Born April 28, 1919, in Northampton, Massachusetts, Alexander Eliot has published eighteen books – including books on art, mythology, history, and novels. He is also the author of hundreds of published essays in magazines as varied as The Eastern Buddhist and England’s Systematics.
From age 26 Eliot was the art editor at Time Magazine. He was awarded Guggenheim Fellowship in 1960, and he took his wife and two small children to Spain, where he wrote Sight and Insight – on how to truly see and appreciate art. While he was there he visited Delphi in Greece, and wondered why anyone would want to raise a family anywhere else.
He took early retirement from Time Inc. at age 42, moved to Greece with his beloved wife and children, stayed several years, took his family on a freighter trip around the world when his children were seven and eight years old, lived in Rome, Italy, and then moved to Sussex, England. When his children attended college, he and Jane received a fellowship to study Zen Buddhism in Kyoto, Japan.
Although Harvard was a tradition in the Eliot family -Alexander Eliot’s great-grandfather Charles W. Eliot was Harvard president for almost fifty years, and pretty much invented our current liberal arts educational system – Alex Eliot decided to take a different course. He had heard about Black Mountain – and knew that Abstract artist Josef Albers taught there. He took Albers’s drawing, color and Werklehre courses, and on Friday evenings Albers gave him private drawing critiques.
At the end of his second year at Black Mountain, Eliot left to attend the Boston Museum School. He and his first wife Ann Dick set up a gallery, the Pinckney Street Artists’ Alliance. When it made no money, the Eliots moved to New York where he joined the Associated American Artists Gallery and then worked for the March of Time Newsreel. During World War II, Eliot worked for the Office of War Information.
After the war Eliot became art editor (1945-60) at Time. The success of his book Three Hundred Years of American Painting plus a Guggenheim Fellowship for “Studies of Greece and the Middle East as Spiritual Cradles of the Western World” enabled him and his second wife Jane Winslow Eliot to fulfill their wish to rear their children abroad, where they would be exposed to different languages and cultures. His book Sight and Insight (1959) concerned masterpieces of European art.
To prepare for an ABC documentary film The Secret of Michelangelo, a wheeled, sixty-foot tower was constructed in the Sistine Chapel so that Alex and Jane Eliot could spend hundreds of hours studying the ceiling from within touching distance. The film was shown on prime time in December 1968. The film was made two decades before its later “disastrous” cleaning, and is one of the rare photographic history remaining of the original paintings. “So-called art restoration is at least as tricky as brain surgery. Most pictures expire under scalpel and sponge,” Eliot wrote.