Tomi Ungerer, Provacateur
Saturday, Jan. 17, I sat down to chat with Tomi Ungerer before a few hundred standing and floor-siting listeners and admirers for a public discussion of his career as illustrator, cartoonist, writer, author and social advocate.
An ovation greeted him as he entered the large and beautiful Drawing Center gallery, which is the site of his first-ever retrospective exhibit in the United States during his entire career (curator: Claire Gilman). I’ve admired Tomi since I was a teenager. I’ve known him for at least three decades, though I haven’t seen him in almost as long. I’ve read a number of his autobiographies, notably Tomi: A Childhood Under The Nazis, and have interviewed him on a few occasions over the years. He is a rare artist/provocateur with a lifetime of humanitarian achievements, but what our conversation revealed, in part, was:
That he could understand Yiddish (Strasbourg in Alsace-Lorraine held the largest concentration of Jews in France) and with Freddie Raphael created the European Centre of Yiddish Culture.
That his recently republished children’s book Otto: The Autobiography of a Teddy Bear, originally published in German in 1999, is a story about Jewishness and the Holocaust.
That he was named Ambassador for Childhood and Education by the Council of Europe and he helped draft the Declaration of Children’s Rights.
That as he matured, he discarded hate as a motivational emotion.
For a biographical timeline, go here.
The catalog of the show is sensational and can be ordered here.
Jan 17 at the Drawing Center, photo courtesy Susan J. Levinson
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