12 Things You Might Not Know About Andy Warhol

Susan Greenwood, Liaison Agency/Getty Images
Susan Greenwood, Liaison Agency/Getty Images

Andy Warhol is best known for creating iconic Pop art paintings of Campbell's soup cans and Marilyn Monroe in the 1960s. With the Factory, his New York City studio, he made films (such as Chelsea Girls) and championed bohemian performers (including Edie Sedgwick and Nico) that he deemed superstars. He also co-founded Interview magazine and presciently declared that everyone in the future will be world-famous for 15 minutes. To celebrate what would have been the artist's 90th birthday, here are a dozen things you might not know about Warhol.

1. HIS PARENTS WERE POOR IMMIGRANTS FROM CENTRAL EUROPE.

After leaving their village in present-day Slovakia to come to America, Andrej (or Ondrej) and Julia Warhola welcomed their son Andrew Warhola to the world in 1928. The family, including Warhol's two older brothers, lived humbly in a small apartment in a working-class neighborhood in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Andrej worked as a construction worker and coal miner but died of tuberculosis peritonitis when Warhol was 13.

2. HE WAS A DEVOUT CATHOLIC WHO REGULARLY ATTENDED MASS.

Warhol grew up as a practicing Byzantine Catholic, and he quietly continued to practice his religion as an adult. He went to a church on Manhattan's Upper East Side almost every day, attending Mass or praying in the afternoon. Warhol also wore a crucifix necklace, carried a rosary, and regularly volunteered at a church-run soup kitchen. Some of his art, such as his series The Last Supper, depicts religious themes, and Warhol is buried in a Catholic cemetery in Pennsylvania.

3. HE WAS THE VELVET UNDERGROUND’S MANAGER.

Pop artist and film-maker Andy Warhol (1928 - 1987
Express Newspapers/Getty Images

In 1966 and 1967, Warhol organized events dubbed The Exploding Plastic Inevitable to combine his interests in art, performance, music, and film. He featured the Velvet Underground in The Exploding Plastic Inevitable and encouraged the band to perform with Nico, one of his superstars. Warhol then co-managed the band, produced the Velvet Underground and Nico’s self-titled album, and let the band use his banana artwork as its album cover.

4. DRELLA WAS HIS NICKNAME.

Warhol's friends and creative collaborators in the Factory called him Drella, a portmanteau of the names Dracula and Cinderella. Because he was often insincere and flippant, especially in interviews, it could be hard to uncover Warhol's true thoughts. But the nickname Drella conveyed the passive-aggressive, Jekyll and Hyde-like nature of his personality. Two members of the Velvet Underground even released an album in Warhol's memory called Songs For Drella.

5. HE USED URINE TO OXIDIZE SOME OF HIS PAINTINGS.

In 1977, Warhol started creating a series of abstract paintings called The Oxidations. Using a base of copper paint, he added urine to oxidize the paint, creating unique colors and textures. Warhol encouraged his friends to urinate on the canvases. Because each person's diet and vitamin intake differed, their urine created slightly different colors in the oxidation process and turned the copper paint various shades of green, brown, and yellow. In 2008, one of his paintings in this series sold for almost $2 million.

6. HE WAS NOMINATED FOR A GRAMMY AWARD.

In the 1950s and '60s, Warhol worked as a freelance commercial artist for companies such as Harper's Bazaar, RCA Records, and Columbia Records. Besides creating cover art for the Velvet Underground, he designed album artwork for the Rolling Stones, John Cale, and Aretha Franklin. His 1971 cover for the Rolling Stones's album Sticky Fingers—a risqué image of a man's crotch (in jeans) with a working zipper—was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Album Cover. (It lost to a band called Pollution.)

7. HIS SILVER WIGS COVERED UP HIS EARLY BALDING.

In his early 20s, Warhol began going bald, so he wore wigs to obscure his hair loss. His silver wigs—he had a collection of dozens—contributed to his bohemian image and avant-garde mystique. Warhol's iconic 1986 series of self-portraits, called Fright Wig, shows his (fake) hair sticking straight up. In 2010, his purple self-portrait sold at Sotheby's for more than $32 million.

8. HE WAS A LIFELONG MAMA’S BOY.

Until her death in 1972, Julia Warhola was her son's close and constant companion. Mother and son lived and worked together in New York City for almost two decades. Julia appeared in his film Mrs. Warhol and provided calligraphy and lettering for his projects. A collection of her drawings is even on display at Pittsburgh's Andy Warhol Museum.

9. TRUMAN CAPOTE CALLED HIM A LOSER.

 A visitor walks near Self-Portrait 1986 by artist Andy Warhol (1928-1987) at the Graves Gallery on April 11, 2012 in Sheffield, England
Christopher Furlong, Getty Images

Warhol admired Truman Capote's work and lifestyle, but the playwright didn’t feel the same. Recalling his meeting with a pre-fame Warhol (whom Capote claimed had been essentially stalking him), Capote described the artist as "one of those hopeless people that you just know nothing's ever going to happen to. Just a hopeless, born loser, the loneliest, most friendless person I'd ever seen in my life." Despite this cruel description, Capote later warmed to Warhol, and the two men had occasional lunches and collaborated on Interview magazine.

But their relationship was more as frenemies than as BFFs. Warhol reportedly said that one of Capote's scripts was awful and that in 1980, the author had become very distant and unfriendly: "It's strange, he's like one of those people from outer space—the body snatchers—because it's the same person, but it's not the same person."

10. A RADICAL FEMINIST WITH SCHIZOPHRENIA ALMOST KILLED HIM.

In 1968, Valerie Solanas shot Warhol (as well as art critic Mario Amaya) at the Factory. Warhol fought for his life, spending two months in the hospital recovering from his chest wound. Solanas, a radical feminist author diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia who advocated overthrowing the government and eliminating men, had appeared in Warhol's film I, a Man (that's Solanas talking on a staircase). She was mad at the level of control she felt Warhol had over her life, so she shot him. Nearly two decades later, Warhol died in 1987 of a heart attack after a gallbladder surgery, possibly due to complications from the gunshot wound.

11. HE MADE A COOKBOOK, AND IT'S AS BIZARRE AS YOU'D EXPECT.

In 1959, Warhol joined forces with his friend, interior decorator Suzie Frankfurt, to create a cookbook called Wild Raspberries. Mocking the genre of stylish French cookbooks, Warhol and Frankfurt wrote recipes for "dishes" such as Omelet Greta Garbo (to be eaten alone), Roast Iguana Andalusian, and Gefilte of Fighting Fish. Although the handmade cookbooks contained 19 Warhol illustrations, Wild Raspberries wasn’t a commercial success.

12. PITTSBURGH IS A MECCA FOR HIS FANS.

Visitors enter the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Archie Carpenter, Getty Images

Since 1994, the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh has featured a treasure trove of Warhol-related items, including his paintings, drawings, sculptures, films, and photographs. You can also find issues of Interview magazine, his audiotaped recordings, diaries, wigs, and massive perfume collection. Perhaps most interestingly, the museum houses more than 600 Warhol time capsules, containing over three decades' worth of his newspapers, business documents, and childhood mementos.

Bob Dylan's Lyrics, Poetry, and Prose Showcased at Chicago's American Writers Museum

A collection of Bob Dylan poems that was auctioned off by Christie's in 2005.
A collection of Bob Dylan poems that was auctioned off by Christie's in 2005.
Stephen Chernin, Getty Images

Like a Rolling Stone, Tangled Up in Blue, Blowin’ in the Wind, and The Times They Are a-Changin’ are among Bob Dylan’s best songs, but the 77-year-old singer’s writing isn’t limited to lyrics. Dylan has also penned poems, prose, an autobiography, and a nearly four-hour movie (that got terrible reviews).

An ongoing showcase at Chicago’s American Writers Museum is paying homage to Dylan the writer. The "Bob Dylan: Electric" exhibit, which will remain on view though April 30, 2019, highlights dozens of items from Dylan’s expansive career.

“The world knows Bob Dylan as a prolific songwriter,” museum president Carey Cranston said in a statement. “'Bob Dylan: Electric’ gives the public a chance to see how his writing shaped more than just American music, but American literature as a whole.”

The period covers Dylan’s “electric” career, beginning with the time he made his electric guitar debut at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. The exact instrument he played at the festival—a 1964 sunburst Fender Stratocaster—is naturally one of the items on display.

Visitors can also check out Dylan’s personal copy of The Catcher in the Rye, which he read in the summer of 1961. He jotted down notes and drew doodles in the back of the book, including a bottle of rye and the words “good book.” (Interestingly enough, a talent agent approached Dylan the following year and asked if he’d play Holden Caulfield in a movie adaptation of the book. For better or worse, that never came to fruition.)

Dylan’s writing was recognized with a Nobel Prize in Literature in 2016. At the time, the committee's decision to award a songwriter rather than a novelist was a controversial one. The New York Times dubbed it a “disappointing choice,” while Scottish novelist Irvine Welsh (author of Trainspotting) was a little more blunt, calling it “an ill-conceived nostalgia award wrenched from the rancid prostates of senile, gibbering hippies.”

Nonetheless, Dylan accepted the award, eventually releasing a video detailing his literary influences. Moby-Dick, All Quiet on the Western Front, and The Odyssey are just a few of the singer-songwriter’s many inspirations.

Vinnie Ream: The Teen Who Met With Abraham Lincoln for 30 Minutes Every Day

Library of Congress // Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Library of Congress // Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Some of the most important people in the world have trouble getting even a few minutes of the president’s time. But in 1864, 17-year-old Lavinia “Vinnie” Ream managed to steal half an hour with Abraham Lincoln every day—for five months.

Ream made a name for herself as an artist at a young age. Word of the teen prodigy’s painting prowess quickly spread, and in 1863, Missouri Congressman James Rollins introduced her to sculptor Clark Mills. Through Mills, Ream discovered her talents included molding clay.

After creating small, medallion-sized likenesses of General Custer and many Congressmen, including Thaddeus Stevens, several senators commissioned Ream to create a marble bust—and this was just over a year after she had picked up the skill. The senators allowed Ream to choose her subject, and she picked the president—Abraham Lincoln.

Ream's friends in the Senate personally asked Lincoln to pose for the sculpture, but he declined. After hearing that she was a struggling artist from a Midwestern background not dissimilar to his own, however, Lincoln relented. “He granted me sittings for no other reason than that I was in need,” she later wrote. “Had I been the greatest sculptor in the world I am quite sure I would have been refused.”

Not only did the president agree to the sitting, he gave her a half-hour of his time every day for five months—no small sum of time for a man in such demand. “It seemed that he used this half-hour as a time for relaxation, for he always left instructions that no one was to be admitted during that time,” Ream said. “He seemed to find a strange sort of companionship in being with me, although we talked but little.” He occasionally talked about his son Willie, who had died two years before. The stories sometimes moved him to tears, and he told Vinnie that she reminded him of Willie. Lincoln "never told a funny story to me. He rarely smiled," Ream later recalled.

After Lincoln's fateful night at Ford's Theatre, Congress hired Ream to create a memorial statue of the fallen president, making her the youngest artist—and the first woman—to receive a commission from the U.S. government.

Though she had already proved that she could create a remarkable likeness of Lincoln in bust form, not everyone on the commission was convinced she would be up to the task of sculpting a full-length version. “Having in view the youth and inexperience of Miss Ream, and I will go further, and say, having in view her sex, I shall expect a complete failure in the execution of this work,” Senator Jacob Merritt Howard said.

But Ream had the last laugh: Her work still graces the Capitol Rotunda today.

Vinnie Ream's sculpture of Abraham Lincoln still stands in the Capital Rotunda
USCapitol via Flickr // Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

This article originally ran in 2016.

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