Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Christmas '64 with Jimmy Hill

Its entirely likely that, in spite of living and working in Toronto, James Hill would have delivered these illustrations to his New York client in person.Remember, this is long before the days of quick commuter flights - or even FedEx!Hill often needed every last minute to complete his masterful artworks and rarely budgeted the extra time required to mail or otherwise ship his paintings to his many American clients. So, late in the evening, he'd race an hour and a half down the highway to Buffalo, then take the night train into Grand Central Station arriving in time for a morning cup of coffee at the art director's desk.What typically followed was a day in the city visiting his agent, friends and clients, lunch or dinner at the Society of Illustrators and a late night return to Toronto with new assignments.
This was Jimmy Hill's routine throughout the 60's, when he won 3 gold medals from the Society of Illustrators and the Artist of the Year Honour from the Society of American Artists. During that decade Hill was hugely influential on the look and style of illustration in America, to the point where Norman Rockwell told him, "As I represented the thirties and forties, you exemplify your own day and age."Nothing lasts forever and for a variety of reasons, by 1970, Hill no longer accepted American commissions. That's something we'll look at another time. For now, we're fortunate for the gift of Christmas illustrations Jimmy Hill gave us in 1964.

*You really need to enjoy these pieces at full size. They're in my James Hill Flickr set.


  1. Thanks Leif, for these unseen (by me) James Hill illustrations!

  2. I've got Society of Illustrator Annuals from '66 & '67, & they have a number of James Hill pieces in them. I remember thinking then what a versatile stylist he was; but I never got to know much about him. Leif, your description of him delivering work to AD's in NY, then hanging around in the city at the Society -- it all just reeks of nostalgia. I know things are inredibly fast now, & that's all well & good -- but to me that was the ideal way to present work. I grew up in Kansas City, & was lucky enough to intern at Hallmark Cards just after high school (summer of '68), & I remember freelance artists delivering their work in much the same way. Call me a Neandrathal, but I miss those days!

  3. Neil; I'll be doing a week on James Hill some time soon so you'll get to know him a little better. I agree with you about the good ol' days of dropping off the job: something I enjoyed doing during the first half of my career, before computers and email made the delivery of art just another email message.

    There was a nice sense of community about delivering the job, like you were dropping off a gift and getting to see the eyes of your client light up at the reveal.

    I guess we're both a couple of Neandrathals because I miss those days too! ;-)

  4. toxford12:47 PM

    I wonder if he was an influence for Greg Spalenka. Fantastic stuff!

  5. troy, I don't doubt Hill was an influence on many artists - even if they weren't directly aware of it, much as Bernie Fuchs or Bob Peak were.

    Thanks for commenting!

  6. Anonymous10:13 PM

    Thank you Leif for sharing these images with us. I have not seen them before. Some people may believe the family has all the best pieces, I don't think that was the case with Jimmy's work. At least I don't have any!! Thanks again! Looking forward to your Jimmy Hill week! Toby