Tuesday, October 02, 2007

"It was a time of great fun..."

"In 1946," writes Harry Borgman, "I won a scholarship to the Art School of The Society of Arts and Crafts in Detroit. I only stayed a few months as I began working in the commercial art field as a graphic designer."

"After graduating from high school in 1946 I quit my job at Brophy Engraving Company. Herb Schiebold, an old artist school buddy and I decided to start a studio with an art rep named Dennie (his last name escapes me now). We had a small office in a downtown building and we were doing pretty well, designing and producing brochures and art, mainly for Chrysler. Then, out of the blue, the automotive workers went on strike for a long period of time and our business collapsed. We had to close down."

"I later ran into Jim Donahue, the former art director at Brophy's. He had just started a new venture, an art studio called Allied Artists. He hired me as a graphic designer... a lucky break for me. I was kept quite busy designing ads and brochures."

"One day, when I had some free time, I did a painting of a landscape and added a little old red Ford to the scene. Jim was quite excited about the painting and decided to show it to the art director at Ford Times magazine."

"It was an immediate hit and soon I was doing assignments for them, including..."

"... cartoons..."

"... spot illustrations..."


"... and many more "little red Ford paintings".

"While this painting style was quite natural for me to work in, I was obviously influenced by my favorite artists Fred Ludekens, Stan Galli and Stan Ekman. The Ford Times paintings were mostly done using washes of Windsor and Newton Designer's Colors, while Ludekens, Galli and Ekman worked in opaque paints, I believe."

"I also enjoyed the work of Al Parker, Al Dorne and David Stone Martin. I think everyone was stunned by Martin's work. In the fine arts I liked Paul Gauguin, Paul Klee, Ben Shahn, Richard Deibenkorn and Kenzo Okada. I spent a lot of time in the Detroit Art Museum and read art magazines and books."

"It was a time of great fun and a wonderful learning experience."

"Allied Artists was a great place to work. Jim Donahue was a terrific salesman and was quite creative as he managed to dig up some very interesting projects. Kaiser Fraser had just begun manufacturing automobiles and we did a lot of work for them."

"I designed ads, brochures, and did illustrations for them as well."

"It was a wonderful time and I had the opportunity to work with Cliff Roberts and Don Silverstein - two very outstanding artists. It also kept me on my toes. In 1950 Cliff and I got restless and decided to leave Allied Artists to try other ventures."

"I began working at Gray Garfield Lange, an old established art studio, as a graphic designer. I also did illustrations while I was there. After about a year GGL and I parted company and I joined Jose Cavillo studios where I again worked with my old friend Cliff Roberts."

"During this period new studios were starting up and many artists were moving around to other new shops. There were great opportunities as well as a lot of artwork to be done. New York never impressed me as the center of everything. In Detroit there was tons of work because of the automotive industry, and the prices were better. I guess if you wanted fame you went to NY, if you wanted money you stayed in Detroit."

"It was undoubtably the best place for an artist to be located at that time."

*Harry Borgman is still very active in the arts at age 79. He has a website where you can see many examples of his recent work.

*Today's images can be found in my Harry Borgman Flickr set.


  1. What wonderful illustrations -- just loaded with personality!

  2. Wow...I remember a lot of this work. My parents had books in their library from their childhood and I grew up on a lot of this stuff. It's still gorgeous in its simplicity and color.


  3. "One day, when I had some free time, I did a painting of a landscape and added a little old red Ford to the scene. Jim was quite excited about the painting and decided to show it to the art director at Ford Times magazine.....It was an immediate hit and soon I was doing assignments for them, including..."

    Leif, I'm going to start adding little BMWs to ALL of my paintings.

    Man, I love Harry's work, especially those cute little travel paintings and his spot illustration work. Thanks for sharing.

  4. terry and shane; thanks for your comments - its great to hear that you're enjoying Harry's work as much as I am!

    Les; I think the key is to have a salesman as committed too selling your paintings to BMW as Jim Donahue was at selling Harry's paintings to Ford Times. (And if that sounds like a jab at today's roster of art reps, that's because it is).

    One thing that I sense from learning about those times is that the salesman part of the illustration business equation is missing these days. I guess they all moved on as the art studios faded away. The art reps who filled that gap have not managed to establish the kind of relationship those old school salesmen had with the clients.

    Will Davies told me that back in the day the salesmaen at TDF in Toronto used to cruise for art directors as they left their offices at the end of the day. They's intercept them in the lobbies of the big ad agencies on their way to the evening train and take them to nearby watering holes. After liberally plying them with drinks, the ADs would usually "put out" with a nice juicey art assignment for the studio's illustrators.

    Those days are gone... except for on that new tv series, "Mad Men".

  5. Anonymous4:56 PM

    It's good to read those kind words about my grandfather, Jim Donahue. He had a rare combination of creative mind and sales acumen. His eye for strong talent is evidenced by his association with Harry.

    Thanks again. These beautiful postings are the highlight of my day!

  6. Anonymous11:06 AM

    Hi Tris, I worked with your grandfather for many years, he really helped me in the early part of my art career. He was a wonderful man and a great salesman, ( also an artist ). I found an old ink drawing that he had done for a book that he had given to me when I was a kid. It's signed: "to Harry Borgman and an art career".
    I you would like it, I will send it to you. You will find my e-mail address on my website.
    Harry Borgman

  7. Sir,
    Your website a delight to look at and read about! A request: My grandfather was Hubert L. Garfield, of the GGL company. Would you know where I might find any records of his work/pieces for any of the car companies at the time? I have many of my grandpa's paintings, but not his professional works. Thanks again,
    Tom Garfield

  8. I loved reading this entry! My great grandfather was Gray. We still have at my house an ad he did of my grandmother as a little girl. She's in the bathroom brushing her teeth for Pepsodent!

  9. Wow fantastic stuff! thanks so much!