We tend to think of brilliant artists and inventors as solitary individuals, toiling alone until they finally produce their masterworks. But history tells a different story. Some of our culture’s best creations–from Andy Warhol’s pop art to the literature of Dostoyevsky–would have been impossible without the input of a few key individuals in supporting roles. The Who, the What, and the When: 65 Artists Illustrate the Secret Sidekicks of History is a new book compiled by creative design trio Also that pays tribute to these unsung creative minds.
“We were thinking about the people who have helped us get to where we are and the role of sidekick that we’ve played in other people’s lives,” says Julia Rothman, Also’s resident illustrator. So the trio tapped artists and historians who could illustrate important moments from the sidekicks’ lives. For example, New Yorker cartoonist Leslie Herman illustrated Julia Warhola, Andy Warhol’s mother, loading up a grocery cart with cans of soup. There may be some artistic license here, but it’s a symbolic depiction of how much the elder Warhola did for her son. She used to let him stay home from school to make art, and he based his handwriting on her own. When he moved to New York to be an illustrator, she moved in with him and helped support the household. Still, Warhol grew to resent his mother. “As he became more famous, he became more embarrassed by her, because she was super old fashioned,” says Also’s designer Jenny Volvoski.
Other sidekicks weren’t so thrilled about their collaborators. When Anna Dostoyevsky first met Fyodor, she found him “anxious, helpless, and irritable,” says Volvoski. “He was a crazy gambler and kept losing all his money.” But in the end, Anna became a devoted wife, who figured out how to support her husband by self-publishing his books.
The one notable personality who was probably most grateful for his sidekick was George Washington. By the time Washington was elected president, he was missing most of his teeth–the result of medications that he had taken as a child. So a dentist named John Greenwood came to Washington’s rescue. “He’d send dentures–the most high tech at the time, made from rhino tusk and gold and other human teeth,” says Volvoski. “And then when George Washington lost his final tooth, he mailed it to Greenwood.” It was the sign of true gratitude. The humorous illustration by Patrick Theaker, shows the dentures (and Greenwood’s face) from inside Washington’s mouth. In fact, that’s closer than Greenwood ever got. He lived in a different state and sent Washington his teeth through the mail.
See other secret sidekicks in the gallery above.