Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Coby Whitmore in 1947

My OCD kicked in after yesterday's post so last night I found myself scouring the few magazines I have from 1947, looking for the P&G ad in which Ken Lay's "Betty" made her appearance.

I found plenty of Coby Whitmore illustrations - sometimes as many as four in a single issue of Ladies Home Journal - but no sign of "Betty".

What my search did reinforce was just how popular and prolific Whitmore was with both editors and advertisers during the late 1940's. Think about it: how many illustrators today or even back then could flip open a national magazine and see their signature on four illustrations throughout a given issue?!

Upon expanding my search to issues from '46 and '48 I did find this ad below for Ivory Snow (a Proctor & Gamble product) with a Whitmore signature attached. Could Ivory Snow have been the product for which Coby Whitmore painted "Betty"?

These pieces have joined plenty of other late 40's Whitmore illustrations in my Coby Whitmore Flickr set. Why not take a few minutes to go enjoy the work of this mid-20th century master?


  1. Tom Watson sent the following email to me and has given permission to post it here:


    I don't have any additional information on Coby Whitmore or "Betty", however I wanted to congratulate Ken Lay for having the good sense and good taste to save "Betty". Many art directors would toss it out or perhaps try and sell it... if they thought they could get anything for it... just because, in their mind, it represents out dated, "old fashioned", passé illustration that has little value to them personally.

    Illustrators like Coby Whitmore were a great inspiration to me... and still are. As a wide-eyed
    young art student of the 50's and early 60's, I learned my lessons of drawing and painting... as much by studying the reproductions of Coby Whitmore and a handful of other top illustrators, as by the instructors who introduced us to those ingredients that make a great illustration. In many areas of illustration today, those ingredients are being ignored and as a result, there is a blurry line
    between quality illustration with taste, and bad confusing ugly illustration... and in many
    publications today, quality illustration just doesn't exist.

    By the way, I'm really not one of those old timers that thinks nothing should change in illustration... or anything else. I just don't feel high standards should change to NO standards.

    My hats off to Ken Lay and yourself for the interesting and heart warming story of "Betty".


  2. the top picture is sooo beautiful. what i always loved about whitmore is how much information hed leave out of the picture ... how shapes and forms appear out the background and direct our eye to whats important. hes really fantastic, this guy.

    and i agree with tom all the way.

  3. Thanks for your comment, dany boom, and you're right - its that spare, graphic quality that Whitmore and other "New School" artists used that set a new trend in magazine illustration and made for such exciting imagery.

    What's especially interesting for me is that Whitmore came from Haddon Sundblom's studio - where he would have learned how to paint that fully realized, classical oil technique Sundblom was so famous for... so this is really a radical departure for Whitmore, the young turk, and it must have been a VERY exciting time in his career as he experimented with these new approaches to illustration! :-)

  4. Another amazing illustrator, I’m really impressed with that quality of illustrations, outstanding!!!

  5. Anonymous4:39 PM

    Saving a Coby! What a great story! I am a huge fan of Coby's and is probably my favorite of the 'boy/girl' artists of the time. Just as an aside on a similar subject, at the Norman Rockwell Museum, there is an Al Parker exhibit and they have a Whitmore or two along with a bunch of other artists of the period. Just FYI. Thanks Leif!

  6. Thanks to you both, Pablo and Scott, for your comments :-)

    There's more Whitmore to come so stay tuned!

  7. Anonymous12:01 PM

    wow, what a great illustrator, thanks for sharing this good pics Leif!!

  8. your very welcome, Sergio. Thanks for your comment :-)

  9. Anonymous8:19 AM

    Hello All. I'm Ken's wife, Mary, the lucky recipient of "Betty," who now lives in my kitchen (away from grease, direct sunlight, and heat, though). I was thrilled when Ken brought the illustration home last year, but I'm even more thrilled now that we know more about the artist.

    This blog, and Leif's flickr collection, have been great fun, and it's been gratifying to see Betty get so much attention and appreciation.

    Thank you all for your interest and your willingness to share information. I wouldn't be surprised if Betty ends up with a sister one of these days. (Ken, if you're reading this, HINT HINT...)

  10. Thanks for commenting, Mary - and congratulations on owning such a wonderful piece of art by such a respected and admired illustrator. I know that all of us who are huge fans of Coby Whitmore's work are glad that you and Ken have given Betty such a good home - and we're all a little envious too!

    Best wishes - Leif ;-)

  11. Anonymous1:38 AM


    I was doing some research for an assignment and stumbled upon this blog...

    In response to Tom Watson's email about the notion of decaying quality in the illustration of today, I would like to say that I wholly disagree.

    One of the principle differences between the illustration of the old days and of today is that there was a definite "style" that artists had to be able to emulate in order to be able to be successful. As illustration evolved through many factors and due to the contribution of some outstanding and forward-thinking illustrators, the criteria for what was "good" slowly evolved to the point where it was realized that not one style was better than all the others.

    "Quality" is EASY when there is a definite mark to hit. There are plenty of mediocre golden age illustrators, just as there are mediocre illustrators today. Coby Whitmore was a fantastic illustrator in his day but he would probably have a hard time getting lots of work by today's standards, which require a more unique personal vision.

    There are just as many quality illustrators today as there were in the 1950's (actually probably more since the competition is much more stiff) but it's not as easy to judge because the old-school criteria for judging them no longer exists.

    I see so many old men illustrators moping around places like the Society of Illustrators in NY complaining to anyone who will listen that "it used to be good!" and "Illustrators today can't draw!" ... which is total a total B.S. excuse thrown out there as a rationalization for why certain people are unable to work, disregard their lack of ability to evolve as artists or to find their own unique voice...

    Interestingly, however, I think we're seeing a major rejuvination of traditional skills in illustration that ALSO shows their unique artistic voice. What about guys like James Jean, Tomer Hanuka, Sam Weber, Sterling Hundley, Brad Holland, C.F. Payne, and many others I didn't mention? Everyone on that list is technically versed enough to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the greats of yesterday, and original enough in their own right to have made a stake on this industry.

    Anyway, no disrespect to Mr. Watson or Coby Whitmore who I have undying respect for. I tend to get annoyed when people complain about the evolution of our industry.