P/cloudy
67°
P/cloudy
Hi 81° | Lo 58°

Laughs & leaves aplenty

Cartoonist Skip Morrow’s gallery is full of fun, surprises

  • This image courtesy of Skip Morrow

    This image courtesy of Skip Morrow

  • This image courtesy of Skip Morrow

    This image courtesy of Skip Morrow

  • This image courtesy of Skip Morrow

    This image courtesy of Skip Morrow

  • Morrow’s Gallery in Wilmington, Vt., was named Best Art Gallery at an Inn in Yankee Magazine’s “Best of New England, 2013.”

    Morrow’s Gallery in Wilmington, Vt., was named Best Art Gallery at an Inn in Yankee Magazine’s “Best of New England, 2013.”

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>This view shows the back of Morrow’s gallery.

    Recorder/Paul Franz
    This view shows the back of Morrow’s gallery.

  • This image courtesy of Skip Morrow

    This image courtesy of Skip Morrow

  • Recorder photo illustration/Paul Franz<br/>A mirror in Morrow’s gallery gives visitors the illusion they are on stage, in front of hundreds.

    Recorder photo illustration/Paul Franz
    A mirror in Morrow’s gallery gives visitors the illusion they are on stage, in front of hundreds.

  • This image courtesy of Skip Morrow
  • This image courtesy of Skip Morrow
  • This image courtesy of Skip Morrow
  • Morrow’s Gallery in Wilmington, Vt., was named Best Art Gallery at an Inn in Yankee Magazine’s “Best of New England, 2013.”
  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>This view shows the back of Morrow’s gallery.
  • This image courtesy of Skip Morrow
  • Recorder photo illustration/Paul Franz<br/>A mirror in Morrow’s gallery gives visitors the illusion they are on stage, in front of hundreds.

If you’re looking for a new fall foliage destination, head north for a place that’s both beautiful and funny.

The Art of Humor Gallery, tucked away off Vermont’s Route 9, on Not-a-Road Road in Wilmington, gives you not only an autumnal landscape but a glimpse into the mind of humorist/artist Skip Morrow, a musician and cartoonist with some best-selling books under his belt.

Morrow’s Gallery was named Best Art Gallery at an Inn in Yankee Magazine’s “Best of New England, 2013.” It is full of surprises, from a duck statue made of duct tape (duck tape?) to an animated Mona Lisa.

Morrow’s first cartoon book, “The Official I Hate Cats Book,” made the New York Times’ best-seller list, at a time when Jim Davis’ “Garfield” and Bernard Kliban’s stylized “Cat,” a collection of cartoons about cats, were all the sentimental rage.

“It really wasn’t because I hate cats,” says Morrow, who is, in fact, a cat owner. “Somebody had to do something about all the gag-me-with-a-spoon (cat) stuff. It was almost too much.”

Unlike the full-bodied Garfield and Kliban felines, Morrow’s cats are lanky and bug eyed. The cartoons capture the cat in a moment before something nasty happens to it. In one panel, for instance, a cat is tied around its belly to a fire hydrant — which a big dog is sniffing. Another shows a line of cat owners lined up before a Rube Goldberg-type contraption. The owners are stuffing their cats into one end of the long machine and smiling as they retrieve them — as dogs — from the other end.

The “Second Official I Hate Cats Book” came out in 1981, and for a while, Morrow had two best-sellers on the New York Times list.

He went on to write and illustrate a book about a nuclear apocalypse called “The End” in 1983. Other books he wrote and illustrated include “The Joy of Smoking” in 2000, “Don’t Laugh, You’re Next” in 1983 and “The Official I Hate Love Book” (1982) — which does for romance what the “I Hate Cats” series did for dogs.

On the more commercial side, Morrow has been a freelance illustrator for magazine covers, and advertising clients ranging from IBM and Coors to Vermont Public Televsion, Deerfield Valley Transit Authority, Mount Snow and United Way, among others.

“I just did it as a hoot,” Morrow says, of his first cat book. “I kept noticing that people were never neutral about it. My theory was the people who got mad at the book were its best advertising — and it proved to be true,” he said.

At the time, Morrow mostly saw himself as a professional musician and singer-songwriter. He performed in Cape Cod during the summers and in ski resorts in the winter. Morrow and his wife, Laraine, still perform at area clubs and restaurants. Also, Morrow has recently designed an electric guitar, with building assistance from luthier Bruce Avery.

Morrow, a photojournalism major and Rutgers University graduate, said he first came to Wilmington in 1974. He was a full-time musician, but always an ardent sketcher.

“I was always a little odd, as a kid,” he said. “I don’t think I doodled any more than other kids, but there was one kid in particular who used to say ‘I’ll give you this for that thing you’re doodling.’ Every day at lunch, he would say, ‘What did you draw today?’ If he liked it, he would give me one of his lunch treats for it.”

Morrow said having an audience and getting “paid” for his drawings encouraged him.

In 1980, after living in Bermuda, Morrow came back to Vermont to play music during the ski season at Mount Snow. But after he was laid off — due to lack of snow that winter — Morrow took a bunch of cartoons to New York City, and showed them to a publicist at Holt, Rinehart and & Winston. While the publicist gave him a cool reception, calling him “naive” for coming in with his drawings, another employee saw his work and asked “to borrow them” for a few minutes.

Morrow ended up with a $5,000 advance and an agreement to deliver 50 more cat cartoons within six weeks.

Morrow says “The Joy of Smoking” was the result of his trying “to do a book that would focus on how smoking becomes the center of someone’s life.”

Cartoon panels include sprinters at the starting line, cigarettes in mouth. Doctors in an operating room, lighting up with a patient on the table. A man brushing his teeth while a cigarette dangles from the other side.

Morrow says he smoked until he was in his late 20s. “I do remember how you would mark different events in your day by starting with a cigarette. There was always something to celebrate with a cigarette and if you didn’t have one, it was as though something was missing. I decided to play out when (smoking) becomes such an integral part of someone’s life.” He said smokers seem to like the book.

The gallery is packed with framed images that go far beyond what could be done in book form: sometimes the frame itself is part of the picture. For instance, one rectangular print that would have otherwise run into a wooden bannister is jaggedly cut-off — glass, wood and all — while a cartoon character handling a chain saw looks on in satisfaction. Leaning against the banister is that sawed-off frame corner.

In another image, an opera singer is hitting a high note as she nervously eyes the shattered glass in the frame that surrounds her.

A sort-of 3D Mona Lisa gives her audience a certain rude gesture, if you look at her from a certain angle. Morrow said the image is an example of lenticular artwork, which gives images the perception of depth and animation. To get this effect, Morrow said he learned the technique from a California-based company.

“God’s Drawing Board” shows the bearded, Old Testament God sketching animals, pinning up drawings of “successful” creatures, while wads of discarded sketches line the floor and over-fill a wastebasket. Look closely, and you’ll see the devil lurking in the wastebasket, salvaging out a crumpled sketch of a man.

Another theological whimsy, “God’s Windshield,” shows God driving a sports car with a planet splattered like a bug on the windshield.

Before opening the gallery, Morrow never really saw or heard the public react to his work. “For 20 years, I sent my stuff off to the studios and I would never hear anybody laugh. But I did get a check.”

The Morrows run The Brass Bed B&B and before building the gallery, Morrow put a small exhibit of his work in his garage. “I found I really enjoyed getting the feedback,” he said.

The response he got was so positive that he built the gallery, both to showcase his artwork and to sell prints, books and greeting cards that feature his work.

The gallery is free, although donations are requested. It is located near the intersections of Route 9 and Route 100 in Vermont. To reach it, turn onto Ballou Hill Road, pass a stop sign, then onto Ware Road until you get to a gravel road marked Not-a-Road Road. The gallery is the second building on the left.

Directions are available online, along with several examples of Morrow’s artwork. The gallery is open almost every day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., but Morrow recommends that visitors call first. The phone number is 802-464-5523 and the website is: theartofhumor.com

Staff reporter Diane Broncaccio has worked at The Recorder since 1988. Her beat includes west county. She can be reached at: dbronc@recorder.com or: 413-772-0261, ext. 277.

Staff photographer Paul Franz has worked for The Recorder since 1988. He can be reached at pfranz@recorder.com or 413-772-0261 Ext. 266. His website is www.franzphoto.com.

There are no comments yet. Be the first!
Post a Comment

You must be registered to comment on stories. Click here to register.