Monday, May 15, 2006

A Visit with Al Parker

It was a sunny Sunday morning in New York City in 1953. Will Davies was living alone in the city, far from family and friends back in Canada and was feeling bored. "You could have shot a cannonball down 5th Avenue on a Sunday and not hit anything," says Will, "frankly I was just sick of it." On the spur of the moment he decided to undertake a small adventure: he had heard that the famous Al Parker lived in Westport, Connecticut, just a short train-ride away, and determined to go meet him.

Arriving around mid-day in Westport, Will found a nearby grocery store open and went in to inquire of the owner if he knew where Al Parker lived. By an amazing coincidence a women who was a neighbour of Parker's happened to be shopping in the store and overheard the question. She offered to drive the young illustrator to Al Parker's house. Soon after, Will found himself speaking with Al Parker's wife, who had answered his knock.

"My name is Will Davies, I'm an illustrator visiting from Toronto, in Canada, and I was wondering if I might speak with Mr. Parker."

The gracious lady went to see if her husband could spare the time and in short order Will found himself shaking hands with the most famous and respected illustrator in America. "Fifty years later, I don't remember the details of the conversation," says Will, " but I spent most of the afternoon there in his studio. He was a real gentleman."

The life of a freelancer is such that Sundays are not necessarily a day of rest so it comes as no surprise that Parker was in the middle of a job. "Something with a bride," remembers Will, "for Cosmopolitan, I think - and I felt bad for keeping him from finishing it, because, you know, he was clearly on a deadline."

Finally, the afternoon waning, Parker offered to have his son, Jay, give Will a lift back to the train station. At the door, he pointed across the way and said, "That's where Austin Briggs lives." Will hadn't realized that Westport was home to many of the most famous illustrators in America.

During the drive to the train station, Will said to Al Parker's son, "You must be very proud of your father." He remembers Jay's quizzical expression. "Oh?" said the 22 year old, "why's that?"

Will still chuckles when he remembers that conversation.


  1. Anonymous4:57 PM

    Ahh... the remnants of clue and/or tape. The glory of paste-up. You just don't see stuff like that any more.

    Bill Angus

  2. I did a lecture last month to a group of first year graphic design students and explained the whole process of an art studio circa 80's / 90's. About hot wax paste-up and stat cameras and so on... you woulda thought I was telling them about how we used to spend a lifetime copying illuminated manuscripts back in the middle ages.

    Oi! - where'd I leave my walker? ;-)

  3. I still have my waxer…and wax! And a brayer too!

  4. Don't worry stan, I'm sure the Smithsonian will be calling any day now! ;-)

  5. Very nice drawing of the plump woman at the top of this posting, Leif-- extremely well rendered. It's so hard to reconcile the care and sensitivity of the drawing with the cold blooded way those register marks were slapped on there. I guess you had to have a split personality to survive in this business.

    As for those hot waxers, I was an apprentice in a commercial art studio just around the time they began phasing those things out but I still remember the smell to this day. Hot wax and coffee cups. Lordy.

  6. David; I'm so glad you're enjoying Will's work - he was wowed by your Berie Fuchs feature in Illustration.

    Fuchs' work had a huge influence on Will, as it did for so many others.

  7. These have been great leif. Glad I've taken the time to check in.

    Always a pleasure.

  8. thanks skinshark! I appreciate everyone's comments, and I know Will will enjoy reading everyone's reaction to his work.

  9. Anonymous3:24 PM

    Yup - I was just starting out when waxers & stat camera's were being phased out.

    A few years ago (I'm thinking 2000?) I tried to get my hands on one & the last of the wax before they went to the trash... but sadly I was about a week too late.

    I was part of the final class at Sheridan to train with a stat camera - sadly, our instructor passed away before the semester was over. Most people were happy to just switch over to scanning... but I stubbornly clung to the stat for quite a while (of course, scanning wasn't particlarely good back then - at least not at the college - scans of my work always needed a tonne of clean-up, where scans were usually perfect).

  10. Anonymous3:25 PM

    Damn... I forgot to add my name again.

    Bill Angus