Monday, January 28, 2019

TOLKIEN: Maker of Middle-earth at The Morgan: Review By Polly Guerin

Dust Jacket Design for The Hobbit, April 1937
"In a  hole in the ground lived a hobbit." With this simple phrase Oxford Professor John Roland Reuel Tolkien, better known as J. R.R.Tolkien, ignited a spark in generations of readers. Tolkien's adventurous tales remain popular, taking on new devotees, even today, introducing all those "young at heart" to the rich history of Middle-earth.  Image Left: J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973). Dust jacket design for The Hobbit, April 1937, pencil, black ink, watercolor, gouache. Bodleian Libraries, MS. Tolkien Drawings 32 (c) The Tolkien Estate Limited 1937.
        From the children's classic The Hobbit to the epic The Lord of the Rings, the incarnation of these stories began quite simply as entertainment for his children who would be invited into their father's library in the evening to be entertained and beguiled as they listened intently mesmerized by the stories of hobbits and elves, dwarfs and wizards in a fantastic landscape of imagination. 
       If you missed visiting the magical world of Middle-earth, in the long, long ago, do not dismay. The Morgan Library and Museum has installed TOLKIEN: MAKER OF MIDDLE-earth, a new and quite marvelous exhibition organized in collaboration with the Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford, Marquette University Libraries (Milwaukee) and the support of The Tolkien Estate, The Tolkien Trust, members of the Tolkien family and private lenders. The exhibition celebrates the man and his creation and is open to the public through May 12, 2019 with a collection of Tolkien material ever assembled in the United States.      
Smaug and Huts of the River Rates/J..R.R. Tolkien top right
With favorite Tolkien images, re-configured in larger-than-life-scale on walls inside the exhibit they also cover the fairy tale entrance archway that welcomes visitors into the Middle-earth.  The 117 rare objects on view including family photographs and memorabilia, as well as Tolkien's original illustrations, maps, draft manuscripts and designs related to The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion. Right: First image J.R.R. Tolkien Conversation with Smaug, July 1937, black and colored ink, watercolor, white body color, pencil. Bodleian Libraries, MS. Tolkien drawing 30 (c) The Tolkien Estate Limited 1937. Second image: J.R.R. top right corner. Bilbo comes to the Huts of the Raft -elves, July 1937, watercolor, pencil, white body color. Bodleian Libraries, MS. Tolkien Drawings 29 (c) The Tolkien Estate Limited 1937.
Father Christmas
Colin B. Bailey, director of The Morgan said, "The exhibition provides a rare look at Tolkien's artistic output that was wide-ranging, experimental, naturalistic and abstract. This exhibition helps us see what was so extraordinary and universally appealing about Tolkien's gifts as a storyteller and his ability to combine the scholarly with the artistic.  The show presents an intimate look at Tolkien's world through his handwritten and drawn works. We are grateful to the Bodleian Libraries, The Tolkien Estate and The Tolkien Trust." Image Left: J.R.R. Tolkien's Father Christmas drawing of "Me" and "My House." 1920, watercolor, white body color, silver powder, black ink. Bodleian Libraries, MS. Tolkien Drawings 38 (c) The Tolkien Estate Ltd. 1976.
       Visit for a list of Public Programs, Symposium, Family programs and the details for the Party to celebrate everything Tolkien and his great works where costumes are encouraged. Gallery Talks are given by John T. McQuillen, Associate Curator of Printed Books and Bindings. The book, TOLKIEN: MAKER OF MIDDLE-earth is available in the Morgan gift shop. The Morgan library and Museum is located at 225 Madison Avee, 212.685.0008. 
Ta Ta Darlings!!!  What an adventure, Tolkien's diverse and splendid oeuvre will leave you lost in
Middle-earth wonderland. Fan mail welcome at Visit Polly's Blogs for more insight and in the left-hand column click on the direct link to the Blog that may resonate with your interest.


Monday, January 21, 2019

BRENDA STARR, Reporter: The Art of Dale Messick: Review By Polly Guerin

BRENDA STARR, Reporter may not have been the first female reporter to capture the collective imagination of young women and girls, but when Brenda Starr made her debut in June 1940 her fast-paced career and riveting adventures made comic book history. Not only was she a knockout beauty, but she had a distinct fashion flair. Her persona was highly dramatic and mirrored leading Hollywood actress, the iconic Rita Hayworth, with matching long, fiery red hair. Brenda was no ordinary reporter. She was brainy, she took risks, she traveled wide into adventures where no woman had ever ventured, and, Yes, she even fell in love. As a forerunner, role model,  BRENDA STARR WAS AN INSTANT HIT!!!
      Brenda Starr gets her due recognition in a delightful
exhibition at the Society of Illustrators, at 128 East 63 Street, through March 23, 2019. 
      Who gave birth to Brenda Starr? She was the brainchild of
Dale Messick. Known as the "Grand Dame of the Funnies,"
Dale is America's first syndicated female cartoonist for creating the popular adventure comic strip BRENDA STARR REPORTER. Her name was inspired by the 1930's debutante Brenda Frazier, who was a social headliner in the society of celebrity, at that time. So it seems to me that Brenda's incarnation combined the social antics of a debutante with a modern woman wrapped up in an appealing package as Brenda Starr.
        Dale Messick had no idea she would become America's favorite comic strip creator. She applied her talent and studied art at The Art Institute in Chicago and soon obtained a job creating greeting cards---a far cry from her ambition. After one fledgling job she found another at a greeting card, this time in New York City. Though she had drawn comic strips during her school years, she began several cartoons with women as the lead character. By 1940 she had already tried in vain to sell four comic strips.
Dale Messick created  Brenda Starr
As serendipity would intervene, after reading about  a contest searching for new comics in The Chicago Tribune's New York Daily News, Messick submitted a  strip with a beautiful girl bandit who was a dead ringer for Brenda Starr. However the odds were against her because the head of the New York Daily News, Joseph Patterson, swore he would never publish a woman cartoonist.              Well, this caught the attention of his female 
assistant, Mollie Slott, who saw things quite differently and pulled Messick's work out of the trash. Mollie encouraged Messick to make a few tweaks; she thought that her female bandit should be a reporter, and according to lore, she also suggested that Messick change her name from Dahlia to Dale to sound more like a man. Messick took Slott's advice and re-submitted Brenda Starr as a red-headed reporter who worked for a newspaper called, "The Flash." She also signed it Dale Messick. And so the rest is history. Each week for the next forty years Messick created imaginative and often gripping story lines that sent Brenda Starr on assignments to exotic places that only male reporters were given, which ironically mimicked real- life journalism.       
The audacious reporter would free herself from being kidnapped, and jump out of airplanes, landing just outside her editor's window And once she even filed a story with the newspaper's cleaning woman. She even talked back to her managing editor. That was a "first" for women already asserting themselves in the business world.
      Other Outlets: In addition to drawing her strip, Messick also would include Paper Dolls, that became very popular with young girls who sent in fashion ideas. She also included an African American paper doll, Lona Light in 1948.
      DISTRIBUTION: At its peak, Brenda Starr was included in 250 newspapers  and read by more than 60 million readers.
When Brenda Starr and her long time "Mystery Man," boyfriend, , whose very survival depended upon the serum found in the fictitious but famous black orchid, finally married after 36 years in 1976, President Gerald Ford sent a a congratulatory telegram. 
      IN RECOGNITION o her work, Brenda Starr, Reporter was one of the 20 characters--and the only female characters---chosen to be on a stamp during the U.S. Postal Service's 100th Anniversary. The strip had also been turned into a movie serial in 1945 , a made-for-television-movie in 1976, and a film that starred Brooke Shields in 1992. In honor to her ground-breaking work, The National Cartoonist Society awarded Messick with the Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement award in 1997.      
        The Society of Illustrators is open Daily check the schedule and admission charge at  
      Ta Ta Darlings!!! Brenda's quite a gal, Check her out in full exhibition display.  She's fascinating. Fan mail welcome at  Visit Polly's Blogs at any time,

Monday, January 14, 2019

LABUTE New Theater Festival: Review By Polly Guerin

There is never any want for entertainment in New York City and theater is the kingpin of events when the St. Louis Actors' Studio's (William Roth, Artistic Director) LABUTE New Theater Festival returns to New York with three premiere one-act play by celebrated Tony Award nominated, playwright, director, Neil LaBute.  Performances running through Jan 27th take place
at the Davenport Theater, at 354 West 45th St. This is as good as it gets, or rather better than expected in off-Broadway theater productions. Tickets can be purchased by visiting or by calling 212.239.6200. 
      St. Louis Actor's Studio artistic director, William Roth comments: "We are proud of our
relationship with Neil and to bring these new plays to New York City as part of The LaBute New
Theater Festival. We are thrilled to bring this festival to the Davenport Theater and we are excited to have audiences experience this festival."
Gia Crovatin
ENDORSING ACTORS Neil LaBute: "I'm very excited to be working with William Roth and St. Louis Actors' Studio on our fourth incarnation of 'The LaBute New Theater Festival' in New York City. Together we have created a wonderful venue for a variety of artists to see their work performed in full productions in front of paying audiences--along with an important program that caters to high school authors as well."  
        In the world premiere play, directed by Neil LaBute, UNLIKELY JAPAN, starring actor, GIA CROVATIN, a young woman spots an old flame on television and in a mesmerizing monologue recounts how a single choice can alter the course of multiple lives.  Her delivery reminds us of the "what if" factor in life as she regales us with the different possibilities and scenarios. Ms. Crovatin has appeared on TV: "One Dollar,"  "Billions"  and the film Dirty Weekend among other venues and brings to the stage a compelling persona. (PHOTO: All photos in this article Courtesy of Russ Rowland)
       In the play world premiere play, GREAT NEGRO WORKS OF ART, directed by John Pierson, Brenda Meaney (Roundabout's "Indian Ink," Mint Theatre's "The New Morality") engages in conversation with  Keilyn Durrel (TV: "Better Call Saul," "Shades of Blue," 'High Maintenance") in a witty, sometimes combative conversation that changes its meaning, metamorphosing from cool to hot drama. 
        GREAT NEGRO WORKS OF ART follows a meeting between and under-celebrated artist and his gallery manager. They seemingly appear to be engaging in a 'first date,' episode but they soon segue into a forceful debate on race, culture and what is and what is not "ART" today.  Even the sign Great Negro Works of Art is challenged as to the placement of the words---should they read Great Negro Art or Great Works by Negro Artists.  Their combative ending 
Brenda Meaney and Keilyn Durrell Jones
is worth further contemplation. 

      THE FOURTH REICH (New York City Premiere, also directed by John Pierson, stars
Eric Dean White (TV: "Chicago Fire," and
"Blackbookberry") This performance focuses on a monologue by a public speaker  as he presents and pontificates on his unique views on modern history, thoughts about the future and alas ruminations on his favorite artist. Does one really care about what the character has to say? I wondered! However, his portrayal of a self-appointed, opinionated individual does give us cause to pay close attention to his comments and perhaps conclude with our own. 
      THE LABUTE NEW FESTIVAL provides another reason to get out of the cold and enter the experience of theater with warm-hearted actors who know the drill and give us very interesting performances which run on Wednesday to Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2pm and Sunday at 3pm.   Added performances tonight Monday, January 14 at 7PM, Wednesday, January 16 at 2pm and Tuesday January 22 at 7pm. For ticket information contact Telecharge or call the Davenport Theater at 212.956. 0948. 
Eric Dean White 
  Ta Ta Darlings!!!   I just spent a delightful Sunday afternoon at the Davenport, and hope that you will, too.  Fan mail welcome: Visit Polly's Blogs and in the left hand column click on the Blog that resonates with your interest on visionary men, women determined to succeed, fashion historian or poetry from the heart.

       Aspiring playwrights may be interested in the following information on the SUBMISSION PROCESS for the St. Louis Actor's Studio LaBute New Theater Festival.                         Professional Submissions and High School Submissions should be sent to: LaBute New Theater Festival, St. Louis Actors' Studio, 360 N. Boyle Ave., St. Louis, MO 63108. 
      For more information contact: 314-458-2978 or

Monday, January 7, 2019

POSING MODERNITY LECTURE at Art Students League January 15

Denise Murrel "Posing Modernity: Curator/Lecturer     
THIS JUST IN: Not to be missed!!! A groundbreaking lecture and discussion on "POSING MODERNITY: THE BLACK MODEL FROM MANET TO MATISSE TO TODAY will be presented by curator/lecturer, DENISE MURREL, at The Phyllis Harriman Mason Gallery, 2nd floor, at the Art Students League of New York, 215 West 57th Street, Tuesday, January 15th, 6:30-8 pm. Free and Open to the Public.
      The con-currently running  exhibition, POSING MODERNITY, at Columbia University's Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery, on view through February 20, deconstructs race in western painting and you can hear all about it from the curator herself, at this special discussion at the Art Students League. The exhibition's incarnation is quite interesting.                 Not every student of art history could become the inspiration for an art exhibition, but one such student, Denise Murrel's Thesis indeed inspired the Wallach Art Gallery's POSING MODERNITY exhibition at Columbia University. This awe-inspiring investigative show focuses on a seemingly neglected subject; "How Black people have been pictured across art history."       
William H. Johnson portrait
It all came about when 
inquisitive Columbia University student, Denise Murrel viewed Edouard Manet's Olympia, his brazenly un-idealized take on the odalisque theme. In his rendering a black maidservant is bringing a bouquet of flowers to a naked prostitute who stares directly out at the viewer. What struck Ms. Murrel most about the art instructors discourse was the absence of any reference to the black maidservant. She said, "His neglect to ignore her, to say nothing about her, to not knowledge her presence rendered her invisible."  Image right: William H. Johnson, "Portrait of a Woman with Blue and White Striped Blouse." 1940-42,
      This experience motivated Murrel to find out more about the black figure as portrayed in art. So she embarked on a journey that began was a seminar paper, expanded into her PhD thesis that segued into the exhibition, POSING MODERNITY, at the Wallach Art Gallery, which will be expanded at the Musee d'Orsay in Paris next year.   The exhibition explores the little-known interactions between avant-garde artists in the 19th century Paris and the city's post-abolition community of free black people. Archival
photographs, correspondence, and films shed light on artists' relationships with their models, students, entertainers, and others. HARLEM IN THE 1930's: Includes paintings and  
 prints executed by Henri Matisse before and after his visits to Harlem in the 1930s, portraiture of the Harlem Renaissance; and the influence of these earlier depictions on artists of the post-war period and beyond. Bazille, Nadar, Carpeaux, Bearden, and Ringgold are just a few of he names featured. 
Image: Edouard Manet's Baudelaire's Mistress (Portrait of Jeanne Duval) from 1862 is part of the "Posing Modernity" exhibition, Photo: Csanad Szeszlay(c) The Museum of Fine Art Budapest/Scala/Art Resource NY.
Ta Ta Darlings!!!  I hope this review tantalizes your interest. Attend the lecture on January 15 to hear how the curator/lecturer, Denise Murrel, brought about Posing Modernity to give 'black women in paintings' their due recognition. Fan mail welcome at Visit Polly's Blogs at and click in the right-hand column for the subject that resonates with your interest on fashion, visionary men, women determined to succeed and poetry from the heart.