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Alexander Eliot    

 

Date of birth:
1919
Profession:
Author, Critic
                             

Student

1936-37
1937-38


 

 

 Although 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.

Alex 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." 

Before 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." 

At Black 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. 

At the 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 European art.

To 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.

Eliot’s 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).

Author 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.

In 1977 Eliot retired Professor Emeritus from Hampshire College. He never obtained a degree beyond his high school certificate.

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