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Alexander Eliot April 28, 1919 – April 23, 2015

“Life is a fatal adventure. It can only have one end. So why not make it as far-ranging and free as possible?” 

– Alexander Eliot

90th birthday, with his grandchildren
90th birthday, with his grandchildren

Alexander Eliot, who passed away April 23, 2015, was the author of eighteen published books, including books on art, mythology, history, and novels. He was also the author of hundreds of essays, published in magazines as varied as The Eastern Buddhist and England’s Systematics, and most well-known, his weekly column when he was the art editor of Time Magazine.

Alex came from a stream of aristocratic educators, the younger son of an English lord who arrived in Plymouth in 1632. All of his direct male ancestors were Harvard-educated, and his great-grandfather was the president of Harvard for fifty years. But in 1937, instead of attending Harvard, he drove across the country in an old Ford to live with the Navajos in New Mexico. Since Art was his great love, on his return, instead of going to Harvard, he chose to attend the quirky little Black Mountain College so that he could study with Josef Albers.

agustusjohn1Alex was art editor for Time Magazine from 1945 to 1960.

As art editor, he knew most artists who lived in New York during his tenure at Time Magazine, but he also had encounters with artists abroad. In his memoir (as yet unpublished) he recounts stories about Matisse’s most important advice to him, talking to Picasso on the beach, Salvador Dali in the elevator (Salvador became a family friend in part because Alex’s wife, Jane, who had lived several years in Spain as a girl, could speak to him in Catalan).

In 1959 he was awarded Guggenheim Fellowship, and we lived in Spain for a year. There he wrote Sight and Insight – on how to ‘see’ art. While he was there, he visited Delphi in Greece, and, along with his wife Jane, questioned why they should return to the hectic, stressful race of Manhattan magazine publishing when he could raise his family in Greece.

 

Alexander Eliot with his children in Greece
Alexander Eliot with his children in Greece
Sight and Insight (1959)
Sight and Insight (1959)

Within a year, he’d retired from Time, hopped on a Greek freighter and taken his family back to Greece. There they lived several years, living in the mountains north of Athens, and later in a small fishing village on the island of Corfu, and going on many excursions around Europe and the Middle East. Eventually, the family boarded a Yugoslav freighter for a slow, exotic journey through the Red Sea, around the Indian Continent, to Malaysia, Indonesia, and all the way to Osaka, Japan. The next year they moved to Rome, Italy, for a few years, and then settled in Sussex, England. 1n 1975 he received a fellowship to study Zen Buddhism in Kyoto, Japan.

Jane & Alex Eliot in Northampton, MA
Jane & Alex Eliot in Northampton, MA

In 1968, when he lived in Rome, he and Jane spent six weeks in the Sistine Chapel to research a documentary on Michelangelo’s Sistine Ceiling. Their ‘research’ was done by having a scaffold built on wheels that they could lie on top of: this way they could be as close to Michelangelo’s work as he was himself; and to study and talk about the stories that he depicted on the ceiling. The hour-long documentary, “The Secret of Michelangelo – Every Man’s Dream,” was shown on ABC primetime (a Tuesday night, at 7 p.m.) but Alex insisted there not be any commercial interruptions, because the work had to be experienced in its entirety! And the network agreed.

In 1987, Alex moved to Venice Beach, CA, where he and Jane would stroll every morning for breakfast on the boardwalk.

In Greece
In Greece

Here’s what the inspired and inspiring artist Gregg Chadwick says about Alex and Jane Eliot: “In Japan, individuals of extraordinary talent and vision are recognized as living national treasures as they live out their later years. The American intellectual couple Alexander and Jane Eliot should be given honorary Japanese citizenship and awarded that honor. Recently when I met with Alex and Jane in their warm Venice bungalow I was struck by their graciousness and humility. The front room is crowded with treasures gathered from their years together. And their minds are full of some of the twentieth century’s most important memories.

In his book Sight and Insight Alexander Eliot describes a Chinese painter who, upon completing his masterwork, paints a door in the foreground, opens that door – walks through and is never seen again. I expect Alex and Jane to find that door and to walk through together leaving their art and writings as clues for us to find our own path.”

 

From his bio that’s in Who’s Who in America:

Gregg Chadwick: Study for a Portrait of Alex Eliot
Gregg Chadwick: Study for a Portrait of Alex Eliot

ELIOT, ALEXANDER, writer; born Cambridge, Mass., April 28, 1919; son of Samuel Atkins, Jr. and Ethel Cook Eliot; married Jane Winslow Knapp, May 3, 1952; children: May Rose, Jefferson, Winslow.  Student, Black Mountain College, 1936-38. Boston Museum School, 1938-39. Director, Pinkney Street Artists Alliance, Boston, 1940-41; asst. to producer March of Time newsreel, 1941-42; asst. dir films Office of War info., 1942-44; art editor Time Magazine, 1945-1960; Prof. emeritus program Hampshire College, 1977; Editor Parabola Magazine 1995-96; contributing editor Harvard Magazine, 1988-1995; author of Proud Youth, Three Hundred Years of American Painting, Sight and Insight, Earth, Air, Fire and Water, Greece, Love Play, Creatures of Arcadia, Socrates, A Concise History of Greece, Myths, Zen Edge, Fisher’s Guide to Greece, Abraham Lincoln, The Universal Myths, The Global Myths, The Timeless Myths; film (with Jane Winslow Eliot) The Secret of Michelangelo, Every Man’s Dream; Guggenheim fellow, 1960; Japan Foundation senior fellow 1975; Member of the Century Association and Dutch Treat Club, NYC. “The moon, the planets, pass around my heart. The sun shines into me, and in me as well. Yet what am I? A goose-pimpled crazy on a skewed glass bicycle, continually crashing into scribbled walls. And this moment, this being is the thing.”

In-Kyoto-Japan-1964

New York Times Obituary

Alexander Eliot Featured In New Art Reminiscence

Author Alexander Eliot is featured in a new book, Pieces of Glass: An Artoire, by award-winning Hollywood screenwriter & author, John Sacret Young. Mr. Young devotes an entire chapter, A Rainy Night, to a chance encounter with Alex. Their talk is mostly about artists Alex met over the years during his tenure as Art Editor of Time magazine and later, in particular, artist  Charles Burchfield.

“I took delight in American painting.” Alexander Eliot told me. “And it amazed me nobody cared. Art was very low on the totem pole in America. When Harry Truman jeered at ‘ham-and-egg art’, millions cheered and senators looked under the bed and saw Communists in what these artists were doing. I felt I had a mission to put American art on the map.”

A mission certainly made more difficult due to the political leanings of Time owner, Henry Luce.

Purchase Pieces of Glass: An Artoire.

Because it was Beautiful – Now Available on Amazon!

beautiful-cover-cropTomorrow Alex would have been 97 years old … and we are delighted to let you know that the memoir he worked on for the last decade of his life is now published! It’s called “Because it was Beautiful” and now available on Amazon.

For those of you who don’t know, Alex spent many years writing and rewriting the story of his amazing, engaging, and deeply inspiring life. As he writes: “I lived through eighty-one percent of the twentieth century. My career as an art journalist, novelist, foreign correspondent on the cultural beat, eager lover, and comparative mythologist, was lucky indeed.”

Alex had the great good fortune to encounter an extraordinary wealth of people during his life, artists like Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso, musicians like Benny Goodman, spiritual leaders like Masao Abe, the photographer Diane Arbus, and many others, some famous and some not, some he knew intimately, and some who were passing acquaintances. He writes about them with wit and wisdom and that marvelous story-telling gift that those of you who knew him personally will remember well.

During this past year, since Alex’s death last April, many people have asked me about his memoir and wondered when it would be published.

We are so glad to be able to announce this publication as a marvelous birthday celebration, a gift to all of us, one that shares the story of the life of an extraordinary human being.

If you’d like to keep in touch with updates and information, please let us know. We do intend to publish this in e-book format soon and can let you know when that will be available if you wish. We welcome your comments, feedback, and friendship, for Alex’s sake as well as our own.

With love from,
Winslow Eliot (daughter)
Jefferson Eliot (son)
May Eliot Paddock (daughter)

Review of Sight and Insight by Salvador Dali

dali

Almost demoniacally, Freud penetrates a work of art. Malraux mingles it with his own anguish. Between these poles of promiscuity, Eliot’s moral attitude is original: Chastity; he loves art without violating her, he is intimate without so much as a touch. And just as Gala is in all my work, Eliot’s partner lives in his.
-Salvador Dali

Life Celebration for Alexander Eliot at Figtree’s Cafe April 28th 2015 (Part Two)

Part Two. The family and friends of Alexander Eliot gathered on Tuesday, April 28th, at Figtree’s Cafe on the boardwalk in Venice, for a celebration of Alex’s life. The wonderful staff at the “Fig” graciously welcomed us to enjoy “the Alex” breakfast: a blueberry pancake and coffee. Alex and Jane went to the Fig every morning for breakfast for nearly 30 years, and after Jane’s death Alex continued the tradition. The cafe is a perfect place to honor him on what would have been his 96th birthday. This was not a formal service; it’s simply an occasion to commemorate the great man who meant so much to us. Video courtesy of Steven DePaola.

Life Celebration for Alexander Eliot at Figtree’s Cafe April 28th 2015 (Part One)

The family and friends of Alexander Eliot gathered on Tuesday, April 28th, at Figtree’s Cafe on the boardwalk in Venice, for a celebration of Alex’s life. The wonderful staff at the “Fig” graciously welcomed us to enjoy “the Alex” breakfast: a blueberry pancake and coffee. Alex and Jane went to the Fig every morning for breakfast for nearly 30 years, and after Jane’s death Alex continued the tradition. The cafe is a perfect place to honor him on what would have been his 96th birthday. This was not a formal service; it’s simply an occasion to commemorate the great man who meant so much to us. Video courtesy of Steven DePaola.

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