Thursday, January 28, 2010

L.A. Illustration team, Wicks & Henninger

As I was flipping through a recently acquired stack of old Life magazines this dramatic illustration stopped me short. Wow, I thought, this is something I have to get scanned and posted as soon as possible!

You're probably thinking, yeah, because that illustration is really something - and yes, I think so too...

... but what really got me excited was seeing that this very cool illustration was by "Ren Wicks and M. Henninger", an L.A. art team I knew about more by reputation than example.

Over these last few years we've talked about a lot of mid-century illustrators, most of whom hailed from the East Coast. We've discovered a fair amount about the artists of Chicago, the "Art City", and thanks to folks like Charlie Allen, Bruce Hettema, and Barbara Bradley, we've discovered the rich history of the San Francisco commercial art industry. But to this day, I can honestly say that I know next to nothing about Los Angeles illustration field during those times.

In fact its thanks to Charlie Allen that I know about Henninger and Wicks. Charlie mentioned in passing that "[Ren] Wicks shared space with Joe Henninger, a competent tight illustrator and instructor at the Art Center School. He helped a lot during my one year there....was a very popular guy and good teacher. [Henninger] did aircraft jobs in those days. A conservative, detail type, illustrator."

And thanks to Will Nelson, who worked first at the L.A. offices of Stephens, Biondo, DeCicco before moving to their Chicago studio, we know just a bit about Henninger's career trajectory. Will wrote, "When I started right out of Art Center the head of the Los Angeles studio was Howie Forsberg, illustrator along with a staff which included Fritz Willis and Morgan"Joe"Henninger."

On his own, Ren Wicks is probably best remembered as a pin-up artist (a well deserved reputation), Wicks certainly had a way of delineating lovely ladies.

Here are two pretty examples where his skills were tastefully put to good use.

A somewhat more risqué Wicks pin-up can be seen at Grapefruit Moon Gallery's website.

* My Ren Wicks Flickr set.


  1. Chad Sterling9:39 PM

    So, are those guys tuning in to the 'Dorothy Monet Story' on cable;^)

    Seriously, how do you surmise this partnership worked? In Chicago it was usually Car/Background.
    Figures/BG or BW/Color?

  2. Charlie Allen10:27 PM

    HEY, HEY.....Leif, you brought back long neglected memories. I haven't the faintest idea of how the illustration shown could have been done by Wicks and Henninger....except they both worked in a tight, academic style, were both excellent technicians with gouache and other media. Ren Wicks was more known for his pretty girl subjects....almost pin-ups, a bit like Varga....but other stuff as well. The aircraft industry was an important source for both artists in those days. Henninger was a fine teacher at Art Center, and a real 'ham'....very funny at times. Helped me a lot in those early days. L.A. was so diverse it didn't have an illustrative 'character', as did San Francisco....but it had a bunch of very talented artists. As said many times, thanks for the memories.

  3. Leif, I had almost forgotten about Joe Henninger. He was still teaching at Art Center when I was there, probably 10 or 12 years after Charlie Allen was in his class. He was head of the illustration department, and had quite a reputation as a long time "war horse" on the Art Center faculty list. He looked like a duke or even a crown prince of a European country (very sophisticated and dapper), and always seemed very formal to me. The only reproductions I ever saw of his work, was a few very realistic transparent watercolors of scenes from somewhere in Europe. They looked more like fine art pieces than illustrations, and I didn't come across them until well after art school.

    As far as being a teacher, I don't recall anything particular that stands out in my mind. He would walk around the studio, while we were painting from the model, but never commented much on our paintings, unless we asked for specific guidance. He was just another instructor among many I had.

    I have the same question as Chad Sterling. It seems very odd that Henninger and Wicks worked on the same illustration. Maybe one started it, got sick and the other finished it, in order to meet the deadline. (?)

    Tom Watson

  4. How do you guys know so much about this kind of history in the industry? It's amazing to me! I just started going through your blog but maybe you can post a couple of book titles that will get me up to speed? So far I've just been reading the old Loomis instruction books and some "how to" books from the 30's to 50's.

  5. Charlie Allen4:18 PM

    Kenney, Tom is a mere youngster in his 70's....but I was at Art Center in 1947 when Joe Henninger started teaching. Many famous names in illustration came through that school a bit later. Most headed to the east coast to the 'main event'. Did I say I'm 87? Now you know.

  6. Charlie, you're right about me still being a mere youngster.. in mind, if not in body. ;-) And yes, Henninger did have a big reputation as being key in producing a lot of excellent illustrators like yourself. By the time I arrived at Art Center, he wasn't doing illustration work that I know of , and maybe lost some of his enthusiasm for teaching.. at least that was my impression. Or, maybe I lost some of my enthusiasm as a student, then.

    Kenney, a book on this part of history of American illustration, is a good idea. OK Leif, the ball's in your court. You are the obvious candidate to write the book. ;-))

    Tom Watson

  7. Thanks everyone for your comments - Charlie and Tom, I'm especially grateful to have the benefit of your personal recollections of Joe Henninger. That's absolutely invaluable.

    Kenney Mencher; There's really only one book in print ( as far as I know ) that you could say is 'the bible' of information o all this: Walt Reed's "The Illustrator in America: 1860-2000" (I believe that's the most recent edition) You can order it from The Illustration House in my blog's sidebar or Amazon I would think.

    I keep it by my side always. Aside from that, you should check out Dan Zimmer's "Illustration Magazine" for long, detailed, beautifully illustrated articles on specific artists from that era. The link to IM's website is also in my sidebar.

  8. My first interest in Ren Wicks was when I ripped a funny picture of a painting done by him from a magazine. It is untitled. It's a family walking on the beach with the mom looking aggravated carrying everything and the kids holding the dad's hands and looking adoringly up at him and he has an extremely silly look on his face. Reminded me of my own situation! Anyone who knows where one could get a print of this, it would be awesome to get a copy.



  10. Ren; I'd love to learn more about your dad's career so that maybe we could feature him for a week here on Today's Inspiration. Please contact me if you're interested. My email address is under the "My complete profile" link in the sidebar near the top of the page. Best, Leif

  11. Emerson7:37 PM

    Leif Pen:
    My name is Emerson Terry, I Graduated from Art Center in 1954 as a Illustration Major. I worked for Douglas Air Craft doing technical Illustration on Air Craft Parts manuals. After a short stay in a small studio in LA. I got a job with Steven Beondi De-Cico West coast studio.
    I was a little less that a Jr. Illustrator, but It was a starting point for me. Howie Forestburg Hired me and Ren Wick was the top Illustrator there. Forestburg did some Great Illustration and Fritz Willis was really the Pin-up Artist I saw a lot of his painting for Calendars, they wer great.

    I first meet Joe Henniger at SBC Studios. I found out later on,the way that Ren and Joe worked on project together Ren had produced a Illustration for Locheed Aircraf and they need Revision, Ren was either tide up on another job or something, so Joe Henniger took the Illustration that was on heave whatman Illustration board, and carefully scrubbed off the part of the Illustration that needed to been revised and re-Illustrated it.

    A few years latter at Group West Studios, I worked on some of Ren Wicks Big Aerial view Illustration for a Irvine Land Developer down the Cost from LA.

    Ren would give me a pencil tracing of a Group of Building and I traced it on to Watman Board and paint it. Ren would strip off the top layer of the paper sand it down paste it in place and paint around it to math the rest of the Big illustration.

    P.S. I have most of the old scrape file of Rew's from the 50ths and the old Camera Lucy from SBD.

    My portfolio is on the web. To Access site:
    Also ...

  12. I was one of the last illustrators to start out his career at Group West in the 1980s. I was there for 6 years. Worked with Ren on many projects, as well as Larry Salk, Nick Galloway, Bill Robles and Neil Boyle. I met Joe Henniger several times and Ren introduced me to Ray Bradbury, a childhood idol. I still have some of Ren's paintings and some of the scrap from his morgue files. I had an old stand up Lucy that I brought to Group West that I got from another agency that was going out of business. I'm still in touch with Bill Robles. Emerson, you must have been before my time there.. Glad you are still around.