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This month, eBay, in partnership with the Strategist, went back to some of our favorite celebrity shoppers — including designer Todd Oldham — to ask them about things that they can live without and would be willing to sell at auction for charity. All proceeds will go to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (eBay is receiving and donating all proceeds and matching every dollar the auction earns). Click here to see all the stuff you can bid on.
I first discovered Charley Harper’s illustrations through his book The Golden Book of Biology when I was 6 years old. His illustrations went on to shape my ideas about color as a designer. In the early 2000s, I found out he was still alive, so I planned a trip with Amy Sedaris to meet him and discuss the possibility of putting together a book of his work. The weirdest thing happened when we arrived: Amy, from the backseat of the car, said something was wrong with Charley but that he was okay. It turned out that Charley had just been hospitalized. I’ll never forget that moment.
As soon as Charley got out of the hospital, I went to meet him at his studio to discuss the project. My team and I then spent the next seven years flying back and forth between Ohio and New York to make the book, a retrospective of his work. Charlie never kept a digital archive, but that worked to our advantage: His work from more than 20 or even 30 years ago was still absolutely flawless. There were just mountains of drawings that no one had any idea about. Every time we visited — something like 30 times in total — Charley would sit on the stairs smiling, watching us, and answering every question.
It ended up being very expensive to make — almost half a million dollars. My book-making process can be described as borderline manic when it comes to details. I insisted that the paper match the original aspect ratios of Charley’s work as precisely possible, so it would be shown in the way that he had originally intended it to be displayed. We even coaxed his printer out of retirement so we could have our prints done in the exact same way as Charley’s originals. And because I insisted on using the same paper as Charley used, the book ended up being unspeakably heavy and had to be bound by hand. We ended up printing 250 copies of four editions, and by the time the 700-plus-page book was finally published, Charley had fallen really ill. I flew to Cincinnati to show it to him; together, we looked at every page, and he was just beaming, so pleased. A couple days later, he passed away. All four editions of the book sold out almost immediately, but I held onto a few copies. Charley and I signed every edition, and these ended up being the last he signed in his life.
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