Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Smock, Fayette County
Nephew of famous artist Andy Warhol, James Warhola has become a highly-regarded illustrator
James Warhola is a children’s book writer and illustrator. Warhola was born in 1955 in Fayette County, Pennsylvania and attended school at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He began his career creating sci-fi and fantasy novel covers; at present he has designed over 300 covers. In 1987, he began to illustrate children’s books, and in 2003 began to write and illustrate his own, beginning with his best-acclaimed work, Uncle Andy’s: A Faabbbulous Visit with Andy Warhol.
James Warhola was born on March 16, 1955 in Smock, Fayette County, Pennsylvania. His father, Paul Warhola, ran a junkyard in the coal-mining region outside of Pittsburgh and raised seven children with his wife, Ana. Paul was the oldest of three Warhola brothers, and the brother of renowned pop art innovator Andy Warhol. He often took the children on surprise trips to visit their uncle Andy and Grandmother Bubba in uptown New York. The young James Warhola spent his visits stretching canvases or working on paint-by-numbers pieces. “He always wanted to make sure we were doing something,” Warhola was fascinated with these visits. He told NPR in 2003: “It’s hard to believe that my dad, who is [Andy Warhol’s] older brother, came from the same family.”
But though New York was unlike the Pittsburgh countryside in which he grew up, Warhola found creative connections between the two places. “When we would first come into [Uncle Andy’s] house,” Warhola told NPR, “we’d go up a few steps and there was this giant crumpled piece of metal, and it was a John Chamberlain sculpture of a wrecked car… we always saw a lot of that back home at my dad’s junkyard.” His father often contributed such junkyard finds to his children and brother for their art. Paul Warhola was actually something of a struggling artist himself. James Warhola recalled that when his father had free time from work and family, he “painted Heinz ketchup bottles and baked-bean cans. He also tried selling paintings created by chickens who walk across his canvases with their wet feet.”
When James Warhola was a kid, Uncle Andy presented his family with one of his most famous paintings: “Campbell’s Soup Can: Pepper Pot.” The 20 x 16 inch painting was small enough that Warhola could take it to school for show and tell, where the students were particularly impressed with its technical precision.
Inspired by his uncle and father, Warhola began taking art classes at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh at an early age. He received an art scholarship to Carnegie Mellon University, and graduated with a BFA in design in 1977. For the next three years he continued his studies at the Art Students League of New York.
Warhola started his illustrating career in New York in the mid-80s as a cover artist for fantasy and science fiction novels. A self-proclaimed “migrant artist,” he moved around New York often. After periods in Rhinebeck, Kingston, and Manhattan, he settled down in Long Island City. In a 1991 interview with writer Bob Groves, Warhola explained that Long Island City provided him with a much-needed alternative to “yuppie life.” “It’s industrial,” he continued, “It’s the perfect environment for doing science fiction.”
Warhola’s sci-fi/fantasy art was not limited to novel covers. He regularly contributed to Mad Magazine, andthirteen pieces of his fantasy oil paintings and nine landscapes were presented in the Paterson Museum in Paterson, New Jersey. Bob Groves of The Record related the content of these paintings to their artist: “For all their gothic gloom, Warhola’s creatures are decidedly non-threatening, a reflection of the gentle-voiced artist.” Warhola claimed to have once given away an autographed book of illustrations by H.R. Giger—best known as the mind behind the monster in the “Alien” films—since the images were “beautiful,” but “too demonic, too depressing… sinister dreams from the dark side of [Giger’s] mind.”
Warhola’s softhearted view on science fiction and fantasy was an influence on his decision to refocus his vocation in 1987. After nearly ten years of science fiction covers, Warhola began to illustrate books for children. Over the next twenty years Warhola created the art for children’s books by Ed Koch, Alexander Zane, David M. Schwartz, Susan Pearson, Sarah Weeks. In a review for the illustrations of Susan Pearson’s Jack in the Beanstalk and Peggy Thompson’s The Tinderbox, Warhola’s art is praised for incorporating elements of both comedy and fantasy. Publishers Weekly called his paintings “lively.”
In 2002, Warhola, his parents, and six siblings put their original Campbell’s Soup Can: Pepper Pot up for auction. The painting, which had moved among the family for years, had become too expensive to insure. Warhola claimed that it was hard to see the piece leave the family, but, “It was just impractical . . .Most members of my family have it tough. Two of my brothers have junkyards that they’re struggling to keep open. My sisters work odd jobs.” On November 13, the auction opened and closed in only 30 seconds. The closing bid was $1,219,500, which the parents and children split among themselves. “I’m going to miss it,” Warhola said. “I told my brothers and sisters, if you wanted to go out and buy a piece like this, you’ll never find it.”
In 2003, James Warhola wrote and illustrated his first children’s book. Uncle Andy’s: A Faabbbulous Visit with Andy Warhol recounts a trip the family took to New York in the summer of 1962. The narrator, Jamie, describes waking up surrounded by important collectables and amazing art. He excitedly tries on all of Uncle Andy’s wigs and runs around the house with the 25 household cats, all named Sam. At the end of this visit, Uncle Andy gives Jamie a set of art supplies as a good bye present. The book takes place in the same summer that Andy Warhol released his famous Campbell’s Soup portrait, and original copies came with a recreation of the painting. On the inside cover of the book is a picture of a Campbell’s Soup-themed birthday card that James drew his uncle at age 7. The card is now on display at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, PA.
Although many young readers may not know who Andy Warhol is, the character is so captivating and eccentric. “The author renders people and clutter in exact, loving detail,” praised a contributor of the book in Kirkus Review. Warhola’s website explained that his book attempted “to show a side of Andy Warhol that few people realized.” James Warhola seemed to have no trouble at all transitioning into the world of writing; his first book won the International Reading Association’s Award for Best Children’s Non-Fiction Picture Book in 2004. “From feature articles in the New York Times to interviews on television and National Public Radio to appearances at book stores and galleries across the country,” says his website, “the reaction to Uncle Andy’s was nothing short of phenomenal.”
Warhola released a sequel to Uncle Andy’s in 2009, called Uncle Andy’s Cats, about the 25 cats that Andy Warhol owned. With all the clutter of art in the house, cats often got in the way. This is shown in Warhola’s chaotic illustrations for the book. The School Library Journal said that the book “...masterfully combined childlike delight...[and] the idea that even famous artists have to deal with wordly matters.
Warhola is also known for interpretations of popular song lyrics into children’s book form. He created illustrated versions of two popular Rogers and Hammerstein songs: Surrey with the Fringe on Top and My Favorite Things. Booklist reviewer Stephanie Zvirin praises Warhola’s jungle-themed interpretation of “If You’re Happy and You Know It” for its “double dose of color and energy,” which “turn[s] the song into a great visual joke.”
But Warhola can be serious, too. A Kirkus Review contributor calls Warhola’s illustrations for Ed and Pat Koch’s Eddie: Harold’s Little Brother “sepia-rich watercolors, reflecting the look and feel of Depression-era New York.” Reviewing the same title, a Publishers Weekly critic claims “Warhola creates an engagingly scrappy group of youths in animated illustrations.” Warhola’s diversity in subject matter can be summed up by an attitude about art that he got early in life, from his uncle—an attitude that Uncle Andy’s states on its second-to-last page: “art is something that is all around us all of the time.”
James Warhola, his wife, Mary Carroll, and their daughter, Oonagh, now reside in Tivoli, New York, an hour and a half outside of Manhattan. John Leland describes the town as an originally blue-collar community that is now “adjusting creakily to the influx of new-money types seeking weekend retreats.” Leland describes the Warhols’ lifestyle as a perfect balance between the two. Warhola continues to illustrate children’s books today.
Written and illustrated:
Uncle Andy’s: A Faabbbulous Visit with Andy Warhol. New York, New York: Putnam Publishing, 2003.
If You’re Happy and You Know It: Jungle Edition. New York, New York: Putnam Publishing, 2007.
Pearson, Susan (reteller). Jack and the Beanstalk. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1989.
Thomson, Peggy (reteller). The Tinderbox. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1991.
Thomson, Peggy (reteller). The Brave Little Tailor. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992.
Weeks, Sarah. Hurricane City. New York: HarperCollins, 1993.
Hammerstein, Oscar II. Surrey with the Fringe on Top. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1993.
Brittain, Bill. The Wizards and the Monster. New York: HarperCollins, 1994.
Hammerstein, Oscar II. Rodgers and Hammerstein’s My Favorite Things. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994.
Johnston, Tony. Bigfoot Cinderrrrrella. New York: Putnam Publishing, 1998.
Koch, Ed and Pat. Thaler, Eddie: Harold’s Little Brother. New York: Putnam Publishing, 2004.
Koch, Ed and Pat. Thaler, Eddie’s Little Sister Makes a Splash. New York: Putnam Publishing, 2007.
“Interview: James Warhola discusses his n.” Fresh Air. National Public Radio. n.p., 20 May 2003.
Groves, Bob. “WINDOWS ON OTHER WORLDS JAMES WARHOLA OFFERS FLIGHTS OF FANTASY, PERSPECTIVE ON.” The Record 12 Sept. 1991 [New Jersey] . Newsbank. Web. 30 Jan. 2010, f01.
Leland, John. “At Home with James Warhola: For Warhol’s Family, a Pepper Pot of Gold.” New York Times 28 Nov. 2002, House & Home: 1.
“Warhola, James 1955-” Something About the Author. Vol. 187. Detroit: Gale, 2008. 188-191.
Laura Shapiro. “Art in the family: What it was like to be Andy Warhol’s nephew and what it might have been like to be Romare Bearden’s.” New York Times Book Review 18 May 2003: 16.
Wilson-Lewis-Wilson Design. Welcome to JamesWarhola.com! 2003-2009. Web. 27 Aug. 2010. <>http://jameswarhola.com/>.
Allyson Gross and Rob Daubenspeck
Written by Allyson Gross and Rob Daubenspeck, Spring 2010