Dream weaver, tale spinner, portrayer of visions, interpreter of the human spirit, Gerald McDermott was all of these and more. Through his bold, graphic renderings of timeless tales from around the world, McDermott communicated his deep understanding of the transformative power of myth. His work is an evocation of the human quest for unity and completeness.
McDermott's color magic, stylized figures and abstract motifs combine ancient imagery with contemporary design. Creator of over twentyfive books and films, McDermott began studying art when he was admitted to class at one of the nation's finest museums, the Detroit Institute of Arts, when he was just four years old. He continued pursuing his passion for the visual arts at Cass Tech, a public high school for the gifted with an art curriculum based on Bauhaus principles.
Upon graduation, McDermott was awarded a National Scholastic scholarship to New York's Pratt Institute. He took a leave of absence during his junior year to become the first graphic designer for Channel 13, New York's educational television station, the year it went on the air. He also designed and directed his first animated film, The Stonecutter. McDermott then toured Europe, visiting and exchanging ideas with filmmakers in England, France, and Yugoslavia.
He returned to Pratt to finish his degree and began producing and directing a series of acclaimed animated films on folklore. It was then that he met Joseph Campbell, a critical moment in his life. Campbell served as the consultant on four of McDermott's films and they began a friendship that extended over many years. Campbell was instrumental in making this gifted artist aware of the psychological depths of mythology and the possibilities of integrating cultural and archetypal symbols into his art.
McDermott then began to adapt his films into picture books. His first book, Anansi the Spider: A Tale from the Ashanti, was named a Caldecott Honor Book. His subsequent books include Arrow to the Sun: A Tale from the Pueblo, which won the coveted Caldecott Medal, and Raven: A Trickster Tale from the Pacific Northwest, another Caldecott Honor Book.
It was symbolic of his extraordinary talent as an artist as well as his insight into human behavior that the mature themes of his books give him an audience that spans adults as well as children. He was extremely popular and sought after as a fascinating and entertaining speaker and as a lecturer.
McDermott's book, Musicians of the Sun, a parable of the artist's journey based on an Aztec myth, has brought recognition from the American OrffSchulwerk Organization, a national organization of music and movement educators. McDermott was recently named Charter Member of the AOSA National Advocacy Council.
In bestowing this honor, AOSA Board Member Jacque Schrade, remarked, "Beyond the obvious appeal to our imaginations, what is it that makes Gerald's stories and illustrations so magnetizing? Is it his sensitive use of language, the simple beauty of the rhythm of his text? Is it the extensive research he does into the symbolism and background of the culture from which the story comes? Is it the emotional reaction we have to each book's carefully chosen palette of colors? Or is it his background as a filmmaker that enables his illustrations to dance across the printed page? It could be any of these things it is most likely a combination of ALL these things hat makes Gerald's work what it is."
In addition to being the first Fellow of the Joseph Campbell Foundation, McDermott was also a leader at "A Mythological Toolbox", a workshop at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California. Initiated by Campbell, the annual retreat continues to bring people together to explore the mythological aspects of their lives. Gerald McDermott passed away in December of 2012.