James Warhola, Illustrator

james warhola
Two pages of a three-page spread on James Warhola in Pittsburgh PetConnections magazine.

Last month I had the opportunity to meet and interview illustrator James Warhola at his family’s farm in Smock, PA, a little dot of a town south of Pittsburgh. His illustrations are rich in detail and colorful, the type you can study over and over and still find new things, and while he’d started out illustrating science fiction book covers and Mad magazine covers and stories he later began illustrating children’s books and then wrote a few of his own about his family and a rather famous relative.

The name may sound somewhat familiar—James, or Jamie as his family calls him, is Andy Warhol’s nephew. Jamie’s father Paul was Andy’s oldest brother, a vibrant and innovative person who helped give Andy a sense for business that helped him become a highly successful artist after graduating college. Jamie grew up watching his uncle work as a successful product illustrator living in New York, years before The Silver Factory, and, fascinated by watching his uncle produce these illustrations and then seeing them be reproduced decided that was exactly what he wanted to be too, an illustrator.

And this was on family visits to his famous Uncle Andy in New York, but it was much as any family would visit another family member, the stories of which would later become his own first illustrated book, Uncle Andy’s: A Faabbbulous Visit with Andy Warhol. They were a large but close-knit family despite the way we see Andy Warhol today, and that creative talent in art and craft and innovation clearly runs down through the generations.

The magazine’s owner, Carla Mader, is a friend of Jamie’s father Paul. I just missed meeting Jamie’s father last year to talk to him about his relationship with Andy and visiting through the years as well as his own creative output—the chicken foot paintings and found object sculptures derived from Paul’s scrapping business, but Paul was too ill last year to meet and sadly died in February this year.

The family had always had animals, from cats and dogs and chickens at home and later on the little farm Paul had bought to Andy’s and his mother’s famous Hester and Sam and their progeny to Andy’s two dachshunds Archie and Amos, and animals appear through and through all their illustrations and art.

In addition to writing the article, I also designed the three-page spread in the magazine and photographed Jamie in the studio at the old farmhouse for the cover. I have the text of the article below, and you can also read it with illustrations in the August issue of Pittsburgh PetConnections.

. . . . . . .

james warhola
James Warhola on the cover of Pittsburgh PetConnections magazine.

Through Generations: James Warhola, Illustrator

The name may sound familiar, “Warhola” … “Warhol”. James Warhola, or Jamie as his family called him, is Andy Warhol’s nephew, son of Andy’s oldest brother Paul who’d done so much to help his younger brother become a success at whatever he chose, and who later regularly took the family to visit Andy in New York giving Jamie an introduction to the life of a professional artist.

On these visits, watching his uncle first as a successful illustrator, then becoming a famous artist, Jamie’s dreams for his own future formed around being an illustrator too. And because animals had always been a part of family life from home to farm to New York City town house and in his uncle’s art as well, he could use all those memories of animals in illustrating the many children’s books that ultimately filled his portfolio.

Illustrator for over 30 books, in 2003 Jamie published the first of his own illustrated books, Uncle Andy’s: A Faabbbulous Visit with Andy Warhol (Putnam, 2003), about the spontaneous visits when his father would pack everyone in the car and drive to New York to pull up and simply knock on Uncle Andy’s door.

“We were a big family and we were very close, going to visit our uncle in New York City was just something any family would do,” Jamie remarked.

Andy had worked for years as an accessory artist and illustrator with Glamour magazine starting as soon as he arrived in New York in 1949 right out of college, and became a highly sought talent for product illustration. “I remember a lot of paintings of shoes,” Jamie said, “he was pretty famous for his shoe illustrations and handbags.”

Andy’s mother Julia, or Bubba as her grandchildren called her, moved to New York in 1952 to help her son. Andy was the youngest and had always been a little fragile so she’d given him a lot of care through the years along with encouraging his talent with her own creativity. With the rest of her children grown and gone and herself a widow, she decided he could still use her help.

So when the family went to visit, they were also visiting mother and grandma. The visits were a spur of the moment decision three or four times a year by Jamie’s father, and they’d pack up the car and be on the road bright and early. Did anyone call in advance to let their hosts know? “No!” Jamie laughed. “That would ruin the surprise!”

“Uncle Andy and Bubba were surprised, but they were happy we were there,” Jamie recalled and told about pulling out the mattresses and bedding for the family to sleep on for the next few days, and the fascination with the tall and narrow house.

With all those illustrations of shoes and handbags Andy had grown quite wealthy, and by 1960 he could afford to buy the town house at 89th and Lexington. “Those were the years of the soup cans and the silk screens. He was one of the group who founded ‘Pop Art’ in America,” Jamie observed of the movement that brought everyday products and people from popular culture advertising and media into fine art and even used illustrative techniques and styles to create works of art.

In the course of their visits, “we watched him doing all this work,” Jamie said. In 1962 young Jamie was seven and Andy had taught Jamie and his older brother Georgie how to stretch canvases for him while Paul would help with bigger projects, like building storage shelves and other renovation Andy needed.

“We were really the only ones who saw him in those years,” Jamie said as the family watched the new art evolve. “He was always working, we never saw the crazy stuff, not at home,” he said. “Andy started ‘The Silver Factory’ in 1964 because people wanted to be around him and they supported his work.”

He also recalled the cats, Hester and Sam, and all their progeny. “My uncle knew the housekeeper for Gloria Swanson and heard her cat had had kittens, and that was where Hester came from.” They adopted Sam as a companion, and soon there were “25 cats named Sam” as Andy and his mother named them all Sam. The need to find them homes inspired the 1954 book 25 Cats Name Sam and One Blue Pussy with illustrations by Andy and calligraphy by his mother Julia. “I’m not sure why the cats, but I think Bubba was more of a cat person,” Jamie said. Eventually they found homes for most of the Sams as Jamie wrote and illustrated in his follow-up book to Uncle Andy’s entitled Uncle Andy’s Cats. Later Andy was rarely seen without his dachshunds Archie and Amos.

“He was the biggest influence on me,” Jamie said. “I wanted to be an illustrator, even more than a fine artist. You’d do this drawing and then it would be reproduced. I wanted to do that.” His parents encouraged him to follow his muse. Jamie grew up in Jefferson Boro, south of Pittsburgh and graduated in 1977 with a BFA degree in design from Carnegie Mellon University and from 1977 to 1980 he studied at the Art Students League of New York.

He worked for his Uncle Andy at Interview magazine for a short time but left to become a science fiction illustrator, and during the 1980s he illustrated more than 300 book covers. Jamie also began in the early 80s and is still one of Mad magazine’s cover and article illustrators.

In his career as a book illustrator Jamie “kind of fell into” children’s book illustration but enjoys it, illustrating his first children’s book in 1987 and illustrating over 30. He started off painting with watercolors but moved to acrylics for any of his illustration assignments. “Everyone around me was thinking in a very avant garde sense, while I was thinking in a more traditional sense,” he says of his illustration style. Jamie’s illustrations are deep with detail and color, the sorts of illustrations you could look at over and over and still see more details.

james warhola
Last page of the article.

And they contained plenty of animals. “Norman Rockwell said it’s very important to put dogs or cats in the picture,” he said. One of the first children’s books he illustrated was a Grimm tale, The Tinder Box, about a soldier that is given a tinder box that summons three dogs to do his bidding. Children’s stories tend to feature animals so from those three dogs to his Uncle Andy’s cats he’s painted many, many animals.

In addition to his famous uncle, Jamie also gives credit to his innovative and creative-thinking father, Paul. As the oldest Paul helped care for his siblings after their father died, especially his youngest brother, Andy who had endured scarlet fever and its after-effects and become timid and shy. Paul had quit school during the depression to help the family and made money whatever way he could, including buying fruits and vegetables, then going into the city to sell them, taking Andy to knock on the door and make the sale.

Later Paul got into selling surplus electronics and then the junk business in which he turned used junk like cars and appliances into saleable scrap metal. The family’s yard was littered with metal and at times he would create sculptures out of his junk, not too unlike the sculptor John Chamberlain, who Andy liked collecting. “My dad taught me you can make art out of anything,” Jamie said. “He was always coming to me with crazy new ideas.”

This led to his father’s “chicken foot paintings”. “A friend of mine was returning to South America with a bunch of peeps and couldn’t take them on the plane, so I had to go get them,” Jamie recalls. “I took them back to dad and the place became a chicken farm for a while. They probably walked through paint from one of his projects and he liked the way it looked, but he actually ended up buying chicken feet from a butcher to make his paintings.”

Jamie now lives in the Hudson Valley of New York with one dog and three cats, and is still illustrating.

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Please also visit read his article with illustrations in the August issue of Pittsburgh PetConnections.


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Bernadette

From health and welfare to rescue and adoption stories, advocacy and art, factual articles and fictional stories, "The Creative Cat" offers both visual and verbal education and entertainment about cats for people who love cats, pets and animals of all species.

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