On Saturday, September 9th, 2023, The Society of Illustrators inducted Richard Amsel posthumously into their Hall of Fame. The event entailed a special award ceremony and dinner at the Society’s Museum of Illustration in New York City.
The late Anna Whelan Betts, the late Reynold Brown, Seymour Chwast, the late Helen Hokinson, Wendell Minor, and Barron Storey were also among this year’s laureates.
I’m forever grateful to Kate Feirtag and the staff at the Society in allowing me the opportunity to film the event for inclusion in the documentary and book. They also put on a hell of a show!
When David Byrd and Jolino Beserra first told me that Amsel was going to be inducted this year, I knew I had to go. I also knew it was important to have as many of Amsel’s friends there as possible – particularly Judy Goldman and Ann Meisel, whose testimonials have been invaluable. I also had the chance to finally meet Alice “Bunny” Carter, an illustrator who was also a friend and classmate of Amsel’s. Carter serves on the Society’s advisory board, and accepted the award on Richard’s behalf.
(Update: You can read Carter's speech here.)
Above: Various photos from the dinner and event.
It’s hard to describe what an emotional evening this was for all of us. Our “Amsel” group sat together – table #6 – and chatted over dinner and wine. The honorary presentation was broken up into segments, so every so often I’d have to leave the table and take to my camera onstage for filming.
First there were the introductions, followed by video segments (about one-minute for each artist). Carter then gave a lovely speech about Amsel, who was the first of the night’s recipients, and brought the award and plaque back to our table. Each of us were enamored by them.
As I never met Richard Amsel, and consider myself something of a failed illustrator, I initially felt very out of place in such company. But everyone there expressed excitement about the documentary, and their appreciation of my efforts to promote Amsel’s legacy. “Oh, you definitely belong here,” one of them said, after I expressed my concerns. Alice Carter later confided that while Richard Amsel had often been nominated for the Hall of Fame honor, my efforts to promote his work, and news of the documentary, helped – however slightly – to finally make it happen.
Obviously, the honor is all Richard’s, and it would be the highlight of delusional arrogance for me to ever assume credit for his achievement in any way. But Carter’s words got me teary-eyed. After all these years of research and work – of dishing out whatever financial savings I have, of putting my other creative projects on hold, of emotional stress, anxieties, doubts, and breakdowns – I finally felt that it was all worth it. And the film and book are still yet to come.
There was also a sense of collective generosity and altruism at that table, in regards to Amsel’s work. While Alice Carter had accepted the awards, she expressed her desire to have them available for to the public to see, and not stored away in someone’s personal collection. Judy Goldman and I immediately looked at each other, in a simultaneous double-take.
And so began a long-winded retelling of what happened to Amsel’s work after he died…the issues with the family…the IRS-mandated auction…one person’s unsubstantiated claims of proprietary ownership…and how The University of the Arts continues to steadfastly refuse public access to their extensive collection of Amsel art. It’s a shame, a disgrace, and there’s plenty of greed to go around.
Fortunately, table #6 was in unanimous agreement that night: Richard Amsel’s work and achievements deserve to be shared with the world.
Above: Select pages from the award ceremony program, and the dinner menu.