Wednesday, May 27, 2009

John Fulton Remembered

Not long after I spent a week on the artists of Blue Book magazine, the following email arrived:

Hi Leif,

I ran across your Blog on the Pulp Blue Book Illustrators and saw the article about "Gramps" (my grandpa) John Russell Fulton. It truly made me happy and I have to show it to my dad. Gramps did a lot of oil paintings, too, but I personally enjoy the thick scratchy lines of his illustrations.


Imagine my delight! Carol and I began corresponding about her Gramps. Here's her next note:

Hi Leif,

I'll see what kind of information I can gather from my dad or from the Fulton archives for you. (Gramps died when I was about 14, and although I could relate to you some facts about his career, they are a little vague.)

Next time Carol wrote, she confirmed some of the things I had surmised in my initial post about Fulton and the other 'old school' Blue Book artists:

...surrounding the "ousting" of this group of pulp illustrators from Bluebook... it jibes with what my dad can recollect/what I can find in the files we have. Because, -- in the brief phone convo. with my dad the other day (btw-- when I told him about you, he was happy that someone took note of his "Pop") he rambled in his grumpy old man voice about the "big jerk" at Bluebook (LOL) who was apparently behind the oustings/replacements, and mentioned another "real good guy" at the top who was friends with Pop, but unfortunately got ousted along with the illustrators.

This was really interesting to hear. The next time Carol visited with her dad, she sent even more detailed information about the situation her Gramps had had to deal with at Blue Book, which had been one of his important accounts at that time:

I just got back from a (not long enough) trip to my parents' house. My dad's memory is in a pretty bad state, and I needed to go through many papers and letters, etc.. myself and read and sift to get Fulton information. Luckily, my dad began a memoir-type thing about Gramps, and I was able to, with old bios, collect interesting facts. I have also been writing down things myself. When I put it together, along with my impressions of Gramps, I will send it to you.

A few things stuck out in my mind to tell you when I was searching:

-How important it is for an artist to document all their own work so their kids/grandkids have a record of what they did, and when they did it-- no matter how seemingly mundane the artist thinks the work is. (A lot of Gramps' illustrations have no date or record of for what magazine they were for-- yikes!--- and we grandkids (4 of us) have no idea in what magazine they appeared. There are names of products he designed for with no pictures and pictures of products; with no dates or where they appeared. I don't think Gramps thought of these as art, merely work.

-How right you are when you mentioned the importance of adapting your illustrations to the changing times and moving forward. Not sticking in one style, but progressing. And not merely *knowing* you have to, but doing it, no matter if it seems uncomfortable in the beginning. Although my dad said Gramps did his best work after the magazine illustration years (when he really found out what his capacity was as an artist), he always yearned for those good old illustration days in N.Y. and always wanted to move back.

-One of the Blue Book covers (the "Men of America" series, I think), had Mark Twain on the cover. (Mark Twain's cousin Cyril Clemens, wrote Blue Book a postcard to the editor (Kennicot?) to congratulate Gramps on his accurate rendition of the scene.) My dad said that the original cover oil-illustration was lost. I just found it being auctioned on Huh.

-I also found this interesting letter written by my Grandma to someone about Gramps' friendship to Kennicot, and Kennicot's "sudden retirement" and the "killing of Kennicot's Blue Book", and she'd have to go into the "long story" later-- but the rest of the letter was missing!

Needless to say, although I gleaned much info., I also realized that, unfortunately, my dad only organized things part way, and there are lots of loose ends that need to be sorted, documented and dated.

Anyway, I will get back to you when I straighten out what I have.

Take care, Carol

Since that time, Carol has done an amazing job of researching her Gramps' career... and just today, by coincidence, she sent a wonderful assortment of scans that she and her brother prepared from the family's files. With all this material on John Russell Fulton ready to go, you can expect to see a week on the artist, guest-authored by his granddaughter, Carol, some time very soon!

* My John Russell Fulton Flickr set.

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