It’s with deep sadness that I report the passing on December 26th of my lifelong friend and colleague, Gerald E. McDermott. Gerald was an internationally acclaimed author and illustrator of numerous books, a creator of animated films, a graphic designer for theater and dance, and an authority on mythology and folk tales drawn from the world’s cultures.
Gerald and I met as teenage students at the iconic Cass Technical High School in Detroit, where Gerald studied art and the Bauhaus style, and I was a performing arts major. We shared a love of cinema and made many short films together, which were screened for our school friends. (Our silent movie parody, “Hello, My Baby!” is on YouTube.)
Gerald attended Pratt Institute in Brooklyn in the 1960s, where he further developed the bold colors, textures and design motifs that would characterize his art. Over the years, he wrote and illustrated more than twenty inspired picture books based on the Trickster Tales found in many cultures, and other universal themes. Among many awards, his book “Anansi the Spider: a tale from the Ashanti,” was a Caldecott Honor Book, and his “Arrow to the Sun: a Pueblo Indian tale,” won a Caldecott Medal.
An encounter with renowned mythologist Joseph Campbell led to a long creative relationship, and Gerald being named the first Fellow of the Joseph Campbell Foundation. They have honored him as a “Dreamweaver, tale spinner, portrayer of visions, and interpreter of the human spirit, who deeply understood the transformative power of myth.” Gerald was an accomplished storyteller, with a fine Irish wit, and a generous colleague of creative artists at home and around the world.
A warm family friend, we stayed in close touch over the years. For our private amusement, we exchanged hundreds of “Studio Memos” and souvenirs about the misadventures of our imaginary “Picture” company, “Pish Studios: Home of the Silent Talkie.” Gerald took on the persona of movie mogul, P.P. Pish, and I became gruff silent director, H. ‘Fritzzie’ Engel. It was magical play.
We will remember Gerald’s humor, intelligence, visionary art, and trickster spirit always.
-- Harrison Engle
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