|Local artist gets animated
By Pat Healy
For the Journal
Featured on 'Arthur'
Not many people get to see what they would look like as an animated character on an internationally acclaimed children's show. Then again, not many people are like kinetic sculptor, engineer, toy inventor and MIT artist-in-residence Arthur Ganson.
Ganson, who lives in Somerville and has a studio in Stoneham, appears in an all-new episode of the WGBH program "Arthur" as himself. Premiering this week as the show about the animated aardvark wraps up its eighth season, the episode is entitled "Muffy's Art Attack."
The show's executive producer, Pierre Valette, says the "Arthur" team was looking to have a visual artist on the show as a special guest after successful cameos by sports figures like Michelle Kwan and musicians like Yo-Yo Ma, and Art Garfunkel, who played himself in the form of a moose.
Valette says the team started thinking about candidates for the cameo last year. They began by doing research at the DeCordova Museum in Lincoln, looking at samples of works by contemporary artists. They narrowed the search to about 15 artists, with the only criteria being that they should be U.S.-based so they could work in this country. When the team finally decided that Ganson with his machinery-like moving sculptures that he calls "gestural engineering" would be the perfect match, Valette says he clicked on the "contact" section of Ganson's Web site and was pleasantly surprised to find a phone number with a Massachusetts area code.
"So our scope isn't necessarily local, but the exact person we were looking for just happened to be in our own backyard," says Valette.
Ganson says going into the WGBH studio for the voiceovers and watching himself as a cartoon bear were a unique experience. His character, as drawn by artist Marc Brown, bears many of his physical characteristics, including his moustache and hair, with the exception being that in the animated version his ears are on the top of his head, like a bear's.
"The whole notion of being an animated character is the most unusual thing I've ever had happen to me and in some ways the most fun," he says.
In the episode, the title character's friend Muffy sees Ganson's works at a gallery and brags that she can create even better pieces.
While looking at a cartoon recreation of Ganson's "Machine with Wishbone," one of the museum-going characters praises the piece, a turkey wishbone moseying back and forth on a pedestal pulling a metal-framed structure more than three times its size.
"It brings to mind the tragicomic works of Samuel Beckett," he says, "A tiny figure forever yoked to its burden of absurdity."
Muffy's father, who decides to buy the piece, responds with, "Yeah, and it's funny."
Muffy doesn't agree.
She says of Ganson's art that "it isn't funny. It's dumb. And messy."
We won't give away the ending, but the artist himself eventually teaches Muffy that art is beautiful when created out of self-expression, not competition.
The moral is one that's close to Ganson's own artistic philosophy.
"I would urge everyone to be true to their own heart in terms of what they respond to and what they feel and what's meaningful," he says, "and to create art out of that truth, whatever it is, and try not to listen to the voices that say 'art needs to be this or that,' because the whole course of art in history has come from people really just following their passions."
Ganson has followed his passions in what he describes as a very organic way. He went to the University of New Hampshire with the intentions of becoming a surgeon because he loved biology so much, as well as working with his hands. He says when it came time to decide on a major, he chose art, and then began to focus on art entirely without looking back.
"I just found it to be the most satisfying," he says. "I never imagined what a career in art would be because there was no way to really plan for that, it just happened."
He was given his first one-person show at DeCordova in the early 1980s, which led to a permanent exhibit at the MIT Museum which is still on display.
Ganson is currently working on a large recreation of another piece that is featured in the "Arthur" episode. The piece, "Cory's Yellow Chair," is a chair that explodes and puts itself back together again, and it has been commissioned by a new science museum in Wolfsburg, Germany, called the Phaeno Museum.
Valette says Ganson was the first choice for a visual artist cameo because he connects so well with children.
"Both Arthurs connect really well with kids," he says. "What Arthur Ganson does was ideal for us on many levels."
Another level of the connections is Ganson's role as a toy inventor. In the early 1990s, he had a popular toy on the market called Toobers and Zots, which were colored foam pieces that could be bent into different shapes. His latest toy is a catapult with a little foam cat called the Cat-A-Pult.
Cat-A-Pults can be ordered through the Museum Tour Web site .
The "Arthur" episodes with Ganson will air on Wednesday, March 3 at 7 a.m. and Thursday, March 4 at 4 p.m.Back