Mr. Merkin And Sgt. Pepper
For 42 years Richard M. Merkin taught painting and drawing at RISD. His talent as an artist, however, may forever be eclipsed by his extraordinary style, and his appearance on a certain album cover . . . 50 years ago today.
Students and locals living in Providence during Merkin’s RISD years would always mention a sighting to friends, reporting in detail on that day’s sartorial splendor and its flawless execution. What a treat it was just having him walk by. His 2009 New York Times obituary noted that his “fascination with the 1920s and 1930s defined his art and shaped his identity as a professional dandy.”
Following the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band — which was of course blowing everyone’s mind anyway — word got around town that Richard Merkin was one of the faces on the album cover! It’s impossible to overstate what an unlikely and astounding turn of events this was. That album art was being analyzed and discussed all around the world — and the faces all seemed to be famous people – but there was our guy!
The New York Times explains how he ended up on this iconic album cover.
Among other offbeat claims to fame, Mr. Merkin appeared on the cover of the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” in the top row between Fred Astaire and a Vargas girl. He was not well-known at the time, but on a visit to London he had struck up a friendship with the British pop artist Peter Blake, who was at work on the cover art for “Sgt. Pepper” at the time. The rest is a very small footnote to history.
So there he is on the top row, in his jaunty fedora, between Fred Astaire and a Vargas girl. (Go here for a key to cover.)