Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Sundblom Circle

In the introduction to his June 1956 article on Haddon Sundblom in American Artist magazine, author Frederic Whitaker writes, "Through my art association activities I meet many commercial artists, and having asked about their beginnings I am amazed at the size of the majority who reply, "Oh, I began with Sunny in Chicago."

Below, Nick Hufford and a few of the many artists of what became known as "The Sundblom Circle."


(Aron Gagliardo tells me the original of this piece is in the archives at the American Academy of Art and that its actually by Jack Wittrup)


Tomorrow, more Sundblom Circle alumni.


  1. Seeing Harry Anderson's work in this post reminded me of something I've long wondered - to what extent Sundblom was part of the circle of artists who helped Shiva develop his line of casein paints in the 1930's? As I recall, Anderson had allergies to the solvents used with oil paints, and used casein for many years.

  2. Michael; I asked Kent Steine; who knew Harry Anderson personally. he shared the following insight:

    Kent wrote:

    Your question regarding Harry, Sunny, and Shiva is an interesting one. I have a few thoughts.

    I'll address the Harry aspect first with known information. Harry did indeed become allergic to turpentine around 1939, if memory serves. It took quite a while to diagnose, with Harry almost dying in the process.

    Fast forward to the late 1980's when I met Harry. Harry was as non-interested in talking "shop" as any artist I have ever met. However, he had mentioned that he wasn't painting much because he couldn't find casein any longer.

    At this time, I was teaching airbrush illustration at the MATC Art School, and always received a generous amount of "comps" from various manufacturers. The rep from a small company called Shiva had given me some airbrush colors that were pre-mixed gouache. . . and a set of casein.

    So. . . I ordered a set of 12 for Harry, and sent them off to him. He started painting again. He really liked the new set of casein.

    The next time I was able to speak with him, he asked where I got them, and whether this was a new manufacturer. He had never heard of them.

    Regarding the Sunny-Shiva association, I have no idea, nor have ever heard of this. It sounds completely plausible however. Sunny taught, and had been working for many years (by the late 1930's), with his knowledge and abilities well known.

    The one element that throws me is that Sunny, like most everyone in the "circle" painted with oil. Harry was sort of the odd man out due to the allergy.

    A couple of other things that either complete the puzzle or add to it. It was after the allergy popped up that Harry began working with Sundblom, so not knowing about Shiva would seem unusual.

    I believe Sundblom was a real academician, and much like Grumbacher/Reilly, and The Frank Reilly Grays, Sunny was possibly involved with numerous testing and experimentation of new products.

    Heck, I did tests for Golden Acrylics, with an experimental line of "Historical" colors. I would imagine Sundblom was being approached by this industry.

    To further add to my theory of Sundblom's educational interests, was the story I related to you about Harry "substitute teaching" for Sundblom over the course of 2 weeks. Harry told me in no uncertain terms "it was the hardest thing he had ever done, although Sundblom did it effortlessly."

  3. Leif, thanks so much for talking to Kent Steine about this. Sometimes in the online sales material you see for Shiva caseins, Ramon Shiva's consultation of various artists during the 1930's gets mentioned. Perhaps Sundblom's name was inserted by my own poor memory. Since casein is useful for creating an underpainting to work over in oils, I thought Sundblom might have worked with it in that manner. That Harry Anderson had never heard of Shiva caseins is amazing to me. I wasn't aware of any older manufacturers of the stuff. It's possible to make casein paints in the studio, but it doesn't sound as if Anderson had any interest in doing that. Thanks again.

  4. Here we go ... this is what I was thinking of. From

    Ramon and Jim mixed and milled paint while some of Chicago's great painters and illustrators would stand around and critique: Haddon Sunblom, Sessions, Vaughn Milbourne. They had a real hall of fame involved. During the forties and fifties, Shiva became the leading Oil Paint manufacturer in the United States, and they also lead the world in bringing back Casein.