Friday, January 22, 2010

Tom Hall: "... how terrific my Dad's illustrations were"

From an email message that arrived in December 2006:

"I have just discovered your website and blog.....Tom Hall was my father. It is quite fascinating to me that someone would be interested in my dad's artwork after all these years."

This was exciting news for me! Tom Hall was one of the first artists I became aware of when I began studying mid-century illustration. Unfortunately, he was also one of those artists about whom there was really no information available. Hall's daughter, Nan, had discovered a post I wrote here on the TI blog - and proceeded to fill me in on her dad's career...

"So many of the illustrators mentioned really bring back memories of my childhood and youth (Al Dorne got me my first job in NYC a zillion years ago!). It is really too bad my father was not very good about PR re: himself and, while it breaks my heart that he is not in any of the anthologies of illustration, it is great that illustrators today know his name. He was considered a pretty big deal in Chicago in the 40s and 50s."

"A brief bio : He was born in 1908 and lived in most of his life in Chicago, Illinois (except for a period early on when he was around 20 yrs. old that he lived in New York City). He attended the American Academy of Art in Chicago but I'm not sure when that happened. His first job was at Vogue Wright Studios - I think they did a lot of clothing catalog work - where he first got to put the hi-lights on buttons and then graduated to herringbone patterns and the stitching on jeans. On his first day at work they sent him to all the art stores to buy vanishing points - the stores were in on the gag and told him they had run out of them but so and so might have them. Kind of a dirty trick but also kind of funny. He got to pull it on the next poor sucker that came to work on his first day."

"Anyhow, I think that is how he began doing men's fashion illustration. I guess that is what he was most known for. As I said, he did work in New York early on. At some point he was asked to become a member of the Society of Illustrators. Whenever he was in New York he always went there and spoke often of Ted, their bartender, who always knew him - and everyone - by name, even if they didn't go there very often."

"He really tried to make Chicago the center of illustration in the late 40's and 50's. He had a studio called Stevens, Hall, Biondi with Barry Stevens as the rep. I think Reno Biondi was another artist. I think after that he was a part of Verne Smith, Inc."

"One (or both?) occupied one of the McCormick mansions on Rush Street" [Note: see SHB ad above] "and they had everyone under one roof - artists, reps, photographers, lettering men, etc. I think Austin Briggs was part of the stable and I will have to think a bit to come up with other names."

"He was most known for men's fashion illustrations and did Hart Schaffner and Marx men's clothing ads for at least 18 years. They have some of the originals in their corporate offices in Chicago which I visited quite a few years ago when my son was attending the Art Institute. I have many, many tear sheets of those and other ads that he did. (My mother was his clippings person and she dutifully tore them out of the Post, Colliers, etc.)."

At this point Nan and I lost touch for some time. My plans to present a week on Tom Hall were shelved as I turned my attention to other illustrators and their stories. Then, a few months ago, a new email arrived from Nan:

"Hello Leif, I am Tom Hall's daughter - we emailed briefly quite a while ago. Now that I am retired I have more time to devote to putting together a book about my Dad's illustrations and art work. In some ways, your blog is partly responsible for my undertaking the project since, while I knew how terrific my Dad's illustrations were and how popular they were back then, I had no idea anyone else even knew about him!"

For now, Nan says she only intends her book about here dad to be for the family. "I am doing it for my children - who were born after Dad died in 1965 - and my grandchildren since there really is no one else to tell the story," she wrote. Hopefully Nan will consider making it available to the public at some point in the future.

* My Tom Hall Flickr set.


  1. Beautiful stuff!The Schlitz ad at the top is especially nice.I like his use of color.

  2. Great post!

    It is hard to find much about him, especially if you're not living in America. I recall seeing some of his illustrations during a class at the academy where I study.
    It would be wonderful to have a book on the market with a lot of Mr Hall's work in it!

  3. Anonymous11:22 AM

    Why don't you help her with her book. Unless of course, you decide to shelve Tom Hall again.

  4. Hahaha... oh Anonymous - great idea... I'll just add "Help Tom Hall's daughter with her book" to my "To Do" list! ;^)

  5. No in all seriousness, I heard back from Tom Hall's daughter and she has already published her first version of the book - the version she created as a keepsake for her children and grandchildren. Nan tells me that when she does her revised version she'll let me know. And I plan to let you all know so those who are interested in purchasing a copy may do so.

  6. Anonymous10:23 AM

    Hello Leif, Just wondering, do you know of someone named Ted Wright? I found an illustration of his on the streets of NYC, West Village, a few years ago, left on the sidewalk for trash. Of course, I kept it. It's dated 5/2/54. Can't seem to find him anywhere. Have you heard of him?