Thursday, January 31, 2008

A Textbook Example: Leonard Weisgard

As a child, Leonard Weisgard found the artwork in his schoolbooks to be dreary, monotonous, and devoid of colour. Weisgard determined at that young age to one day correct this visual afront.

Imagine that!

But that's exactly what young Leonard Weisgard did.

"He went on to study art at the Pratt Institute and the New School for Social Research, where he was influenced by primitive cave paintings, Gothic and Renaissance art and avant-garde French illustrators of children’s books of the 1920s." This from the artist's biography at Leonard

Yes, unlike so many other mid-20th century illustrators, Leonard Weisgard actually has a beautifully comprehensive website. From my reading, it looks to be the loving tribute of Weisgard's children, Abby, Christina and Ethan.

There, along with photos and a thorough biography, you'll find a nice little gallery of Weisgard's illustrations - both storybook and 'commercial art'.

Weisgard illustrated over 200 children's books during his long career, and a well organized bibliography provides an exhaustive list of them (for those collectors who are seeking out rareties).

Curiously, I did not find the volume from which these images were scanned listed in that bibliography. These are from Volume 1 of the Macmillan Science - Life textbook series... and the bibliography seems to suggest that Weisgard illustrated Volumes 16 and 78.

Maybe I'll email the Weisgard children and see if I've uncovered a new addition for their list. If I receive a reply, I'll post it here for the many Leonard Weisgard fans I know are out there.

My Leonard Weisgard Flickr set.

*And this is a good time to remind everyone to take a look at The Retro Kid group on Flickr. There you'll find thousands of delightful mid-20th century kid-focused illustrations. But you must join the group (its free) for all the images to become visible. Its a weird Flickr rule too complicated to explain here. Sorry.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A Textbook Example: Jack Hearne

As excited as I was to find illustrations by Sandy Kossin and Ward Brackett in the textbook, "Widening Circles", I was even more thrilled to discover a great huge batch of drawings by Jack Hearne.

Long time readers may recall that I had previously posted a week of scans and some accompanying text about Hearne, much of it culled from an interview conducted by Jim Amash with Vic Dowd in Alter Ego magazine. Dowd wondered what might have become of Jack Hearne, an old friend with whom he'd lost touch many years earlier -- but who's work and accomplishments Dowd had always admired.

Well, in the ensuing months since that week of posts, I received an email from Jack Hearne's son, John.

I am always so delighted that, thanks to the internet, this blog has made it possible for all of us to rediscover what might have been lost over time: the artwork of an exciting and inspiring period in illustration-- and the stories of the people who created it. We've had the pleasure of sharing in some great memories thanks to the the artists (or their surviving family members) who have generously shared private details from their careers and lives.

Unfortunately, not every story has a happy ending.... and discovering the details of Jack Hearne's last years from John proved to be bitter sweet. I asked John if he would be willing to allow me to post his email to me in its entirety, and he very graciously agreed. "I appreciate you asking," he wrote back, "and yes, you can post my letter verbatim. It is simply "what happened":

I should tell you that the work you had uncovered has renewed my entire family's love of Jack's work, and brought back some very fond memories for all of us. For that, I'd like to say a heart felt thank you.

Since I was the youngest of four, the closest in age to me being a sister 9 years older, I missed a lot of the history of my Dad's early career.

I can tell you he worked from home for many years towards the end of his career, in a studio he designed and built in our home in Dobbs Ferry, NY. It was originally one of eight bedrooms in the house. He would travel to the city once or twice a week to discuss and review projects with whoever had retained him.

I remember J. Walter Thompson being a main contributor to his portfolio, along with Random House. Another book he illustrated was "Go Bang a Drum" or something close to that, and I believe it was also a Random House publication. Additionally, Jack did a lot of work for Northrop, Grumman, (not sure if they had merged in the 50's) and McDonnel Douglas, hence the aircraft from the first group of pictures. He did a whole bunch of story boards for Chrysler in the 70's and 80's, with the introduction of the "K-Car" also. I actually remember those, and have a few under my bed in an old portfolio.

His professional life took a down turn after the passing of my mother, his second wife, whose maiden name was Esmee Malman. They met in New York, at one of the agencies of the early 60's. They married and lived on Central Park West until I was born, and we all moved to Westchester County when I was about 4 months old. She passed away from a recurrence of cancer in May of 1973. My Dad took that very hard and since the older kids had all moved away by that time, it was he and I in that giant house for many years after that.

After repeated attempts from about 1977, he committed suicide in 1985.

I had moved in with my oldest sister, her husband and daughter in Connecticut in 1981, and Jack had been living in hotels up to that point and had not worked in many years. We couldn't find him on one of my trips home from the Navy, and shortly after my returning to my ship after being "UA" or "unauthorized absent" while trying to find him, we received the news.

As many of those "children of the Depression" had to suffer, he had become an alcoholic after the passing of his wife. Depression followed, exacerbated by alcoholism, etc. I think I mentioned that the end was rather sad and tough to go through in one of my previous correspondences, but as I also mentioned, we as a family have truly enjoyed the interest and joy his work brought people. Healing from what we all went through has been an ongoing process for many years. The stage we've all reached is one of recognition of his talents, a love for the truly loving man he was, and that we all miss him and his love of art. He tried to get his youngest son to enjoy it equally, but I just wouldn't oblige, opting instead for whatever ballgame was in season. We have all noticed a keen sense for art in our children though, which is quite interesting. Must skip a generation, I guess.

Anyway, there's enough for you to chew on, huh?

Honestly Leif, we are all grateful for what you've shared with us. My new wife made a beautiful album of the pictures linked to your blog for me as a Christmas gift, and also found a copy of one of the Three Investigators books and a pristine men's magazine from June 1954 that my Dad had done on-line and those were also Christmas gifts. We've passed it along to Uncles and cousins, and everyone in our family has enjoyed what you've uncovered a great deal. Feel free to share the story, and by all means stay in touch. I'll continue to work with my family to uncover more details for you.

Take care,

My Jack Hearne Flickr set.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A Textbook Example: Ward Brackett

Its been a few years since I last featured the work of Ward Brackett (with the exception of this one pin up). That's not to say I don't think Brackett is worth looking at. In fact, I think his work is terrific.

But I was used to the artist's 1950's style, as seen above. I was quite surprised when I discovered the illustrations below that Brackett did in 1970 for the Harcourt Brace textbook, "Widening Circles".

Of course, every artist grows and experiments over time... and the style Ward Brackett employed for this series sort of reflects a mood that really does feel "1970's" doesn't it?

I'm very curious about what medium the artist used for these pieces. Is it simply wet on wet watercolour? Or did he use some sort of resist technique? Some areas almost look like the result we used to get with fingerpaints on that highly coated paper the teacher gave us in grade school.

Another possibility is magic markers, believe it or not. The early magic markers, popular as artists' material around the time these illustrations were done, came in little glass bottles with screw-off tops. I've heard that it was common at the time to open them up, take out the benzine-soaked felt pad and sweep it around on your bond paper or illustration board surface. You could also buy refill cannisters of marker colour and just pour that lovely, flammable, cancer-causing stuff right down on your work. The good ol' days!

Whatever the case, Brackett achieved a pleasing effect in this series. They have a wonderful dream-like quality, hazy yet vivid, like the memory of a young boy's childhood adventure with his grampa.

My Ward Brackett Flickr set.

Monday, January 28, 2008

A Textbook Example: Sandy Kossin

For the longest time, the only piece by Sandy Kossin I had in my magazine collection was this striking image below.

Boy, did I hope to find more! There's so much raw energy - yet a beautiful accomplished simplicity - in this illustration that I knew I'd love whatever else the artist might have done. But finding other examples in my 1950's issues of the Post, Colliers, etc. proved fruitless.

Then last summer, while on vacation in Orlando, FL, I found an old textbook, "Widening Circles", in a used bookstore. Among the illustration credits: Sandy Kossin.

This Harcourt Brace Primary Reader from 1970 suggested that Kossin's style had changed dramatically since the 1950's. Or was this simply another style that Kossin employed when doing humorous children's material?

I did a little searching around on the internet and discovered that some of Sandy Kossin's originals are available for purchase at Graphic Collectibles. Judging by the dates, Kossin was doing his more realistic style, in a great many variations, well into the 1980's. The images there are fantastic - and I highly recommend you take a look at them. (My favourite is a piece called "Movie Star")

As well, my buddy, Mike Lynch, has a post from September 2006 featuring Sandy Kossin and other members of the reknowned Long Island chapter of the National Cartoonists Society, The Berndt Toast Gang.

The short bio at Graphic Collectibles tells us that Sandy Kossin did in fact do illustrations for all the major magazines so I'll be looking more closely for examples I can bring you in the future. He also did over 500 paperback book covers!

That got me checking the photostream of one of my fellow Flickerites, grrl8trax, who has one of the greatest collections of paperback cover scans on planet Earth. Sure enough, her archive includes a set of 15 Sandy Kossin covers that will blow your mind.

This week, we'll look at some other artists who's work appears in "Widening Circles" and other old textbooks. Some names will be familiar ones and others you'll be hearing for the first time. But all, I think, will prove to be interesting and inspiring.

And that's what its all about, right?

My Sandy Kossin Flickr set.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Don Silverstein's work: "...a joy to look at"

A few months ago, Harry Borgman was the subject of a week of posts on Today's Inspiration (see Previous Topics in the sidebar). This week Harry is our guest author, providing all of the artwork and the story of his longtime friend, Don Silverstein. Harry's narrative continues below:

Don had an interesting career and even worked in New York for several years doing a lot of children's book art. He also worked in London for a time.

Don and his wife Sakiko moved to Japan where he lived and worked for ten years. He did a lot of commercial work and also had several exhibitions of of his paintings in Tokyo.

I saw him frequently when he moved back to New York in the 90's. The book market had pretty much dried up for him and he was mostly involved with fine art projects.

After his death in 2004, Don's wife opened Gallery Sakiko in New York where she exhibits Don's paintings on a regular basis.

Don was a long time friend and one of the most creative artist I have ever known. His style was unique, inventive and a joy to look at.

"I was born in a Wilkes-Barre coal mine in 1932. My great childhood joy was getting rescued every year by the coast gaurd during the annual spring floods."

- Don Silverstein's comment on his childhood

Sincere thanks to Harry Borgman for sharing Don Silverstein's story and art with us this week!

You'll find more examples of Don Silverstein's work at his website and Gallery Sakiko.

My Don Silverstein Flickr set.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

"Don was full of surprises."

A few months ago, Harry Borgman was the subject of a week of posts on Today's Inspiration (see Previous Topics in the sidebar). This week Harry is our guest author, providing all of the artwork and the story of his longtime friend, Don Silverstein. Harry's narrative continues below:

In 1958 Don and I decided to drive out West to go on a painting trip for a couple of weeks.

We drove out to Arizona and Utah. While I went outdoors and painted watercolors, Don always stayed in the motel rooms and painted abstractions.

One night when I was working late at Campbell Ewald, Don called and wanted to meet for a drink before he went home. We met at a bar near the agency where the Campbell Ewald girls were enjoying their weekly bowling night. It was a full house... lots of gals at the bar with their purses and bowling balls.

Don kept eyeing an especially attractive blond... he became very interested in meeting her. I discouraged him by saying that I knew her and he'd stand a better chance with her bowling ball. That did it! Don promptly got up and walked over to the blond and said, "May I buy your bowling ball a drink?"

Don was full of surprises.

You'll find more examples of Don Silverstein's work at his website and Gallery Sakiko.

My Don Silverstein Flickr set.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

"You could never quite be sure what Don would do"

A few months ago, Harry Borgman was the subject of a week of posts on Today's Inspiration (see Previous Topics in the sidebar). This week Harry is our guest author, providing all of the artwork and the story of his longtime friend, Don Silverstein. Harry's narrative continues below:

In 1952 Don was drafted into the army and spent two years in Alaska. I can't even imagine what that was like. He must have driven the sergeants (as well as the other personnel) crazy!

Its difficult to picture Don in either the Army or Alaska. Actually, he never spoke much about it.

You could never quite be sure what Don would do in any given situation. I remember working quite late at McNamara Brothers Studios (we all worked late!) and was finished for the night. I decided to call Don at New Center Studios and asked him to meet me at the Caucus Club downstairs. Dave Lindsay, McNamara's top automotive artist and I went down to meet Don. They refused to let us in because Don didn't have a tie on. We knew this would set Don off... but we had no idea what he would do.

Don suggested that we go back up to the studio. There he found an old burlap bag and ripped off a long piece on which he splashed some paint. He then put it on as a tie. We went back down... and they let us in, in spite of the "tie" hanging out below Don's jacket.

This was typical of Don.

You'll find more examples of Don Silverstein's work at his website and Gallery Sakiko.

My Don Silverstein Flickr set.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Don Silverstein: "A wild character"

A few months ago, Harry Borgman was the subject of a week of posts on Today's Inspiration (see Previous Topics in the sidebar). During our long correspondence, Harry would often mention an old friend and fellow Detroit illustrator, Don Silverstein. "He was a wild character," Harry wrote to me, "a huge talent. I can't understand why he didn't become more famous."

I suggested that perhaps Harry would consider sharing his memories of those days with us. So this week Harry is our guest author, providing all of the artwork and the story of his longtime friend, Don Silverstein. Harry's narrative begin below:

Don Silverstein was a character and a half. From the first time I met him, I knew that he was a true original, a maverick that hardly fit into Detroit's hard boiled automotive oriented art industry. Believe me, there was no lack of wild characters in the Detroit art scene at the time, but Don stood out among them.

Don could only have been an artist, never a lawyer, account man, store owner or car salesman. He was anything but normal!

Cliff Roberts and I had been working at Allied Artists for a couple of years and on one morning when we arrived at the studio we found this new kid sitting at a drawing board doing all this great, wild stuff. It was Don Silverstein... he was 17 years old.

Like Cliff and I, he began doing many art assignments for Ford Times magazine. This was 1949.

It was great working in this environment at Allied artists. Talent like Cliff Roberts and Don Silverstein kept me on my toes and encouraged me to experiment and do my very best. It worked that way for all of us.

In my eyes it was obvious that Don was a remarkable talent right from the start. His wild creations seemed quite out of place in Detroit's booming automotive art world. Yet somehow, Don managed to keep busy and had a pretty decent career.

You'll find more examples of Don Silverstein's work at his website and Gallery Sakiko.

My Don Silverstein Flickr set.