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

Gary Taxali on James Hill: "the most underrated, and talented, illustrator in our country's history."

Friday, March 30, 2012


Here's the earliest piece I have by Canadian illustrator, James Hill. This was done for MacLean's magazine, May 1952. Hill would have been in his early 20's at this time, and already getting assignments on a regular basis from Canada's leading magazines, his work being seen by the public from coast to coast.

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Hill once told an interviewer,"Back in the early 1950s, many of us had dreams of becoming "star" magazine illustrators like Al Parker [or] Robert Fawcett."

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"We poured over the pages of Collier's, Redbook, the Journal and Companion, admiring the work of the established artists and envying the new names whose credits appeared."

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When you look at these early '50s pieces by Hill...

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... it's apparent that he was being influenced by many of those established American artists...

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... and was skilled enough to create successful work in the diverse range of styles and techniques he experimented with.

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Describing his 1950s period, Hill said, "When I first started out I had more styles and was trying everything. Trends don't last. To last, you have to be as individual as possible. You have to discover your own way. It happened to me about 1958 and finding it was terrific."

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By the start of the '60s James Hill's work (and professional reputation) had matured dramatically.

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He was doing steady work for U.S. clients - and receiving accolades from the likes of the New York Art Directors Club and the Society of Illustrators.

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Back home in Canada, Hill was dominating industry awards annuals. He had five pieces in the 1960 Toronto Art Director's Annual - three took the top prize in their categories.

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Seeing them en masse like this, what strikes me is how Hill continued to refuse to be pigeon holed. He may have "found his own way" - but clearly Hill's own way would not be a narrow path leading to a dead end.

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Gary Taxali, today a renowned illustrator in his own right, was one of James Hill's students when he taught at the Ontario College of Art & Design 25 years ago. "Jimmy once said something to me which haunts me to this day," Gary told me. "I showed him my work and he just looked at me and said, "What are you going to do when this goes out of style?" At the time, I dismissed his comment as him being bitter about the industry but later, I realized what a good question that was. I think about it all the time."

It was clearly something James Hill thought about all the time as well. Like many other illustrators, the '60s was a transformative period for Hill. As the '70s displaced that decade, Hill's 'own way' had transformed his style again. Perhaps a little ironically, on the cusp of such a thoroughly modern time, he found inspiration - and renewed success - in the art of a much earlier era.

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It must have been work like these pieces above and below that, as Gary Taxali described to me, prompted Bernie Fuchs (while visiting Hill's class before Gary's time) to declare, "this man is the greatest illustrator there is."

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Hill described his philosophy on commercial art like this: "I love to work on a job that is not over-conceptualized. Maybe I'm naive, but I believe that ad art, like magazine illustration, must work with the printed word. The graphic interpretation that's right comes about when the illustrator has a chance to take part in developing the concept."

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Gary Taxali talked about Hill's classes at OCAD and his painting:

"Jimmy Hill's 6 hour painting class was amazing. You had to be there by 9 AM with your 8x10 wood panel primed with a middle tone, ready to paint the model, if not, he'd kick you out. "You can't start a painting without a middle tone wash", he'd say."

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Gary continues, "The absolutely amazing thing about the man was watching him paint. Every stroke was made in the kingdom of Heaven. His brushwork was flawless and watching inspired me to 'draw' with a paintbrush. I wonder how many people today can paint, I mean REALLY paint, even close to that level. He was simply the most underrated, and talented, illustrator in our country's history."

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Taxali concludes, "I miss that crotchety, chain smoking, whiskey drinking old man! Never have I seen someone paint as well as him. I used to get to class early so I could set up behind his easel and copy how he made his palette. He was a legend."


* Many thanks to Gary Taxali and Age Hill for information related in this post!

McLauchlin, Canadian Cartoonist

Monday, March 26, 2012

Let's get back to the Montreal Eaton's fashion art team later.

Today, I want to share with you a couple of ads I found by a Canadian cartoonist who signed his work with just his last name: "McLauchlan"

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Both these ads were for a Toronto art supplier called E.E. Tigert. The first ad appeared in the 1960 Toronto Art Director's Annual, and the second one appeared in the '65 Graphica, an annual sponsored by the art directors clubs of Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver.

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Though this is only a tiny comparative sampling, McLauchlan's style seems to have changed over five years. While certainly very accomplished and appealing, it does seem just a bit dated for the mid-'60s, doesn't it?

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I have a few Canadian magazines from the early 1960s (they're a lot harder to come by than their American counterparts!) but I didn't manage to locate any other work - signed or unsigned - by McLauchlin. The closest in resemblance that I've ever found is this 1959 Bacardi ad, done for the U.S. market.

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Here is that same scrumbly line, the same thick-thin line weight combination...

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... but McLauchlin's work from 1960 looked much less like this than it did 5 years later, so it's probably not him.

Then there's this little multi-panel brochure for the Toronto Dominion Bank (a Canadian Bank). Again, not quite the same as McLauchlan's style, though it is similar - and no date on this, so its even harder to be sure. But its a Canadian ad piece so most like done by a Canadian cartoonist... possibly McLauchlan.

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Most likely we're seeing several talented mid-century advertising cartoonists all embracing a popular ink line technique or style of that era.

 As for McLauchlin, only time will tell if we ever learn anything more about him.

Eugenie Groh on her new style: "this was good for business and Eaton's of Montreal got the message."

Friday, March 23, 2012


Eugenie Groh was born in what is known today as the Czech Republic. She came from an artistic family - both her parents encouraged her from childhood to express her creativity. She recalled her father buying her her first paint sets in oil and watercolours. Her mother's fashion magazines fascinated her and were her childhood inspiration.

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Groh remembered with great fondness Sunday coffee house visits with her mother and sister.

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They gave her the opportunity "to dive into glossy foreign magazines, Femina, Harper's Bazaar, Vogue, etc., which were hanging off a wall on rattan spines" where she caught her first glimpses of the work of fashion illustration masters like Carl (Eric) Erikson and René Bouché.

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Later, when her college studies in art were disrupted by the war, she was at least able to take away three important lessons about the nature of fashion illustration:

One: drawings need not be realistic; simplicity is very powerful.

Two: fashion colours have a philosophy of their own; they should not be too clean.

Three: fashion figure should never be static; quick sketches reveal the essence of fashion, which is momentum.

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In 1943, Groh was hired to work in the art department at Prague's largest publishing house, Melantrich, where she did illustrations for fashion and women's interest articles. After the war ended, she took on the editorship of Malé Mody, a then-new monthly fashion magazine - but it was discontinued by the ruling communist party in 1948. In '49 Groh and her husband left Prague for Canada. They settling in Montreal.

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Eugenie Groh began securing freelance fashion art assignments almost immediately from Ogilvy's department store and rival, T. Eaton's Co. Only six weeks after arriving in Montreal, she secured a staff position in Eaton's art department. Recalling those early days in Montreal she said she was "burdened by emotional and economic problems of a political refugee. For some time, only some of my energy could go into my work."

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Be that as it may, Groh expressed great excitement at the prospect of adapting to what was for her a dramatically different culture of fashion illustration in her new home. In Prague, fashions were made to measure - everyone had a dressmaker. In Canada, the focus was on ready-to-wear, and subsequently fashion illustration reflected that marketing sensibility.

Groh said, "All the time I was learning new ways and absorbing new information." She poured through American and Canadian magazines, which were dominated by the popular "Expressionist" sketch style of Eric, Bouché and other pre-war fashion illustration giants.

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Most large U.S. department store chains employed artists who worked in this style. At the time Groh landed her staff position at Eaton's in Montreal, Morgan's, Ogilvy's, Simpson's and other Canadian stores did so as well. Groh remembered how, when she arrived in 1949, ads from the New York Times and other publications were clipped and saved in the Eaton's art department and "used as textbooks."

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In 1953, Eugenie Groh became aware of a new style emerging in some U.S. fashion advertising. She said, "a very stylized advertising art started surfacing from a few prestige stores in Texas and California. I saw just a few bits of evidence of what was being done at Joseph Magnin in San Fransisco and Neiman-Marcus in Dallas. This new style was in line with my own tendency to change the technique currently being used and greatly encouraged me to do so."

Groh must surely be talking about the work of Betty Brader at Joseph Magnin in SF...

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... and Merle Basset who had worked with Brader before being head-hunted by N-M in Dallas.

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When I interviewed Merle for TI, he told me "It was a great time... each day was an adventure — I never knew what I'd be illustrating when I came to work. We were allowed to experiment and do things that had not been done before in newspaper advertising. Neiman-Marcus was getting a lot of attention and so were the artists involved. Up until then, retail store illustrators were really not well respected and never represented in the AD annuals."

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In Montreal, Eugenie Groh and Eaton's were discovering similar results. Initially, no one at Eaton's could quite understand what Groh was up to, but when the new style ads began attracting attention, Groh said "this was good for business and Eaton's of Montreal got the message."

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* Continued next week.

* Information about and quotes from Eugenie Groh in today's post are from Katherine Bosnitch's thesis, which is © 2000, Katherine Bosnitch.

Jack Parker, Eugenie Groh & Georgine Strathy: The Montreal Eaton's Store Powerhouse Fashion Art Team

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


Katherine Bosnitch must have very fond memories of March 2000. That's when her thesis was published by Concordia University in Montreal, Canada.

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The topic: Eaton's Prestige Fashion Advertising Published in the Montreal Gazette, 1952-1972.

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For those who don't know, The Eaton's department store chain was one of Canada's leading retailers for over a hundred years.

From the Eaton's Wikipedia page:

"The T. Eaton Co. Limited was once Canada's largest department store retailer. It was founded in 1869 in Toronto by Timothy Eaton, an Irish immigrant. Eaton's grew to become a retail and social institution in Canada, with stores across the country, buying offices across the globe, and a catalogue that was found in the homes of most Canadians. A changing economic and retail environment in the late 20th century, and mismanagement culminated in the chain's bankruptcy in 1999."

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Like so many other large chains, Eaton's failed to adapt to the age of the 'big box' retailers, but for the period in question, Eaton's was where everyone in Canada shopped - and the Montreal Eaton's store was world renowned as a destination for high fashion shoppers. In her thesis, Katherine Bosnitch sets the scene for us in fascinating detail, explaining how three artists came together to create thousands of beautiful, innovative ads for three high-end ladies fashion 'boutiques' on the 3rd floor of the Montreal Eaton's store. Those three artists were Jack Parker, Eugenie Groh...

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... and Georgine Strathy.

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Imagine a time when three artists were employed - for decades! - to create thousands of advertising graphics for just three specific shops within a single larger store in one city, for publication in only one local newspaper. It boggles the mind.

Yet this was exactly the situation for Parker, Groh and Strathy.

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And perhaps it is because of this circumstance that these three have not been recognized to a greater degree by the fashion art historians. In preparing her thesis, Bosnitch investigated many texts written by American, Australian, British, French and Japanese authors... but Canada's contribution to the world of fashion art is "absent."

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What a shame... because, as Bosnitch points out, Parker, Groh and Strathy were recognized by professional organizations - both Canadian and foreign - of the communication arts, which published their work in magazines and annuals, and recognized their accomplishments with industry awards.

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As Bosnitch writes in her abstract, "the prestige fashion ads which Eugenie Groh, Jack Parker, and Georgine Strathy created for the Gazette newspaper received international acclaim, both for their unusual design and their complex use of colour. Over a hundred awards and countless accolades , including mentions from Women's Wear Daily, The Art Directors Club of New York, Graphis, Communication Arts, and Idea are testimony to the extent of their impact."

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Tomorrow, with the help of Katherine Bosnitch's research, we'll learn a little about these artists and their groundbreaking work.

Serendipity on a Sunny Spring Saturday

Monday, March 19, 2012

By some sort of harmonic convergence, mid-century art studios, fashion illustration, female illustrators, Canadian illustrators - even the Famous Artists Course - all came together for me over the weekend. Listen...

On Friday I told you about a Canadian illustrator, Jerry Lazare who was one of the first Canadian students of the Famous Artists School back in the late 1940s. Serendipitously, that same day (Friday) I acquired the 12th Annual of the Toronto Art Directors Club featuring the best in Canadian art and design from 1959.

The first thing that caught my eye was this striking full page ad for a Toronto art studio of that era, Sherman Laws & Partners.

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The ad seems to be unsigned, but the style reminded me somewhat of a double page spread from Canadian Weekend magazine I had scanned a few years ago. This was done by an artist named Bruce Johnson in 1961.

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Johnson, to the best of my knowledge, worked in Toronto, so he would have been in the right place at the right time doing a similar style. Could it be his work on the Sherman Laws ad?

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Perhaps... but as I flipped through the Toronto AD Annual I kept seeing the work of a fashion illustrator named Eugenie Groh. Among the numerous pieces Groh has in this 1960 volume is the award winner for the "Fashion Illustration/Posters" category.

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I don't know if Groh was the artist responsible for the Sherman Laws ad, but after seeing so many impressive examples of her work being showcased in the annual, I was curious to see if I could find out more about her ... and whattaya know... I did. A lot more.

So you're beginning to see what I mean at the top of this post about all the various topics of interest coming together for me on this one. But how does the Famous Artists Course fit into this picture?

I'll share that (and more example's of Eugenie Groh's work)... tomorrow.
 

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