An influential and acclaimed animator, teacher and author, Yvonne Andersen (b.1932) followed a stalwart, if unconventional, path in the arts ever since receiving a full scholarship to Louisiana State University as a baritone horn player. She soon changed her major to art, studying design with Peter Kahn at LSU and later painting with Hans Hoffman in Provincetown, Massachusetts during the summer of 1953. It was in Provincetown where she met her husband, poet Dominic (Val) Falcone, and they opened the seminal Sun Gallery. From 1955 - 1959, they spent their summers away from New York City exhibiting the work of young artists and organizing "controversial" experimental film screenings, installations, performances and the first "happening" in the US. The unknown artist Charles Rogers Grooms—who Falcone nicknamed "Red"—had his first solo show; Alex Katz was a regular exhibitor; and Allan Kaprow appeared as a visiting artist before gaining artworld fame in the 60s for his spontaneous "un-art" which took place outside the institution. Andersen and Falcone continued the film screening programs after the Sun Gallery closed at the end of the 1959 season. Their annual Provincetown Film Study Group continued through the early sixties.
Excited by the avant garde and experimental films she screened, Andersen bought a used 16mm Bolex camera and taught herself the basics of filmmaking—beginning with documenting the world around her. Eventually, Andersen started cutting up and animating her own artwork and then made a film with Red Grooms, Spaghetti Trouble (1963)—animating cut-outs of his drawings using stop-motion. She and her husband collaborated with Grooms on more films—including Fat Feet (1966) which incorporated drawing and collage pixellation with live-action and life-size painted set pieces as well as a distinctly Groomsian Pop Art absurdity.
By 1960, Andersen and Falcone had closed the gallery and moved to Everett, Mass. with their two young children. The project-oriented Andersen welcomed eager neighborhood kids over to make art with her own children, and their passion fueled the birth of classes she called the Yellow Ball Workshop—partly in reference to the Sun Gallery. When Andersen showed her students one of her films, they wanted to make one themselves. The Workshop's first film project, The Amazing Colossal Man (1964), involved twelve children collaborating in its pixellated papier-mâché manifestation. It immediately screened at the Carpenter Center (pre-Harvard Film Archive) to rave reviews.
Perhaps creating the first all-children-made films, the animation classes quickly took off and became the Workshop's focus. Andersen eventually expanded her offerings, teaching intensives at elementary schools and community centers, including Project Incorporated in Cambridge and the Newton Creative Arts Center. Students would learn every aspect of making a film from start to finish: creating special effects, operating 16mm cameras and light meters, editing the film and recording their own soundtracks.
When I was a child in her class, one of the most important things Yvonne did was take me seriously. She took all of us seriously. She was direct, contained, structured and responsible. She almost never praised us—she worked with us. She helped us make our ideas concrete, to make things happen. Yvonne has the magic ability to make learning exciting and gratifying.
Dozens of all-children-made short films would be released over the years in compilations such as Yellow Ball Cache (1965), Bag 5 (1966), Menagerie (1967), Trembling Cartoon Band (1972) and Mephisto's Little Film Plays (1974). These screened at festivals and venues internationally, winning awards and hearts. Andersen let children's imaginations run wild in an array of media and methods, including cel animation, paper cut-outs, drawing-on-film, flip-cards, clay animation and puppetry. The films are refreshingly ridiculous and often feature surprising plot (or anti-plot) twists, funny effects, entertaining voice acting and even the occasional political statement—inspiring Jonas Mekas to declare in The Village Voice: "Without any exaggeration, these are about the best animated films made anywhere today."
All of this attention even led to commercial projects for Yvonne and her students, bringing in some money to finance the film, supplies and accumulating lab bills. Such kid-produced films that came out of Yellow Ball include four 'peacock logo' spots for NBC, test commercials for Cheetos snacks, an educational series for Westinghouse, vignettes for the children's show Hot Dog and opening films for the White House Conference on Children [in 1970].
The Workshop's fame led to many presentations throughout the country, talk show appearances, and the production of a short documentary for CBS, Let's Make a Film (1970). She published two books in 1970—Teaching Film Animation to Children (Van Nostrand Reinhold) and Make Your Own Animated Movies (Little, Brown & Co.) which was revised in 1991 to include video techniques—and also wrote twelve articles on animation for Super-8 Filmmaker Magazine.
One of the many film crews who came from NYC to shoot a documentary on us during a class realized that making an animated film was not fast work... so they lent me their equipment, so I could shoot the footage for them and my husband could record the sound throughout the six months of our classes, and send them the footage every week for their planned TV show on our workshop. They could call me up to say, "shoot more of that," etc. The show later was a national program on TV. Some of it is shown in our documentary 'Let’s Make A Film'
Andersen travelled the country conducting both animation workshops and workshops on teaching animation. By 1977 she was teaching at the Rhode Island School of Design, shaping their animation department into one of the top in the country. She retired from RISD in 2002.
Aside from inspiring and teaching innumerable future animators, Yvonne Andersen fostered equitable, cooperative atmospheres for learning and creating—taking advantage of the naturally collaborative processes of film and animation's particular affinity for tapping into the imaginative fire and illustrating the magic and craziness of life. – Brittany Gravely
About the Collection
The Harvard Film Archive received the Yellow Ball Workshop collection from Yvonne Andersen in 2019. It contains the negatives, prints, soundtracks and all associated pre-print materials for the children-made films, films made by older students as well as her own children, the Red Grooms' collaborations, and her own pieces.
A few of the unusual highlights include the production elements and analog video master of One Hotdog with Mustard (1963), Andersen's documentary of non-commercial billboards she, Red Grooms and artist Lester Johnson painted in Salisbury Beach, Massachusetts one summer; and the films from a project Andersen worked on in the late 80s with the organization International Artists for Peace. Sixty American artists and children travelled to the Soviet Union to make art with Armenian children and artists. The films—A Drop of Honey (1986) and The Golden Ball (1988)—are animated versions of Armenian folk tales. The collection also features The Provincetown Trilogy, a series of short documentaries produced in 2007 composed of footage of Andersen and Falcone's lives in Provincetown before and during the Sun Gallery era—featuring many of the poets, actors and artists who convened at the creative hotspot.
The collection is currently unprocessed and closed to research. Processing is expected to be completed in 2021. After that is complete, an inventory can be provided by request. Please contact the collections staff for details.
"Yvonne Andersen: Profile of a Pioneer" by Wendy Jackson, Animation World Magazine, March 1997
Yvonne Andersen videos, Internet Archive
Yvonne Andersen faculty bio, Rhode Island School of Design
Oral History Interview with Red Grooms, March 1974, Smithsonian Archives of American Art
Red Grooms: The Early Years (1937 - 1960) by Judith E. Stein, 1985
FAT FEET by Mimi Gross and Red Grooms, PennSound, University of Pennsylvania, 2011
Some of Andersen's films are available to rent through The Film-maker's Coop.