Alton Kelley – An American Artist

On April 21, 2008 I called Luria Castell, who, along with Alton Kelley, Ellen Harmon and Jack Towle, had founded the Family Dog in the fall of 1965, to ask for her help in putting me in touch with her old friend and partner, Kelley. The reason: I wanted to interview Kelley as part of my research for the biography of Chet Helms I am writing. Later that evening, Luria sent me an email with the phone number of a couple who were longtime friends of Kelley’s. “Tell them I told you to call,” she wrote. “I’m sure they can put you in touch with Kelley.”


The next day, I received another email from Luria, saying that she’d just learned that Kelley was going through a particularly rough patch, health-wise and was hospitalized. She gave me a link to a web site that provided regular updates on his condition and a guestbook in which well-wishers could post messages to Kelley and his family. I began checking the site a daily basis, then, as April gave way to May, every two or three days.

Towards the end of May, it appeared that Kelley was progressing nicely and would soon be going home. Figuring a proverbial bullet had been dodged, I became less vigilant.


Which is why it came as such a shock to hear that Alton Kelley had passed away on Sunday, June 1.


Yet another original had departed.


But while Alton Kelley may be gone, what he has left behind will live forever in the hearts and minds of those who knew and loved him and on the bookshelves and walls of many of those who didn’t.


I am one of those who didn’t.


I never met Kelley and I never spoke to him, but he has been a part of my life for most of it. As I write these words, I can glance around this room and see some of his work which has been my constant companion for almost 40 years.


And for that, I thank him.


Finally, I find it interesting that the Edmund Sullivan illustration for the iconic Kelley/Mouse “Skeleton and Roses” poster, which is known as FD-26, came from Quatrain 26 of Edward Fitzgerald’s 19th Century translation of The Rubyiat of Omar Khayyam . Go figure.


Oh, come with old Khayyam, and leave the Wise

To talk; one thing is certain, that Life flies;
One thing is certain, and the Rest is Lies;
The Flower that once has blown for ever dies.

Published in: on June 3, 2008 at 5:58 am  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Death follows us all like a younger brother or sister, destined to eventually catch up with us. We can’t avoid him or her, we just sometimes let them catch us or they catch us on their own. Either way, it’s all we’ve got for certain.

    “Blessed be He Who leads all sorrow to Heaven! Blessed be He in the end!

    Blessed be He who builds Heaven in Darkness! Blessed be He! Blessed be He!

    Blessed be Death on us All!

    …come Poet shut up eat my word, and taste my mouth in your ear.” (Uncle Allen)

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