The Night Owl and the Pussycats: Adventures in Igniting the Power of Art

From the very beginning in February 2009, this exciting book project inspired by the DMA’s director, Bonnie Pitman, was a collaborative effort. And my responsibility was to serve as the publication’s gatekeeper, charged with trafficking the manuscript, compiling and incorporating the numerous edits and comments, and keeping track of all the details and loose ends. There were “those days” when I imagined masses and masses of rapidly proliferating Hydra heads—and, like a metaphorical Hercules, the faster I lopped them off (i.e., completed a task), the faster they seemed to regenerate.

To keep track of all the edits to the digital manuscript, we used the Microsoft Word feature known as Track Changes, where, like a board game, everyone gets a different color. With five or six people making rainbow-colored edits, the manuscript became a vivid, almost psychedelic, dazzle of clashing colors, from bright pink to pale brown. Since large chunks of text were moved around, Word could only track this by keeping the old, lined-out passages on the page, so I found myself on “fast forward” through whole paragraphs on occasion. Then when comments were added to the screen, a running series of squashed balloons of text crowded in along the right-hand margin. Pretty soon we were laughing about eye strain.

Our quest for a perfect set of images became the next challenge. We pored through hundreds of DMA images—sorting, juxtaposing, weighing, and discarding—for each of the 141 photographs finally chosen. So it was definitely an exciting moment when the book went to the printer in early October 2010. As I write this blog two years later, we have distributed the printed copies. While this project “had its moments,” it’s also been enormously rewarding. I’ve learned a lot about data analysis, the design and packaging of information, and the challenges and pitfalls of fact checking. Even at moments of relatively frazzled morale, our spirits were always kept up by the knowledge that we were presenting something new and important. This book was a labor of love for a large group of people, especially for the two authors.

Ending on a light note, Bonnie kept us entertained throughout the editing and production process by sending digital pictures of her two cats, Leda and Perseus. Owing to the late hours she usually keeps, Bonnie was frequently hard at work on this book at one or two o’clock in the morning, seated at her glass work-table, with Leda and Perseus lying on—or playing with—stacks of galleys, photo contact sheets, charts, layouts, and reports—all of which offered the cats an ideal playground. I still have the early photographs showing them stretched out on a hoard of papers and folders. The later pictures depict their puzzlement as the glass tabletop finally resurfaced and the papers receded. And there’s a final shot of the cats sitting wistful, but perhaps also slightly triumphant, on a table cleared of everything but a vase of flowers and a single copy of the printed book. I’m sure Leda and Perseus look forward to a sequel.

Eric Zeidler is Publications Coordinator at the Dallas Museum of Art.

3 Responses to “The Night Owl and the Pussycats: Adventures in Igniting the Power of Art”


  1. 1 Ellen Hirzy February 23, 2011 at 10:42 pm

    Eric, we couldn’t have done it without you. The collaborative nature of my work is what keeps me engaged in it. It can be a roller coaster, but nothing beats breaking open the shrink wrap to find words on pages between covers. Thank you so much for keeping this project on track from start to finish. Working with the DMA was truly a pleasure. As for a sequel: Can we take a breather?


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