Change may be the only constant, but during the 40's and 50's the steady stream of Community silverware ads that came out of Jon Whitcomb's studio were not only constant, they were largely unchanging.
The Community ads are representative of a long-held criticism of Whitcomb's work: he was prolific... and formulaic, say his detractors. But his influence on a generation of artists who specialized in the "big head" or "clinch" style of romance illustration is undeniable.
Actually, Whitcomb did have his admirers... Barbara Bradley once wrote to me, "I believe his abilities and skills are underappreciated today. He could draw! He made people look the way he wanted them to. He designed their gorgeous clothes. No one, even if they wanted to, could make eyes sparkle, lips as moist, and hair shine quite as much as did Whitcomb. His technique in watercolor and his brushwork were amazing: fluid, controlled, and varied. His portrayal of women date more than those of many other illustrators, probably because of their almost exaggerated glamour. When he painted a housewife, she wore stiletto heels, her apron ties were starched, and the flowers in her hair were fresh. But, how he could paint!"
"Whitcomb was the first magazine illustrator I really noticed. He was actually number 1 in my Hit Parade in my early high school years." Barbara concludes, "I think that he was incapable of drawing a less than beautiful girl or handsome man. He was a masterful illustrator!"
And to drive home the point, TI list member Thomas B. Sawyer (a masterful illustrator in his own right) shares this revealing anecdote:
"I remember an incident [at the Society of Illustrators] -- I think from before I was actually a member. I was at the bar with Leonard Starr, and the club was having a show of Jon Whitcomb's work. A couple of older members were beside us, making smartass remarks about Whitcomb, putting him and his illustrations down. As they wandered off, Teddy, the club's wonderful bartender, confided, as he cleared away their glasses: "I hear a lotta members make fun of Mr. Whitcomb and his work, but y'know, in the last ten years, Mr. Whitcomb ain't made less than $100,000 (in those days, a lot of money), and I don't think there's another member of this club can say that."
Tom writes, "While I do not think that money is what it was all about, I sensed, as did others, that there was a certain amount of (judgmental and financial) envy."
* My Jon Whitcomb Flickr set.