I received a gracious personal letter from the Dave Brubecks not long after I emailed The Brubeck Institute the story of Vernon P. Johnson’s watercolor of “Calcutta Bazaar,” which he entered in a Brubeck-related contest in 1958. “I remember the contest that was sponsored by Columbia Records very well,” Iola Brubeck wrote me, “because Dave and I went to San Francisco to view the work of the finalists of the Pacific region.”
I recounted the incredible 65-year journey of this painting in a recent blogpost, and it’s such a thrill to have the Brubecks validate my somewhat pieced-together story! Mrs. Brubeck filled in some of the details: The contest winner in San Francisco was Wayne Thiebaud, an art student at the time who is now a renowned Pop Art painter. “Wayne must have gone on to win the national prize, because he told us many years later when we met him at the White House…the prize was two tickets to Paris and I believe a week in a Paris hotel, or the equivalent in cash.” Apparently Thiebaud chose the cash, which undoubtedly Dad would have, too, had “Calcutta Bazaar” traveled into the first place position. Clearly Dad was in good company in the contest despite their very different approaches — Thiebaud in 1994 was conferred the National Medal of the Arts by President Clinton.
In closing, Mrs. Brubeck reflected the same thoughts I’ve been having since this story began developing a few months ago: “It’s strange how often things and connections come full circle.”
And what’s also amazing is that the changes in technology since 1958 — when that Dave Brubeck album was a vinyl LP — now allow me to listen to my special “Dave Brubeck Channel” on Pandora Internet radio while writing this blog article.