By Jim Linderman
I saw Andy Warhol twice. An empty storefront which had once been a Puerto Rican record distributor’s “one-stop” had reopened on the corner of Tenth Avenue and 45th Street as a bar. Gentrification is a missed blessing, but I was walking my dog around the block at midnight the night it opened pleased to have new light on the street. Their bright neon jukebox motif added safety to my then crack infested neighborhood just west of Times Square. To Andy, possibly being chauffeured uptown from an event, it must have looked like yet another thing he HAD to be first at.
His limo pulled to the curb and my dog and I watched Warhol and several of his companions step out to christen the new bar. I was thrilled. I had been in New York only a year or two, and was still impressed with faces I had seen in books. My other Warhol sighting was at the 26th Street Flea Market which Andy would shop Sunday mornings before he went to bed, I guess. He would arrive at 7am on his way home, I would arrive after setting the alarm at 6:30 to wake up. Mr. Warhol passed away a few years later, and New York City has never recovered. In his diaries, Warhol mentions once finding a fake self-portrait of himself at the market.
Care keepers of art history are fussy. With the potential of questionable new “Warhols” emerging from closets and from under beds they have to be. A silkscreen need only be as difficult as printing a t-shirt, and while I have no idea if fake Warhol works plague the market, it could happen. When I was an art dealer of sorts (more like a picker) my antique selling friends had an expression. “Dealers always shit on the work they don’t own.” A tendency of the haves to dismiss the have-nots. Who can blame them? Some is a “mine is better” attitude, some is jealousy and some is legitimate scholarship. I am going to believe it is not an easy thing to have a Warhol confirmed.
Several years ago, I tried to confirm not a Warhol painting, but a Warhol IDEA. I am still convinced of my own discovery, though unless one of those Andy Warhol boxes he filled with taxi receipts and candy bar wrappers contains an example of my discovery, we will never know.
I found the small booklet here (originally published by the Heinz company in Andy Warhol’s very home town the year before he was born) in an antique mall. The book encouraged young children to trace the images within for “fun” when the intent was clearly to imprint impressionable young minds with the Heinz logo and brand. Tracing paper was bound into the pamphlet on top of each Heinz product. The book was published in Pittsburgh, PA within walking distance from Andy’s home. The freebie came out in 1927 and Andy came out (of his mother) in 1928. As such, the small book, one of a series called “Heinz Kindergarten Books” would have been readily available to the young artist. The images here come from the Heinz book number 6, so the series was well established and local Pittsburgh residents would have surely picked up the premium, which was free, for their children to play with. It is quite likely the Warhol family knew employees there, and furthermore, as the Warhols had little money I would not be surprised if Andy often played with “free” toys. Surely a friend, a relative or his mother could have easily brought one home for him.
The Warhol house (currently being restored) is a mile from the Heinz Factory.
Branding is a fairly new concept… but what was instantly learned is that brand loyalty starts when a customer is very young. A child who recognizes a brand tends to stick with it their whole lives. Witness McDonalds. I am pretty sure the golden arches are more familiar to children than virtually any symbol, and most of them will down the gruel with gusto their entire life. Advertising, while never PROVEN to be effective (one of the modern advertising’s great lies is that there is a relationship between advertising and sales) nonetheless has been proven to increase brand awareness. Not sales, not loyalty, not a rising stock price… but awareness. And the best way to achieve that awareness is to get your brand into the hands and heads of the young. What better way to implant an idea than to literally have a child trace your products? Nefarious.
Although not quite as famous as his Campbell’s images, Warhol did produce numerous pieces of art with the Heinz logo, just like the branding experts at H. J. Heinz apparently hoped he one day would!
As the similarities between my Heinz book and Mr. Warhol’s early masterpieces are quite striking (and the location and dates too much of a coincidence to ignore) I believe Mr. Warhol may have played with books from the series and remembered it some 40 years later when he began using similar (in fact, nearly identical) images in his work. I do not suggest Mr. Warhol traced THIS copy, as thousands of children would have had the book, but he clearly would have had access to one and certainly the coincidences are far too great to dismiss.
My discovery which questions whether Andy Warhol learned to draw soup cans from a small Heinz tracing book has struck a few nerves. Have a look, consider it yourself… and contact the art historians! Greg Allen on his blog has added some history on the book series and discusses the impact product advertising has on young minds. Printeresting picked up my story under the title Andy Warhol was a Juvenille Appropriator. John Foster’s design site ran the story as A Warhol Missing Link?
The images here were originally published on Dull Tool Dim Bulb. Just for the record, a Heinz Tomato Ketchup drawing by Warhol done in 1962 (and quite similar to the very ketchup bottle shown in a tracing here from 1927) sold for over one million dollars at Christie’s in 2009. Guess what? He even USED a Heinz ketchup bottle in this lovely little film. Watch until the end as he would have wanted you to. It’s worth it.
The map from Andy’s Boyhood home (point A) and the Heinz Plant (point B which occupies over 15 blocks) is less than one mile down River Avenue.
Now what about “official” recognition? Have the keepers of the Warhol flame responded?
Warhol Museum archivist Matt Wrbican did:
“That’s an interesting theory. To my knowledge, neither of Warhol’s brothers has ever mentioned such a book being in the family’s possession. We’ve had them speak at the museum on many occasions over the past 15 years, and they have shared memories of Andy playing with newspaper comics (somehow projecting the image on a wall), entering a contest by carving a bar of Ivory soap into an elephant shape, winning a prize for the best flower garden in elementary school, getting a camera when he was about 8 years old (and converting a root cellar into his darkroom), breaking his leg, etc., etc, but not a Heinz coloring book. I’ve written to a Warhola family member to see if they have a recollection of this having been in the family’s possession, and will let you know if he has a positive response.”
I also heard from the son of Paul Warhola, Andy’s brother: “This was recently brought to my attention. Though this is a very interesting connection, my father, Paul Warhola, who was Andy’s oldest brother says he has no recollection of such a coloring book in the household. As the unofficial archivist I have come across many pre-Pop commercially made items that very much resemble the trademark images that Andy used in his early paintings including Campbell’s soup. I’m sorry to say that unless there was evidence that it was specifically his it’s probably coincidental. It’s my opinion that Andy’s inspiration as a Pop artist needed more time to ferment.”
Well, there you go. Coincidence, or Influence? It matters little to me, as MY copy of the Heinz Can was not traced by the artist, just one of his peers some 80 years ago. Still, it would be nice to be a footnote in art history. I owe it to my dog.
NOTES: In a peculiar and insidious practice Marx did not anticipate, the Heinz company, which was already far too big, was purchased by Investment behemoths Berkshire Hathaway and 3G Capital for $23 Billion dollars in 2013. Andy would have approved, I am sure. The Warhol Museum is HERE http://www.warhol.org. The Warhol foundation, who once provided “authentication” services, no longer does. It was too expensive for them, says Foundation Chairman Michael Straus “That’s not the way we think our time and assets should be spent…” according to the New York Times of September 5, 2012. There IS a Warhol Heinz drawing shown in the above… it sold for over one million dollars in 2009. The vintage tracings above are in the collection of Jim Linderman. A Warhol Heinz box is in the collection of the Warhol Museum is HERE. MOMA owns one too, gifted by Jasper Johns. In 2009, the chauffer of publisher Joseph Pulitzer’s son was arrested for trying to sell a stolen Warhol Heinz box (!) Heinz, for their part, donated 4 million dollars to the Warhol Museum through the Heinz endowment in 2009. The Anonymous Heinz Can Tracing above is not for sale. The Wikipedia entry on Warhol is HERE and to date no one has yet added my discovery. (Hint.)
Jim Linderman is a Grammy-nominated collector, popular culture historian and author. His network of blogs is approaching 4 million page views, and his VINTAGE SLEAZE BLOG which tells a true story from the golden age of smut every day has over 300,000 Facebook followers. For several years he has been working on TIMES SQUARE SMUT which will tell the story of several long forgotten writers, illustrators and mob-connected publishers from the 1950s who ultimately influenced contemporary culture.