What They Left Behind: Toons, the Snurfer and ‘Macho Man’

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Obituaries in The New York Times give account of the lives of the people around us — what they accomplished and how they lived — and reading them can be an exercise in discovering, or rediscovering, the marvelous things they left behind.

Here is a sampling of such legacies from recent weeks.

Carlos Cruz-Diez luxuriated in color. His installations, light constructions and paintings were suffused with rich hues that brought viewers into what this Venezuelan artist called “chromatic situations.” His work appeared on the hull of a ship, an airport floor, a Los Angeles crosswalk. He was one of Latin America’s most important artists in the second half of the 20th century and beyond.

Sherm Poppen worked in the welding supply business, but it was by joining two pieces of wood that he made his most lasting mark. To entertain his rambunctious daughters on a snowy Christmas Day, he bolted together two of their child-size skis to create a stand-up board that they could use to surf the snowy sand dunes behind their lakeside cottage. Thus was born the “Snurfer,” which in a later incarnation developed by others became the snowboard.

Barbara Crane was a photographer whose eye transformed the ordinary — an apartment building, a scene of party chitchat, a fire escape — into an abstract image. Her work could evoke a spectrum of sensations, from the playful to the ominous. Over a 70-year career, she focused on Chicago, with one of her best-known series named after the Loop.

The name of the song is unprintable here, but the award is not: It’s called an Emmy, and Katreese Barnes won two of them. One was for a risqué parody of an R&B song that became a viral internet hit while she was musical director for “Saturday Night Live.” She and another musician wrote the music for the number, featuring Justin Timberlake and Andy Samberg. But she did far more in her career than write that one song. She played keyboards and alto saxophone, sang, composed, produced and worked with major stars, including Roberta Flack, Sting and Chaka Khan.

It was late one night at the Anvil, a gay nightclub in Manhattan’s West Village. Henry Belolo, a music producer, and his business partner noticed a bartender wearing a headdress and loincloth and another patron in cowboy garb. “We said, ‘My God, look at those characters.’ So we started to fantasize on what were the characters of America. The mix, you know, of the American man.” They ultimately dreamed up the Village People, a disco group whose members represented a sailor, a police officer, a cowboy, an American Indian, a biker and a construction worker. Nothing screams 1979 more joyously than their songs “Macho Man” and “Y.M.C.A.”

The path to a child’s mind and heart, Lee Bennett Hopkins believed, was through poetry. He published scores of anthologies of verse directed at young readers. But he also wrote poems himself. One of them goes:

It’s poem o’clock.

Time for a rhyme —

tick-tock

ding-dong

bing-bong

or

chime.

Poems are

wistful

wish-filled

sublime —

Come.

Unlock a minute

for

poetry time.

Nancy Reddin Kienholz, working closely with her husband, the sculptor Edward Kienholz, scoured junk shops and flea markets to harvest materials for elaborate installations and tableaux. The works were jarring, sometimes disturbing and often focused on society’s troubling issues — child abuse, sexism and racism.

The movie “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” released in 1988, drew on the traditions of film noir, but it broke new ground by mingling live actors with animated characters on the screen. The animated folk, some established and some new, were known in the movie’s universe as toons, and the man credited with their “performances” was Richard Williams. He received a special Oscar and shared another for visual effects.

The comic book artist Ernie Colón drew Richie Rich and a warrior princess named Amethyst, but he stepped out of that mode to illustrate an adaptation of “The 9/11 Commission Report.” It became a best seller.


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