Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Real Lee Crabb

The guy who modeled for Lee Crabb, the sneaky malcontent in Dinotopia, is an old friend named David Starrett. He is pretty craggy, but he’s a lot more handsome than the character I turned him into. He is the son of the famous western character actor Charles Starrett.

Dave Starrett has taught art for many years at various art schools in Los Angeles. Jeanette and I knew him mainly as a sketching and an art museum buddy.

He would pick us up in his old VW camper van, which he called the Foxmobile. We’d go over to the Huntington Library to look at paintings. He pulled all these mirrors and flashlights and viewscopes out of his pocket until the guards put us on a close watch.

While standing in front of a painting, he would make up stories about the artist: “Gainsborough lost an arm in a sword fight and had to switch to painting with his other arm…Renoir did this entire painting while standing in six inches of coconut milk in a bathtub.” Museum goers would tag along to hear the juicy tidbits.

That was before the days of those gawdawful preprogrammed audio guides, which turn museum-goers into mindless zombies.

Then we’d go out painting in the gardens out back. Sometimes a flock of foreign tourists would come by and ask him, “Are you an artist?”

“No, I’m a plumber,” he’d snap back. “Just finished putting in a commode.”


Dan Gurney said...

He sounds like a fun character to have run around with. Is he still with us?

James Gurney said...

Yes, thank goodness. Still going strong and feisty as every.

Andrew said...

Seems like with a personality like that, I can't imagine going anytime soon. Too much fire in the belly.

I'll have to give him credit next time someone asks the "Are you an artist?" question while drawing...I think that's a pretty fun retort.

Erik Bongers said...

I'm not that fond of negative comments, but I'll make an exception this time.
There we go.

I hate those gawdawful preprogrammed audio guides too!

(there...that felt good...)

You know, in a museum, when someone's standing in front of a painting, you just skip it and return when all's clear, right? Not for the zombies! If they are coming from painting no. 4 and you happen to be standing in front of painting no. 5, their dead eyes start glowing, and their grey skin turnes toxic green.

Nowadays, I always take an anti-zombie spray with me to museums.

Anonymous said...

thats really fun to know!
Its always neat to see who influenced the various characters in Dinotopia.
can I just be the guy who shovels dino poop or something in the next book Jim? :)

Unknown said...

Sounds like quite a character!

Daroo said...

Great back story on Crabb's creation.

On his website, Scott Burdick has a photo of the artist, Tom Browning painting en plein air. Tom is wearing what Scott refers to as a "preemptive T-shirt". It reads:

These are oil paints.
No its not a hobby.
Of course its for sale.
I'm sure your aunt's paintings are lovely.
Nice chatting with you.

Here's the link:
(scroll down almost to the bottom)

I've often thought about making a t-shirt that reads "advertising space available here" -- the goal would be to get enough corporate sponsorship to fund an extended painting trip.

What?!! -- it could work -- painting as a spectator sport is every bit as exciting as Nascar... (sigh) ...some dreams are better than others...

Bohokittenggc said...

Hi is this gentleman still around? I am looking for someone by this name n while most of my memories of him ar from when I was a child, this picture could be an aged photo from my memory! N ur discription... its surreal.... this could all just be wishful thinking! Hope to hear back. My email is