August 1, 2007

Peter's ABC Book By Chicago Artist Robert Amft

peters_abc_amft.jpg

I swear, I can't believe this hasn't been on DT yet. Robert Amft graduated from the Art Institute in Chicago in 1940; he was from a family of commercial artists, but he also made his own art, photography, collage, assemblage, sculpture, painting.

robert_amft_pete_fritz_whitey.JPG

In the last few years in Chicago, Amft's incredible paintings have been rediscovered--or discovered, really--and his work is rewriting the history of modernism in Chicago. Check out the abstract farmfield landscapes he did in the 40's, which were shown in Philadelphia last year. And this 1944 painting [above] "Pete, Fritz, Whitey Swimming", presumably of Amft's son and his father.

The resurgence of interest in Amft's work has brought at least one dormant book project to fruition, too. In case he was killed in battle in WWII, Amft created an elaborate collage alphabet book for his young son, which he also figured his wife could support the family with by publishing. It sounds a little naive today, but it's very touching. And really, what else does a young, unestablished artist, just out of school, have to provide for his family? [Fortunately, Amft made it through the war just fine, though his wife passed away in the late 1980's; their four kids are going strong.]

Peter's ABC Book was published last fall by the University of Illinois Press. The realization of this project after almost seventy years reminds me of Ladislav Sutnar's never-produced Factory Town blocks and his beautiful, unpublished children's book languishing in the Cooper Hewitt archives. Or even the molded plywood elephant made for the Eameses' kids. How many other artist dads' dream projects and idealistic labors of love are buried in boxes and in the corners of their studios?

Buy Peter's ABC Book for $9.60 at Amazon [amazon]
cool-sounding exhibit from 2004: A Robert Amft Bestiary [woodlandpattern.org]

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