Friday, October 19, 2007

Parker Challenges Atherton

Because really, what art director could ever hope to challenge Al Parker to try something "a little different"?

I like to imagine the conversation between Cosmopolitan magazine art director, Robert C. Atherton and Al Parker that resulted in this piece:

"So Al, have you come up with an idea for the opening spread on that manuscript I sent you?"

"Yes, Bob, I was thinking; why don't we print a full bleed across both pages of this wallpaper sample I have here. I'll do a tiny little line drawing in the top right-hand corner and handwrite the word "Heritage" and you can surprint that in 100% magenta across the whole spread."


Who but Al Parker could have proposed such a thing - and then pull it off beautifully? And what art director but Robert Atherton would have considered allowing it?

And then, Parker follows up this bold experiment with two stunning double page spreads in an entirely avante gard style -- remember, this is 1953. Parker considered every element of the page - not just the illustration - but the type, the design of the boxes in which the body copy would run, the diamond-shaped design element that highlights each pull-quote and his background motif... to create three spreads that together are a glorious visual experience.

Can you imagine what Parker's contemporaries said when they flipped open this issue of Cosmopolitan and saw these illustrations?

"Look what Al's done this time!"

Because, as it says in the Cosmo article on Al Parker which appeared two months previous to these pieces, "by the time other illustrators begin to follow a new technique he has perfected, Parker himself has dropped it and is busy exploring another unbeaten path."

* Many more examples of the artist's work in my Al Parker Flickr set.


  1. Just wanted to post a reminder to those who might be interested - the exhibit Ephemeral Beauty: Al Parker and the American Women's Magazine, 1940-1960, is currently on display at the Norman Rockwell Museum, and is very much worth the trip.

  2. Bob Cosgrove4:23 PM

    I would add to Jesse's remarks that unlike other exhibitions I have seen at the Rockwell, they've produced an exhibition catalog for the Parker show. It's in color, 50 pp. including covers, and selling for $9.95 in the gift shop. Its a generous selection of paintings from the exhibition, though a trifle over-emphasizing his mother and daughter Ladies Home Journal Covers at what I, at least, regard as at the expense of some later work for Sports Illustrated and others. I imagine the catalog can be ordered by mail or, perhaps, the web site.

  3. cosgrove again4:25 PM

    Another addition to Jesse's remarks--I believe the exhibition is ending in about a week, so if you are of a mind to go, don't procrastinate.

  4. I sensed I was in the presence of a creative giant, as I sat across from him in a small casually decorated reception area in his studio. To have visited Al Parker, as a novice young illustration student in 1959, was a surreal experience for me at the time... and still seems even more surreal in retrospect. My knowledge and understanding of his greatness in the field of illustration, was just beginning to take hold... and I find his illustrations are just as exciting to look at today, as they were then.

    His studio was as full of interesting and unexpected visual treats as his amazing illustrations. Everything looked like a familiar prop to me, and as I discovered later in his illustrations... some of them were. Not only was Al Parker the undisputed king of creative illustration, he was a kind, generous and gracious king.

    Tom Watson

  5. If you don't live in the Northeast and are interested in the Parker show, you may be interested to know that it will be traveling to Washington University in St. Louis next month. The show will open at the Kemper Museum at Wash U on November 16th, and will remain open through January 28. It is a treat: Stephanie Plunkett, the curator, did a great job. For those interested in Parker, I would invite a visit to my blog, Graphic Tales. This link connects to a post on the Parker exhibition: