While growing up, Sally Pemberton knew that her grandfather was an art critic for The New Yorker.
But it was long after his death in 1982 that she discovered that Murdock Pemberton was the first art critic for the esteemed magazine — hired for the job from its beginnings in 1925, despite having no knowledge of art. He also was an esteemed author and a member of the Algonquin Round Table.
It just wasn't information that was passed down to his family.
"A lot of that was his character and personality and his very Kansas-Lutheran humble," said Sally, author of "Portrait of Murdock Pemberton, The New Yorker's First Art Critic."
She will appear at the Figge Art Museum, Davenport, for a book signing and talk on Thursday.
After sorting through her grandfather's suitcases stuffed in her mother's attic, she discovered works that she took to New York City art dealers.
"They were like, 'Oh my God, you must tell the world,'" she recalled from her home in Minneapolis. "But 75 percent of the people I came across had never heard of him."
Pemberton wrote her book after looking through all of the suitcases, as well as reading his catalog of reviews.
"I had to read through all of his depressing, semi-autobiographical novels and letters and whatever," she said. "He lived so long and outlived all of his friends, his artist friends and his writer friends, all of these Algonquin Round Table people. He had a lot of time to think about their fame and his kind of lack of recognition."
Murdock Pemberton became the art critic despite his own reservations.
"His first reaction was, no, I don't know anything about art," Sally said. "But he was doing a lot of different freelancing and thought, 'Why not?'"
He got his education thanks to an inquisitive nature with many different professions in the art world.
"These dealers absolutely adored him because he had a lot of time on his hands and would spend hours getting educated by them," Sally Pemberton said. "He read a lot of books about older types of art, but his thing became modern art, and he got education from dealers, who I think are the true heroes of the story."
His pieces for The New Yorker, where he wrote for 7½ years before being fired, ranged from investigative reports on museums to what Sally called "PR for artists and dealers."
"He was not like the typical art critic of the day," she said.
Like many of those whose older relatives have passed away, Pemberton said she wished she could have talked in-depth with her grandfather.
"I never called him 'Grandpa.' He was always Murdock," she said. "That was an era when children called their parents by their first name.
"My mother's parents were your typical grandparents," Sally said. "But he and his wife Franny were almost like characters from a play. They were very formal. He'd come over, always wearing a suit and tie, and smoking a pipe."