My cartoonist buddy, Randy Enos, writes today about his trips to the library for photo scrap (this is something I also did frequently as a young illustrator in Manhattan, before the internet, running up to the big public library’s big photo-scrap morgue on 42nd Street (the library with the big lion statues in front); my second home in those days.)
In my early days as an illustrator, like all the other illustrators, I kept a picture file of various things I might have to draw on an assignment. I’d have pictures of: trucks, cars, tractors, motorcycles, barns, rockets, famous people, etc.. I’d regularly clip up magazines for this purpose. Because I didn’t draw in a realistic manner, I didn’t have to keep the extensive kinds of files that my realist friends did. I could just invent and cartoon most of my material. I could sometimes draw a motorcycle, for instance, in a very fanciful way with strange gears and funny faucets sticking out all over, but, occasionally more realism was required.
I needed pictures of famous people of the day more than anything else because I was doing a lot of caricaturing for N.B.C., The National Lampoon, The Nation, The New York Times, etc.
These files, that all the illustrators kept, were called “morgues”. Some illustrators required so much attention to this collection of source material that they would hire somebody to clip pictures and organize their morgues for them. It could be a full time job.
A typical extensive file was kept by Al Dorne, my boss at The Famous Artists Schools. When he retired from doing illustrations and eventually moved to Westport to work full time at the schools, he put his morgue in our library there at FAS for all the instructors to be able to use. It was a great resource for us along with the really fine art books that were there and the magazines like Graphis from Switzerland and Gebrauschsgraphik from Germany which turned out to be a giant influence on me and my own work.
At home, I had the World Book encyclopedia and I still use it in my studio along with a world atlas, copies of the old Sears Roebuck catalogs and some books on costume etc..
We were fortunate in Westport to have a little downtown library that was geared up for illustrators. They had nice picture files and when I, or some other illustrator, would just walk in the front door of the library, the woman at the desk would shout over and say, “What do you need?” She’d make a call to the picture files and in 5 minutes, we’d have folders brought up to the desk full of just the pictures we needed. It was a very comfortable, friendly, warm library with great art books. You could settle down cross-legged on the floor in a small, narrow passageway in the stacks where the art books were or sit in a window seat looking out over the Saugatuck River and read books that other communities who were not blessed with a population of cartoonists and illustrators would not even have on their shelves. That part of the old library is now a Starbucks, because, over time, with the growth in population, the library felt they needed a new building and so it came to pass that on a nearby location, a big brand new library was constructed. This time they had a small room off the big entrance area that was designated for the picture morgue; the walls were lined with file drawers that contained hundreds and hundreds of clipped magazine pictures and glossy photos of famous people. Into this collection came the Al Dorne files from FAS along with other files donated by famous illustrators who had retired from the business. When you went into this room, you’d always find a fellow cartoonist or illustrator to gab with. It was a great meeting place for some of the most illustrious illustrators of the day. You could compare notes, talk about the business and give each other tips on whatever we happened to be looking up. One illustrator had a vast (and I mean vast) collection of costumes that he would rent out to other illustrators to use as reference. This guy had everything in his collection. He even had one of Hitler’s actual hats!
The only problem with some of the material in the Dorne file, for instance, was that it was outdated, so, the library employed people to just keep clipping and updating all the files.
But, alas, the days of the computer and its attendant internet came along and enabled us all to stay at home and access all the reference we needed instantly without the burden of having to socialize with other cartoonists and illustrators. Pardon me while I catch this tear rolling down my cheek.
The library shut down for a while and did a major reconstruction resulting in a bigger, very high-ceilinged main room which allowed for local artists to have a personal month-long exhibit of their work. In the middle of this area, a few tables contained the very latest art books. I devoured them regularly. They also put in a little coffee nook near the entrance.
The population of Westport was changing. The illustrators were moving out and going back home to Texas. They didn’t need to be near New York City anymore, nor did they need libraries with picture files. Rich folks in the financial businesses were moving in. Pretty soon there was nary an illustrator left. I, myself, moved to nearby Easton to my own little horse farm to escape the onslaught of the wealthy new residents who didn’t even know that Westport was once known as the illustrators’ town. Eventually Max’s art store had to shut down and the library decided to have an even bigger re-do.
I hadn’t been in to the library for quite a while until recently when I happened to be in the vicinity (at a Save the Planet rally) and had to go to the bathroom. My wife and I walked over to the library. It took us quite a while to locate the entrance. They had completely changed the building around. When inside, I couldn’t believe my eyes. there were some sort of baffles, looked like sails up at the top of the high ceiling. I searched for the bathrooms because where they used to be was now a utility closet. When I finally found them, I discovered that they were approximately where the old picture file room, the morgue used to be. The men’s room was sparse and all-over decorated with a pattern of elongated rectangles in two or three shades of gray that I had seen repeated in the library’s entrance way and pretty much over all the flooring. It was very cold and impersonal. when I went to the sink, it took me quite a while to figure out why there were no faucets or hand dryers but just a horizontal chrome bar where a faucet normally would be. This bar functioned as a dispenser of hot and cold water and a little almost imperceptible symbol on the right side of it told me that it might be a hand dryer if I passed my hand under it. My mind flashed back to the old library on the Post Road where I would usually find a homeless guy washing his delicates and himself in the men’s room. I was thinking that the poor man could never negotiate this ever so clever, robotic, state-of-the-art, chic apparatus. I wondered where the poor fellow hung out now. Certainly not in this rich man’s paradise.
I went back out into the library’s main room. I didn’t see anybody sitting reading books but I did see a woman looking at a lap top. I looked around for the checkout counter which used to be manned by several people while a line of people laden with books waited to check them out. There wasn’t any. I did see a very small desk with a sign that read “Patrons’ Desk”. I decided to inquire about where one would find the new latest art books. The woman there didn’t know so she asked another library woman standing nearby. She didn’t know but she asked a man stacking a small shelf from his cart. He said he didn’t know but he showed me a book on his shelf on ceramics. I looked fondly up to where a second floor full of art books used to exist. There was no second floor there anymore. We passed a small desk which was labeled “Podcast Station”. there were microphones and head-sets. Inexplicably, there was a very wide set of stairs leading up and then down into another section of the big main room. On the stairs were a few leather, bean-bag chairs which were unoccupied. It was all very upgrade and ultra-chic like a Sunday spread in The New York Times. The whole area that we were in at that point used to be lined with stacks and stacks of shelved books. I saw very few books anywhere but there were a lot of movie CD’s and big screens with projections of one thing or another. Gone were all the little computer stations that had replaced the old card catalogs. Oh, and the little coffee bar had been replaced by a full-blown cafe eatery. The eatery was full but the rest of the library had very few people in it.
By carefully reading all the signs, and a few wrong turns, we were thankfully able to find our way out of the building but it wasn’t easy, believe me.
They had surgically removed all the heart, goodness, calm, love, spirit, kindness, quiet, charm, warmth, tranquility, peacefulness, generosity, reverence, simplicity, intelligence and meaning of the old library and replaced it all with overly designed superficial techno glitz.
If I wanted to take a longer trip away from my house, I could find myself at the Pequot Library. It’s in a very old charming brown castle-like building. It’s small, the floors creak. There are old card catalogs where you look up the desired book. There is a good-sized room with a big fireplace which is furnished with large logs in the winter so visitors can sit in big comfortable easy chairs and read in front of the fire. it’s a real trip to wander through the old book stacks. I haven’t been there in a long while but, at least I know somewhere where the spirit of the reverence of books is still alive … or, is it?
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Read many more of Randy’s cartooning memories: