Monday, March 17, 2014

Harvey Schmidt: "I used to wish that the next school I moved to would have someone to teach me art."

Harvey Schmidt's biography on Wikipedia provides many details about his long creative partnership with Tom Jones. The two met in the early '50s when they were both students at the University of Texas. Schmidt composed the music and Jones wrote the lyrics for "The Fantasticks," the longest running musical in history (off-Broadway from 1960 - 2002).


Fascinating as that is, our focus this week will be on another aspect of Harvey Schmidt's career, which is summed up in one sentence on Wikipedia:

"After serving in the Army, Schmidt moved to New York and worked as a graphic artist for NBC Television and later as an illustrator for Life, Harper's Bazaar, Sports Illustrated, and Fortune."

In fact, the story of Harvey Schmidt's adventures in the graphic arts deserves much further elaboration...

(Photo of Harvey Schmidt, 1959)

Harvey Schmidt was born in Dallas, Texas, the son of a Methodist minister. The elder Schmidt's calling took him to many small town churches, so the family moved with some regularity. Subsequently Harvey's earliest schooling was not in Dallas, but in the town of Addicks, Texas. "I used to wish that the next school I moved to would have someone to teach me art, or music, or drawing," said Schmidt. "Instead it was always vocational agriculture, which really might have been more valuable in the long run. At the time, however, being a 'Future Farmer of America' held little fascination."


Since every small town church came equipped with a piano, young Harvey Schmidt sat down one day and began to play. He'd never learned to read sheet music, saying simply, "anyone who grew up where there was a piano would learn to play by ear. I found I could improvise best in the empty white churches that were always next door. Certainly my parents never discouraged it, except on occasions when the piano got so loud and jazzy you could hear it for blocks down the street, as in my atonal period when I was fifteen and being terribly searching."


Schmidt continued, "Although I knew I wanted to be an artist, I felt there must be some secret information on 'How to Do Art' that I would never get to know, and I could see myself wandering aimlessly through life without ever being shown how. There never seemed to be anyone my own age who liked to draw or felt the urge to compose; so these became solitary diversions."


Things changed dramatically for Schmidt when, in 1948, he entered the University of Texas. he said, "After years of creative isolation, you can imagine my delight at arriving at the university and suddenly being surrounded by people my own age, all painting away, or acting, singing, dancing, composing as if it were the rule rather than the exception."


"It suddenly seemed to me that anything you wanted to do in the arts could be done."

Continued tomorrow

* Information and artwork for this week's series comes from late 1950s issues of Esquire magazine and American Artist magazine as well as other sources.

1 comment:

  1. It’s a treat to see the art of Harvey Schmidt showcased here. His outstanding illustration career is so often eclipsed by his musical successes. (For ages “The Fantasticks” raced with The Mousetrap to be the longest-running show ever.)
    I have always heard (from Rowland B. Wilson and Robert Benton, fellow students and lifelong friends of Harvey) that Harvey was a legend even in college. He was known for spending all of his time with the music and drama students rather than his art studies—only to produce a dazzling project at the last minute. At their 50th Class Reunion, old teachers and fellow students alike were still exclaiming about Harvey’s brilliant quasi-National-Geographic painting montage that he apparently created overnight! And I guess you could say the rest is History!
    Thanks for the great article.