'New Yorker' Cover Shows A Divided St. Louis NPR's Ari Shapiro speaks with Bob Staake, illustrator of the controversial cover of The New Yorker, which depicts the St. Louis skyline divided in half by the colors black and white.
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'New Yorker' Cover Shows A Divided St. Louis

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'New Yorker' Cover Shows A Divided St. Louis

'New Yorker' Cover Shows A Divided St. Louis

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The story of Ferguson, Missouri has inspired anger, despair, conviction and art. Bob Staake is an illustrator who spent almost two decades living in St. Louis. He designed the cover of the latest New Yorker magazine. The image is prompting strong reactions and provocative conversations. Bob Staake, welcome to the program.

BOB STAAKE: Thanks so much, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Begin by describing this image for us.

STAAKE: Well, it's a very simple image. It's that classic image of St. Louis and the Gateway Arch from the East St. Louis, Illinois, side of the river. You simply see it divided in half. You see a white city on the left, black city on the right, and you see the Gateway Arch itself separated at the top - disconnected.

SHAPIRO: It's a very stark, simple image in black and white. And we showed it to some people in Ferguson, Missouri. Our producer there recorded some of their reactions and I want to play them for you and hear what you think of this.


GODFREY JONES: It's the truth. This is the true image right here. This case only magnifies this as to being true.

RENEE CHARLES: There's an oppression that's been given this is representative of what this area is about and that is not true. It is not.

JAMES MILEY: It's a beautiful picture and the artist captured what's going on in the United States. That's all you can say about that. They captured it.

MAEVE HORTON: I think it's very graphic. I think it's something that needs to be said. And I think that eventually the top of the arch will come back together.

SHAPIRO: We heard there from Godfrey Jones, Renee Charles, James Miley and Maeve Horton. And, Bob Staake, the illustrator who drew this magazine cover, I want you to speak first to the person who said this is not representative of us. This is not true. Why do you disagree?

STAAKE: Well, I think the bottom line is a good piece of graphic art is really intended to spark that conversation. I like the last comment where the woman says she sees this hopefully as an image showing the city actually being able to pull together. And that's actually what I had in mind.

But I think one of the most magical things about a wordless piece of art is it relies on that viewer to bring their knowledge base and their experience into the process of viewing it. And you can have a hundred people looking at a image like this and have completely differing beliefs on what it truly represents. And that's important to me.

SHAPIRO: The local TV station KSDK in St. Louis also asked viewers for responses, and somebody named Lisa Rickwalt said I think statements such as this fuel the rift in our country. Do you believe that a work of art like this can make the situation worse rather than better?

STAAKE: Oh, no, absolutely not. Again, again, I think a image is really - it's that embarking point for a dialogue. And any dialogue that is the result of a simple piece of artwork is a positive thing. It shows the strength and imagery, you know? A thousand editorials can state over and over the bigger issues behind the events in Ferguson, but when you have a simple graphic element that really relies on the viewer to truly flesh it out, that's going to make some people bristle. And it's going to make other people say this is exactly what I've been thinking.

SHAPIRO: This magazine cover has had a strong impact in a short time. Did that take you by surprise or did you draw it and say, yep, this is going to be provocative?

STAAKE: Well, I know that, you know, living in St. Louis the Arch and so much of my work is really - so many of my New Yorker covers - are dependent upon using iconic examples of American architecture to make points. But it's the type of thing where you can't really - you know, I explained it to my wife and she wasn't quite getting it. And I said I really have to do it. So then I went out to the studio that night and created the image. And I sort of felt that regardless of what the grand jury, what their outcome was, I felt that it would still be a solid statement regardless.

SHAPIRO: That's Bob Staake, an illustrator who designed the latest cover for The New Yorker magazine. Thanks very much.

STAAKE: Thanks so much, Ari.

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