Reid Miles & Andy Warhol’s Mother: The Story Of Moondog, Prestige Records 7099 (1957)

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Avant Garde, Fifties, Jazz

In 1957 Reid Miles did the design for The Story Of Moondog, an album by the blind avant garde musician and street poet and performer Louis Hardin a.k.a. Moondog, who in New York was also known as the “Viking Of 6th Avenue” because of his horned helmet. An artist that intriguing, deserved an equally intriguing album cover. Miles filled the cover completely with a poem about Moondog by Stewart Preston, in Julia Warhola’s curly handwriting.

Warhol’s mother was awarded with a Certificate of Merit by the Art Director’s Club of New York for her work on this cover. Also in their 37th Annual of the ADC she got an entry. Credits in the annual were: Designer, art director: Reid Miles; Artist: Andy Warhol’s mother; Advertiser: Prestige Records.

Warhol’s assistant during the Fifties, Nathan Gluck, recalls the ‘making of’ in the book Unseen Warhol (Rizolli, NY, 1996): “She also did a record album, and she would misspell words and start over again, and the writing would start small and get bigger and slant upwards. And finally Andy told her just to do it; then he cut the whole thing apart and pasted it up so that it made some bit of sense. She got an Art Directors Club award for it. The award didn’t have “Julia Warhola” engraved on it. It read “Andy Warhol’s Mother”!”

The Warhol Museum has in its archives an early trial version of four lines in Warhola’s handwriting, which shows the text was written in black ink. So Warhol’s cutting and pasting of the text has little to do with the different colors of the text, that will have been done by Miles during the printing proces.

Sheet with some lines for the Moondog cover, in Julia Warhola’s handwriting. Photo Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh

So, what exactly was the input of Andy Warhol for this particular album cover? Hard to tell, and opinions differ. Let’s end with this interesting observation by biographer Blake Gopnik in his new book Warhol: “The recipient of the award was given as “Andy Warhol’s Mother,” which means she was being billed not as a truly independent creator but as an untrained adjunct to her son’s pro career. Calling her “Andy Warhol’s Mother” was a way to flag her as an outsider artist “discovered” (or more accurately, appropriated) by her fully trained son. (…) Since Warhol got a prize under his own name in the same contest, many observers may have imagined that the “Mother” named on the Moondog album didn’t exist at all, except as a gender-bending alter ego of Warhol’s, the way Marcel Duchamp had cross-dressed as Rrose Sélavy. They weren’t totally wrong: Even on the Moondog album, Warhol had done a cut-and-paste job on Warhola’s original attempts at lettering, and before too long, with his mother feeling too frail to do the work, Warhol and his assistant learned to copy her handwriting. Eventually, Warhol even had it made into rub-on Letraset letters.” (Blake Gopnik, Warhol, Ecco – Harper Collins, 2020)

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