Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Pete Hawley and the Merrill Company

In her article in Illustration Magazine #22, Jean Woodcock describes the fascinating journey that ultimately lead to her owning the Merril Company archives: "In retrospect," writes Jeanie, "if it had not been for my curiousity, determination, tenacity and true grit, everything produced by Merrill would no longer exist."

Just imagine, if not for Jeanie's dedication, gorgeous original art, sketches and hand-written notes, like those you see in today's post, would certainly have ended up incinerated or in a landfill. For preventing that fate, and for her willingness to share these treasures with us, we are forever grateful.

As a working illustrator, nothing fascinates me more than seeing the process of other artists - especially the great mid-century illustrators like Pete Hawley, whom I so admire. Studying original art, examining comps and sketches and scrutinizing any notes jotted down in the borders only enhance to the experience. To be privy to this long note from Hawley to Miss Marion Merrill is an absolute thrill.

"Dear Miss Merrill," writes the artist, "I could go on with these all week... but knowing you're in a hurry I'll send them on - have used The Champ title and size for lack of anything better."

"Hope I haven't picked on any Verbotten subjects this time - especially the knight in shining armour... I'd like to do that one best."

"If any of these are usable and you don't like the color scheme, just have your man paint the desired colors on the cellophane. I've forgotten your preferences in background colors. Have other ideas on young mermaid watercolorists, artistic centipedes, etc - but another time. Am tossing in the battered old school bus tissue as I'm tired of seeing it around. Best, Pete"

These colour roughs must have been cover proposals for Merrill books - and clearly some of the artist's earlier suggestions had been rejected because of the subject matter he chose.

Pete Hawley went on to do quite a few pieces for various Merrill books. I think its especially interesting to see these early 1950s examples - already so sophisticated! - of compositions and subjects very similar to the sort of things he would specialize in a decade or more later for American Greetings.

Original art dealer Mitch Itkowitz shows three pieces by Pete Hawley in his new catalogue of original Merrill cover paintings, which is available today from graphiccollectibles.com

There are also about twenty images from the catalogue on the website.

* Many thanks to Jean Woodcock for providing the bulk of today's scans - and to Mitch for the scan at the top of today's post.

* My Pete Hawley Flickr set.


  1. Wow, what a treat today! Thanks to you and Jeanie for sharing. Great stuff!

  2. Boy, he was slick. So much flair and polish on top of really solid drawing, and from the letter it sounds like he never had a shortage of ideas. Hawley is a true inspiration. Thanks Leif, Mitch and Jean for sharing these.

    Do you have a copy of his movie poster for Rhubarb? Never been able to find that one.

  3. Chris; I'm delighted that I've made such an enthusiastic Pete Hawley fan out of you.

    Shane; I must agree - Pete Hawley seems to have drawn from a bottomless well of energetic creativity. We really are fortunate that these merrill treasures escaped destruction, thanks to Jeanie's efforts.

    I'm sorry, I've never seen the movie poster you're looking for - but I'll keep my eyes peeled for it ;^)

  4. "A bottomless well of energetic creativity"

    that sounds inexhaustible, Leif; as inexhaustible as Today's Inspiration.

    "Dear Miss Merill" - like that handwritten letter very much. What a fine handwriting.

  5. Absolutely wonderful. What strong drawing and executed expertly. It is great to see such non-digitally enhanced craftsmanship.

  6. thanks for posting these! awesome!

  7. Thanks for sharing Pete's work, we are part of the Hawley family and love to see his work anywhere :)