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Celebrating Illustration, Design, Cartoon and Comic Art of the Mid-20th Century

The Sundblom School of Illustration: "... its best returns came from the mutual sharing of our various abilities."

Friday, December 24, 2010

In his Haddon Sundblom article on the Illustration House website Roger T. Reed writes, "Sundblom gets pigeonholed as the painter of Coca-Cola Santa Clauses..."

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"... but this trivializes his central place in 20th century advertising art. More than any artist including Norman Rockwell, Sundblom defined the American Dream in pictures, proved by his work for virtually the entire Fortune 500."

Often when I'm flipping through the pages of an old mid-century magazine, I'll come across an unsigned piece of advertising art like this example below, and I'll immediately think of Haddon Sundblom. Sunny probably didn't paint this particular illustration, but someone who apprenticed with him - or apprenticed with one of his apprentices - very likely did.

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You really can't overstate Sundblom's influence on the field during that era. Earlier in this series I ran a quote from Sunny where he described how hundreds of people had passed through his studio to take up positions in the graphic arts all across America. The day after that post, TI list member Ferol Smith (whose husband was the painter, William A. Smith) sent a note: "I worked in an ad agency in New York in the '40s called Geyer, Newell and Ganger and my boss was an art director who arrived in New York by way of Sundblom's studio in Chicago... Art Surin. He gave up illustration to tell other people how to do it!"

Sure enough, in the 1956 American Artist article on Haddon Sundblom, author Frederic Whitaker includes Arthur Surin among a list of "the art world luminaries who are the direct offspring of the Sundblom personality and who constitute, in part, the "Sundblom School of Illustration." Below, another example from that school - not by Sundblom - but how many (if any) strokes from his brush touched it up before it left his studio?

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Howard Terpning isn't on Whitaker's list of luminaries but he too was a Sundblom apprentice. Frequent TI contributor, Harold Henriksen, sent this scan the other day from a book called The Art of Howard Terpning. Terpning was in his early '20s when he was at Sundblom's studio and said he "made this painting for fun." The Sundblom influence is evident.

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Two other Sundblom Circle members not previously mentioned; Earl Blossom (father of '60s/'70s illustrator David Blossom)...

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... and Morgan Kane. The bio on Kane's website says "After the war, Morgan moved to Chicago where he worked with well-known illustrators, including Haddon Sundblom and Harry Anderson. During that time he painted many commercial pieces for companies such as Coca Cola..."

For all we know, this unsigned 1947 Coke ad below could have been painted by Kane while working for Sunny.

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As one commenter noted on the last post, Gil Elvgren (below) is probably the most direct (and most famous) descendant of the Sundblom style.

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Today's batch of vintage Coke ads were an early Christmas gift from Eric Bowman, who saved a stack of old National Geographics that had been collecting dust at an art studio where he worked 20 years ago. Eric very kindly scanned a whole bunch of the back covers of those Nat. Geo's and emailed them to me last week. Many thanks, Eric!

Here are some more ads by Sundblom apprentices, courtesy of Eric Bowman.

Jack Wittrup...

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... Nick Hufford...

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... and Harry Anderson.

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Finally, again, courtesy of Eric,a few more Coca-Cola Santas by Sundblom, from 1939...

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... 1947...

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... and 1963.

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When Haddon Sundblom was interviewed for American Artist, he spoke with great affection and modesty about his studio and the artists in his Circle. "All I can say is it was an unusual studio where its members without conscious effort or charitable impulse , but rather with a spontaneous spirit of good will, inspired each other and where we learned that its best returns came from the mutual sharing of our various abilities. The place teamed with a genuine art spirit. Steve [Sundblom's studio partner/co-owner, Howard Stevens] and I were simply the guys who fortunately had hired the hall."

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And with that thought, let's call it a day. If ever I could feel like Haddon Sundblom, its in the sense that I had the good fortune to "hire this hall" for the spirit of good will and mutual sharing. This month-long look at one of the greatest illustrators of the 20th century could not have been possible if so many people hadn't jumped in to assist.

* Thanks to Tom Watson for his many early Sundblom scans, to Aron Gagliardo for materials from the archives of the American Academy of Art (including the photo of Sunny directly above), to Heritage Auctions for Sundblom scans from their archives, to Aaron Baker of Playboy Enterprises for information related to Sundblom's "last Santa" (the December 1966 Playboy cover), to Eric Bowman and Harold Henriksen and to everyone who commented here and on Flickr and who retweeted these posts on Twitter and Facebook.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, everyone - see you again on January 3rd, 2011!

Haddon Sundblom and the Chicago Pin-Up Artists

Monday, December 20, 2010

In the book, The Great American Pin-Up, co-authors Charles Martignette and Louis Meisel credit Haddon Sundblom with being "recognized today as the inspiration behind the best pin-up and glamor artists from the 1930s through the 1960s." Certainly Sundblom's Circle of apprentices are responsible for some of the most gorgeous interpretations of the female form. Below, a couple of the most famous pin-up artists of that group: Gil Elvgren...

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... and Joyce Ballantyne.

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As you can see from this ad below, taken from the 1946 New York Art Directors Annual, Elvgren, Ballantyne and several other Sundblom Circle artists were represented by Stevens Gross Studios.

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This is where things get a bit confusing for me. The 1956 American Artist article on Haddon Sundblom describes Earl Gross as a "direct offspring of the Sundblom personality" - and Sundblom himself tells interviewer Frederic Whitaker that, "In 1925 Howard Stevens, Edwin Henry and I started our own outfit known as Stevens, Sundblom & Henry." So how and when did Stevens Gross come about? In another book, "The Elvgren Collection," author Marianne Ohl Phillips writes that Gil Elvgren joined Stevens Gross at age 22 and subsequently became a protegé of Haddon Sundblom, suggesting that Sunny was among the artists in Stevens Gross' stable. Very confusing...

Another Sundblom Circle artist, Chuck Showalter, joined Sundblom's studio in 1946 when it was known as "Sundblom and Anderson."  Within 8 months of his joining the studio changed to "Sundblom, Johnston and White."

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Showalter reported that Sunny left the studio in 1956 to partner with a former apprentice, Harry Ekman (below).

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Here are a few more lovely ladies by some of the seemingly countless Sundblom Circle alumni: Al Moore...

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... Euclid Shook...

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... Freeman Elliot...

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... Coby Whitmore, who by the mid-1940s had migrated to New York and became a star at the Charles E. Cooper studio.

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... Ward Brackett...

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... Al Buell...

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... get the picture?

Tomorrow: one more day of Sundblom and his Circle

Sundblom's Sarasota Circle

Friday, December 17, 2010

This may not look anything like a Sundblom Santa, but you could say that Haddon Sundblom had a hand in its creation.

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It was painted by Thornton Utz, and Utz was another of Haddon Sundblom's many apprentices during the early days of his career.

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Utz was a long way and many years from Sunny's Chicago studio when he painted this piece for the December 1958 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine.

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He was living in Sarasota, Florida where he had moved his family, alongside his close friend, Al Buell, who was yet another Sundblom Circle alumnus. Below, an Al Buell illustration for Cosmo.

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Sunny was said to be not much of a teacher from an academic perspective. Rather than explain the problems he saw in his protegés' efforts he more typically repainted them himself. So apprentices like Utz and Buell learned mostly by intently watching the master's every brush stroke.

When Sundblom was asked what he thought of how his Circle had migrated to New York and all across America, he said, "How does one estimate the influence of a studio whose known alumni include a goodly number of top illustrators, gallery painters and art directors, a few ad executives, copy writers, a plumbing contractor, a politician, a millinery tycoon, a policeman, a top lightweight boxer, a world champion pistol shot, two ministers of the gospel, plus three hundred or more hopefuls of whose fate we know nothing?"

Presented with a partial list of names that included Utz and Buell - and all of yesterday's artists - Sundblom said (I assume somewhat facetiously), "I could add many more names to your list, but I hesitate because, while I'm sure that most of the alumni remember us kindly, there are no doubt some who, after years of progressive mental and spiritual enlightenment, might on the basis of guilt by association, want to invoke the Fifth Amendment."

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Among those not mentioned is Ben Stahl, another member of "The Sarasota Sundblom Circle" (A phrase I'm christening today). Stahl had arrived, portfolio in hand, at Stevens, Sundblom and Stult in 1932, a Depression year. He was put immediately on the payroll. Despite the times, the studio was said to be bustling and "thronged with talent" and, like so many before and after him, Stahl learned his trade at Sundblom's easel.

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And just to demonstrate once again how many talents were developed in Sunny's studio, while Stahl was there painting, "Stan Ekman..."

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"... and Ward Brackett were there, developing rapidly..."

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"... and young Coby Whitmore was there, running errands."

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On Monday: even MORE Sundblom Circle apprentices.

* Many thanks to Steve Scott for the Al Buell scan in today's post.

The Sundblom Circle

Thursday, December 16, 2010

In the introduction to his June 1956 article on Haddon Sundblom in American Artist magazine, author Frederic Whitaker writes, "Through my art association activities I meet many commercial artists, and having asked about their beginnings I am amazed at the size of the majority who reply, "Oh, I began with Sunny in Chicago."

Below, Nick Hufford and a few of the many artists of what became known as "The Sundblom Circle."

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(Aron Gagliardo tells me the original of this piece is in the archives at the American Academy of Art and that its actually by Jack Wittrup)

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Tomorrow, more Sundblom Circle alumni.

Stevens, Sundblom, Henry: "The best outfit from New York to the Pacific Coast."

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

In 1925 Haddon Sundblom's apprenticeship ended when he left the Charles Everett Johnson Studio to form Stevens, Sundblom and Henry with new business partners Howard Stevens and Edwin Henry. Coca-Cola became on of the new studio's first clients - and, in tandem with his early work on that account, Haddon Sundblom became an "important illustrator."

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Speaking about the early days of the studio, Sundblom said, "Ed Henry was one of the first to leave for New York in the great exodus of the twenties. Steve and I continued to operate here in Chicago. The Depression hit us like a ton of bricks, but there never was a depression in the genius department. Naturally, I'm prejudiced, but a lot of people thought it was the best outfit from New York to the Pacific Coast."

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"From the very beginning our studio had a special fascination for screwballs (the high-IQ type, of course) from all over the country. We had some sane people too, however, but we found out in the stormy struggle to succeed it helped to be a little nuts."

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"We had in our gang authorities on every subject under the sun and, being extroverts, they were always ready and eager to prove it. Our studio was a 'Bughouse square' version of Benjamin Franklin's 'Junto.' We learned a little about the fine arts and quite a bit about all the other arts."

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"To expound on anything to that bunch of sharpies one had to know his subject or else. The 'technique of thinking' (low animal cunning) became synonymous with survival."

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* Many thanks to Tom Watson, who generously provided all of today's scans!

Haddon Sundblom and the 'First Stroke'

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Along with his night school art lessons and his early days as a commercial art studio apprentice, the young Haddon Sundblom had some other extremely important influences that informed his painting technique.

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Among others, Howard Pyle, John Singer Sargent, Robert Henri, Anders Zorn and Joaquin Sorolla were all practitioners of a kind of painting adapted from the Impressionists called "alla prima" or "first stroke," The technique involved "laying down the fewest strokes in the quickest time to sufficiently describe moving targets," as Roger T. Reed explains in a fascinating, informative article on Sundblom at the Illustration House website.

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Sundblom acknowedged Zorn as his principle influence but in his June '56 article in American Artist, author Frederic Whitaker writes, "There never could have been such a Sundblom had there never been a Howard Pyle, for the Pyle concept is easily seen in the Chicago artist's work."

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Whitaker further credits Sorolla for "[unlocking] for Sunny the secret of the sun-lit glow that pervades all his work."

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Other painter/illustrators who Sundblom acknowledged as being an influence on his style include J.C. Leyendecker, Pruett Carter and Walter Biggs.

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* I encourage you to read the Sundblom "all prima" article by Roger T. Reed at The Illustration House website - its really explains the topic succinctly and includes a terrific gallery of early Sundblom paintings.

* Many thanks to Tom Watson, who generously provided all of today's scans!
 

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