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

Haddon Sundblom and the Chicago Pin-Up Artists

Monday, December 20, 2010

In the book, The Great American Pin-Up, co-authors Charles Martignette and Louis Meisel credit Haddon Sundblom with being "recognized today as the inspiration behind the best pin-up and glamor artists from the 1930s through the 1960s." Certainly Sundblom's Circle of apprentices are responsible for some of the most gorgeous interpretations of the female form. Below, a couple of the most famous pin-up artists of that group: Gil Elvgren...

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... and Joyce Ballantyne.

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As you can see from this ad below, taken from the 1946 New York Art Directors Annual, Elvgren, Ballantyne and several other Sundblom Circle artists were represented by Stevens Gross Studios.

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This is where things get a bit confusing for me. The 1956 American Artist article on Haddon Sundblom describes Earl Gross as a "direct offspring of the Sundblom personality" - and Sundblom himself tells interviewer Frederic Whitaker that, "In 1925 Howard Stevens, Edwin Henry and I started our own outfit known as Stevens, Sundblom & Henry." So how and when did Stevens Gross come about? In another book, "The Elvgren Collection," author Marianne Ohl Phillips writes that Gil Elvgren joined Stevens Gross at age 22 and subsequently became a protegé of Haddon Sundblom, suggesting that Sunny was among the artists in Stevens Gross' stable. Very confusing...

Another Sundblom Circle artist, Chuck Showalter, joined Sundblom's studio in 1946 when it was known as "Sundblom and Anderson."  Within 8 months of his joining the studio changed to "Sundblom, Johnston and White."

Showalter01

Showalter reported that Sunny left the studio in 1956 to partner with a former apprentice, Harry Ekman (below).

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Here are a few more lovely ladies by some of the seemingly countless Sundblom Circle alumni: Al Moore...

Moore05

... Euclid Shook...

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... Freeman Elliot...

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... Coby Whitmore, who by the mid-1940s had migrated to New York and became a star at the Charles E. Cooper studio.

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... Ward Brackett...

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... Al Buell...

Buell05

... get the picture?

Tomorrow: one more day of Sundblom and his Circle

9 comments

  1. I read an auction blurb that said the Showalter piece is actually by Sundblom (Which I believe by the handling of the vanity -- very much like Sunny's Cashmere Bouquet ads)He just used the name of someone else to disassociate himself with the (mild) nudity.

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  2. Eric; That was the general belief for many years until chuck Showalter was located a few years ago and was able to verify that he did in fact do that piece he signed. The article's available online at http://issuu.com/illomag/docs/ill16

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  3. Simply jaw dropping. The first one - Corinne - seems so incredibly alive - so full of a unique personality. A stand in awe. I love this guy's work. Is there no mood or atmosphere he couldn't nail dead to rights?

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  4. Leif, anytime you post those beautifully rendered and incredibly sensuous young ladies, I'm hooked! I have found that some auction info is not always correct, not because they are making it up, but probably because they can't verify every story they are given about the art. For example, Heritage Auctions have Robert Foster listed as being born in 1896 or 97, and I know for a fact that is impossible.

    I think Sundblom and his student's illos would make another great coffee table art book.. and getting the true factual story about his career and studio history, would be of great interest to a lot of us. But, you are piecing together more of his background than I can find in any single location. There doesn't seem to be a lot info about him, compared to some top names.

    Tom Watson

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  5. Thanks Tom; He does seem to be somewhat overlooked - considering his stature - a testament to the relative anonymity that comes with advertising work compared to Rockwell, with all those Post covers, eh?

    I'm finding most of the info on Sundblom is in passing references in other artist's biographical info. Just today in the Showalter article from Illustration #16 I read that Howard Terpning and Morgan Kane both started with him as well. That anecdote from the AA article where Whitaker says countless artists told him, "Oh, I started with Sunny out in Chicago!" seems incredibly true.

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  6. Leif, your blog is internets greatest treasure!

    "that Howard Terpning… started with him as well"~

    http://taotothetruth.blogspot.com/2010/12/antonin-sterba-1875-1963.html

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  7. Elvgren is the artist that to me most embraced the whole Sundblom package. The subtlety, the brushwork, etc. More please! The Elvgren book that came out a few years back that included a lot of reference and process shots is a great addition to anyone's art library.

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  8. Thanks Leif, I stand corrected on Showalter -- I'll have to seek out more of Showalter's work if he was that good to fool me! Thanks again too for the extended Sundblom parade on this months TI -- happy Holidays!

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  9. When I was a kid, 11 years old I won a scholarship to The Art Institute of Chicago, but when I grew up I went to the American Academy of Art between my Undergraduate school and Graduate school. For three years and 1500 hours I took life drawing from Sal Sala, Vandenbrock and Al Mosby and Irv Shapiro for watercolor. One Day Sundblom came in and asked who did the life drawing watercolor of Big Jim and George and Frank said, That baseball player Bagnolo. Apparently it was Sundblom's habit to choose several kids who drew well and invite them over to apprentice. I was lucky and thankful to see him paint. Like the Italian artist A. Mancini, he would attack the canvas and slap at it with great speed and when done it was WOW! None Better, ever! I am proud to have been lucky enough to attend the Academy at the right time.

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