A very unique Beatles art exhibit is coming to the new GRAMMY Museum Mississippi soon, entitled “Meet the Look Alikes!” created by collector Ken Orth. The exhibit will be a part of a symposium entitled “The Beatles 2016: From Cavern to Candlestick Park” on the weekend of April 1-2, 2016. The John Lennon Examiner asked Orth a few questions today, February 18, 2016 about his fascinating exhibit; from what inspired it, how long it has taken him to put this together, where he finds art pieces, and how he stores it.
An extensive collection now amassing over 1700 pieces, “Meet the Look-Alikes!” is a wall-full of fun and interesting art parodies of The Beatles’ album covers including solo years. Orth, who has been collecting for over thirty years, views each item he finds as paying respectful homage to the spirit of the Beatles’ artwork, and the talented artists who originally created them. The purpose, he says, is to serves as an educational tool about the artistic legacy of the Beatles.
Lennon Examiner: How many of the Beatles albums have you covered, and does it include solo albums?
Ken Orth: The collection includes at least one look-alike for 50 Beatles-related records, including: 5 (of 6) UK-only LP covers; 12 (of 14) US-only LP covers; 7 LPS with UK/US shared cover art; 1 EP cover; 1 45 cover; 4 post-breakup group LP covers; 14 post-breakup solo LP covers (6 John, 5 Paul, 2 George, 1 Ringo); 3 labels. Only 3 original Beatles LP cover are (as of yet) not included: Collection of Beatles Oldies (UK); Beatles ’65 (US); and The Early Beatles (US.)
LE: It appears you have several Sgt. Pepper-related art parodies.
KO: As of today there are 428 “Sgt. Pepper” images, accounting for 21% of the total collection. Most are front cover parodies but there are also many look-likes for the back cover, inside gatefold, the cut-out sheet, and the paper sleeve.
LE: What forms do the art pieces come in?
KO: The exhibit includes art from many formats— LP and CD covers, book jackets, magazine pages, posters, t-shirts, digital files, among others.
LE: What or who inspired you to start such a unique, one-of-a-kind collection like this, and then how did the idea of an exhibit transpire?
KO: Jun Fukamaki inspired the collection. Orpheus Records, now sadly gone, was a popular local record store in the Georgetown section of Washington DC. On a stop there in late 1982, as I was routinely flipping through the record bins, there it was: Jun Fukamaki’s synthesized LP tribute to “Sgt. Pepper”. And there I was: not listening, but staring, and thinking: darned if the cover didn’t look a lot like that brilliant hippie stained-glass-like Beatles’ album cover – always one of my favorites. So I took it home, not for the music but for the cover. For the art! That was the first time that happened, but not the last.
Exhibiting was the result of several friends independently telling me the same thing about five years ago: “Put on a show!”
LE: And you started this 30 years ago?
KO: “Meet The Look-Alikes!” is in its 34th year.
LE: Can I ask if you generate any income from this exhibit, or is it solely a labor of love?
KO: It’s a costly labor of love, although to date one event has picked up a few expenses.
LE: How long do you think you’ll keep collecting? Is this a life-long pursuit, or do you consider it “done?”
KO: I’ll keep collecting until I have them all – ha ha. The growth area is in digital-only images and its impossible to keep up with them.
LE: How much space do you need in your home to store the collection?
KO: Storage isn’t as big of a problem as you might think. Its largely paper and thin cardboard – mostly fits on one 6-shelf bookcase. Then there’s about 3 feet of closet space for the t-shirts and a portfolio bag for large items like posters. The 100+ pieces for the GRAMMY show easily fit in one box!
When viewing this amazing exhibit, viewers will wonder how he finds all these pieces. His answer is a reflection of changing times, the transition from record stores to the digital age. He wrote, “Early on there were plenty of record stores and frequent record shows – similar to the vendor’s rooms at the Fest for Beatles Fans. There were also magazines, such as Goldmine, and Beatles fanzines that ran ads from sellers and collectors all over the world. There weren’t many look-alikes out there, but it was always fun to find the few that were. And I was searching for something that most others never gave a second thought about – art rather than music – so I pretty much had the field to myself. Today I still search out the remaining brick and mortar record stores and occasionally a thrift shop, but I find most new material online, on eBay and a few digital record stores, and through Google image searches.
Meet Ken Orth at the museum: You can meet Ken Orth at the GRAMMY exhibit on Friday night, April 1, when the symposium kicks off,and Saturday, April 2, when he will chat with Beatles fans, and talk about where he found each rare and valuable work of art. His presentation, “The Impact of The Beatles on Art and Advertising” is Saturday at 3 p.m. (See his You Tube video on this page.)
More Symposium details: Headliners of “The Beatles 2016: From Cavern to Candlestick Park” Symposium will include distinguished Beatles authors Ivor Davis (author of The Beatles and me on Tour, and Jude Southerland Kessler (co-chairman and author of The John Lennon Series). In addition, the phenomenal exhibit, “Ladies and Gentleman…The Beatles!” (see our article below) will be on view at the new Museum March 5 – June 12, 2016.
Other authors at the exhibit will include Bruce Spizer, Lanea Stagg, Anthony Robustelli, Dr. Candy Leonard, and Dr. Kit O’Toole. Artist Rande Kessler, Enoch Doyle Jeter, who contributed artistically to Dr. O’Toole’s “Songs We Were Singing” and Kessler’s “She Loves You” will also participate. The critically acclaimed film “Good Ol’ Freda” will be screened as well, and Freda Kelly will be arriving all the way from Liverpool to be at the symposium.
Please see this video by President LaForge and Jane Marie Dawkins, Education and Public Programs Manager for GRAMMY Museum Mississippi, discussing the upcoming Beatles symposium. Dawkins stated that their official website for the Beatles symposium is still in the works, but you can purchase tickets at their Facebook page.