• Sunday Essay #8: Gary Kelley: Model of Midwestern Modesty

    • Posted on Jan 21, 2018

    Sunday Essay #8

                Next Sunday, January 28, at 2:00 at the Cedar Falls Public Library, Gary Kelley will present a program on his latest major project, “The Spirit Lake Massacre,” a graphic novel to be published next year.  This is another presentation for the "Cedar Falls Author's Festival," and check www.cfauthorsfestival.org for more information

                Here’s a brief appreciation of Gary Kelley, who’s an old friend.  


                For some future biographer of Gary Kelley, a suggested title: “Gary Kelley: Model of Midwest Modesty.” I’ve known him since the 1970s, talked with him for countless hours over lunches, at art openings, celebratory gatherings, as a co-teacher, and while traveling with tour groups in England, Spain, France, Italy, New York, California. Never once have I heard him brag about, or even mention, his accomplishments.     

                That can only mean one thing:  he’s a model Midwesterner, modest to a fault. 

                “It ain’t bragging’ if it’s true,” said Will Rogers, and Gary could easily be a self-promoting “look at me” artist using a tenth of his resume. And it would all be true. But he can’t and won’t, and that makes him and his work all the more endearing.

                So let me do something he would never do out loud: brag up his accomplishments.  

                He received an honorary doctorate of Humane Letters in 1995 from UNI, and has served and still serves on the Faculty of the Illustration Academy in Kansas City, Richmond, Sarasota, and San Francisco, has offered seminars and lectures at the Smithsonian and Corcoran galleries in Washington DC, at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, the Academy of Art in San Francisco, the Ringling School of Art in Sarasota, the Rhode Island School of Design, the Chicago Art Institute, for the Societies of Illustrators in New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, and San Francisco, has given one-man exhibitions for the Academy of Art in Cincinnati, for the Pablo Neruda Cultural Center in Paris, he sits in the Society of Illustrators’ Hall of Fame, has won 28 Gold and Silver for the Society of Illustrators’ annual exhibitions, he’s illustrated 30 picture books, and one of them, HARLEM HELLFIGHTERS, was named by the NY TImes as one of the ten best picture books of the year in 2014. 

                He’s also illustrated for a host of major publications, from Harper’s and Atlantic, to Rolling Stone, Playboy, and the Super Bowl program booklet.   Not to mention his huge wall illustrations of famous writers that grace Barnes and Noble bookstores across the country. 

                Yes, plenty to brag about. 

                Beyond his modesty, he’s always curious.  He’s constantly in a state of wonder about culture, politics, history, music—he’s a virtual expert on 60s and 70s rock and blues—and sports.  He played football for UNI as a freshman, and now follows UNI’s basketball and football teams as an avid fan.         

                He’s always researching projects, as you’ll hear at length in his presentation on the Spirit Lake Massacre—a deeply researched graphic novel for which he’s also writing the captions.    

                Good researchers are good listeners.  Most group conversations in which I’ve observed and participated, Gary does more listening than talking, and when he contributes it’s often to ask questions rather than assert opinions.  He’s almost never takes center stage unless he’s leading a tour group in a museum.

                Then there’s what the French call Joie d’Vivre, a deep and abiding enjoyment of life and all its pleasures:  good food, good friends, good music, and especially ongoing travel with friends. For Gary Kelley, day after day, life is a joy.       

                Finally, and most endearing, is his generosity.  I’ve commissioned several Kelley illustrations over the years, and could never pay what his works command.  He would ask how much I could pay, and I’d say some ridiculously low figure, hoping for his assent—and he invariably would.  Indeed, he now does much of his non-commercial work for passion and enjoyment more than money.     

                Here are three Gary Kelley illustrations I’ve commissioned, and I still marvel at how well they capture the projects.  

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  • Sunday Essay #6: Government as Source of Fake News

    • Posted on Jan 07, 2018

    Here's today's (1-7) Courier column, which also serves this week as Sunday Essay, #6.  Spielberg's latest film THE POST is due out this Friday, and it ties into the Vietnam War film, as well as our ongoing need for a free press, able to expose government lies.  


                Ken Burns and Lynn Novick's recent “The Vietnam War” documentary deserves a careful viewing for anyone interested in American culture and history.  Granted, that’s no small feat—it’s over seventeen grueling hours of America’s Vietnam war history.     

                 I’ll be helping discuss the film in a March public forum as well as an April adult ed course, so I’ve been re-watching it and reading the accompanying book.   Also I’m researching other sources, including Robert McNamara’s mea culpa book: “In Retrospect—the Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam.”  And pondering the film “The Most Dangerous Man in America,” about Daniel Ellsberg’s role in getting Vietnam war facts to the media.    

                I can hardly wait for “The Post,” Steven Spielberg’s new film, about the sharp conflict between the Washington Post and the Nixon administration over the publication of the classified Pentagon Vietnam study, dubbed “The Pentagon Papers.”

                It’s all been depressing and heartening in equal measure.  

                Consider:  The “Pentagon Papers” study was nothing more than an accurate, detailed history of the Vietnam war from the beginning, commissioned by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and researched by 36 analysts.  McNamara asked for an “encyclopedic” history of the war up to 1967, and he got it. 

                It should have been required reading for Americans earlier in the war. Its knowledge might have saved thousands of American and Vietnamese lives. 

                Yet it was classified “Top Secret,” and in 1971 the Nixon administration desperately and unsuccessfully tried to prevent its publication.  Daniel Ellsberg, the New York Times, and the Washington Post were threatened with severe legal penalties if they published it. In fact, the New York Times had already printed some of it before an injunction halted further publication. 

                The “Pentagon Papers” revealed that four presidents repeatedly lied about the war and America’s involvement in it.  They worried that factual truth would have made America and its leaders lose face. Their fear of Russian and Chinese communism kept driving them deeper into what was basically a Vietnamese civil war. We now know that the U.S. created a country--South Vietnam--in order to fight communism. 

                Our Defense Secretary at the time, Robert McNamara, played a major role, and he confesses that he got it wrong, as did Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson.          

                In effect, our leaders fed the public fake news, which newspapers dutifully reported, thereby creating a country full of deceived believers.  Fake stories from the government inevitably led to false beliefs among the American public. 

                Sound familiar? 

                The only American institution that stood up against government lying was the mainstream media—large newspapers printing facts that might have saved us from a worse catastrophe. That’s the heartening part. 

                As Justice Hugo Black wrote for the Supreme Court, “Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government. And paramount among the responsibilities of a free press is the duty to prevent any part of the government from deceiving the people. . .”

                Put another way, the media is only fake when it prints government lies.  




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