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12 Things You Might Not Know about Andy Warhol

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 89th 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.

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.

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.

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.

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The King of Kong © Jim Naughten. Courtesy of Michael Hoppen Gallery
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The Mountains of Kong: The Majestic West African Range That Never Existed
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The King of Kong © Jim Naughten. Courtesy of Michael Hoppen Gallery

If you look closely at a 19th century map of Africa, you’ll notice one major way that it differs from contemporary maps, one that has nothing to do with changing political or cartographical styles. More likely than not, it features a mountain range that no longer appears on modern maps, as WIRED explains. Because it never existed in the first place.

A 19th century map of West Africa
From Milner's Descriptive Atlas, 1850

The “Mountains of Kong” appeared on almost every major commercial map of Africa in the 1800s, stretching across the western part of the continent between the Gulf of Guinea and the Niger River. This mythical east-west mountain range is now the subject of an art exhibition at London’s Michael Hoppen Gallery.

In "Mountains of Kong," stereoscopic images by artist Jim Naughten—the same format that allowed Victorians with wanderlust to feel like they’d seen the world—reveal his view of the world of wildlife that might have existed inside the imagined mountains. As the gallery describes it, “he imagines a fictitious record made for posterity and scientific purposes during an expedition of the mountain range.” We’ve reproduced the images here, but to get the full effect, you’ll have to go to the gallery in person, where you can view them in 3D with a stereoscope (like the ones you no doubt played with as a kid).

Toucans fight a snake in two almost-identical side-by-side images.
The Toucans © Jim Naughten. Courtesy of Michael Hoppen Gallery

Naughten created the images by taking two photographs for each, and moving the camera over some 3 inches for the second photo to make a stereoscopic scene. The landscapes were created by shooting images of Scottish and Welsh mountains and dioramas in natural history museums, using Photoshop to change the hues of the images to make them seem more otherworldly. His blue-and-pink-hued images depict fearsome apes, toucans sparring with snakes, jagged peaks, and other scenes that seem both plausible and fantastical at the same time.

The Mountains of Kong appeared in several hundred maps up until the 20th century. The first, in 1798, was created by the prominent geographer James Rennell to accompany a book by Scottish explorer Mungo Park about his first journey to West Africa. In it, Park recounts gazing on a distant range, and “people informed me, that these mountains were situated in a large and powerful kingdom called Kong.” Rennell, in turn, took this brief observation and, based on his own theories about the course of the Niger River, drew a map showing the mountain range that he thought was the source of the river. Even explorers who later spent time in the area believed the mountains existed—with some even claiming that they crossed them.

Two colobuses stand in a tree on a mountaintop.
The Colobus © Jim Naughten. Courtesy of Michael Hoppen Gallery

The authority of the maps wasn’t questioned, even by those who had been to the actual territory where they were depicted as standing. Writers began to describe them as “lofty,” “barren,” and “snow-covered.” Some said they were rugged granite peaks; others described them as limestone terraces. In almost all cases, they were described as “blue.” Their elevation ranged from 2500 feet to 14,000 feet, depending on the source. Over the course of the 19th century, “there was a general southward ‘drift’ in the location,” as one pair of scholars put it.

Though geographers cast some doubt on the range’s existence as time went on, the Mountains of Kong continued to appear on maps until French explorer Louis-Gustave Binger’s Niger River expedition between 1887 and 1889, after which Binger definitively declared their nonexistence.

By 1891, the Mountains of Kong began dropping off of maps, though the name Kong still appeared as the name of the region. By the early 20th century, the mountains were gone for good, fading into the forgotten annals of cartographic history.

[h/t WIRED]

All images courtesy Michael Hoppen Gallery.

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10 Fun Facts About Play-Doh
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iStock

As any Play-Doh aficionado knows, September 16th is National Play-Doh Day! Let's pay tribute to your favorite modeling clay with some fun facts about the childhood play staple that began life as a cleaning product.

1. IT WAS FIRST SOLD AS WALLPAPER CLEANER.

Before kids were playing with Play-Doh, their parents were using it to remove soot and dirt from their wall coverings by simply rolling the wad of goop across the surface.

2. IF IT WEREN'T FOR CAPTAIN KANGAROO, PLAY-DOH MIGHT NEVER HAVE TAKEN OFF.

When it was just a fledgling company with no advertising budget, inventor Joe McVicker talked his way in to visit Bob Keeshan, a.k.a Captain Kangaroo. Although the company couldn’t pay the show outright, McVicker offered them two percent of Play-Doh sales for featuring the product once a week. Keeshan loved the compound and began featuring it three times weekly.

3. MORE THAN 3 BILLION CANS OF PLAY-DOH HAVE BEEN SOLD.

Since 1956, more than 3 billion cans of Play-Doh have been sold. That’s enough to reach the Moon and back a total of three times. (Not bad for a wallpaper cleaner.)

4. IT USED TO COME IN JUST ONE COLOR.

Photo of child's hands playing with Play-Doh clay
iStock

Back when it was still a household product, Play-Doh came in just one dud of a color: off-white. When it hit stores as a toy in the 1950s, red, blue, and yellow were added. These days, Play-Doh comes in nearly every color of the rainbow—more than 50 in total—but a consumer poll revealed that fans' favorite colors are Rose Red, Purple Paradise, Garden Green, and Blue Lagoon.

5. FOR QUITE SOME TIME, DR. TIEN LIU HAD A JOB SKILL NO ONE ELSE IN THE WORLD COULD CLAIM: PLAY-DOH EXPERT.

Dr. Tien Liu helped perfect the Play-Doh formula for the original company, Rainbow Crafts, and stayed on as a Play-Doh Expert when the modeling compound was purchased by Kenner and then Hasbro.

6. YOU CAN SMELL LIKE PLAY-DOH.

Want to smell like Play-Doh? You can! To commemorate the compound’s 50th anniversary, Demeter Fragrance Library worked with Hasbro to make a Play-Doh fragrance, which was developed for “highly-creative people, who seek a whimsical scent reminiscent of their childhood.”

7. HASBRO RECENTLY TRADEMARKED THE SCENT.

Anyone who has ever popped open a fresh can of Play-Doh knows that there’s something extremely distinctive about the smell. It’s so distinctive that, in early 2017, Hasbro filed for federal protection in order to trademark the scent, which the company describes as “a unique scent formed through the combination of a sweet, slightly musky, vanilla-like fragrance, with slight overtones of cherry, and the natural smell of a salted, wheat-based dough.”

8. IT CAN CREATE A PRETTY ACCURATE FINGERPRINT.

When biometric scanners were a bit more primitive, people discovered that you could make a mold of a person’s finger, then squish Play-Doh in the mold to make a replica of the finger that would actually fool fingerprint scanners. Back in 2005, it was estimated that Play-Doh could actually fool 90 percent of all fingerprint scanners. But technology has advanced a lot since then, so don’t go getting any funny ideas. Today's more sophisticated systems aren’t so easily tricked by the doughy stuff.

9. IT HOLDS A PLACE IN THE NATIONAL TOY HALL OF FAME.

Unsurprisingly, Play-Doh holds a coveted place in the National Toy Hall of Fame at The Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York. It was inducted in 1998. According to the Hall of Fame, “recent estimates say that kids have played with 700 million pounds of Play-Doh."

10. YOU CAN TURN YOUR PLAY-DOH CREATIONS INTO ANIMATED CHARACTERS.

While Play-Doh may be a classic toy, it got a state-of-the-art upgrade in 2016, when Hasbro launched Touch Shape to Life Studio, an app that lets kids turn their Play-Doh creations into animated characters.

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