Recently, in my other life as a “Woog’s World” columnist, I made a snarky reference to Famous Artists School.
Specifically, I called it — and its kinfolk, the Famous Writers and Famous Photographers School — “a Westport institution that crashed nearly as rapidly as it grew.”
A few days later I got an email from a Magdalen Livesey. Though her name sounds like the creation of one of the only people ever to flunk a Famous Writers course, I opened it.
Magdalen Livesey wrote: “Although your article didn’t say it in so many words…it left the impression that Famous Schools has been moribund for quite some time.”
She was happy to inform me that “Famous Schools” are alive and well.
A meeting of Famous Artists' artists, circa 1954. Clockwise from lower left: Ernest Fiene, Doris Lee, Ben Stahl, Stuart Davis, Adolf Dehn, Arnold Blanch and Will Barnet. (Photo courtesy of Smithsonian Archives of American Art)
They were acquired by Cortina Learning International in 1981, she said. In 1990 the offices moved from Riverside Avenue to Newtown Turnpike, and in 1995 to Wilton. That’s the current location, with a warehouse and shipping facility in Danbury.
Famous Artists School currently has students in “many different countries around the world, as well as in the States,” Magdalen continued. Since 1967 they’ve had “a very active licensee” in Japan — Kodansha Famous Schools — with 15,000 students.
The present Famous Artists Courses include “the classic textbooks,” along with complete-at-home assignments that are sent in for “critiquing and evaluation by artist-instructors who work in their own studios.” Coming soon: a revised, updated downloadable version.
In 1993, Magdalen said, a 45th anniversary exhibition was held at the Westport Arts Center. Stevan Dohanos — the last surviving member of the original 12 apostles founding “Famous Artists” — was still active then.
“We actually had quite widespread publicity for that event,” Magdalen added, “including a featured article in the Westport News. Perhaps you are too young to have been aware of it.
Perhaps not. A more likely answer: Who remembers 1993?
But Famous Schools is not resting on its 45th-anniversary-17-years-ago laurels. Their next project: rejuvenating Famous Writers School, “which is still active but on a more limited basis.”
Magdalen’s email came at an appropriate time. It’s Easter Week. Her name conjures up Mary Magdalene.
And her tale about Famous Schools is an important reminder that — when you least expect it — someone, or something, can rise from the dead.