My Life as an Artist
During my youth, much of my time was spent drawing. I wanted to be a cartoonist such as Milt Caniff (Terry & the Pirates and Steve Canyon), Chester Gould (Dick Tracy), Al Capp (Li’L Abner), Bob Kane (Batman), Joe Shuster (Superman). I still have notes from my teachers at Booth Free School which my parents saved. All denounce my continual habit of doodling and drawing during class time when we were told to do homework. While my classmates were adding sums, reading history, or doing English lessons, I was creating superheroes or drawing war scenes, never attending to the required class work. In spite of numerous warnings, I never quit drawing.
In the 8th grade (1950) I won a regional art award, providing a year of formal art classes by noted watercolorist and print maker Waldemar Neufeld in a nearby New Milford. Neufeld, living in New York City, in 1946, for four summers, leased a studio in Roxbury, across the street from Alexander Calder. He then moved to New Milford.
In high school I was an apprentice in the studio of Denver Gillen (the artist who created Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer). Denver drew the animal, and a fellow copywriter wrote the story, both worked at Montgomery-Ward. Denver’s studio in New Milford was a gathering location for magazine illustrators to include John Clymer, Bob Kuhn, Ed Monroe, and others. These were the men whose art became the covers and inside illustrations for Saturday Evening Post, Reader’s Digest, Field and Stream, Outdoor Life, True, Colliers, Redbook, and other national magazines.
One of my mentors was Bob Kuhn (1909-2007), a close family friend, who lived in Roxbury. Bob is noted as the Dean of Animal Artists and is seen as synonymous with wildlife art. His wildlife paintings today (if even available) sell for up to $850,000. Bob worked as a commercial artist illustrating magazines from the late 1940s to the end of the 1960s. By then magazines were foregoing illustrations in favor of photography as quicker and cheaper. Commercial artists were leaving illustrating for other endeavors. Gillen started an art school in Mexico, Clymer became a western artist, Monroe joined the family print business in Alabama, and Kuhn became an easel painter of animals.
During the early 1950s I spent considerable time in Bob’s studio where he would patiently show me how to draw animals, usually horses and deer. Today my oldest daughter, Susan, has several Kuhn sketches where he showed me how to draw animals.
Bob convinced me there was no future in commercial art, saying go to college and get the degree, because the field was dying. Magazines were now using photographs instead of illustrations. I planned on attending Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY, one of the top art schools in the US (where Bob graduated) or the Rhode Island School of design. Instead, I went to Dartmouth College. Today, in my apartment I have four large, framed prints of Bob’s better-known paintings, all signed by him with short messages to me.
At Dartmouth, I continued with art as a staff cartoonist for the college humor magazine, the Jack-O-Lantern where several noted authors (Dr Seuss, Budd Schulberg, Buck Henry, and others) enjoyed their first published works. By the middle of my sophomore year, Dartmouth and I parted ways as I enlisted in the Marine Corps. Even in the Marines I continued with art, especially doing combat art during Operation Bluebat (1958) in Lebanon. Some of my illustrations were published in the Marine magazine, Leatherneck (John Clymer was also an illustrator for Leatherneck during WW II).
After the Marines, I returned to Dartmouth, selecting art as my major, where I worked as a commercial artist for the college and local businesses. One job I will never forget. The Dartmouth diploma is printed in Latin, the recipient’s name is hand lettered in Old English. Another artist and I were hired to do the lettering for my graduating class. We did every diploma except one, mine. That was done by another artist, unknown to me.
The focus of the art degree at Dartmouth was history but the Art Department created a studio program where I became the student of Paul Sample (1896-1974). He graduated from Dartmouth in 1921 with a degree in architecture. He was not an artist but known as a heavyweight collegiate boxing champion. He became an artist during a lengthy recovery from tuberculosis. He is most known as a regionalist specializing in rural New England paintings (I have one in my apartment, Boys Ski Outing, 1963).
From 1938 to 1962 Paul was the Dartmouth artist-in-resident. I studied under him, but what I remembered most is his grading system. During my first semester with him I received a “C”, which I disagreed with. He refused to budge saying that the “C” was an average grade and however good I was when I began with him was my average. All my other grades with him were “B”s. Graduating with a degree in Art, I was commissioned in the Army, leaving art behind.
In 1967, disagreeing with a magazine writer, I was invited to write a counter-article. Since then, I have penned over 2600 publications (magazine articles and books). Agent Orange from the Vietnam War destroyed my heart, the medicine makes my hands shake, so drawing and painting are no longer doable. But I can still type.