My tribute, art reproduction, or flat-out copy of Frank Frazetta’s self-portrait from 1962. A painting, like so many of his, that I have admired my entire life.
I grew up with many influences as a budding artist; I consumed pieces and artists from the Renaissance period through contemporary comic books and everything in between. Most American artists of a certain age, however, cannot escape nor ignore the influence of Frank Frazetta. His work in the comic industry, book publishing, and film spans American popular culture from the 1950s through the millennium.
So it was a thrill when I was at the Philadelphia College of Art that our Freshman class made a trip to the Frank Frazetta Museum just outside of Philly. He was still a prolific artist who owned and operated the museum so we all had the hope that we might be able to meet the master, himself, during our visit that day.
Much to our disappointment, he never showed up during our day of touring the exhibits. However, we were treated to an unforgettable day by none other than Eleanor “Ellie” Frazetta – whom we called Mrs. Frazetta.
As she began to realize who this busload of teenagers were, invading the peaceful museum, she began to ask as many questions of us and our “art”, influences, hopes, and dreams as we were about Frank and our favorite pieces of his work.
She told us stories about the breadth of Frank’s career and their life building a viable business that survived through lean times and was now thriving due to their acumen, dedication, and talent. Mrs. Frazetta toured us through the exhibits and detailed techniques and processes that Frank had used to create his work and deliver for publication. She gave us behind the scenes information that was unknown at the time – like Frank’s incessant use of the kitchen stove to dry oil paintings to meet deadlines.
Throughout the day, she continued to pepper us with stories, original art, sketches, and ephemera of their life in the art world; original sketches, books, materials, and finished pieces that were famous as well as others that were little-known. One item in particular stands out in my mind were his use of tube-watercolors as impasto oils in his sketchbooks.
He would create this small, thumbnail sketches of compositions using the watercolor straight from the tube as if he was using oil paints. I had never seen watercolor paints used in that manner before and the skill with which he could manifest artwork knew no scale as these small paintings were just as impactful as some of the finsihed pieces we saw that day.
Needless to say, she had a busload of young artists in a frenzy with her living biography lesson of one of the most famous artists of the 20th century using her perspective as a witness to his creation and partner in his business. More so, she treated each and everyone of us as welcomed guests and friends to her home.
It is an example of unfettered kindness that I cherish to this day. She could have easily ignored this troupe of young artists as just another bus tour and moved on with her day, but she did not. She shared herself and experiences with us at an incredibly important time in our development as artists and treated us with value and respect.
As much as I wanted to meet Frank that day I am eternally grateful that Mrs. Frazetta took the time to share her world with me and our class that day. Her kindness was just as impactful on my life as the stories from behind-the-scenes with Frank were.
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