Friday, December 17, 2010

Sundblom's Sarasota Circle

This may not look anything like a Sundblom Santa, but you could say that Haddon Sundblom had a hand in its creation.


It was painted by Thornton Utz, and Utz was another of Haddon Sundblom's many apprentices during the early days of his career.


Utz was a long way and many years from Sunny's Chicago studio when he painted this piece for the December 1958 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine.


He was living in Sarasota, Florida where he had moved his family, alongside his close friend, Al Buell, who was yet another Sundblom Circle alumnus. Below, an Al Buell illustration for Cosmo.


Sunny was said to be not much of a teacher from an academic perspective. Rather than explain the problems he saw in his protegés' efforts he more typically repainted them himself. So apprentices like Utz and Buell learned mostly by intently watching the master's every brush stroke.

When Sundblom was asked what he thought of how his Circle had migrated to New York and all across America, he said, "How does one estimate the influence of a studio whose known alumni include a goodly number of top illustrators, gallery painters and art directors, a few ad executives, copy writers, a plumbing contractor, a politician, a millinery tycoon, a policeman, a top lightweight boxer, a world champion pistol shot, two ministers of the gospel, plus three hundred or more hopefuls of whose fate we know nothing?"

Presented with a partial list of names that included Utz and Buell - and all of yesterday's artists - Sundblom said (I assume somewhat facetiously), "I could add many more names to your list, but I hesitate because, while I'm sure that most of the alumni remember us kindly, there are no doubt some who, after years of progressive mental and spiritual enlightenment, might on the basis of guilt by association, want to invoke the Fifth Amendment."


Among those not mentioned is Ben Stahl, another member of "The Sarasota Sundblom Circle" (A phrase I'm christening today). Stahl had arrived, portfolio in hand, at Stevens, Sundblom and Stult in 1932, a Depression year. He was put immediately on the payroll. Despite the times, the studio was said to be bustling and "thronged with talent" and, like so many before and after him, Stahl learned his trade at Sundblom's easel.


And just to demonstrate once again how many talents were developed in Sunny's studio, while Stahl was there painting, "Stan Ekman..."


"... and Ward Brackett were there, developing rapidly..."


"... and young Coby Whitmore was there, running errands."


On Monday: even MORE Sundblom Circle apprentices.

* Many thanks to Steve Scott for the Al Buell scan in today's post.


  1. Just wanted to thank you for this lovely blog. The diversity of styles and excellent compositions show how wonderful illustration was and could be. It truly informative and inspirational.

    The pretty women and occasional pin up don't hurt either.

    Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

  2. In regard to Sundblom's reaction and comment about so many of his alumni becoming well known as illustrators.. he not only has a wry sense of humor, he puts it into proper perspective, and doesn't pat himself on the back, as he rightfully could have. I admire that from an illustrator and studio partner that was one of illustration's true giants and a great influence.

    And Joel, I enthusiastically concur with your remark, "The pretty women and occasional pin up don't hurt either.", as well as your your other comments.

    Tom Watson

  3. Thank you, guys; I really appreciate hearing that you've been enjoying this series - and Tom, thank you again for all the terrific early Sundblom scans - they were invaluable for that part of Sundblom's story.

    Monday, a gift of pin-ups galore! ;^)

  4. Love that Ekman 'Rear Window 'inspired illustration.

  5. Your blog is just fantastic. Thank you so much for compiling all of this wonderful work!

  6. This whole series of posts on Sundblom and his circle have really been great. So many blanks filled in. So much great artwork.

    Thank you, thank you.


  7. Thanks again, for your kind words and encouragement, Ira and Kev :^)

  8. To Get The No #1 Painter In Florida Click On The Link

  9. I like the article. when I'm sad I always go and read your blog. there is always something to enjoy in it