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

Thank you Don.
Requiem in Pacem.

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