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The Secret Life of James Thurber: CMoA pays tribute to the Columbus humorist

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There’s a cartoon by James Thurber that sums up the work of author and 40-year Thurber historian, Michael J. Rosen. In the cartoon, a woman receives an eye exam while a doctor points to a line of letters on a classic eye chart. From several feet away, the woman replies, “Certainly I can make it out! It’s three seahorses and an ‘h.’ ”

“I love the woman’s benighted confidence, and how Thurber suggests that our perceptions are always a bit off,” Rosen explains. “Mine have always been, and I’ve harnessed that for much of my work.”

Perhaps you’re familiar with Columbus-born humorist James Thurber from the Thurber House—the home he rented for a period of time which is now a haven for writers-in-residence and literary programs for all ages. But for Rosen, it’s his second home. As former literary director of Thurber House, Rosen’s fascination with Thurber’s legacy is unwavering, to the point that he can recollect key drawings, stories and facts with episodic memory. In correlation with what would be Thurber’s 125th birthday, Rosen is prepping the book release of A Mile and a Half of Lines, an extensive look at Thurber’s artwork that rede ned American humor and cartooning. Thurber’s work will also be exhibited under the same title at the Columbus Museum of Art, reintroducing viewers to his twentieth-century influence.

Illustrations by James Thurber, care of the Columbus Museum of Art

With access to all of Thurber’s images, both published and unpublished, Rosen proposed the notion of the Mile and a Half exhibit in 2015. As Thurber was known to spontaneously draw on scraps of notebook paper, his art was never used with archival consideration.

“I wanted some plastic, inimitable, vintage Thurber that people would know, and I wanted to present a great deal of imagery that people didn’t know,” Rosen says. “So, 125 years after his birth, [Columbus Museum of Art] agreed it was high time to claim James Thurber as one of Ohio’s great artists and one of the nation’s most important creators of the cartoon. Here we are with nearly one hundred drawings appearing at the museum for six months.”

Some exhibit guests may discover that Thurber succeeded Mark Twain in terms of following the humorist pedigree, while others may learn that he was an artist who was almost rendered entirely blind (which prevented him from graduating from Ohio State University.) The crux of Thurber’s drawings evolved from 1927 to 1941, as he attempted to draw with a giant magnifier with white ink on black paper, while lacking some of his sight.

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Unlike many artists in the late period who works in watercolors and oils, “Thurber’s output is exclusively done as spontaneous. He in many ways invented the idea of an unstudied line in art,” Rosen says. “Before Thurber, [a] cartoon was a very well-drawn image, usually with two or three lines that provided to humor. Thurber was the first to draw not beautiful pictures, but the pictures were funny themselves, and the captions dropped to just one phrase or one line. When we think of Twain, we think novels, maybe some essays, things that are in the canon because they’re big. Thurber wrote an enormous variety of different forms in which his art take shape.”

As Thurber lived through Prohibition, the Great Depression and the Cold War, much of his work, while humorous, is based upon resilience. Politically active in the 50s when he was red listed as being a “communist sympathizer,” Thurber declined to accept an honorary degree from Ohio State, as the university prevented free speech on campus. Considering humor as a vital force of the human condition, Rosen regards works in A Mile and a Half of Lines as relevant and engaging, with all viewers approaching the exhibit with different motives.

“It’s both the fact that he was an astonishingly polished wordsmith as well as having the heart of humor at the center of his work, which is, ‘something’s wrong and humor is a mechanism of coping,’ ” Rosen says. “Art helps us translate our experience because it’s in a different medium. There’s appeal for families and then there are those who will look at the cartoons and recognize the poignancy.”

So would James Thurber detest modern technology at 125 years of age? Rosen doesn’t think so, in fact, the real-time social media age would make for good material. “Back in the sixties, he was writing about the culture going at such a fast pace, words were blurring that we couldn’t keep up with things. News was daunting, language was eroding at such a fast pace because of people skipping and being sloppy. I mean he would be writing about the fact that right now, no one does one thing at a time,” he says. “Our information overload has exceeded the capacity of the brain. As a jittery, jumpy person—as he often describes himself and his generation—he would need the tools of humor and the art of writing all the more.”

Throughout his life, Thurber’s influence ventured beyond Columbus, but as A Mile and a Half of Lines resides at the Columbus Museum of Art for six months, Rosen hopes that Thurber’s work finds its way home. “Perhaps his best known work was the autobiographical vignette of My Life and Hard Times, then during his more grim period, he returned to Columbus in his imagination, researched and wrote The Thurber Album, which are portraits of people that were dear to him,” Rosen says. “He’s famous for saying that the clocks that chime in his dreams are the clocks of Columbus.[…] Columbus remained very much the sketchbook on which he could draw.”

A Mile and a Half of Lines: The Art of James Thurber, will be on display at Columbus Museum of Art from August 24, 2019 through March 15, 2020. Visit columbusmuseum.org for information.

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Weekend Lookout: Harvest Fair, brewery parties, socccer

Mitch Hooper

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Welcome back to another installment of The Weekend Lookout, my fellow weekend warriors. As we get through the last few weekdays and gear up for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, here are the happenings and events that are worth checking out before heading out. Hang in there, ya'll! The weekend is almost here.

Saturday

Land-Grant 5th Anniversary Party @ Land-Grant Brewing Co.

Happy five years, Land-Grant! To celebrate the occasion, Land-Grant will be hosting a variety of musical acts such as Hebdo and Zoo Trippin'. Chow down on some Ray Ray's barbecue, watch the Buckeyes kick off in the evening, and of course, drink all the Land-Grant brews you can.

Harvest Fair @ The Columbus Commons

Looking to get your fall on without leaving the city? Look no further. Head over to the Commons on Saturday for the free-to-attend Harvest Fest complete with fall-themed activities for all ages. Additionally, there will be a pumpkin patch with a $2 entry fee.

Talk It Out: Endless Summer Fest @ Misfit Manor

This indie music festival will feature the likes of many local acts including Girl Fox and snarls. The day kicks off at 4:07 p.m. sharp, so don't be late!

Sunday

Olde Towne East Pop-up Market on Bryden Rd.

On Bryden Rd. on Sunday, 40 different vendors will line-up for a pop-up market in OTE. Everything from matcha from Potion Matcha to lunch from Street Thyme Food Truck will be available for visitors, and it's free-to-attend.

Columbus Crew v. Philadelphia Union @ Mapfre Stadium

Not only is our faithful Crew taking on Philadelphia this Sunday, Troubled Sapiens will be performing before and during the match! The first performance will be in the parking lot from 3:15 p.m. to 5 p.m. and the final performance will take place at halftime in the stadium.

FBCC Presents: Movie Night + Beer Tasting @ Grandview Drafthouse and Theater

In collaboration with Fat Babes Club of Columbus, Grandview Drafthouse and Theater will play host to a beer tasting and movie night. Here visitors will sip craft beer, wine, and ciders as they watch comedy clips of "fat" performers throughout time. The day kicks off at 2 p.m., but FBCC recommends showing up 15-20 minutes early.

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The Weekend Lookout: 9 different ways to spend your weekend in the city

Mitch Hooper

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Summer is fleeting, but luckily fall is on the way. We are entering that Goldie Locks zone of weather which means it's the perfect time to get up, and get out. From a big music jamboree with Doc Robinson on Saturday to Tyler, The Creator stopping off at Express Live, here are the events and happenings to keep on your radar.

Saturday

Doc Robinson's Family Jamboree @ Woodlands Tavern

If you trust our taste with The Turbos, then having you trust us once more with Doc Robinson shouldn't be a stretch. Here's a little taste of what Doc Robinson will bring to the stage on Saturday. The Family Jamboree kicks off at 11 a.m. on Saturday and will include a large roster of local acts including Parker Louis and Hebdo.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_4QdxpbrZgg

German Village Oktoberfest @ Wunderbar

You already know the drill here: fill your steins full of Great Lakes Brewing beers, chow down on German classics from places like Pierogi Mountain, and don't even worry about the cover charge because this is a free-to-attend event.

Can Release: Opera Cream Stout @ Platform Beer Co.

New beer, who dis? Platform Beer Co. is breaking out a new can this Saturday at the taproom where they collaborated with The BonBonerie for this Opera Cream Stout. Platform will have beers ready for purchase around 10 a.m. so come early, and come thirsty.

Sunday

Kölsch In The [email protected] Gemüt Biergarten

It's a beer release party in the Garten! Gemüt Biergarten is breaking out its newest brew Huginn & Muninn Kölsch from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. for just $3 in the Garten. Gemüt describes this beer as a light-bodied German ale that is malt-forward with a slightly fruity flavor.

Tyler, The Creator @ Express Live

Tyler, The Creator has been on a new level in terms of music popularity. His albums Igor and Flower Boy have received plenty of critical acclaim, and his unique sound landed him as the artist who created the soundtrack to the newest iteration of How The Grinch Stole Christmas. The often off-the-walls rapper will be taking over Express Live on Sunday evening with doors opening at 5:30 p.m.

It: Chapter 2 and Hustlers @ South Drive-in

Going to a drive-in to see an It movie, ah. It feels like the good old days again. Was I around for those days? Maybe not, but the nostalgic vibes still stand. Head over to the South Drive-in for a double feature of the newest It: Chapter 2 as well as Hustlers. Everything kicks off around 7:15 p.m., and the Drive-in suggests showing up an hour early to be safe.

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A Day In Delaware: Horse racing, kayaking, food trucks, cocktails

Mitch Hooper

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It's horse racing season in Delaware at the Little Brown Jug and that means two things: you're either about to lose, or currently losing.

The beloved horse racing at Little Brown Jug, affectionately known as LBJ, kicked off on Sunday and will run until Thursday. If you're looking to get in on the action, here is where you can buy tickets.

But, if you've already spent all your gambling money and just need a break from the horses, there are plenty of alternatives available in Delaware. Here are three spots to keep in mind as you explore our not-so-distant neighbor to the north.

Kayaking at Alum Creek

Whether you hit it big on your bet, or lost it all in the first race, Alum Creek is perfect because it's free. While the views on the walking trails are great, the views from a kayak are even better. The water there is very calm with the exception of a boat passing through every once in a while making it a nice spot for beginners.

And if you're a veteran on the water, the lake is relatively large meaning you can make an entire day out of it. I recommend packing a cooler with some picnic food—peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, string cheese with crackers, and some fresh fruit—and making pit stops at some of the beaches right off the lake. And, just so I can say I told you so, leave your phone in the car, or in a water proof bag.

Dinner At The Food Truck Depot

The Food Truck Depot is a relatively new eatery and bar in Delaware and it's sure to have something for everyone. If you, or someone you're with, is a vegetarian/vegan, Encompass Eatery is a familiar face at the Food Truck Depot and they offer plant-based dishes such as a grilled caprese sandwich, or straight up carnivorous sandwiches like the hearty roast beef sandwich. Other food trucks that have made appearances include Tortilla, Red Door BBQ, and Deja Food. Also at the Food Truck Depot is a full service bar with craft selections and cocktails as well as a large sand volleyball court if you need to burn some calories.

Drinks On Sandusky St.

Delaware is absolutely loaded with options when it comes to drinking in the evening. Looking to taste some bourbon and whiskey? Check out Opa Grill And Tavern which boasts the largest bourbon selection in Ohio. Or perhaps you're more of a beer person (you are from Columbus after all). Barley Hopsters is a beer lovers heaven as it offers large coolers stocked with local, regional, and national craft beers. Build a six-pack to take home, or sip on your beer of choice while you ponder your next option.

Not too far from Barley Hopsters is Restoration Brew Worx which offers a variety of their in-house brews. And if you're looking for an elevated cocktail, 1808 American Bistro is on 29 E. Winter St—just a stone's throw away from Sandusky St. On the flip side, if you're just looking for a dive bar to call home for the evening, The Backstretch will have you covered with cans of PBRs and Tullamore Dew.

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