Yesterday’s blog post reminded me I have yet to tell people the story of the “Me Gallery” and how it came about.
Firstly, if you haven’t yet visited the Me Gallery, take a minute (or several hours) to check it out. It is a huge collection, 192 pieces and counting, of caricatures of me by artists from all over the world. For anyone interested in caricature, it is a very unique study of the infinite diversity the art of caricature can demonstrate via the depiction of a single subject by multiple artists. It originated many years ago as a bit of a joke, but has grown into a permanent part of my site that gets a lot of compliments and eager participants.
Back in 1997 I joined an on-line listserv mailing list called “The Loop”, the subject of which was caricature and it’s related art and business. This was back in the day before message boards and forums were the norm, or even existed. A listserv was like an e-mail message board, where you ‘subscribed’ to the list, and then you simply wrote one e-mail to that list address and it was distributed to all the subscribers of the list. It was very archaic compared to the sophisticated forums of today. There was no way to send images, for example. The Loop was also my introduction to the National Caricaturist Network, and served as a virtual gathering hall for NCN members (and non NCN members, it was not affiliated in any way although the organizer of it was an NCN officers for several years). Anyway there were a lot of loony caricaturists on the Loop talking shop an such. One person in particular talked a lot of smack, as they say. I will withhold names to protect the guilty.
This gentleman was a local Twin Cities artist who had garnered some modest success as an editorial cartoonist, and in fairness he did a fine job with editorial cartooning. His caricature work, especially the live stuff, was not too impressive however. In fact it was downright bad. The thing was, he thought it was brilliant and had no qualms about telling everyone so. He had a certain beef with me because he believed I was ruining the market for live caricature work in the Twin Citied by training all these “terrible” caricaturists at my Minnesota theme park and letting them loose in the private market. He denigrated the artists that worked for me, and my own work for that matter, on the Loop. The ironic part was that based on his art I would never even consider hiring this guy to work for me, and most of the artists who spent a season with me were better caricaturists than he was by the end of the summer. I think his perceived loss of business was a lot more about the loss of a “limited choice marketplace” than anything else… when there is a lot of choices in the market the people that do the best work rise to the top. I have to admit he got my goat a bit. I do not suffer braggarts well, especially ones who’s skills do not back up their ego… and this artist bills himself to this day as “arguably the most famous cartoonist and caricature artist from Minnesota since Charles Schulz”. As Charlie Brown would say…Good grief!
The ceaseless bragging and running down of other artists by this gentleman on the Loop got myself and a few others who were familiar with the guy’s actual work thinking about how we could get his live work in front of the other Loopies (the sharing of images was again not possible using this service back in those ancient days) so they could see for themselves if he deserved the pats on his back he delivered himself. There came a day I was at a company function with my in-laws and this very artist was doing caricatures. I sat down and got one done… actually two as after the two minute scribble he did first my kids spilled the beans about who I was, and he drew a second one he spent more time on. The first one was better, relatively speaking.
Not wanting to call someone out directly, we Minnesotans as a rule don’t do that kind of thing, I created the “Me Gallery” on my then new website. I posted several caricatures of myself by various artists, and the two I had done by this artist. In all fairness they weren’t the worst ones I had ever had done, but they were close. The members of the Loop got to see for themselves and suddenly this gentleman’s opinions about the work of others didn’t seem to carry a lot of weight.
Predictably, the artist in question wrote me and threatened to sue if I did not remove the drawings from my site, as he did not give me permission to put them on the web. He was legally right of course and I removed them immediately. However I left the others up and added to them, eventually posting pictures for artists to do caricatures for the gallery from afar. It’s one of the most enjoyable parts of the website, and I have the raging ego of a self-proclaimed brilliant local caricaturist to thank.
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