June 18, 2009
The young James Warhola, children’s book author and illustrator, loved taking six-hour family road trips to New York City to surprise his uncle and grandmother, who lived there with their 25 Siamese cats.
In his new book, Uncle Andy’s Cats (Putnam) that comes out later this month, Warhola recounts those visits and the crazy cat-astrophes (forgive the awful pun, but I couldn’t resist) that took place at his uncle’s home.
At first, his uncle—none other than American Pop Artist Andy Warhol (1928-1987)—owned one cat, Hester, who was soon joined by a companion, Sam. Soon enough, there were 25 cats—all named Sam.
To tell them apart, Warhola says his grandmother assigned them names by color, Red Sam, Blue Sam, etc.
Andy Warhol and his mother Julia created a limited edition book, “25 Cats Name Sam and One Blue Pussy,” and shared copies with friends as keepsakes.
“They did those because they loved their cats,” says Warhola. “They were fun projects and it showed their talents. My uncle just loved to draw. So I wanted to be a little bit like him.”
The visits became an inspiration. Warhola has been an illustrator for 30 years, and has designed covers for science fiction novels and MAD magazine.
“The art was always throughout this house. Leaning against the walls and rolled up. We used to play hide-and-seek in it. We had a lot of fun, flipping through all that art,” Warhola recalls, adding that he frequently finds Warhol’s works of art in museums now, and can remember taking refuge behind the canvas as it leaned against the wall.
“There were tons of [artworks] in his house. And the whole place smelled like linen because he used it for his canvases. When we became old enough, we stretched canvases for him. We were always doing those kinds of chores for him. If he knew we had a capability, he would certainly get us to use it. More importantly, he kept us out of trouble.”
When asked about the transition from the satirical MAD magazine to childrens’ books, Warhola says he likes to do things that have a sense of humor.
“I look at them very lightheartedly and funny. It’s tough enough to get kids to read and if you can add a touch of humor it helps.”
And how does he think his uncle would react to the books?
“I think he’d love this cats book because it’s my childhood viewpoint. He’d get a kick out of it. ”
Warhola will read from his book Uncle Andy’s: A Faabbbulous Visit with Andy Warhol, at the National Portrait Gallery as part of an all-day festival, Warholapalooza! on Saturday, June 20, 11:30 to 5.
Sign up for our free email newsletter and receive the best stories from Smithsonian.com each week.