In Praise of Nicholas Roerich (1874-1947)

by Alden Cole on July 21, 2016 · 0 comments

Put aside all prejudices — think freely.
Be not downcast but full of hope.
Flee not from life, but walk the path of salvation.

– Nicholas Roerich (9 Oct 1874 – 13 Dec 1947)

StarOfTheHero1933@72Star of the Hero by Nicholas Roerich, 1933

Sometime in the early 70s when I was just beginning to paint myself, I first encountered the work of Nicholas Roerich through the particular painting shown at left. The impact was immediate, life-altering even. Reproduced as part of a glossy advertising piece promoting a publication I can’t even remember now, I noted Roerich’s name, and saved the reproduction, adding it to a collection of numerous pieces on paper saved over the years for an ongoing scrapbook of favorite inspiring paintings.

BruntonSet1WPSoon after I started working for Don Weiser of Samuel Weiser Inc. in 1974, Roerich’s name came up in conversation, piquing my interest. Don, knowing I was an appreciative artist, showed me a couple out-of-print volumes he owned dedicated to NR’s work, published earlier in the 20th century. He also apprised
BruntonSet2WPme of the fact, unbeknownst to me, that there was a small museum in a brownstone dedicated to the work of NR at 319 West 107th Street, close to Riverside Drive, which I eventually sought out (I was living in Greenwich Village at the time) and loved at first sight. During my first visit I had the overwhelming
BruntonSet3WPsensation that I was walking in a sanctuary; during later years when I lived on the Upper West Side at 101st Street and Broadway, I sought out the museum quite frequently, introducing several friends to the delights of this small jewel-box dedicated to the art of one of the great unsung geniuses of the 20th
BruntonSet4WPcentury; it’s one of my favorite museums in the city, along with the Frick on 5th Avenue (but that’s another story…).

In 1985 (or was it 1984?) Weiser’s gave me the assignment to design a series of covers for a suite of eight books by Paul Brunton, pen name of Raphael Hurst (21 Oct 1898 – 27 Jul 1981) a British theosophist and spiritualist best known as one of the early popularizers of Neo-Hindu spiritualism in western esotericism. Since the book-covers were destined to be printed in full color – a rarity – I got particularly excited about the project, winning approval early on from Don & Betty Weiser to use a selection of paintings by Roerich, whose work seemed the perfect visual embodiment of what Brunton’s books were attempting to communicate. Permission to reproduce the paintings chosen to illustrate the book-covers was negotiated with the Roerich museum in NYC. There was one exception to the project: the cover to A Search in Secret Egypt. Since there was no Roerich work totally apposite, I selected a stock photograph of the pyramids at dusk which seemed to accord well enough with Reorich’s paintings to work with the series. Once finished, this suite of book covers proved to be among my personal favorites of the many designed for Weiser during my tenure there from 1974 to 1986.

TalkDoesNotCookV1&2WPAn additional mid-80s Weiser project involving the work of Roerich was designing a single-color cover for a book written by Ralph Houston, one of Roerich’s disciples who had compiled a book of pithy wisdoms gleaned from contact with the Master while studying with him in India as well as in the USA. At the time of designing the book, Betty Weiser suggested using this particular artwork found while researching Don’s collection of Roerich titles. The fact the reproduction it was necessary to work from was in monotone made it an easy adaptation. Just a couple years ago while doing some Roerich research myself online, I stumbled accidently across the original artwork in full glorious color, which I recognized immediately from the composition: Procopius the Righteous Praying


“When calculations become complex and Infinity is obscured, then will be remembered anew the simplest principle: from heart to heart — such is the law of fraternity, community, fellowship.” – Nicholas Roerich

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