Presentation Time – 1:30 PM – 1:55 PM
The Story Behind Pete the Cat
Award-winning artist and Illustrator, James Dean, will talk about the real Pete the Cat, the inspiration for the series of wildly popular children’s books. The actual Pete may have single-pawedly saved Dean from an unsatisfactory career as an electrical engineer. Questions always welcomed about the world of picture books and children’s literature.
About James Dean
|Born 1957 in Fort Payne, Alabama, James Dean spent the majority of his early years watching his father, a self-taught artist, reproduce the art of the masters as a hobby. James, only in first grade, began drawing from cartoons such as Disney and Snoopy. His grandmother was the first to hang a James Dean original on the wall, a well-done drawing of Yogi Bear.
By his high school years, drawing had taken a back seat to his musical ability. James dreamed of becoming a professional musician while playing in a small band. Even with multiple creative talents, James did not want to struggle as his father had. Having suffered with his family financially, James focused seriously on academics.
In 1976, James left for Auburn University to pursue a degree in Electrical Engineering. He often watched the art students on campus and envied their path as he struggled in his course studies. Finally, he broke down and took a drawing course. His professor encouraged him to pursue his artistic talent. James completed his engineering degree and began working as an electrical engineer with Georgia Power Company after graduation. Drawing and music had been left behind, thought to be broken dreams.
James still felt the tugging in his heart to draw. The need had him drawing in the mornings before going to work. Finally, in 1997 James left Georgia Power and became a full-time artist, giving himself a year to be successful. He could be found around Athens drawing landscapes and local businesses.
In 1999, James adopted a kitten from a local shelter. A scrawny black kitten won out and found a new home. James named him Pete. While Pete was a kitten, he spent a great deal of time sitting on James’ lap. James had never spent so much time with a kitten and soon felt as if Pete was his child.
Then one day the skinny, mischievous kitten stopped running and sat still. James sketched a picture of him and decided to paint it. He puzzled over the color – black? But what if everyone else thought black cats were “bad luck”? So James opted for blue.
Pete became the muse. James started painting Pete doing “cat” things: sitting in the laundry basket, hanging on the screen door, sleeping. Then James noticed Pete with his paw in his coffee cup, so Pete became a coffee loving cat. Pete would sit on top of James’ old VW bug while he worked on the engine, so Pete began driving VWs. The possibilities and ideas were endless.
Then one day Pete didn’t come home. James watched the door for days, then weeks, waiting for Pete to be there. Pete had inspired him more than he had even imagined. Pete’s adventures filled the days, weeks and years.