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Andy Warhol's Mother Lived in a Garden Flat

The following letter from James Warhola, Andy Warhol's nephew, appeared in The New York Times on June 8, 2003. It was in response to a review of the book which follows the letter:

June 8, 2003
Warhol's Nephew

To the Editor:
At first I was so very pleased to see a review of my new children's book, Uncle Andy's (May 18). Laura Shapiro, the reviewer, perceives the book as the fond memory that it is of our childhood visits to New York City to see our uncle Andy Warhol and his mother. Though she is very complimentary, she accuses me of shading the facts about someone I knew for almost 20 years. My grandmother did not live in a basement with a few sticks of furniture and drink Scotch all day long. I guarantee you that she had a lovely garden apartment with beautiful furniture, and she did not drink! Those comments were grossly inappropriate and out of place. Shapiro seems to have relied on an unreliable biography.

James Warhola
Tivoli, N.Y.

The review from the May 18, 2003 review in the New York Times by Laura Shapiro follows:

JAMES WARHOLA grew up in a famous family, or at least a branch of one: his uncle was Andy Warhol. As Warhola explains at the beginning of the romp described in Uncle Andy's, his father was the eldest of three Warhola brothers from Pittsburgh, and Uncle Andy was the youngest. In 1949 Uncle Andy moved to New York, where he changed his name and later became one of the originators of the movement known as Pop Art. James's father, Paul, meanwhile, got married, became a junkman and had seven children.

It's clear from this captivating story that James - who became an artist himself, and has illustrated several children's books - sees himself as the natural product of two environments linked by, basically, junk. His father's yard, bestrewn with old tires and washing machines, and his uncle's art, bestrewn with soup cans, both inspired him to look for art in the unlikeliest places imaginable.

Several times a year the Warhola family clambered into a rickety old car and drove to New York City to stay with Andy and Bubba, James's grandmother, for a few days in their big house uptown. Uncle Andy's is about one of these visits, and Warhola fixes the date as August 1962. That was the year Andy Warhol's soup cans were exhibited for the first time, and his public identity was beginning to settle in around him.

If the glamorous rising star of Pop had any objections to this sudden invasion from the country mice, it doesn't show up in Warhola's telling, though some nice nuances filter through his description of the family's arrival. ''After a long wait, the door unlatched and slowly opened. Uncle Andy peered out for a minute and then let out a long 'Ohhhhhh!' Dad always thought it was best not to phone ahead so that it would be a surprise. It certainly worked. Uncle Andy was always very, very surprised.'' The picture -- we see the back of a head with flyaway white hair, and a huge, grinning family on the sidewalk, waving and lugging sleeping bags - says the rest.

The children have a great time in the Warhol house, racing from floor to floor, hovering over Uncle Andy while he paints and once surprising him in bed before he gets his wig on. They listen to him talking about art with the important people who come by the studio, and watch him going off to parties. Warhola's witty, energetic pictures, including one of himself waking up in a room piled high with soup cartons, give a wonderful child's-eye view of a world that was clearly more entrancing than Disneyland.

Not surprisingly, he also shades the facts just a bit. According to one of Andy Warhol's biographers, Bubba wasn't exactly the classic granny depicted in the pictures here. She lived in the basement of the house, where she had a cross on the wall, a few sticks of furniture and countless Siamese cats. Apparently she spent most of the day drinking Scotch. Nor does Warhola say much about his uncle's night life, understandably enough. Of course, any enterprising child with a modem can find out a great deal more about Andy Warhol if he or she wants to. (''Where are you surfing now, dear?'' ''Art history, Mom.'' ''That's nice.'') But most will probably be very happy with Warhola's loving take on his kind, zany uncle, and the dizzying art that inspired a small boy to open his eyes and pick up a paintbrush himself.













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