The Storyteller Steals Away . . . Print |
THE STORYTELLER STEALS AWAY . . .
1941 - 2012
It is with the deepest sorrow that we announce the death of Gerald McDermott – author, artist, filmmaker, raconteur, and the first Fellow of the Joseph Campbell Foundation. In declining health the past few years, McDermott was nevertheless an intensely private individual reluctant to share details of his medical condition; news of his passing comes as a shock to many of his closest friends.
Dream weaver, tale spinner, portrayer of visions, interpreter of the human spirit – Gerald McDermott was all these and more. Through his bold, graphic renderings of timeless tales from around the world, Gerald communicated his deep understanding of the transformative power of myth. His work remains an evocation of the human quest for unity and completeness, combining ancient imagery with contemporary design.
Gerald was fond of telling audiences he never held a job a single day in his life. Creator of over twenty-five books and films, Gerald was one of those fortunate few who discovered his bliss early in life. Admitted at the age of four to class at the Detroit Institute of Arts, he continued to pursue his passion throughout his school years, eventually attending Cass Tech – a public high school for the gifted with an art curriculum.
Upon graduation, Gerald was awarded a National Scholastic scholarship to New York's Pratt Institute. While at Pratt, he designed and directed his first animated film, The Stonecutter, based on a Japanese tale he’d loved as a child. After earning his Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1964, Gerald produced and directed a series of acclaimed animated films on folklore, each film consisting of roughly 6,000 separate drawings!
While working on his second film, Sunflight: The Flight of Icarus, his producer introduced him to Joseph Campbell – a meeting that marked the beginning of a lifelong friendship.
Gerald recalls the effect of that encounter:
"Suddenly, thanks to my discussions with Campbell, the stories I’d been fascinated with all my life began to resonate in a new way; I could see deeper levels in them. This had an impact on my illustrations. I began to look for graphic, visual ways to communicate the psychological levels of the stories."
Joseph Campbell served as consultant on four of Gerald McDermott's films. Far more significant from Gerald’s perspective, Joe and his wife, Jean Erdman, embraced Gerald as a member of their extended family. Campbell’s generosity of spirit made a deep impression on the young artist – a generosity he passed on to others many times over.
Gerald McDermott eventually adapted his films into children’s picture books, and created new stories drawn from the oral traditions of multiple cultures. Over time, he zeroed in on the Trickster motif, explaining his fascination as follows:
"Storytellers have delighted their listeners with animal tales throughout the ages. Across the world these stories have entertained and instructed as parables of human nature. The heroes – and villains – of this earliest and most widespread form of the folktale were often mischief-making rogues known as tricksters. The comic nature of the trickster as troublemaker, resourceful champion, and sometime fool is explored in these tales from different cultures.
"The trickster has special appeal for children because of his ability to triumph over larger foes not by physical strength, but by wit and cunning. In addition, tales of the trickster still speak to us in a gentle, humorous way about the strengths and weaknesses of humankind."
Gerald McDermott’s body of work has earned numerous awards. Two of the most prestigious – Anansi the Spider: A Tale from the Ashanti, and Raven: A Trickster Tale from the Pacific Northwest – were each named a Caldecott Honors Book; a third, Arrow to the Sun: A Tale from the Pueblo, won the coveted Caldecott Medal.
Gerald has been a popular presenter at Mythological RoundTable® meetings, and has long been one of the leaders of JCF’s Mythological Toolbox® playshop each spring at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur – this annual retreat continues to bring people together to explore the mythological aspects of their lives (no surprise that Gerald orchestrated activities in the Art Barn, and often shared a bedtime story to end the day). Gerald has also been a prime mover behind JCF’s efforts to support the development of myth-based curriculum in public education. His tireless, volunteer efforts on behalf of Joseph Campbell and JCF, along with his advocacy of the relevance of myth in contemporary life, inspired the Foundation to name Gerald McDermott its first Fellow.
On a more intimate note, Gerald’s friends – those of us who have experienced firsthand his thoughtful wit, personal charm, and sheer delight in all that life has to offer – lack the words to describe the hole left in our hearts.
Gerald, you are much loved, and much missed.
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