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Celebrating Illustration, Design, Cartoon and Comic Art of the Mid-20th Century

Ben Stahl's Beginnings

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Ben Stahl was a self-taught artist. He was born in 1910 in Chicago. At age 16, Stahl was exhibiting in the International Watercolor Show at the Art Institute of Chicago (where he later taught and lectured). At age 17 he got his first job in a Chicago art studio as an errand boy.

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Like a freight train hurtling down the track, Ben Stahl's early career sped along with singular purpose. Within 5 years he went from errand boy to apprentice to full-fledged advertising illustrator at one of Chicago's top art studios.

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In 1937 one of Stahl's advertising illustrations was noticed by the art director of the Saturday Evening Post. Stahl was subsequently offered the first of what would become over 750 assignments spanning thirty years.

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Ten years later in 1947, when the piece below was included in the NY Art Director's Annual, Ben Stahl had moved to Westport, Connecticut where he lived and worked alongside many of America's most successful and well-known illustrators.

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(Here's the same piece in colour as it appeared in magazines that year)

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To say the self-taught, former Chicago art studio errand boy had arrived would be something of an understatement.

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By the time he moved to Westport, Stahl could afford to build a studio behind his house that most illustrators today could only dream of.

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It included a shipping room, photographic dark room, library, a separate studio for his assistant, a screened-in sun deck...

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... and a built-in doghouse larger than Stahl's former workroom itself.

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For his profile in Ashley Halsey Jr.'s 1951 book, Illustrating for the Saturday Evening Post, Stahl remarked, "The carpenters who did the job told me that if the doghouse alone were built in New York City, I could have rented it for $100 a month at the time."

* My Ben Stahl Flickr set

5 comments

  1. Wonderful piece. Thanks Leif!

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  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  3. Funny how taste changes over the years.. I never cared much for Ben Stahl's illos until about the mid 1980s', after he had devoted his career to gallery painting. I began to really admire and appreciatie illustrators like Ben Stahl, Harold Von Schmidt, Robert Riggs and John Clymer, in a whole new light. Their approach was rarely fashion or style oriented, and they were not trying for the slick polished realism that many of the other illustrators at that time were doing. I read that if they used photos of models, they used them only for the folds in the clothing, lighting effects or for the hand positions, but almost always altered the face considerably, for just the right character and exaggerated the gesture of the pose. In fact Stahl was critical in one interview, where he actually discourages illustration students in looking for a slick technique and focusing on "the beautiful brush brushstroke". He was apparently out-spoken and had strong oppininions about art. I found his comments in several interviews (plus this week's posts) very interesting and intertaining.

    Another good week on TI, Leif.

    Tom Watson

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  4. Thanks for the illustration!

    Funny; I just recently read a novel about ancient pirates. The pocket book had NO illustrations.
    There was a very vivid description about a naval battle.
    Well, the illustration has been handed in a bit later: by TI and Ben Stahl...

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  5. Charlie Allen7:04 PM

    As Tom said, I never cared for Ben Stahl's work. Dramatic, always....but untrained, raw, poorly designed, crude drawing at times. Other illustrators (totally different from each other) were dramatic but had no poorly designed illustrations. To name a few.....Fawcett, Ludekins, Sickle, William A. Smith....and others. My two bits worth!

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