typified by feelings of ‘wanting to be elsewhere”. To say the least, it’s been an interesting emotional juggling act…

Bosch'sDelightWPWhile Reading on Bosch Late One Summer Night • pencil on light-weight cardboard, 14.5″ x 44″ • collection of the artist

“…with monks “accidia” [sloth] took on the characteristics of the melancholia and paralysis of the will which all too often befall those pledged to the service of God. But in the everyday life of lay persons, it is of no less import, a kind of creeping timidity that makes it impossible to come to grips with even the most urgent and essential activities…Under the guise of deep study or meditation [Bosch’s depiction of sloth] masks nothing less than a flight from the normal problems of life…”

The quote above, inscribed at the bottom-center of the drawing shown, is from a book on the artist Hieronymus Bosch (1450s – 9 Aug 1516) by Carl Linfert – one of my favorite artists – which I read the summer of 1986, my first summer in Philadelphia, an interesting one to say the least, when I was feeling a little slothful myself. Inspired by Bosch’s work, I came up with the drawing above, rather an anomaly in my work, in terms of subject matter, as well as execution. I’ve always wanted to develop the idea into a full-color painting, which may yet happen, given “Time, Strength, Cash, and Patience.”

MordorWPMordor • pencil, markers, and oil paint on light-weight card-board, 14.5″ x 44″ • collection of the artist.

Loosely inspired by Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings cycle, I started this drawing in pencil sometime in the summer of 1986, with the idea of turning it into an illustration on the grand scale. The drawing only progressed as far as the red outline stage, plus a bit of full color work. Finished, it would have taken its place in a portfolio of illustrations intended to launch my career as a children’s book illustrator, a portfolio that never materialized because I landed a full-time position working in an advertising agency, which totally refocused my energies, and ultimately made it possible to buy a home for myself.

ErikHansenZeroxPortraitWPErik: a portrait • collage of b&w photocopies mounted on foamcore, 30″ x 24″

1989: This was a total anomaly in my portraiture work, one made possible by having an office job with access to a photocopy machine. Fun and Games in the office, making enlargements of 4×6 color photographs, plus elements copied from “Monuments of Egypt: The Napoleonic Edition” published by Princeton Architectural Press, 1987.

1988Aug27-JEHportraitWP1988: Eric, a portrait • pencil on paper, 8-1/2″ x 8-1/2″ • collection of the aritst

“According to Pliny the Elder, portraiture began with the fear of lost love… all of art, was said to start with that moment of resistance to loss; the fixing of a fugitive vision… To make a portrait was to cheat abandonment; to close distance, triumph over separation, to turn absence into presence.”

quoted from Simon Schama’s excellent book The Face of Britain: A History of the Nation through Its Portraits published by Oxford University Press, 2016. A book which I finished reading last week, and is one of the most erudite and profound looks at portraiture that I have yet read by one of the great minds of my generation. A genuine learning experience and highly recommended!

ErikHansenWP1988: Erik – a portrait (unfinished) • oil on linen canvas-board, 18″ x 24″ • collection of the artist. One of my early experiments in virtual monochrome which I decided not to develop beyond this stage due to the expressiveness of the simple forms.

1989?-RobertMayberryWP1991: Robert, a portrait • oil on canvas, 18″ x 18″ • collection of Robert Mayberry

The last of my attempts at painted portraiture done in the early years of living in Philadelphia. The individual portrayed was my partner in NYC from 1971-73. Although he moved to San Diego in 1974, we stayed in touch. He visited me in Philadelphia shortly after I moved into my home at 717 Federal Street in 1991, which is when I painted this portrait. Unfortunately I reworked the painting a few years later, after which I sent it to him in California. Unfortunately I neglected to photograph the altered version before letting it go. My memory is that the reworking was not to the benefit of the painting. Basta!

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Late ’80s: leisure time illustrations

by Alden Cole on February 28, 2017 · 0 comments

“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)

DistanceLendsEnchantment-InOutWPDistance Lends Enchantment • oil on scored & folded light-weight cardboard, 16″ x 43″ • collection of the artist.

1986: New to Philadelphia, and prior to getting a full-time job in advertising, I flirted briefly with the idea of becoming a children’s book illustrator. The art at left was the only piece actually completed with a definite eye to creating a portfolio of illustrations that might lead into that particular field. Why children’s book illustration? A whim based on being drawn to that field as a result of purchasing a number of children’s books my first year in Philadelphia.

Triptych#1-Outside:InsideWPTree of Life – a triptych • colored markers on light-weight cardboard, 15-1/2″ square when closed, 15-1/2″ x 31″ when open. 1988

At the time I was making my living as a free-lance production artist for Roberts & Raymond Associates, a full-service advertising agency. Production work was pretty mundane, boring even, for an artist like myself, who had been creating illustrations and designing book covers for Samuel Weiser Publishers, prior to moving to Philly. During my lunch hours I started frequenting James Fox booksellers, a charming storefront on Sansom Street, a brief walk away from the office, that featured a great selection of books, a number of which caught my eye and proved all too often the truth of the adage “a fool and his money are soon parted.”

Triptych#2-Outside:InsideWPChoices: The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil – a triptych • colored markers on light-weight cardboard, 15-1/2″ square when closed, 15-1/2″ x 31″ when open. 1989

Apparently I was experiencing a kind of ‘new-childhood-revisited’ via the work of artists like Chris van Allsburg, Nancy Ekholm Burkert, Leo & Diane Dillon, the brothers Hildebrandt, Gary Kelley, Kinuko Craft, Alan Lee, Reinhard Michl, Michael Pangrazio, Kit Williams, Don Wood, Patrick Woodruffe, and a host of others. I had always enjoyed the work of classic illustrators like Howard Pyle, N.C. Wyeth, Arthur Rackham, Marfield Parrish, Norman Rockwell, but these talented artists whose work I was becoming familiar with were my contemporaries, and therefore competitors.

CombinedTriptychsClosedWPThe Trees of Life and the Knowledge of Good and Evil – stacked triptychs, closed position.

The more I explored the field the more overwhelmed was I by the quality as well as the quantity of work available. I soon accepted the fact that my lack of discipline and commitment would never allow me to be a competitor in the field of children’s book illustration. So I moved on to manifesting my own particular kind of esoteric artworks. Of course, the question that always came up was what are these eccentric drawings in color suitable for? Science fiction? Comic novels? Occult thrillers?

CombinedTriptychsOpenWPThe Trees of Life and the Knowledge of Good and Evil – stacked triptychs, open position. 1989

Ultimately it didn’t matter to me; the important thing was that I was making art in my free time, and that gave me great satisfaction. I had a good free-lance gig that payed the bills, I was making progress doing the exercises recommended by my teacher; I was even developing a social life; the times were good. What was the rush to come up with a new career? I had plenty of time to figure out what I wanted to be when I finally grew up.

Triptych4ViewsWP>The Trees of Life and the Knowledge of Good and Evil – stacked triptychs, possible positions • collection of Omar Kabir

One of my self-created projects to keep my hand active was the two triptychs pictured above in various stages of development. What started as a single artwork done in markers on cardboard (of all substrates) turned into the creation of a second one which I shaped differently from the first. Once the second was completed, the idea of combining them took root, as you see above. Because these pieces were painted with markers which have proven to be color-fugitive, the originals have faded dramatically. Fortunately I took photographs of all elements in the set while the colors were still fresh.

AwakeningWPAwakening: Animal Body/Inner Self/Outer Self/Divine Self • markers on paper, 12″ x 18″ • damaged and cropped. 1988

Inspired by the concept I was exposed to through my teacher that ‘man’ is composed of four ‘bodies’ – an Animal Body (the physical vehicle we walk around in), an Inner Self (our emotional being), an Outer Self (our thinking being), a Divine Self (our intuitive being), I came up with the drawing seen above, another done in markers, my favorite medium at that time. Much to my dismay however, I’ve watched this piece as well as many others, fade radically with time and exposure to air.

MoonLightMagic2WPMoon Light Magic #2 • oil on linen canvas-board, 15″ x 24″ • collection of the artist. 1988

Moonlight and Romance happen to be recurring motifs in my oeuvre, a sublimation of the fact that there’s little real romance in my life, other than in my mind. But that’s not such a bad thing, as I’ve discovered to my benefit with time, patience and awareness aka Self-Knowledge. Much of my life has been spent looking for that special someone to hang out by the fireside with. I’ve finally learned to be thankful for unanswered prayers; to know that I have the ability to turn those desires into art rather than vainly pursued dreams that become disappointments. Hey, I’ve said it before: It ain’t easy being green!

HangedManWPThe Hanged Man • colored markers, colored pencils, white gouache on paper, 14″ x 18″ • collection of the artist. 1988

Despite encouragement over the years from many friends familiar with my work to design a Tarot Deck, this is the only one I’ve created so far, card # 12. And I have no intention of going any further with such a plan. Designing a tarot deck is one of the more esoteric projects one could possibly get involved with. Besides, there are so many decks published now, it would be pointless to add one more. During the ’70s & ’80s, designing tarot decks became a virtual cottage industry, almost expected of any artist interested in archetypal subjects. “Hey, if Dali could do one, why can’t I??” Personally, I’ll pass…

AIPHprojectC1988WPDown By The Riverside • markers on paper, 5″ x 10″ • collection of the artist. 1987

In the fall of 1987, I took a single-semester class at the Art Institute of Philadelphia in computer illustration/design, using a PC-based system-platform for the first – and virtually last – time in my life. The grid was created on paper as a template for an illustration project that took several sessions. In terms of motifs, could anything be more quintessentially Alden? Man in Mountainous Landscape with Tree beside Body of Water with Sun and Moon giving Light. Good to be reminded that there’s visionary consistency in my work…

Face2Face-b&w+colorWPFace 2 Face Yet Again • pencil, ball-point pen, acrylic, and colored pencil on watercolor board, 18-1/2″ x 12-3/4″ • collection of the artist. February 2017

Last but not least is one of my most recently completed works of art, just in time for Valentine’s Day. As one of my friends correctly noted, the line work looks like it could have been created 30-40 years ago by my hand. The more subtle coloration is even evocative of some of my earlier work in colored pencil, which continues to be one of my favorite mediums. At last I’ve achieved consistency! is outstanding success next? 😉

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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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Backtracking to 1985…

January 9, 2017

1985, living in Portsmouth NH, working for Sameul Weiser Inc., book publisher/distributor, relocated from NYC to Cape Neddick ME. Early in the winter of ’85 Betty Lundsted Weiser apprised me of the fact that she had volunteered our office’s design services – i.e. myself – to help a friend, fellow astrologer Wendy Ashman, by designing […]

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1987: my first year in Philadelphia

January 2, 2017

The Slow-Motion Art Memoir continues; Drawn in Portsmouth; Revised in Philadelphia – a September 6 posting – was the most recent in this ongoing series revealing my life story. at left, my adios to 2016 and bienvenu to 2017, utilizing artworks created during my first year in Philadephia, thirty years ago. Further below you’ll find […]

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