Andy Warhol’s Religious & Ethnic Roots: The Carpatho-Rusyn Influence on His Art by Raymond M. Herbenick: Book Review

I just realized that although Genea-Santa granted my Christmas wish last year and left my “most wanted” book under the tree last year, I’ve never shared it with my readers.

Andy Warhol died in 1987 and, while living, never said much about his ethnic and cultural roots. It wasn’t until after his death that researchers looked more closely at his family tree and ancestral origins and realized that he was of Carpatho-Rusyn ancestry..

For those who are interested in Warhol’s art, which went beyond the Campbell Soup label, and factors that influenced his works or for those who want to learn more about America’s most famous Carpatho-Rusyn citizen, Raymond Herbenick’s book will provide an excellent overview.

This isn’t one of those glossy coffee table books with lots of color images. It’s a scholarly work, well referenced, that examines the Rusyn cultural and social factors that made Andy Warhol who he was.

Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgements
Essay One – Andy Warhol’s Carpatho-Rusyn Roots: Ethnographic Studies
Essay Two – Andy Warhol’s Carpatho-Rusyn Art Roots: Biographical Studies
Essay Three – Andy Warhol’s Carpatho-Rusyn Roots: Autobiographical Studies
Essay Four – Andy Warhol’s Carpatho-Rusyn Art Roots: Aesthetic Studies

The text of the book is 116 pages; the incredibly detailed index is 26 pages longer than the book at 142 pages!

I found the essay format an easy way to follow the author’s train of thought and compartmentalize all the information in my own mind. the author examined everything from Rusyn religious icons to Warhol’s mother’s New York city church of worship (St. Yary’s Byzantine Catholic Church at 246 E. 15th Street in Manhattan) to the Pittsburgh neighborhood in which Warhol grew up (the Warhol Museum)to many earlier scholarly works done by others that looked closely at his life and art.

Because of its cost, this book isn’t for everyone, but library collections make it accessible to all to read.

It’s an oldie, but goodie, first published in 1997 by the Edwin Mellen Press in New York. It’s still available on their website for a hefty $199.95. Other online copies are listed for double that price! I guess Santa was lucky when he found my book for little more than half that price.

If you are interested in reading the book, my first suggestion would be to check WorldCat for a library close to you that has it. Then, if interested in buying a copy, be patient and check often online for a reasonably priced copy (under $150, which is still steep).

Although Andy Warhol didn’t verbally point to his Rusyn heritage, there is no doubt that it directly affected his artistic works. There were a couple of comments in particular that I think describe Andy Warhol very well.

First, there is Andrew Warhola, the Carpatho-Ruysn American, who is the least known, then there is Andy Warhol, the celebrity artist, who is the most publicly known and, finally, there is Andy Warhol, the artist known by art critics.

The key here is in the statement “most PUBLICLY known,” because Warhol went to great lengths to maintain a very private life. He didn’t really want anyone to know about his deep belief in Greek Catholicism, his ethinicity or about his daily life in general.

Second, his art contains multiple references to Rusyn folk art, as seen in psyanky (decorated Easter eggs) and to religious images found in Greek Catholic churches.

I am very pleased that Genea-Santa found my book when he did and it sits proudly in my ever-growing Rusyn reference book collection.



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