Monday, March 31, 2014

Alex Sharpe Ross: from Sign Painter to Celebrity Cover Artist

Alexander Sharpe Ross was born October 28,1908 in the town of Dunfermline, Scotland. The family moved to the United States while Ross was still a child. They settled in Pittsburgh.


After completing high school, Ross took two years of night classes, studying Industrial Design at Carnegie Tech. He began working as a lettering man at Rayart Studios in Pittsburgh, a job that lasted three years. Perhaps his exposure to the commercial art business at Rayart opened his eyes to other possibilities, for he lost interest in becoming an industrial designer and focused instead on illustration. His first art assignment was a litho-crayon cover for the in-house publication of a Pennsylvania telephone company. In 1930 he entered a national peace poster contest on the theme; "There Shall be No More War." He won first prize. His next staff position was at Pitt Studios, where he was given choice advertising assignments to illustrate.


In January 1940 Alex Ross decided he was ready for the big time and moved to New York. He had tested the waters with a visit the previous summer when he'd made the rounds of various studios and secured some freelance work. Ross really did make the big time; he joined the prestigious Charles E. Cooper studio and began illustrating for a wide variety of national advertising accounts.

(Cooper Studio ad from the 1942 NYAD Annual)

Still not satisfied, the ambitious Ross spent his evenings working on samples of magazine story illustration. As was always the policy at Cooper's, any fees the artist earned from story art were his to keep - no studio split.


Ross took his time, spending six months to complete six samples. He showed these to the art director at Good Housekeeping and was rewarded with the first of many assignment for the magazine.


August 1942 marked an important next step up in Alex Ross' career: his first cover assignment for Good Housekeeping... and his departure from Cooper's. Ross was ready to go it alone.

(Good Housekeeping, August 1942 - Ross' young daughter Arlene was the model for this first cover)

Over the next twelve years he painted nearly every cover of Good Housekeeping - 130 in all - which must surely be a record unparalleled in the history of the business. To give you some idea of this remarkable accomplishment, here's just a small selection of his run on Good Housekeeping, comprising most of the covers from 1943 to early '46...


Less than a year after he'd begun working for Good Housekeeping Ross landed his first assignment for the Saturday Evening Post.


He soon became a prolific regular in the pages of all the leading magazines, painting hundreds of story art and advertising illustrations. In the commercial art industry of the day, you knew you'd arrived when you were hired not just for your illustration skills, but also as a celebrity endorser...


From sign painter to celebrity cover artist; it might have been enough for another artist... but not for Alex Ross. Tomorrow we'll find out why.

Continued tomorrow


  1. Nice job at assembling so many covers. But don't forget that Jessie Willcox Smith did a bazillion covers for GH too.

    1. I did forget that, Roger. Do you know if JWS matched or exceeded Ross' 130?

  2. I enjoyed this article and often feel that painted covers were so much more interesting than the photos we see today. Found you on Google+!

  3. Interesting stroll down a beautiful memory lane, love you granddad.
    Andrew Gearing Ross-if interested in his paintings/artwork email

  4. Interesting stroll down a beautiful memory lane, love you granddad.
    Andrew Gearing Ross-if interested in his paintings/artwork email

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