Saturday, July 25, 2020

Al Price (1924-1994)

Alvin Mefford Price was born on July 19, 1924, near Georgetown, Kentucky. His parents were Emerson Mefford (1882-1929), a sharecropping farmer, and Nellie B. (Johnson) Mefford (dates unknown). Alvin was the third of their seven children.

Alvin's father died when he was four years old. His mother tried to keep the family together, "[b]ut it was more than she could do," Alvin remembered. "My oldest brother was big enough to work on the land, so she kept him. Four of us were sent to the orphanage in Louisville. My name was Alvin Mefford when I went to the orphanage."

When he was in the fourth grade, Alvin was adopted by Mrs. Carrie Price, a school dietician, and her husband, a hotel janitor. He took their surname and became Alvin Mefford Price. He later shortened it to just Al Price.

Price first went to Louisville Central High School, then, when his family moved, to Northwestern High School in Detroit. He played tennis and basketball and served on the student council. He also won a National Scholastic award for a picture he had painted in his junior year. Price attended summer school every summer and graduated from high school in just three years.

World war came and in September 1943 Price enlisted in the U.S. Army. Recognizing his artistic talent, the army sent him to art school at McDill Field in Florida, then to Greenville Army Air Field in Greenville, Mississippi, where he and two other artists designed posters. Price was transferred to Hawaii, then to Guam, where he spent thirteen months before returning home to be separated in 1946. Price served another year in the army from July 1952 to July 1953.

As his biography in Haunted by a Paintbrush (above) says, Al Price studied at Wayne University (now Wayne State University) in Detroit, also at several art schools. He was an illustrator, painter, and muralist. In addition to appearing in many magazines, his paintings and drawings were and are in Illinois Negro History Makers (1969), at the Coleman Branch of the Chicago Public Library, and possibly also in the DuSable Museum of African American History in Chicago, co-founded by his friend and associate Margaret Burroughs (1915-2010).

Price lived in Chicago for many years. In addition to his work as a commercial artist and fine artist, he was also a teacher, and he was deeply involved in the art scene in his adopted hometown, more specifically the art scene that included black artists Bernard Goss (1913-1966), Anna McCullough Tyler (1930-2009), Alfred J. "Al" Tyler (1933-2011), Vincent Saunders, Jr. (1916-2005), Benny Horton (dates unknown), and Sylvester Britton (1926-2009).

Al Price died on January 15, 1994, probably in Chicago. He was sixty-nine years old.

I found Al Price's autobiography Haunted by a Paintbrush: A True Story (1968) at a local secondhand store yesterday, and what a treasure it is--a treasure not only because of its smallness and its several pen-and-ink illustrations but also because it is a story for children about overcoming adversity and persevering in pursuit of one's dreams.

The images above are from that book. From top to bottom they are:

1. The front cover, which shows the artist in a double self-portrait, as an adult and as a child, with themes and motifs that reappear in the interior, the handmade hobby horse and the artist's easel.

2. An illustration showing Al Price in childhood with one of his sisters, possibly his older sister Sallie. The names on the wall are of his other siblings, Ella and Billy. Note the hobby horse and other homemade toys.

3. A biography of Al Price, prepared, I presume, by Margaret Friskey (1901-1995), editor of Childrens Press of Chicago and the person responsible for the publication of Haunted by a Paintbrush.

4. A photograph by Robert Vandiver of Al Price in his studio with one of his paintings. The painting is unidentified, but it has an obvious heroic quality. The man's slight dress, the manacle on his left wrist, and the shackle on his left ankle suggest that he is a slave now freed. It looks like he is casting down a round object, but what is it?

The self-portrait on the cover and the photograph both show Price with brushes in his right hand, but after badly injuring that hand in a fall from a scaffold, he had to learn to paint with his left hand, and that's what he did for more than half of his life.

I'm afraid I couldn't find any images of Al Price's paintings or murals on the Internet, and that's a shame. We shouldn't forget artists and their works. I'm happy to have this chance to remember Al Price and to show once again a little of his very fine artwork.

Original text copyright 2020 Terence E. Hanley

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Carolyn Haywood (1898-1990)

Carolyn Haywood lived a very long life and wrote dozens of books beloved by children. She was born Mary Carolyn Haywood on January 3, 1898, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Charles and Mary Emma (Cook) Haywood. Her brother George Biddle Haywood, with whom she lived later in life, came along after her on October 2, 1901. (He also served in the U.S. Army during World War II.) Carolyn was an artist before she was a published author. She studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and, as the book jacket bio above tells us, under three pupils of Howard Pyle, who was called the father of illustration in America. Her first book was B is for Betsy, published by Harcourt Brace in 1939. The book jacket bio here is from Back to School with Betsy, dedicated to her brother George and published in 1943. Late in life, Carolyn wrote several books about Christmas, including Merry Christmas from Betsy (1970), Merry Christmas from Eddie (1986), Santa Claus Forever! (1982), and How the Reindeer Saved Santa (1986). Carolyn Haywood died on January 11, 1990, a little more than a week after her ninety-second birthday.

Text copyright 2018 Terence E. Hanley

Saturday, November 11, 2017

N. Roy Clifton (1909-1985)

Norman Roy Clifton was born on September 17, 1909, in Sheerness, Kent, England. His parents were Irish-born but lived in England. They emigrated in the census year of 1911 and were in Winnipeg, in the Province of Manitoba, in the Canadian census year of 1921. Mr. Clifton was on the move again during a census year in 1930, when he crossed from Canada into the United States. He was enumerated that year in Manhattan but was without employment in the first full year of the Great Depression. The book jacket biography above, from Mr. Clifton's book The Figure in Film (1983), gives the facts regarding his career. Educated in England, Winnipeg, and Auckland, New Zealand, N. Roy Clifton worked as a lawyer, educator, and librarian. He was also keenly interested in theater, film, and square dancing. According to a source on the Internet, Clifton taught geography at Richmond Hill High School, presumably in Richmond Hill, Ontario, in the 1950s and '60s. According to that same source, he died in 1985

In addition to being a poet and an author of non-fiction, Mr. Clifton wrote a children's novel called The City Beyond the Gates, illustrated by Tibor Kovalik and published by Scholastic-TAB Publications in 1977. It's an odd book and written in an odd way. The language, imagery, and themes are are a mix of the poetic, allegorical, dreamy, fabulous, absurdist, and surrealistic. It is in fact a dystopian novel, an unusual genre for children. It must surely be one of the earliest books of its kind written specifically for children. By the way, the illustrator, Tibor Kovalik, was born in 1935 in what was then Czechoslovakia. He emigrated to Canada in 1968 and has worked as an artist, art director, and art teacher. You can find his self-titled website at this link:

Updated November 13, 2018
Original text copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Ross Lockridge, Jr. (1914-1948)

Today, December 11, 2016, is the two-hundredth birthday of the State of Indiana. I had hoped to be within the bounds of my home state for the occasion. Instead I will observe it from a distance.

There was once a Golden Age of Literature in Indiana. The bulk of that age came closer to the beginning of the Hoosier State than to our own time. Its luminaries--Booth Tarkington, Maurice Thompson, George Barr McCutcheon, Edward Eggleston, Meredith Nicholson, James Whitcomb Riley, Gene Stratton Porter--are now largely forgotten to readers outside the state. Indiana's prominent writers since the Golden Age can hardly be called a group. Rather, they are scattershot and include men and women as disparate as Jessamyn West (1902-1984) and Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (1922-2007) or Philip José Farmer (1918-2009) and James Alexander Thom (b. 1933).

No one can say what the Great Indiana Novel might be, if there has ever been one. One candidate--in fact, one candidate for the larger honorific of Great American Novel--is Raintree County by Ross Lockridge, Jr., published in 1948 by Houghton Mifflin. Born on April 25, 1914, in Bloomington, Indiana, Lockridge was prodigious in his powers as a student, scholar, and writer. Before Raintree County, he pounded out a 400-page poem called The Dream of the Flesh of Iron and a 2,000-page fragment of a novel with the working title American Lives, neither of which has since been published. In starting over with a new novel--what would become Raintree County--he simply turned over the pages of American Lives and began typing on the reverse side.

In the making for half a decade and originally extending to 600,000 words, Raintree County was generally well received in its time. The New York Times liked it. The New Yorker, on the other hand, did not. There is reason to believe that the unfavorable opinion of that magazine precipitated Lockridge's suicide on the same day that it appeared in his hometown Bloomington newspaper, on March 6, 1948. Lockridge's novel had been in print only two months when he asphyxiated himself with the exhaust from his car. He left behind a wife and four children, among other family members. He also left behind his lone novel, running, in the Book-of-the-Month Club edition shown here, to 1,066 pages. In that he joined Harper Lee and others whose fame rests almost entirely on one book.

Raintree County was adapted to the silver screen in 1957. Of the principal actors, which included Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor, Eva Marie Saint, Nigel Patrick, Lee Marvin, Rod Taylor, and Agnes Moorehead, only Russell Collins (1897-1965) hailed from Indiana. Despite being set in the Hoosier State, the movie was filmed in the South, in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi. Like many of the works of Mississippi's own William Faulkner, Raintree County is set in a fictional locale. Both Faulkner and Lockridge provided maps of their respective fictional counties in their respective novels. In his prodigious output, Lockridge bore some resemblance, too, to Thomas Wolfe, another Southern author. I might add that I have been to the homes of both Faulkner and Wolfe. (Both were closed for repairs or renovations when I was there.) As for Ross Lockridge, Jr., I can't say that I have been to his home. However, I very often drive through Straughn, situated on beautiful flat ground along U.S. Highway 40, the National Road, in Henry County, Indiana, and the basis for Lockridge's fictional town of Waycross. I can't say, either, that I have seen the mythical golden raintree supposed to have been planted near there by Johnny Appleseed, who has his own final connection to Indiana by having been buried in Fort Wayne. Lastly, I would like to mention Lockridge's cousin, the author Mary Jane Ward (1905-1981) of Fairmount, Indiana, who wrote The Snake Pit (1946) and other novels. That book, too, was adapted to film, in 1948, and it, too, featured a Hoosier, actress Beulah Bondi (1889-1981) of Valparaiso.

So, Happy Birthday, Indiana, the Land of Indians, the Hoosier State, my home state, and a place of which Hoosiers are and can be justly proud.

Original text copyright 2016 Terence E. Hanley

Sunday, July 3, 2016

E. Harper Johnson (1920s-2016)

I have written before about E. Harper Johnson, but at the time I knew only a little about him. The book-jacket biography above tells a little more than that, but more of what I know now comes from Mr. Johnson's granddaughter Kisha, who has generously provided more information on him in her comments on my original article.

E. Harper Johnson was born in Birmingham, Alabama, in the 1920s. He was a painter, muralist, cartoonist, and illustrator who lived and worked in New York, Africa, and I believe the Arabian Peninsula. His art training came at the American Academy, the National Academy, and the Art Institute of Chicago. Mr. Johnson's illustrations and cartoons appeared in newspapers, magazines, and more than 100 books. The illustrations and book-jacket biography above are from The Story of George Washington Carver by Arna Bontemps (New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1954). Like the subject and the illustrator of his book, Arna Bontemps (1902-1973) was a black southerner and a man of great accomplishment.

Harper Johnson was married to Mildred Anita Johnson and to Salma Tahira Malik (1928-1979). He died on March 24, 2016. I hope to find more on E. Harper Johnson, his life, and his work. I invite and welcome comments and email messages.

Original text copyright 2016 Terence E. Hanley

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Morrie Turner (1923-2014)

Morris Nolton "Morrie" Turner was born on December 11, 1923, in Oakland, California. He served as a mechanic with the Tuskegee Airman during World War II and contributed to Stars and Stripes, the newspaper of the Armed Forces. In the 1960s, he traveled with other cartoonists to entertain the troops in Vietnam.

Turner began drawing cartoons and comic strips in the mid 1960s, mostly for the Chicago Defender, a black newspaper. Titles included Dinky Fellas (1964-1965), Press Gremlins (1964-1965), Reverend Smiley (1964-1965), Sepia Smiles (1964-1965), Dogbert (1965-1969), and Classified Chuckles (1966-1969). In 1965, Turner's syndicate rebranded Dinky Fellas as Wee Pals, the comic strip for which he will always be known. Wee Pals began on February 15, 1965, and is still running today, two years after the cartoonist's death.

Morrie Turner was a friend of Charles Schulz and Bil Keane, two other cartoonists of childhood. His Wee Pals is very much like Peanuts, with a large cast of kids who have their own distinct personalities, backgrounds, dress, and interests. It was and is a great strip. By the way, Nipper, the boy with the soul food stand on the cover of Doing Their Thing, wore a Confederate cap, though without the crossed swords. When asked why, he replies,"'Cause I'm non-violent!"

Morrie Turner died on January 25, 2014, in Sacramento, California.

Text copyright 2016 Terence E. Hanley

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Jack Matthews (1925-2013)

It's Christmastime, but here in the Midwest it's more like spring. I have seen snowdrops, dandelions, violets, and forsythia in bloom. Robins are still hanging together in flocks, but they have been singing their spring songs, though only a few notes. I doubt they have mistaken the season or feel any embarrassment for it. Robins, in their boldness, seem incapable of that. It may be that they hold their songs at the ready and are simply trying out for a debut that is still three months away.

It was a colder season forty-eight years ago today when the Silver Bridge came down. Forty-six people died that day, on the bridge and in the waters of the Ohio River. Even now, in the area of Point Pleasant and across the river in Gallipolis, Ohio, there are people who remember the disaster or knew or are related to someone who died there. Jack Matthews was born in Columbus, Ohio, but had roots in Gallia County, of which Gallipolis is the seat of government. Matthews' father came into the world on a Gallia County farm. I don't know that Jack Matthews knew or was related to anyone who died in the Silver Bridge disaster, but he took on the identity of a fictional survivor in his novel Beyond the Bridge, from 1970. The book jacket biography above is from that novel.

Beyond the Bridge is brief but dense and complex, a much different book than Matthews' first novel, Hanger Stout, Awake! (1967), which is more a song of innocence than of experience. Beyond the Bridge takes the form of a diary of a man who has put his old life behind him and assumed a new one on the other side of the river--beyond the bridge--in West Virginia. The book ends with an entry for July 18, 1968--four days before Jack Matthews' forty-third birthday--as the protagonist sets out to cross another bridge and begin another diary.

In Beyond the Bridge, Matthews' diarist is friends with a fallen preacher named Harlan and becomes the lover of a local woman, Billie Sue, who knows all the superstitions of Appalachia. The diarist, Neil, writes of himself and Billie Sue:
     Only before we went to sleep, I myself wondered why I should be so interested in these silly superstitions and Harlan's insane theology.
     I couldn't figure it out, except for the possibility that I could feel human breath in them. And I can't help feeling close to people who have long been dead, and have no other voice left. (p. 138)
I like to think that those who are gone still have a voice, even if it's one we can no longer hear. But if Jack Matthews' only remaining voice for us--whether we are vast seas or merely islands of readership--is in his books, then I must share the feeling of his diarist, that of being "close to people who have long been dead, and have no other voice left." His books speak, have the breath of life in them, and, though their author has been gone two years now, still live.

Original text copyright 2015 Terence E. Hanley