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Showing posts with label obituary. Show all posts
Showing posts with label obituary. Show all posts


Gerald McDermott (1941 - 2013)

I was saddened this past month to learn of the death of Gerald McDermott. His were some of the first that really got me thinking about the medium of picture books pointing toward something of deeper significance.

Before he died, I had only reviewed Creation, which is a gorgeous, oversized book which would look lovely on any bookshelf, and used Raven when I spoke at the Common Grounds Festival last summer about origin myths. Since his death, I have decided to try and review each of his books in order, beginning with Anansi the Spider. I found a few obituaries and eulogies online, but I like this one best by author and illustrator Doug Cushman:

During one of the last times Gerald was here in Paris, we went off hunting for an oyster restaurant. We finally found one in the Quartier Montorgueil on Rue des Petits Carreaux. The owner shipped oysters from his own farm on the Brittany coast so they were guaranteed to be fresh. We ordered a plate of thirty-six and a bottle of Muscadet and savored each sweet shelled beauty.

After staring at the empty platter for a few minutes we looked at each other and ordered another twenty-four. Coffee was taken and I asked for the check. I handed the owner the money and told him to keep the rest as a pourboire (a tip, but literally, “for a drink”). The owner brought over a bottle of Armagnac and poured us both — and himself — a drink. In our bumbling French Gerald and I learned about our host’s oyster beds and hometown. We stumbled out of the restaurant and into the Metro station, said our good-byes, and promised that we’d return soon for another grand plat des huitres.

Sadly, the restaurant has gone forever. Sadly, so has Gerald. Gerald McDermott died on December 26, 2012, in Los Angeles. He had been battling a long illness, deciding to convalesce in New Mexico at the edge of a Navajo reservation after his last trip to Paris, settle his affairs in L.A., and return to France in six months time. His body just gave out. He was determined to live in Paris for good.

In May 2012 he arrived here completely convinced he’d be here full time. When I went to see him at his temporary digs after the first couple days he’d arrived, the door was opened by Gerald. In a wheelchair. I was flabbergasted. He’d been hobbling around on a cane the previous year during our oyster feast but I’d assumed he’d continue his physical therapy so he’d be a bit more mobile. “Things didn't turn out quite as I had hoped,” he said. “But I’m here.”

Paris isn't the most wheelchair-friendly city on earth. For the next month I helped wheel him around Paris, grocery shopping, cashing travelers checks, buying art supplies, going out for meals and art shows. And looking for oyster restaurants. We established a routine when I’d arrive in the early afternoon to help him run some errands. First we’d have a small glass of wine and plan what he needed to do for the day. Then I’d roll him out into the hallway in front of the elevator (a typical Parisian lift, barely big enough for one person and a baguette). He’d stand up, take two steps inside, take the folded wheelchair and close the door. I’d race three floors down the stairs and meet him just as the doors were opening.

Upon returning, we’d reverse the routine and I’d wheel him back into his apartment. All through the routine and the entire time out, Gerald always talked of what he’d do here in France. “I’d like to go back to the south for a while,” he said. “I lived there a long time ago, after I got the Caldecott. I always thought I’d be back.”

He never complained about his handicap. He assumed he’d be back on his feet, more or less, and wander the streets of Paris, looking at her buildings, soaking up her museums, eating her cheeses, drinking her wine. He had a Frenchman’s love for wine, cheese, and saucisson. Paris was going to be his inspiration for getting back to work. He began drawing on the cheap sketch pads I’d leave around the apartment before I left. Wild animals running hither and thither, images from his imagination.

One he showed me was some sort of rodent in medieval clothing pulling a wheeled cart with another rodent riding in the back. “Do you recognize it?” he asked. “That’s you…pulling me around in a wheelchair.” One evening I took him to a gallery opening. We bundled him into a taxi and drove to a small gallery in Beaubourg, near Les Halles. Greeted as an honored guest, he held court with a small crowd of well-wishers, outshining the artist on exhibition. Gerald was surrounded by his Parisian friends. We shared a lot of meals then. We’d gossip about all kinds of things: life, art, books, people we knew. He talked of his long mentorship with Joseph Campbell. During that time Gerald would bring his latest ideas and sketches to Campbell and they’d talk about what the focus should be on a particular passage in the myth. Afterwards, as Gerald would explain, “Joe would ask me if I wanted a drink, ‘straight up or ruined,’ he’d say.”

There was a history between us. I’d met him back in 1976 when I was apprenticing with Mercer Mayer. We saw each other during various stages of our lives, tumultuous relationships and careers, moving from Connecticut to California (me to Redding, him to Los Angeles), and our latest writing and illustrating projects. We’d meet at trade shows and conferences and swap stories, sharing a coffee in L.A., a glass of wine in Redding, or a margarita on Cinco de Mayo in San Diego. He was a fighter, always in the midst of reinventing himself. In the shifting landscape of children’s literature, he shifted as well. Each myth he illustrated encapsulated the essence of each culture, but always with atypical mediums: pen and ink, pastel, colored pencil, watercolor, collage, fabric paint. He began as a filmmaker, then moved to picture books, and, in the last few years, theater. It was when I moved to Paris that I saw another, deeper creative side to Gerald. He was researching a book, poking around the old rooms of the Musée de Cluny. He discovered, or rediscovered, Odilon Redon on a visit to the Musée d’Orsay.

He experimented with some printmaking as well. But most of all he was a storyteller. He was one of the few artists living that continued the venerable tradition of passing on the old stories from generation to generation. He captured the heart and soul of each myth he illustrated. His writing process was jotting down a few lines of the myth and then walking around the room reciting them over and over again, changing the words slightly here and there and listening to them until they was distilled down to only a few, grasping the heart of the myth in its simplest form. Then he’d create the art, borrowing symbols and images from the myth’s culture. But there would always be some part of Gerald in there, some wink or nod that said, “This is serious stuff, but not too serious. Let’s have some fun.”

My last e-mail from him was in October where he was convalescing with a view of the Sandia Mountains in his beloved New Mexico (“although I still can’t figure out why the Spaniards called them ‘watermelons,’” he wrote). He still looked forward to his “bonne vie Française.” He loved Paris, even with its lopsided sidewalks and inability to tolerate the handicapped. He felt at home there. I’ll miss him. And not only during the months with an “r.”


Diane Wolkenstein (d. Jan. 30, 2013)

When I reviewed Esther's Story last year, I had no idea that its author, Diane Wolkstein, was such an accomplished storyteller. By friending her on Facebook, I was to receive all of her updates as she traveled all across the world performing a piece called The Monkey King.

I was saddened to find the notice of her sudden death the other day.


From her website:
Diane Wolkstein is more than a storyteller. She is an interpreter of life. Since 1967, Diane has occupied a unique place in the world of storytelling and literature. Through her performances, teaching, books, and recordings, she has played a major role in the renewed interest in mythology and the modern storytelling movement. Whether recounting epics, trickster stories or fairy tales, Diane enters and speaks from the heart of each story she tells.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg named June 22nd, 2007 “Diane Wolkstein Day” in honor of her 40 years of service to New York City where she initiated America’s first graduate storytelling program, pioneered a year–round storytelling program for parks and schools, hosted her own radio show on WNYC–AM/FM Radio, and taught mythology at New York University, the New School, and Sarah Lawrence. Diane has performed at the United Nations, Lincoln Center, the Smithsonian Institute, the American Museum of Natural History, and has been a frequent guest on PBS, NPR, and the BBC.

A message from Diane's daughter, Rachel:

"It is with profound sadness that I tell you that my mother, Diane Wolkstein, passed away very early this morning in Taiwan. She had had emergency heart surgery but the procedure was not sufficient to allow her heart to work on its own. She was not conscious and she was not alone. She had several of her close friends from Taiwan there with her and at the very end she had a rabbi say kaddish and Buddhist prayers were said as well. Her death is a terrible shock. Her life overflowed with joy, intensity, friendship, love and spirit. Her love for each of us and the stories she told live inside of us forever." —Rachel Zucker


Obituary by Karen Tate:

Diane Wolkstein, world-renowned storyteller, folklorist, mythologist and author of many books for children and adults, died following emergency heart surgery on January 31 while on a trip to Taiwan working on her most recent project, the Chinese epic story of Monkey King or Journey to the West.

Diane was the author of 23 books of folklore and performed to sold-out crowds throughout the world. What set Diane apart as a storyteller are her performing gifts as well as the depth of knowledge and research she devoted to the stories she told. Diane’s collection, The Magic Orange Tree, was the result of numerous visits to Haiti during which Diane recorded stories told on porches and in late-night gatherings. In Australia, Diane met Aboriginal storytellers who granted her special permission to tell their stories. Wolkstein spent years working with Samuel Noah Kramer, one of the world’s pre-eminent archeologists, to create the definitive telling of the great Sumerian epic, Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth, which she performed at the United Nations and the British Museum. Because of Diane’s work, Inanna has become an influential text in feminist studies and studies of ancient history.

Diane’s belief in story and its potential to transform people’s lives propelled her to the forefront of the modern storytelling movement as early as 1967, when she joined the New York City’s Department of Parks & Recreation and started a year–round storytelling program for the city’s parks and schools. Diane initiated America’s first graduate storytelling program at Bank Street College of Education and was a regular visiting teacher of mythology at New York University for 18 years. She is a founding member of both America’s National Storytelling Conference and the Storytelling Center of New York City, and has held hundreds of workshops on the art of storytelling throughout her long career. For thirteen years Diane’s radio show, Stories from Many Lands, was broadcast on WNYC–AM/FM bi–weekly, and in 2007 New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg named June 22nd of that year “Diane Wolkstein Day” in honor of Diane’s 40 years of storytelling for the people of New York City.

"Taking notes."
New York City’s children gathered at the foot of the statue of Hans Christian Andersen in Central Park to hear Diane tell stories every Saturday for more than forty summers. The culminating event of the storytelling season was her telling of Elsie Piddock Skips in her Sleep and the skip rope competition that followed.

Please keep Diane and her family in your prayers. She contributed much to women's studies, feminist studies, and taught much to those exploring the Goddess Inanna. Her work in the world seeded many minds across the globe to bring non-traditional myths to the masses. She was truly a contemporary bard.

May Goddess Embrace Diane in her Golden Wings,
Karen Tate

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