Friday, April 07, 2006

Ben Stahl - Famous Artist

How famous was Ben Stahl? He was one of "America's 12 Most Famous Artists" according to this ad in the March '58 Coronet. Four years earlier Coronet had published an article ("advertorial"?) about the Famous Artists School.

They chose Ben Stahl's portrait painting demo as one of the illustrative elements for the article.

That's quite a compliment considering who some of the other 11 "most famous" artists were!

But one of the most curious examples of Stahl's fame I've come across is this ad from the Post:

As odd as this ad concept might seem today it clearly demonstrates the recognition and respect Stahl had with the public at this point in his career.

A TI list member who requested this week's look at Ben Stahl told me this interesting fact via email:

"I have a set of video tapes of an art program [Stahl] did back in the 70's. Something like 24 one half hour shows where he gives demonstrations
and finishes a large canvas from thumbnail to finished painting.

Well, in the video demonstrations, Stahl uses just about every kind of media, pencils, pastels, watercolor, and oil.
Here are a few descriptive notes from the video box for the last five programs in the series:

"Ben Stahl paints a dancer using his fascinating "glue dispenser bottle" technique."
"Mr. Stahl completes a still life with acrylics. He coninues to work on the 19th Century painting on large canvas."
"Mr. Stahl discusses and illustrates form and tonality.
"Ben Stahl completes a portrait using a live model in the studio."
"Ben Stahl reviews all the work from this series, then finishes, signs and frames the oil painting of the man and the woman."

It's been a while since I've watched all the episodes (I keep watching the first tape where he's demonstrating drawing heads and figures in charcoal),
but I think the glue dispenser bottle technique is an Elmer's glue bottle which he fills with some medium like acrylic or ink. Anyway, it's fascinating,
and he gets some distinctive, interesting effects with it.

The large oil is the running theme throughout the series. He starts out by doing several (large) thumbnails, then he chooses one and works that up
to a finished b&w illustration, then does a color comp. and then the final painting in oils.

There is quite a bit of lecture and demonstration on composition and creating forms / breaking up patterns, plus insights into art in general (illustration / abstract, etc.).
He takes a lot a chances with his work, especially on the large canvas. Just when you think the work in progress is getting lost in the abstract, he magically brings
it all back together with just a few brush strokes.

Unfortunately, I'm missing one volume in the six vol. set. I was fortunate enough to find the (incomplete) set listed on e-bay, after seeing reference to it in the Walt Reed Illustrator
In America volume which you mention."

I was intrigued about this video series and checked on ebay in case another copy might be available. No such luck, unfortunately. There was a FAS volume called "How I Make A Picture" by Ben Stahl, but with the bidding already at $66 its a little too rich for my blood.

You can find full size versions of all today's images in my Ben Stahl Flickr set.

Next week: Ren Wicks answers the question, "Flying Saucers: Myth or Menace?"


  1. Anonymous8:41 PM

    I was interested in these videos and found them (new) on line somewhere some time back. Checking my copy of the casettes, I find they bear the name "BRI Art-Video Series," P.O. Box 946, Sterling, VA 20167. The phone number listed is 1-800-237-8656. The packaging is copyright Bob Ross (yeah, the paint along with Mitch guy), so I assume it's his company that reissued them. It's been a couple of years since I received and viewed them, but as I recall, they do devote some time to the stolen paintings mentioned earlier this week.

  2. This was very fascinating, Leif. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Bob; many thanks for that info!

    Ward; my pleasure - I'm very glad you enjoyed it!


  4. I have a 1959 Lithograph of "THE NATIVITY" signed by Ben Stahl.I have searched endlessly and come close but nothing to tell me of the value or indepth of this BEAUTIFUL piece.

  5. I just came across a 1959 BEN HUR Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Random House hardcover book called the story of the making of BEN HUR. In the back is a 5 page fold out of various scenes from the movie by Stahl. They are beautiful. The book also has character drawings mid way through from Hollywood painter Joseph J. Smith.

    I just discovered your blog and appreciate the work you put into it and your willingness to share.

  6. Anonymous1:01 AM

    WOW studiosmith I was thrilled to see your comment in my e-mail. It's been awhile since I put out the word on my Nativity art and your the first to come close.I now have a camera phone and will attempt to produce a picture to show everyone the piece I rave about.If only I could findout the value and a possible buyer I'd be estatic!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!THANKS AGAIN

  7. Anonymous1:05 AM

    I'm not anonymous, I'm puzzledpj but can't remember my dam password to sign my comment to studiosmith so I had to sign anonymous!HOW RIDICULOUS IS THAT!! GOTTA HAVE A PASSWORD FOR EVERYTHING AND YA BETTER HOPE YOU CAN MAKE OUT THE SQIGGLY LETTERS BELOW OR THE ALARM WILL GO OFF(heehee)

  8. Anonymous7:00 PM

    hello i am trying to learn about my ansestors and i very much i ad this man are related