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Sunday, May 24, 2015

Waldo Peirce

Peirce (left) painted himself and Hemingway (pointing) as two                           
spectators in his famous Pile up in the Encierro at Pamplona, 1924-25.                       
There's an old saying, "People are known by the company they keep." It was drummed into my head by both my parents, and it's especially apropos here. You may never have heard of Waldo Peirce, but I'm sure you've heard of the company he kept. His best friend was Ernest Hemingway. They were what you might call, two of a kind. In 1937, Peirce painted Hemingway for the cover of Time magazine (right). The magazine called him, "The Ernest Hemingway of American Painters." Peirce refuted that claim, noting, "They'll never call Ernest Hemingway the Waldo Peirce of American writers." It's uncertain when the two first met but it was likely shortly before, during, or after WW I when both men were in and around Paris. Peirce served in France with the American Field Service ambulance corps. Hemingway did too, except he served in Italy. In the years after the war, he worked in Paris as a foreign correspondent. That's probably when he met Peirce.

For the Cause, Waldo Peirce,
painted during the war.
Hemingway Time Cover,
October 18, 1937, Waldo Peirce.

Peirce and Hemingway had far more in common than similar service in the same war. Both were the products of a privileged upbringing, Peirce in Bangor, Maine; Hemingway, Oak Park, Illinois. Peirce, born in 1884, was fifteen years older than Hemingway (born in 1899). Both men had four wives. Peirce was the indulgent father of five incorrigible children whom he doted upon excessively as seen in his Trimming Dad's Beard (below, left). Hemingway wrote from his home in Key West, Florida, of a visit by Peirce and his family:
"Waldo is here with his kids like untrained hyenas and him as domesticated as a cow. Lives only for the children and with the time he puts on them they should have good manners and be well trained but instead they never obey, destroy everything, don't even answer when spoken to, and he is like an old hen with a litter of ape-hyenas."
Outdoor Classroom, Treehaven School in Tucson, 1930s, Waldo Peirce
(where his ill-mannered children attended classes).
Trimming Dad's Beard,
1935, Waldo Pierce
Hemingway had a way with words. Likewise, Waldo Peirce had a way with paint. He always claimed, "I am a painter, not an artist." Perhaps a more apt description of the man would simply be, he was quite a character. A massive bull of a man, Peirce was drafted by Harvard into their football team solely because of his size, which was fortunate in that he probably would have been kicked out of the university because of his grades otherwise. He did managed to graduate in 1910, however (just barely, and three years late at that). Peirce claimed he much preferred playing pool to studying. It was at Harvard where Peirce met the American Communist writer, John Reed (as played by Warren Beatty in the 1981 film, Reds). Together they booked passage to England on a cattle boat. However, before they were even out of Boston harbor, Peirce decided he didn't much care for his accommodations. So, without telling anyone, he jumped overboard and swam to shore. When he came up missing at dinner, the captain of the ship arrested Reed on suspicion of murder. Fortunately, Peirce took a faster, and presumably more comfortable, ship to England where he met Reed on the dock, clearing him of homicide charges.

Legends of the Hudson, Troy, New York, post office mural,1938, Waldo Peirce.
Waldo Pierce Painting a Self-portrait.
Like Ernest Hemingway, Waldo Peirce was an adventurer. Peirce's Pile up in the Encierro at Pamplona (top), depicts both men in the crowd, making it the first "Where's Waldo?" painting in the history of art. Likewise, their past experiences found their way into the work of both men. The main difference was that Hemingway's experiences were apparently much more interesting than were Peirce. At a time when Hemingway was being touted as one of the greatest literary forces of the 20th century, Peirce was working for the Depression era WPA painting murals on a post office wall in Troy, New York (above). His self-portrait (left) captures very well the warm, loving, good-natured bear of a man virtually everyone loved.

Silver Slipper, 1930s, Waldo Peirce. The scene is Key West.
Pierce's Silver Slipper (above), from the 1930s, also fleshes out the man while exposing the artist. Pierce is said to have painted almost compulsively. He was never without a sketchbook, his devotion to his art second only to that for his children. When the alarm sounded reporting a fire, while other men rushed off to fight the conflagration, Peirce set up his easel and painted the scene, his Fire at East Orrington (below), from 1940. That's the kind of man he was. Though fifteen years older than his friend, Hemingway, Waldo Peirce outlived him by some nine years. Hemingway died of a self-inflicted gunshot in 1961. He was sixty-two. Peirce died in 1970 at the age of eighty-six. The two can be seen together enjoying their great gusto for life in Peirce's Sloppy Joe's (bottom) from 1936.

“Fire at East Orrington, 1940, Waldo Pierce

Sloppy Joe's, 1936, Waldo Peirce. Hemingway is pictured in the lower-right corner,
Waldo Peirce is seen above and behind him with pipe and beer.
Waldo's wife, Alizra, is sitting at the bar.


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