Saving art from the trash

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Sari’s company recently got bought out and absorbed by another company, and they basically shut everything down and let everyone go. They were an educational publisher, and instead of archiving, donating, or selling their office contents, they just threw them away. That meant their inventory, furniture, library, computers, office supplies, etc. were all going in the trash.

They let (ex-)employees salvage what they wanted, so we went over there in a rented truck one Saturday before everything was gone and took a couple of key items, like two flat files, a small bookcase, and a dictionary stand. The whole thing was so depressing — and infuriating: so much useful equipment being unceremoniously tossed.

But what really shook me was when I saw a huge pile of original artwork sitting in a dumpster. As an educational publisher specializing in language arts, the company had for years commissioned illustrations for their various textbooks. Back in the day, before everyone had computers, most artwork of this kind was sent in to the client, where it was photostatted for later placement. The theory was that the artists would get their originals back, though sometimes the company bought the work outright and retained the originals. Presumably, Sari’s company had bought the work or had never gotten around to returning it to the artists. In any case, sitting there in the dumpster were hundreds of paintings, drawings, pastels, and pen-and-ink illustrations. And some of these pieces are really gorgeous! As a sometimes commercial illustrator myself, I just couldn’t let all that hard work be destroyed.

So I salvaged the art and tossed it in with the stuff I was bringing home. I was determined to at least return what pieces I could. And now, with the aid of my assistants, I’ve been contacting the artists (when I can track down them down) and letting them know what I have. As long as they can arrange postage or FedEx transport, I’m happy to wrap the pieces up and return ’em. As I said, the vast majority of the pieces are quite old — from before the home computer era — so a good number of the artists have only vague recollections of the illos in question. Nonetheless, they’ve all been thrilled that I contacted them, and are all anxious to get their stuff back. Which is exactly how I would feel if I were in their place.

salvaged original art
just a small sample of the original illustrations I saved from the trash pile

Moral Certainty

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Recently I’ve been watching a lot of World War II movies. My local library has a bunch of classics on DVD and I’ve been picking up just about everything they’ve got. I started with black-and-white films like The Best Years of Our Lives and From Here to Eternity, and moved on to Twelve O’Clock High, Stalag 17, and a couple of John Wayne flicks, The Sands of Iwo Jima and They Were Expendable. I augmented those with movies of more recent vintage: Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List, The Sand Pebbles, The Big Red One, A Bridge Too Far, Windtalkers, Pearl Harbor, Enemy at the Gates, Charlotte Gray, The Great Raid. Those viewings are just in the last few months. Over the years I’ve probably seen 75 or more WW II movies, including many of the ones above previously. A few are great, many are good, many are dreck — the point is I’m obsessed.

I grew up in the 70s and 80s fixated on the Vietnam War and Vietnam-era movies. Beginning with (of all things) Magnum P.I. (remember he was a Vietnam vet?) and First Blood (embarrassing!), and moving on to staples like Apocalypse Now, The Deer Hunter, Platoon, and Full Metal Jacket. As the years passed, I gobbled up more and more: Born on the Fourth of July, Coming Home, Big Wednesday, Good Morning Vietnam, Air America, The Boys in Company C, In Country, Hamburger Hill, Hearts and Minds, 84 Charlie MoPic, Casualties of War, Jacob’s Ladder, Tigerland, even apologist crap like The Green Berets. I gloried in the moral ambiguity of those films.