Thursday, December 17, 2009

Tom Shoemaker and the Merrill Company

* If you already ready this post, take a second look - there's an important addendum further down!

Long time readers may remember this dramatic piece from our week on "illustrating water" back in 2006.

Its hard to believe that the charming image below could be by the same artist - but yes, they are both by an illustrator named Thomas Shoemaker.

The scan above of the original art for a 1956 Merrill colouring book is courtesy of

Here are a couple of pieces from the early '50s by Shoemaker, from The American magazine. Coincidentally they are from the same issues in which Walter Baumhofer had work.

I often wonder how an illustrator of Shoemaker's obvious talents could have had so little credited work in the major magazines. He must have focused his efforts on advertising art - lucrative work that was often done anonymously.

Here's the only other piece I've ever found by Shoemaker; the cover of Elks magazine, from 1960.

I wish I could tell you more... unfortunately Thomas Shoemaker is one of those many talented mid-century artists who has left behind almost no trace of his career.

Addendum: Much to my surprise, I actually have quite a bit more info on Tom Shoemaker, and its thanks to our friend, Harry Borgman, who wrote to me shortly after this post appeared:

"I read your post on Tom Shoemaker, I knew him fairly well, he came to Detroit sometime in the 1950's and worked for Friedrich, Frisbie & Cox and also Art Group."

"He was a great illustrator and a fantastic person, a really great guy. He went back to Westport, not sure when, and had a terrible accident which killed him. He pulled his car up to his garage and accidently left it in gear. when he was opening the garage door his car ran into him."

"One of my best friends, Tom Clarke, an art director, was a good buddy of Tom's and saw a lot of him, I could see if he happens to have any of Tom's work, or knows more about him. Attached is a piece that I found, it's an illo done in 1960 for GM's Hyatt Bearing Division, agency: D. P. Brother, Art Director: Nick Hornbacher, who later became an award winning Detroit photographer."

And then yesterday, Harry sent a second note with even more revelations about Shoemaker:

"Hi Leif, Tonight I spoke with Tom Clarke who was a good friend of Tom Shoemaker, they took the train into NY every day from Westport. Shoemaker was working at one of the studios there but Clarke was not sure which one, this was in the early 70's. Shoemaker also used to work with either Leonard Starr or Stan Drake on their comic strips. Tom Clarke does not have any reproductions of Shoemaker's work. As an interesting side note, Shoemaker was dating Betty Davis at the time and Tom Clarke was dating a famous French actress, Corinne Calvet."

"Shoemaker was a popular guy, I'm sure that other readers of TI will be able to add more info for you." Harry

Many thanks to Harry Borgman for doing all this excellent detective work to fill in some of the blanks on Tom Shoemaker's career!

Addendum 2: To follow up on Harry Borgman's info on Tom Shoemaker I contacted Thomas Sawyer, who knew Stan Drake very well and is friends with Leonard Starr. Tom sent back the following info from Leonard:

"All I know about Tom Shoemaker I got from Stan but I never met him. He went to Spain as Stan's assistant during Stan's year and a half stay there which suggests that his career wasn't thriving. I saw some of the backgrounds he did and they were good, illustrative rather than cartoonish. His end was a horror story. Getting out of his car at a mall he neglected to put the car in PARK. Seeing it was starting to roll, he tried to jump back into the driver's seat, one arm outside of the car somehow causing the arm to be sheared off by a utility pole. By the time medical help arrived he'd lost too much blood to be saved. His daughter Kim used to come around the studio from time to time, Stan had used her as a model. Sweet girl. If she could be located she might be able to provide some more - L."

Many thanks to both Tom and Leonard. Its a shame to discover Tom Shoemaker had such an untimely and tragic death, but at least now we have a more thorough documentation about the artist than I could have ever imagined.

*Original art dealer Mitch Itkowitz has a new catalogue of original Merrill cover paintings available from his website, There are also about twenty images from the catalogue on the website.

* Many thanks to Jean Woodcock and to Mitch for the scan near the top of today's post.

* My Tom Shoemaker Flickr set.


  1. Hi Leif,
    I knew Tom, he used to work in Detroit at Fredricks, Frisbee and Cox and later at Art Group. I also saw him when visiting friends in Connecticut after he moved back East. I'll see if I can find some of his work and send it to you, I think I may have one piece. If I remember correctly, Tom had a tragic accident and died as a result, not sure of the year.

  2. They did some pretty amazing stuff with gouache in those days(Although I think Baumhofer used oils.).It's been a good week's selection of artists.Thanks.

  3. That Elks magazine cover; I'd call it a "still life of disorder" - is just great!

  4. Charlie Allen5:43 PM

    WOW....thanks, Leif. That guy was good....and I don't recall hearing of him or seeing his work....way back when. The TI blogs have been great lately, so thanks again....know you're busy with the new job.

  5. Charlie Allen4:29 PM

    WOW AGAIN....Thanks to Harry for the additions in history and the scan. Again, I'll say Shoemaker was a talented illustrator....I'm glad to see a bit of his work. Interesting on the dating connections. Betty Davis? Or the famous Bette Davis of Hollywood fame? Whatever. Beyond sad that his life ended early....and in that way. Fine blog and history, Leif.

  6. Good grief what a way to go.

    So talented too. I think that's the coolest part about illustration ephemera and history is the detective work and uncovering of all these bits of information.


  7. Kelly Shoemaker8:53 PM

    Hello Leif,
    What a surprise! I don't know how long this post has been here, but I am Tommy's eldest daughter, Kelly, and hope you get this. Interesting stories here...Dad was a wonderful, charismatic man whom everybody adored, and indeed, he was very talented. His death in 1978 (he was only 51) was devastating to all who knew him. He had pulled up behind a liquor store to simply toss empty packing boxes into the Ford station wagon, when it popped into reverse and starting moving backwards. When he jumped in to stop it, Dad's arm got caught between the door and a utility pole. His arm was not severed, but he passed out quickly, and could not be revived at the hospital. He probably would have lost his arm and frankly would not have liked to live that way. He always wanted to go out dramatically...

    He moved the family to Detroit in 1960 to work at Fredericks, Frisbee and Cox, but returned to NYC in 1962 or so, and then Westport. He eventually worked for Doyle, Dane, Bernbach in NYC. Although my folks divorced, he remained extremely close to us 4 kids. In fact, I joined him and his partner Stan Drake in Spain for a year in 1974. Dad lived in Mijas for over two years, where he had the time of his life, and I understood from Stan, he had plans to return. Stan, who worked right up until his death, has also passed away, as well as another of Dad's dearest friends of fame, Eric Von Schmidt, in recent years.

    His time with Bette Davis, who at a party, was charmed by his southern drawl, was short-lived. I wouldn't call it dating, but maybe I was naive. The friendship lasted a year until she got mad at him. Guess that was her style.

    My brother, 2 sisters and I each have some of his work, but much of it disappeared after his death. He was a warm, funny, dynamic man, our best friend, and yup, he loved to party. Had he lived, many lives—certainly my own—would be very different.

    Thank you Leif, for finding him, recognizing his talent, and sharing it. I'm still reeling from this posting, and wasn’t planning on a bio, but let me know if you would like to know more. Thank you. Yours is a wonderful endeavor, this.
    Kelly Shoemaker

    1. Hi Kelly, my name is David Solway, as a young adult, I lived on Riverside Ave., Westport, CT., Just down the street from Tom. My friends and I hung out at his home daily ! I think of Tom often, his kind thoughtfulness to a bunch of rebellious, troublesome teenagers remains to this day close to my heart! Which brings me to the reason I am writing you, after Tom died, I was given a painting by him
      as a gift and momento. It has followed through more than 40 years now. Perhaps it deserves to be returned to its rightful owner and the Shoemaker family? I can be reached by email Hope this reaches you.

    2. Kelly,
      I am Thornton Utz's daughter.Tommy lived with us as an apprentice, for a couple years. I have been scanning some old slides and there is a batch from a party we went to at your house with a nice picture of Tommy and some of the children. I would love to send you these images if you are interested. I just need your contact info. You can reach me through my website, or email
      Hoping to hear from you.

  8. Mary McDermott10:54 PM

    Hi, Kelly. I wrote a post here that seemed to disappear - if this is a repeat, I apologize. I see this is from '09, maybe you no longer check in here, but if you do - My dad knew and adored yours - John McDermott. I don't know if you remember me, but I so remember your family, and the times I spent with you, especially during The Cornfield. If you have any memories, I would love to hear them. My mother died recently, and with her went any connection and access to those years.
    Mary McDermott

  9. Edward Winebarger6:08 PM

    Hi Kelly, I'm fairly sure that I may be related to you. My maternal Grandmother had a nephew named Tommy Shoemaker that did some wonderful paintings for her ( Cynthia Shoemaker ) He was an illustrator and also did some cartoon illustrations for Playboy back in the day. Anyway, I found an old photo marked Tommy Shoemaker and then some of a baby sitting in a "Feeding Table" 1940-50s era marked (Tommy Shoemaker's child) IF you would like, please contact me at I would love it if he and you are who I think you are.

  10. Tommy was my father, illustrator Thornton Utz's apprentice for 2-3 years when I was a little girl in Westport. He lived with us, sang many folk songs with his guitar and was our favorite babysitter. After that he lived with Marshall Bouldin, who became one of America's great portrait artists. I remember my parents bringing me a piece of his wedding cake to put under my pillow so I would dream of the person I would marry! Wendy Utz Leonard