It is great news to know that R.O. Blechman’s Ink Tank archive will have a home within the D.B. Dowd Modern Graphic History Library at Washington University.
I asked Douglas Dowd: How did this come about?
As it turns out, The Daily Heller had a hand in it! As you know, last fall the MGHL was renamed in my honor by a wonderful endowing gift from Ken and Nancy Kranzberg of St. Louis. The Daily Heller ran a great story on the D.B. Dowd Modern Graphic History Library and its mission. As it turned out, R.O. Blechman read that article. He was the creative and entrepreneurial force behind The Ink Tank, a highly innovative animation studio in New York City from 1977 to 2004. Like many in our field, Blechman is eager to see its history preserved. He’d been organizing his materials in hopes of finding a proper home for them, and he reached out to me in an email.
What is the extent of the holdings you will have in the archive?
The Ink Tank archive includes the production materials for more than 350 commercials as well as the films Simple Gifts and The Soldier’s Tale, based on the Stravinsky composition, plus short animations for NBC, CBS and other clients. There is an unfinished film version of Candide. But beyond the films and media, there are many, many drawings, animation cels, background paintings, storyboards and other production materials, as well as business materials and documents.There’s plenty of ephemera, too. It’s a goldmine.
How will scholars and the public have access to this material?
The library is open by appointment, and we are very welcoming to visitors. There will be a finding aid for offsite users to gain a sense of what’s in the collection, to make a visit more efficient. Design and illustration students will also be avid users of the material, as will folks from film and media studies. Some of the material will end up on view for exhibitions, in university libraries as well as at the Kemper Art Museum at Washington University. We also lend material to other institutions for exhibitions under the proper circumstances.
What would you say is the high point of the material? (I know that’s a tough one.)
The Simple Gifts material, from the PBS Christmas special, is really wonderful, including a lovely introductory sequence of a boy turning himself into a Christmas tree to shelter and delight two other children, drawn by Maurice Sendak. And of course the The Solider’s Tale is extraordinary. I love the moment when Blechman’s bathing soldier is shown swimming in a pond as shifting color shapes below the surface, contrasted with a contoured face and linear ripples as it breaks the surface. It’s all quite abstract, yet reads recognizably, delightfully. Which gets, I guess, to what I most admire about R.O. Blechman’s animation work: how subtle, lovely and specific it is. The tempo of the movement (and the editing) is the tempo of lived experience, not the hyped-up super-fast cutting we have grown so accustomed to. Going all the way back to his hilarious Alka Seltzer talking stomach ads, Blechman fashioned a way of drawing, designing and directing for the screen that was all his own. Humane, funny, sensitively observed, and delivered in a broken line that all but falls apart, yet never does. I’m a fan.
Ink Tank worked with many illustrators—who and what is included in the archive?
There are drawings, designs and paintings by Gary Baseman, Guy Billout, Seymour Chwast, Jack Davis, Jean-Philippe Delhomme, Jean-Michel Folon, Andre Francois, Milton Glaser, Steven Guarnaccia, Al Hirschfeld, James McMullan, Ronald Searle, Jean-Jacques Sempé, Maurice Sendak, Charles B. Slackman, Ed Sorel, Tomi Ungerer and other luminaries. Personally, I am especially fond of Delhomme’s backdrops for a series of Barney’s ads from the mid ’90s, and the Sempé drawings, but there’s lots to love here.
When will the material be organized and catalogued?
R.O. Blechman has been meticulous in documenting and caring for the work of The Ink Tank. Because he did such an exemplary job, it will take much less time to prepare the work to be experienced by visitors. We think processing and cataloguing should be done by year’s end.
Do you have any other plans for the collection?
I expect that we will make ample use of the films for screenings, and I’m sure we will [look at] how The Soldier’s Tale might be performed live alongside the film, which has been done several times in Europe. But above all, we are committed to serving the legacies of those whose work we attract and collect, by caring for the work properly but also by providing a context for it. We are devoted to telling a story of modern American life through popular sources like magazines, posters and films. We could not be more thrilled to have R.O. Blechman’s Ink Tank archive coming to Washington University and the Dowd MGHL.