Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Walter Baumhofer and the Merrill Company

"From all accounts [Merrill Company] founder Marion Merrill was a stern and dedicated leader," writes Jean Woodcock in her article in Illustration Magazine #22. "She selected the artists, suggested cover concepts, and supervised every facet of their production."

Further on Jeanie writes, "Miss Merrill was a perfectionist and she surely frustrated many of her artists. She made profuse comments and criticisms, and often said, "You can do better than that."

Above, courtesy of, the original art for a 1955 Merrill colouring book by the legendary Walter Baumhofer.

Though he began his career in the low-paying pulp market (he painted the first series of Doc Savage pulp magazine covers, among countless other adventure, crime and western subjects) by the mid-1950s Walter Baumhofer had long been a mainstay of all 'the slicks'. No doubt he was used to high paying, high profile assignments - not to mention lucrative national advertising accounts.

Knowing as we do now (thanks to Barbara Bradley) that the Merrill Company paid in the neighbourhood of $300 for a cover painting, its interesting to imagine how an illustrator of Walter Baumhofer's stature might have reacted to Miss Merrill's criticisms.

Jeanie's speculation that Miss Merrill probably caused many of her artists some frustration is very likely correct. Still, $300 in the mid-'50's was a heck of a lot more than it is today... and just as Barbara described fitting her Merrill assignments in between her ad work at The Cooper Studio, Baumhofer probably did the same. Its a testament to his professionalism that he did not think he was "too good" for a relatively low paying colouring book assignment.

That's something Barbara mentioned to me in one of her notes. She wrote, "Marion Merrill hired some great illustrators to do work, illustrators I never guessed would do such work: Haddon Sundblom (Coca Cola), Jon Whitcomb, Joe Bowler...all Hall of Famers now."

Original art dealer Mitch Itkowitz has a new catalogue of original Merrill cover paintings available from his website, There are also about twenty images from the catalogue on the website.

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

* My Walter Baumhofer Flickr set.


  1. These guys were and still are my teachers. When "fine" art went modern in the early 20th century, the illustrators carried the torch of the masters such as Sargent and Zorn. Perhaps the illustrators were the "fine" artists after all.

  2. I agree Kyle. The illustrator continued doing traditional representational work, and found ways of keeping current and still communicate with the public. I can't say that about many of the so called fine artists, and now decades later, I continue to hear a puzzled public wondering why many abstract and avant-gard paintings that hang in museums.. are hanging in museums (?!)

    I suspect that even illustrators that later became Hall of Famers, had slow periods and squeezed in almost every assignment they were offered, to offset the slow periods. Recalling some of Barbara Bradley's comments to me.. Illustrators like Barbara were not especially ego driven, and felt fortunate to stay busy doing what they loved doing. It seems that the only criticism directed to illustrators that took on odd-ball or low budget assignments, were from a few of their piers that were far more ego driven. I think that is what made Barbara such an effective teacher decade after decade. She did not think being a full time teacher was a step down from being a full time illustrator. And, in IMO she was right.

    Another informative week, thanks Leif.

    Tom Watson

  3. Firestrom7:26 PM

    "Miss Merrill was a perfectionist and she surely frustrated many of her artists. She made profuse comments and criticisms, and often said, "You can do better than that."
    Is that like saying she was a grade-A bitch? I know these people, they like to suck out the last drop of blood from your body before allowing you to go to final artwork.Often they're not so great at their jobs but no one's allowed to criticize them.