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Andy Warhol: From Nowhere to Up There

an oral history of Andy Warhol's early years

by Gary Comenas

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page seven

2. Carnegie Tech.

Bennard B. Perlman: In September 1945, when Andy Warhol and I entered Carnegie Institute of Technology as freshmen art students, the school represented a middle-ground approach to educating future artists…  When classes began in 1945, the first week of October, Andy was among the sixty freshmen enrolled in painting and design. The majority of the group was female. World War II had ended just the month before; only four of the handful of males were veterans. (BP151)

Joseph Groell (Carnegie Tech student ): I started Carnegie Tech in 1946, and that’s probably when I met [Warhol]. He was in the class ahead of me… We didn’t have an option to major in painting. We were essentially trained to be art directors, I guess. The concept seemed to be that we studied painting to learn universal principles of design… There was no distinction between fine art and commercial art. They vested both as ‘good design.’ (PSC29/31)

[Note: Joseph Groell graduated from Carnegie Tech in 1950 and the same year moved to New York - a year after Warhol graduated and moved there. In 1952 Groell became a founding member of the Tanager Gallery where Warhol attempted unsuccessfully to show his work in the 1950s - see Chapter 3. (JG) g.c.]

Bennard B. Perlman: Andy was easy to overlook …  for at five-feet nine-inches tall and weighing just 135 pounds, he lacked a prominent presence. Andy was a mild-mannered, soft-spoken, naïve introvert. I never heard him shout, never saw him in a fit of rage. He often seemed awkward, timid, vulnerable, and nonverbal, and his pale skin gave him a gaunt appearance. (BP151)

Tony Scherman/David Dalton (Warhol biographers ): At the start of his freshman year at the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie-Mellon University), Andy was lost. ‘He could barely write a sentence,’ said classmate Gretchen Jacob Schmertz. Today, it could hardly be clearer that he was dyslexic. (TS9)

(Note: Although a number of writers have claimed that Warhol was dyslexic, no medical evidence has ever been produced to substantiate the claim. His Certificate of Secondary School Credits shows that he ranked 51 in a class of 278 and that some of his highest grades were in English. gc.)

Andy Warhol Schenley High School grades

Molly Donovan (National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC ): While many reasons have been offered for Warhol’s numerous misspelled words – from intentionality, to dyslexia, to the broken English spoken by his immigrant parents – a definitive explanation is difficult to provide. (MD9)

James Warhola (Andy Warhol's nephew): It is important to understand that his first language was Rusyn. He didn't speak English until he was five or six years old. My father was the first to speak English well and my grandmother didn't speak English at all. And don't get Rusyn confused with Polish! So, Andy didn't speak English until he went to school: and then due to his illnesses he missed a lot of the crucial years in which he would have learned the basics: grammar, spelling, and writing. (CJ37)

Bennard B. Perlman: At Schenley High School, Andy sometimes had been the only student wearing a white shirt and tie; at Carnegie Tech he quickly adopted the garb of the art student: a well-worn tan corduroy sports coat over a navy blue turtleneck sweater and paint-splattered jeans. Brown-and-white saddle shoes were popular, and his were unique, painted black over the areas that originally were white.

During his freshman year, fifteen of the thirty hours of class each semester were devoted to Drawing I, which focused on ‘analytical observation and the means of expressing volume, spatial position, illumination, and texture.’ It should have been a trouble-free experience, except that Andy had had virtually no exposure to the medium of charcoal or to applying the principles of perspective, two of the mainstays of the course…

The second term of our freshman year became extremely competitive; the rat race was brought on by the department chairman’s startling announcement that some 300 war veterans had applied for admission to the department, and through the school had never enrolled a mid-year class, it had decided to do so now. Fifteen of that number would begin in a special section and continue through the summer, then be absorbed into our class in the fall, when we would start our sophomore year together. In order to accommodate the veterans, the low fifteen from among us would be dropped at the end of the semester…

Each student’s semester grades in art were determined by the faculty in a process referred to as ‘judgment.’ For this procedure, all student works were arranged by last names in alphabetical order on a wall that ran the entire length of the building… When the faculty arrived at the end of the wall, in front of Andy’s art, a young teacher declared, ‘He’s not going to fit,’ at which point Russell Hyde responded, ‘You can’t do this. You’re wrong. I want you to give this kid another chance. Let him go and finish the summer with the class of veterans.’ And Samuel Rosenberg, like Hyde a senior faculty member, also came to Andy’s defense.

Rosenberg, who had not yet taught him, happened into the drawing studio just as Andy, in tears was cleaning out his locker. Rosenberg asked what was wrong, and when Andy explained that he had flunked out, the professor advised him to go to summer school, get credits for Drawing I, and he would be readmitted. (BP152-153)

Patrick S. Smith to Andy Warhol (6 November 1978): Who was your favorite or most memorable teacher at Carnegie Tech?

Andy Warhol: Hmm. Sam Rosenberg. (PS514)

Bennard B. Perlman: On May 29, Andy received his report card. The grades were C’s and D’s plus an R (repeat) in Thought and Expression. Accompanying it was the notation ‘Suspended until advancement in Drawing I.’ Andy took Rosenberg’s advice and enrolled in the summer-school class which was, coincidentally, taught by Russell Hyde.

Some of the classwork involved drawing field trips to Oakland, like the time the students went to Forbes Field, where a circus was being set up…

The drawing course was combined with working part-time for his brother Paul, who had come home from the Navy and was plying the neighbourhoods in a small panel truck hawking fruits and vegetables. Andy not only weighed and sold the produce, and kept children from playing too close to the vehicle, he began to fill his sketchbook with one drawing after another… (BP153)

Paul Warhola: The first year he attended Carnegie Tech I came back to Pittsburgh - in the summer of 1947. I was working selling vegetables and fruit in the street. I had a produce truck and I needed someone to help me during his vacation he decided to come along and work with me. He brought along his sketchpad and so I guess he was working on his summer project. he was drawing all day long. When he went back to school in September and submitted the projects he'd done over the summer, they were a success and he got a scholarship. (RU61)

Bennard B. Perlman: When classes resumed that fall, students were urged to submit evidence of their self-motivated summer art activities in competition for a Martin B. Leisser Prize, presented each year in memory of the Pittsburgh artist who had helped persuade Andrew Carnegie to add an art school to his technical college. And it was Andy Warhol who was declared the winner from among the previous year’s freshman class.

Having earned a B in the summer make-up class, Andy embarked on an anatomy course also taught by Russell Hyde… One early assignment, related to the courses in anatomy and figure construction, was to produce a self-portrait in oils with only black, white, and burnt sienna.  Since Andy had been depicting his own features for years, he chose experimentation over realism. When the likenesses were lined up along a wall of the studio, someone in the class inquired, ‘Who the hell is that? Is that your sister?’ Andy replied matter-of-factly, ‘No, I always wanted to know what I would look like if I had long hair and was a girl.’ His classmates and the professors were shocked. (BP154)

Jack Wilson (Carnegie Tech. student): I think Andy’s relationship with ‘Papa’ Hyde was extremely important. It is the metamorphosis of Andy Warhol. It has to do with the Leisser Prize… among the students it was very prestigious to win this award. It was a nominal but endowed prize of $50. It was awarded to a student who did work on his own – not for direct student work. And Andy won that prize for drawings.

It was literally, the sketchbook that he carried with him when he was a helper on a milk truck in this very depressive part of Pittsburgh…” (PSC12)

Andy Warhol wins Leisser Prize press clipping

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, (24 November 1946)

From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (24 November 1946): Never squeeze the tomato lady. You may find yourself in Carnegie Institute. For two months this summer the good housewives of Pittsburgh squeezed tomatoes, bananas, and assorted produce of Andy Warhola, the 18-year-old artist huckster. Now the pinch is on the other foot. Andy, a Carnegie Tech art student, has satirized them with a prize-winning set of drawings…

As the huckster’s wagon went its lazy way through Oakland and Homestead, Andy did something besides dish out vegetables and try to keep children from under the wheels. He set down a series of pen-and-ink sketches that show the vagaries of everything from the idle rich to the scrambling poor. They were good enough to win one of this year’s awards in the Leisser Art Fund, given annually to Tech students. (PH18)

to page eight

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