Harvard was a tradition in the Eliot family –Alexander Eliot’s
great-grandfather Charles W. Eliot had been president – Alex Eliot decided to take a different
course. He heard about Black Mountain from his uncle Thomas Hopkinson Eliot
and decided to apply.
Eliot's father, Samuel Atkins Eliot, a professor at Smith College, had started the Socialist Club when a Harvard student and
invited Emma Goldman to speak. When the rebellious son approached him
with a preference other than Harvard, his father readily agreed:
"I wouldn't want you to attend a university whose President Lowell
helped to condemn Sacco and Vanzetti."
entering Black Mountain, Eliot had studied art at
Loomis Institute in Windsor, Connecticut with Madame Cheruy, "a fine
artist who did great wash-drawings of cathedral interiors." She gave him access to
an excellent art history library which had been locked away for
fear that its many nudes would be "too stimulating for the boys."
Mountain, Eliot focused on art with Josef
Albers and Stage Studies with Xanti Schawinsky. He took Albers's
drawing, color and Werklehre courses, and on Friday evenings Albers
gave him private drawing critiques. At the end of the first year when John
Rice declined to
renew his scholarship, Albers "exerted his influence" and the
scholarship was approved.
end of his second year at Black Mountain, Eliot left to attend the Boston
Museum School where he could receive "academic training." When
he informed Albers of his decision, Albers admonished him, "It's all a mistake. You won't
learn anything new there at all except cooking."
Ignoring Albers's advice,
Eliot enrolled at the Museum
School. He and his first wife Ann Dick set up a gallery, the Pinckney Street
Artists’ Alliance. When it made no money, the Eliots moved to New York where
Alex Eliot joined the Associated American Artists Gallery and then worked
for the March of Time Newsreel. During World War II, Eliot worked for
the Office of War Information.
After the war Eliot
became art editor (1945-60) at Time. The success
of his book Three Hundred Years of American Painting (1957) plus
a Guggenheim Fellowship for "Studies of Greece and the Middle East as
Spiritual Cradles of the Western World" enabled him and his second wife Jane
Winslow Eliot to fulfill their wish to rear
their children abroad, where they would be exposed to different languages
and cultures. His book Sight and Insight (1959) concerned masterpieces of
prepare for a documentary film The Secret of Michelangelo, a
wheeled, sixty-foot tower was constructed in the Sistine Chapel so that
Alex and Jane Eliot could spend
hundreds of hours studying the ceiling from within touching distance. This
was well before its "disastrous" cleaning.
books include besides those mentioned above: Proud Youth (1953), Love Play: A Novel Entertainment
(1966), Socrates: The Person and the Portent (1967), Myths (1976), Universal Myths: Heroes, Gods,
Tricksters and Others (with contributions by Joseph Campbell and
Mircea Eliade) (1990), The Global Myths: Exploring Primitive, Pagan,
Sacred and Scientific Mythologies (1993), and The Timeless Myths:
How Ancient Legends Influence the World Around Us (1996).
of eighteen books and hundreds of essays in magazines as varied as The
Eastern Buddhist and England's Systematics, Eliot continues his
writing. He promises a memoir soon.
Eliot retired Professor Emeritus from Hampshire College. He never obtained
a degree beyond his high school certificate.