Brushing up on Retirement.

I remember some light-hearted fun-poking when it was discovered that former president George W. Bush had taken up painting in his retirement. It may be that the teasing was a little premature.

His latest book (he has had more than one on the best-seller’s lists) – his latest is called Portraits of Courage, a collection of military veterans paintings done by the former president. I didn’t really study his early works – a couple of self-portraits were among the earliest – but I know from experience that it is much easier to put down criticism than it is to pick up a brush.

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When the book arrived in the shop today, I was immediately impressed with the cover. Boxing in the title are a series of portraits that – taken at face value (nyuk, nyuk, pun intended) – are fairly striking. Stylized faces in soft colors.

Most artists of any note have their own technique, and if the result is supposed to look exactly like the subject, then a cell-phone photo ought to suffice.

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Of course, President Bush has had a few years to work on his technique: two terms and a swearing-in ceremony’s worth of time.

I’d say he’s made the most of it.

It may be favorite-son status, or former US president notoriety, but a collection of the original portraits is currently on display in Dallas, and the book is currently on display at the top of a number of national best-seller lists.

He writes in the book that he isn’t sure how his efforts will be received, due to his status as a “novice” – but he adds that “each painting was done with a lot of care and respect.” His efforts in those regards are apparent. His may be a quick ascent to the book lists and art galleries, but then again – maybe he paid enough dues in a different arena to legitimately bump up his place in line.

At lunchtime today I spotted someone looking over John F. Kennedy’s “Profiles in Courage,” – published in 1961. I can easily imagine someone giving President Bush’s “Portraits in Courage” the same consideration in another half-century.

Providing that these things called “books” are still around then.

Come visit!

McHuston

Booksellers & Irish Bistro
Rose District
122 S. Main St. Broken Arrow OK!

Looking Back is a Bad Habit: Rooster Cogburn

The three of them would walk down to Owl Drugs after school, and there they became a cartoonist’s club – of sorts: Paul Davis, Russell Myers, and Archie Goodwin. And who would have thought of the trio of Will Rogers High School students as headed for stardom?

What?

You don’t know them by name?

I had a surprise there, too. Opened up the mail and pulled out a first edition copy of True Grit by Charles Portis, which ranks somewhere near the top of my list of favorite books. As it is with any new acquisition, I was checking the copy, making sure it was everything it ought to be.

It was.

Portis wrote the story with a rural eloquence that is almost poetic. Then there is that wry humor as typified in the courtroom scene:

Goudy: I believe you testified that you backed away from old man Wharton?
Rooster Cogburn: Yes, sir.
Goudy: Which direction were you going?
Rooster Cogburn: Backward. I always go backward when I’m backin’ away.

My examination had me lingering over the dust jacket and the artwork. A singular style, I thought. Simplistic but powerful. Knowing the story, I thought it captured the essence of both Mattie – the main character – and the title of the book.

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I wondered who had painted it, and that’s when I learned about the after-school artists and Owl Drugs in Tulsa. Paul Davis did not linger in Tulsa long after high school. His skill with the brushes earned him a scholarship at a New York City art school, and he established a reputation and a clientele in short order.

His works were visible on the streets, on television, in magazines, and on movie sets. He painted record album covers and advertising art. He was in high demand as an illustrator even before he founded Paul Davis Studio in 1963. It was five years later that he was commissioned to do the dust jacket for True Grit.

It positively shocked me to learn that he grew up in Tulsa.

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But I could relate to the idea of a cartoonist’s club. My ninth grade buddies and I considered ourselves more of a clique than a club, but we spent more time than we should have, putting pen to paper. Shortly before the end of the semester, my English teacher took me aside and informed me that I had turned in so few assignments that she was going to be forced to fail me.

She told me she hated to “Fail” anyone, and intended to record my grade as – I – for Incomplete. The letter wouldn’t make so much difference, I thought – figuring whatever letter she wrote would probably keep me out of tenth grade, or have me in “summer school” at the least.

It likely wouldn’t happen today, but she allowed me to stay after school each day of that last week of school, starting at the top and working my way down the stack of the semester’s worth of assignments I’d failed to turn in…

…because my buddies and I were too busy free-handing the line art from A Tale of Two Cities.

It was passable art that almost kept me from passing out of ninth grade, but – obviously – not enough to win an art school scholarship.

On the other hand, Paul’s art buddies managed to find their ways into the art world. Archie Goodwin – whom I had the good fortune to meet on an occasion – made his mark in the comic book world and was a frequent guest at conventions.

The work of Russell Meyers is something I examine every morning. The Tulsa World carries his comic strip Broom-Hilda, which Meyers syndicated in 1970 – the same year I squeaked into my sophomore year.

It doesn’t surprise me that so many talented folks have ties to the Tulsa area, but I am surprised at the number – with international renown – who have managed to slip under my radar.

Being a fan of True Grit, it tickles me greatly to know that the story is set in our general area (including a visit to JJ McAlester’s General Store!) and is such a wonderfully written book wrapped in artistic local color.

Like to own a copy?

I just happen to know where I can lay hands on a First Edition…

Come visit!

McHuston

Booksellers & Irish Bistro
Rose District
122 South Main St. Broken Arrow OK!

When You Share a Famous Name…

Sometimes, it doesn’t pay to be honest. In this case, the unpaid amount of my truthfulness was $6.95 – a reasonable figure for a 103-year-old first edition. Just before mentioning the sales total to the lady on the other side of the counter, I gave the book a second look.

“You weren’t buying this as a work of Winston Churchill,” I asked. “The English politician?”

She replied that she was, and in short order I was canceling the transaction.

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We shouldn’t feel too bad – as a reading public – not knowing that there were two famous gentlemen named Winston Churchill. In fact, they knew each other. One was rich and famous; the other was prime minister of England. They were born within a few years of each other.

One in England.

The other in St. Louis, Missouri, USA.

While the future English PM was resigning his commission with the British Army, the American Winston Churchill authored his second novel. The book – entitled Richard Carvel – was published in 1898 – and sold two million copies. At the time, there were only 70 million or so living in the US, which would equate to 10-11 million copies sold in this day and age.

Not Harry Potter numbers, to be sure, but not far from The Girl On the Train or The Fault in Our Stars – current books popular enough that they were recently produced as movies.

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There were plenty of similarities between our Winston and theirs. Brit-Winston began writing as a correspondent after leaving the army. US-Winston attended the Naval Academy and began writing after resigning from the Navy. Winston-UK wrote as a war reporter; Winston-US edited The Army and Navy Journal. While his counterpart across the water was being elected to Parliament, Winston US Churchill was serving in the New Hampshire state legislature.

In 1919, after authoring a dozen books, the American Winston decided to retire from the public eye, quit his writing, and took up painting and private life. And there is the place at which the future British Prime Minister Winston Churchill claimed the fame of the name.

Without appearances to promote his books or painting exhibitions, the American novelist Winston Churchill was gradually forgotten, and the increasing fame of his British counterpart sealed the fate of the US writer’s obscurity.

Just as it was at the sales counter and the century-old hardback book, the name has become attached to the WWII statesman rather than the American author of fiction.

It wasn’t the first time The Inside of the Cup has been returned to the shelf, the victim of mistaken identity and an honest bookseller.

One of these days… someone will come along and appreciate the nice old book for what it is and allow me bag it up for the $7 price. Until then, I’m doing my part to publicize our own (once) famous Winston Churchill.

The (literal) Inside of the Cup held coffee this chilly day, and we’ll be pouring it again tomorrow, serving up hot soup, stew, and sandwiches at lunchtime – come visit!

McHuston

Booksellers & Irish Bistro
Rose District
122 South Main Street, Broken Arrow, OK!