Looking over the many phases of Pete Hawley's career... from his high school competition wins and early days in Chicago, to his war years and the "Jantzen years" in New York... what always comes percolating to the surface is his natural affinity for drawing cute kids and critters. Its almost as though everything was leading up to an inevitability for the artist. Around the mid-60's, destiny caught up with Pete Hawley. For the next quarter century he would delight children and grownups alike with a seemingly limitless output of cute cards for American Greetings.
David LaFleur is an art director at AG and a big fan of Pete Hawley's work. When David and I began corresponding a year or two ago he told me he had heard that the AG 'art vault' still contained hundreds of Pete Hawley's originals. Here are some excerpts from David's emails that shed a bit of light on Pete's work for AG:
"Just by chance today, I happened to spot a couple of Hawley's sitting on a stack of art in a side-room. Planners often request originals from our archive for purposes of reference or for "re-works". One was a monkey...he did lots of critters for AG. This particular piece was painted on acetate with a piece of colorful burlap beneath (a technique he used to great effect, often letting several different fabric patterns show through in select areas). If you saw it printed today, you would swear it was Photoshopped!"
"When I get a spare minute, I'm determined to get down to the vault and do some real detective work."
... and more recently:
"A couple of months ago [a friend] and I were cleaning out several file cabinets and ran across a couple of Hawley sketches and two gouache comps. [My friend] said there used to be a three-drawer file cabinet full of his originals and sketches. In addition, we both ventured to the "art vault" and indeed, verified the presence of dozens if not hundreds of Pete's originals. They look as fresh as the day they were done! The Halloween stuff is killer."
Tantalizing news! But what was most invaluable was David telling me about an art director named Lily Fueger, who worked closely with Pete Hawley for many of the AG years. I was able to connect with Lily and spent a good half hour interviewing her on the phone yesterday. With her help we now have a comprehensive overview of the last and perhaps most important and prolific phase in Pete Hawley's career.
Lily told me that when Irving Stone, the head of American Greetings, saw Pete Hawley's Betsy Bell ads in the early 60's he realized this work would be perfect for greeting cards.
Stone contacted Pete and, according to Lily, the artist was ready to work for American Greetings. Pete gladly accepted the contract. He saw the potential of a steady income with a good client as an ideal situation.
Since we know the Hawleys moved to Sedona in 1964, we now have a clear timeline for when this new arrangement began. Lily says she must have been working as an artist at AG when she first saw Pete. "It was at a luncheon and I looked over at him and I thought, "My God, he looks like a cowboy." He was a handsome man. He had those sunburnt eyes."
Pete had come to AG to sign the contract that would initiate this next phase of his career. Lily says, "I just happened to be at that luncheon and I was sitting quite a distance away from him. I didn't have a chance to talk to him. But I had this impression of a very nice man."
"It was only later when I was given the responsibility of calling him and art directing and talking to him over the phone that we built up a very fine friendship. Pete was quiet and had a terrific sense of humour," says Lily.
I asked Lily, as an artist who was working at American Greetings in that early 1960's period, what she thought of Pete Hawley's work when it first started coming in. She says, "I thought it was fabulous."
"The animation was terrific. The expressions on the children's faces and the humour was fabulous," she says emphatically. "You know, a real pro. And very unique work. No one worked like Pete."
For a long time there has been the impression among Pete Hawley afficionados that AG, hoping to exploit the success of the artist's work, built a sort of "Pete Hawley Label" - a stable of artists who would work in his style to crank out additional material. Lily quickly debunks that theory. "Oh no. I don't know what the upper officials said about this but no one ever tried to imitate his work. It was very unique. No artist at AG would even dare to try to imitate him. That would not be a kosher thing to do."
"But in fact I can say that there was someone at Hallmark who tried to imitate his style. We were amazed at this. It was just for a short while... and maybe word got back to them that we were so shocked that they were even attempting this that they stopped."
I wondered if Lily might know if Pete was so busy with AG work under the terms of his contract that he no longer had time for other clients. She remembers him having other projects - unrelated to AG - on the go. That jibes with what Pete's granddaughter Shelley told me.
Shelley sent this series Pete did for a pharmaceutical client that looks to me like it was done during the late 60's or early 70's.
Both Shelley and Lily are under the impression, though, that such other assignments became increasingly rare for Pete as his involvement with AG continued. The thinking is that by the 70's he had settled into a comfortable routine with his one good client and let other freelance opportunities fizzle out.
Lily confirms that Pete never got involved in the popular movement among illustrators to move to the South West and become "Cowboy Painters". "No," she says, "no, he didn't. In fact he sort of looked down on it. He thought it was a lot of fakery, you know, taking advantage of the Indian influence and doing cowboys and so forth. He didn't do any fine art painting. When I visited him in Sedona he took me to some of the galleries. He got a big kick out of some of the "artwork" they were selling," she says with a chuckle. "And I think it was because of his expertise. He wasn't jealous at all."
When Lily became Pete's art director around 1974, or '75, she typically assigned him to create six to ten new pieces per month.
"He was quite proficient," she says, "He would use children in the neighbourhood as models." A practice that went all the way back to the late 1940's, when Pete's own children were often pressed into service as models for their dad's assignments.
I asked Lily to describe the way she an Pete would work through a typical assignment. She begins, "Most of the time I would art direct on the phone. We would read through the copy, then I would offer some suggestions about the subject matter... I would encourage Pete to have, for instance, the boy in question just hilariously laughing. Sometimes I would suggest a certain colour combination. Pete usually got stuck with very primary colours and those were, at one time, going out of style and all sorts of colour combinations were coming in."
"So I would send Pete clips of all sorts of colour combinations that he could use. And he would use them very well! In fact he really liked some of the new colour combinations I would send him. You know how we get into a rut with our compositions or our colour?" she chuckles. "Pete never took offense at my suggesting things of that sort."
"Of course I never had to suggest anything for his drawing... his execution. It was always so marvelous. He knew how I valued his work and that meant a lot to him." Pete never sent back sketches for approval. Lily says, "No. It wasn't necessary. He knew exactly what I was talking about."
Lily continues, "Sometimes, when I called he would be in a bad mood and I would joke him out of it. He liked that," she chuckles, "he liked that a lot. He could get very sour sometimes because Sedona was becoming so overcrowded, and the beautiful area where he lived was being spoiled by urban sprawl."
Pete worked 1/3 up over the printed size, in gouache, on Bainbridge illustration board. Lilly says, "He could create marvelous depth and shadows with it... he was a pro." Usually when a group of illustrations came in from Pete I would call him and tell him what I thought of them, and then give him his next assignment. So he would have a break for a few days each month."
Lily and Pete worked together as artist and art director for about 17 years, until Lily retired in 1991. She thinks Pete likely retired at the same time. It was that year that Lily was invited out to spend a week at the Hawley home in Sedona when she met Pete's wife, Micky. "I was very impressed with her," says Lily, "She was a very sweet woman; very smart."
Sadly, Micky suffered from serious health ailments later in life. Tragically, the Hawley's youngest daughter, Jane, also became extremely ill around the late 1980's. Shelley asked her dad, Pete's son Michael, if Pete ever actually retired. He said no. With both Micky and Jane to care for, Pete needed to continue bringing in as much income as possible. "He was working right up to the very end," says Shelley. Jane died in 1993. Micky passed away the following year.
Pete Hawley, having for years brought smiles to the faces of millions of people, young and old, died February 10, 1996.
* I have so many people to thank this week, chief among them Shelley Nugent for all her invaluable assistance with this week's series on her grandpa, Pete Hawley.
* Thanks as well to Shane Glines of Cartoon Retro for his tremendous generosity. Many of the scans we've seen this week are from his Pete Hawley archives and the phases of Pete's career would not have been nearly as thoroughly illustrated without them.
* David LaFleur of American Greetings and Lily Fueger, formerly of AG - thank you both for the "inside scoop" on Pete Hawley's work for that company.
* David at plan59.com for digging up the archived newspaper articles on the young Pete Hawley.
* And finally thanks to Glen Mullaly and Scott Caple who provided many additional scans for today's post and Dave Broad who provided a Betsy Bell ad seen earlier in the week.
* My Pete Hawley Flickr set