Saturday, February 21, 2015

BIRTHDAY | Feb. 21–Happy 90th, New Yorker (Comment, Charlotte and "Maman")

Katharine and E. B. White feed their sheep on their
Brooklyn, Maine farm.
Bilbao, Spain–On this day in 1925, the first edition of The New Yorker magazine was published.

The founding editor was Harold Ross, who originated in Colorado via California and Georgia and finally as editor of the U.S. Army newspaper, Stars and Stripes.

Garrison Keillor today in The Writer's Almanac points to two other people who deserve credit for the magazine's success during the challenging years of the 1930s:
  • Raoul Fleischmann, heir to the Fleischmann Yeast empire, who was the magazine's primary backer, loyal to his death despite disagreements with Ross and the magazine's slowness in starting to make  money.
  • Katharine Sergeant (Kay) Angell White, who helped make the literary side of The New Yorker as successful as its art. She and Ross recruited James Thurber, John O'Hara, and Wolcott Gibbs; and E.B. White, who married Angell in 1929. White said of his wife after she died, in a 1980 interview with Nan Robertson in The New York Times: "I may be biased, but I don't think The New Yorker would have survived if Kay hadn't showed up there."
Comment on Charlotte and Maman:

This is a model of Maman in the
museum, for blind people who
want to feel the structure. Photos
by JT Marlin.
The heroine of Charlotte's Web is surely modeled on Kay Angell White – they were both beautiful, creative, word-savvy and a Really Good Friend.

With arachnophobia still epidemic, that thought is only for fans of E. B. White, but such fans are legion.

This shows the gentle side of Maman,
with slender legs and a preoccupation
with her babies.
With the New Yorker's birthday and E. B. White's Charlotte in mind, I therefore made sure this morning to get a close-up look at Maman, the 30-foot-high mother spider by Louise Bourgeois outside the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao.

This shows the menacing side of
Maman - the perspective from
Bourgeois showed her interest in spiders in her drawings as early as the 1940s. She picked up the theme in a big way in the 1990s. Like E. B. White, she sees the mother spider as an intensely caring and protective creature.

In the case of Bourgeois, her tribute is to her own mother, who actually was a weaver. Whereas E. B. White, I think, shows only the gentle side of Charlotte, Bourgeois shows both the vulnerable and the menacing side of the spider.

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