Ellen Havre Weis, Who Placed Pop in Mythology, dies at 64


Ellen Havre Weis, who helped create popularity Museum of Modern Mythology Advertising characters that exist in modern life -Jolly Green Giant, Colonel Sanders, Mr. Peanut—based on the idea that he had formed a mythology in itself—died at his home in Altadena, California, on July 27, in San Francisco, California, aged 64.

Her husband, Gordon Whiting, said the cause was brain cancer.

Ms. Weis, a writer, founded the museum in 1982 with two partners. They initially found a place in a warehouse in San Francisco before moving their 3,000-piece collection to Fisherman’s Wharf. It became a tourist draw before it had to close in 1989 due to the Loma Pietra earthquake, one of the most devastating earthquakes in the city’s history. Ms. Weis was the managing director.

The museum at first appeared to be a collection of capitalist artifacts. A big figure from the Jolly Green Giant flanked Poppin’ Fresh of Pillsbury fame, and they shared space with the fat Bibendum, better known as the Michelin Man.

But Ms. Weis’s intention was to connect our understanding of these popular culture figures to the human need to mythologize; He claimed that our destinies, Furies and giants were not left behind in Greece or Egypt, but transferred into our own culture. The Cheerful Green Giant was his selling point when describing the museum to his leadership and the public – he was a character straight out of “Jack and the Beanstalk,” he said.

One of his favorite pieces in the museum was a plastic model. Cow Elsie, character used to sell dairy products in advertisements for the Borden Dairy Company, which was later devoted to chemical products including glue. Elsie later bought a husband, Elmer, who sold the famous white glue that bears her name. Domestic quarrels formed the background of 20th-century advertising campaigns selling Borden products. Mr. Whiting compared their dynamic to that of Hera and Zeus in Greek mythology, the archetypal contentious marriage.

“We’re not saying they’re gods,” said Ms. Weis about the collection. 1988 interview with the New York Times. “But the same relationship applies. People will live beyond their generation because they respect their character by purchasing the product.”

The Museum of Modern Mythology was extraordinary both in terms of its predecessor and the content of its collection. Mr Whiting said of the objects themselves: “They weren’t made for museums. They were made to sell something and then they were thrown away. Literally ephemera, things that are temporal – here and then they’re gone. ” But Ms. Weis took this short-lived event and its effects seriously.

Film critic Leonard Maltin, who sits on the museum’s board, said in an interview that Ms. Weis and the museum infused the practice of collecting and archiving these objects with a unique academic focus. Mr Maltin said the museum is focused on putting the advertising characters “on a pedestal in a way that no one else has thought of”.

Also on the board was the leading mythology scholar, Joseph Campbell.

Ellen Havre Weis was born on May 14, 1957 in Levittown, PA and grew up in Elkins Park, outside of Philadelphia. His mother, Aimee (LeVita) Weis, was a community college librarian, and his father, Henry Kraus Weis, was a product engineer.

Ms. Weis enrolled at the University of Iowa in 1975. While there, he began writing fiction with a group known as the Actualists, which included the poet. Hello Anselm. He left a year after graduation to continue writing, working in a small press, and publishing fiction in literary publications such as The North American Review.

He moved to San Francisco in 1982. There she worked with her then-boyfriend, Matthew Cohen, an artist and graphic designer, and Jeff Errick, a graphic artist, to establish the Museum of Modern Mythology.

The idea was born when Ms. Weis and Mr. Cohen were staying in a warehouse in the Mission District owned by Mr. Errick and Ed Polish, who run a company that manufactures political buttons, campaign bumper stickers, and the like.

In the warehouse was Mr. Errick’s collection of advertising paraphernalia: hundreds of character figures, many of them designed for supermarket or gas station displays. He loaned about 500 artifacts to start the museum, which was originally in storage. It later moved to the upper floor of a nearly century-old building on Mission Street in downtown San Francisco.

Ms. Weis was inspired by “Mythologies” (1957), a collection of articles by the French intellectual Ronald Barthes, who claimed that social values ​​reflected archetypes and tropes from ancient myths.

Artist Mickey McGowan, who runs the Unknown Museum, another popular culture repository in the Bay Area that features countless Monopoly games and other mass-produced household items, said entering the Modern Myth Museum was “like bowing to the gods.” Life-size Colonel Sanders and his fiberglass friends dwarfed the visitors, and the sheer volume of mass culture objects forced them to confront the ubiquity of these characters in everyday life.

The museum closed after the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989 made its site unsafe and its contents were put into storage. While vainly seeking an alternative space for the museum’s content, the founders pursue careers that include lecturing for Ms. Weis on advertising culture, consulting, and other initiatives. Mr. Cohen died in 1994.

Ms. Weis continued to write in addition to her work at the museum. In 2004 he and photographer Kiran Singh published “Berkeley: The Life and Spirit of an Extraordinary Town” (2004). He and Mr. Whiting also ran a public relations firm in Berkeley that represents creative and media professionals. He later worked for Mr. Nature Magazine.

Ms. Weis and Mr. Whiting got married in 1996. In addition to him, he was survived by their son Benjamin; mother, Aimee L. Weis; sister Margaret Chase; and his brother, Fred Weis.

Weeks before Miss Weis’s death, the Valley Relics Museum in Van Nuys, California, reached an agreement to receive the entire archive of the Museum of Modern Mythology, eventually giving the group of legend creators Jolly Green Giant and Miss Weis a second life. .


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