Next Wednesday, the ADC Gallery will play host to an exhibition the likes of which you’re not likely to see outside of a museum. That’s because the artwork on display will actually be from a museum — The Museum of American Illustration, to be exact.
Entitled A Purposeful Partnership: Art Directors & Illustrations, the exhibit marks a purposeful partnership of a different kind: a collaborative effort between ADC and The Society of Illustrators. On display will be dozens of sumptuously crafted full-sized original paintings and illustrations, stretching all the way back to 1904 — that’s sixteen years before even ADC’s creation! These works all come from the Society of Illustrator’s permanent collection, which has grown so vast that the one place they could showcase it for all to see was the ADC Gallery.
ADC sat down with Richard J. Berenson, former President of the Society of Illustrators and current Co-Chair of its permanent collection. Richard gives us brief history of the Society, as well as a brief glimpse of the upcoming exhibition.
The Society of Illustrators has been around for over a century. How did it come into existence?
The Society started out with a small number of illustrators who got together to compare notes, as well as to see what they could do about some of the problems they were having, specifically with publishers. They’d get together, meeting in various restaurants, and they would also invite a publisher to these meals. There they would all thrash out issues such as ownership, prices and fees, copyright rules…
Sounds like not much has changed!
(laughs) Not much! At any rate, they enjoyed these get-togethers, and at a certain point they decided that they should do more things to help the industry.
One of the things the early members of the Society did was create what would later be known as “illustrator shows”. These were variety shows with skits and songs written by the illustrators themselves. They’d design the backdrops and costumes and of course any of the posters and other design collateral. They’d find theaters where they could perform these shows, and the money raised would be used to help out down on their luck illustrators, a need eventually exacerbated by the Great Depression.
The illustrator shows were so popular that in 1923 the Shubert family of Broadway theater fame offered to buy the concept of these shows. They called it “Artists and Models”, and gave the Society a small royalty whenever they used it. This included the 1935 Paramount movie of the same name, starring Jack Benny. That money was used to purchase the current Society of Illustrators headquarters in 1939.
Our building started out in 1875 as a stable, which was eventually converted into a townhouse. It required lots of renovations when we took it over back then, and we are forever updating and renovating the place, but for us, it was a great place for artists to meet. We have always been about educating people, and this building made it possible to have drawing and painting classes over the decades. In fact we still have sketch sessions here every Tuesday and Thursday night.
Much more than an office space, your headquarters is also a museum.
Yes, we opened the Museum of American Illustration in 1981. It’s filled with original work that has been donated over the years, including a beautiful Norman Rockwell painting that hangs over our bar. We are also in the process of absorbing the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, which will only add to our collection of original artwork.
Alas, the Museum only has so much room, and so next week’s grand opening exhibition will be a fantastic way to show some of the many incredible pieces in our permanent collection that aren’t always on display. Seeing this many pieces in that permanent collection at once would be difficult in our space owing to the many annual exhibits we mount in our main galleries, and so we are glad to have them on display at the ADC Gallery!
“Alas, the Museum only has so much room, and so next week’s grand opening exhibition will be a fantastic way to show some of the many incredible pieces in our permanent collection that aren’t always on display.”
The name of the exhibit is A Purposeful Partnership: Art Directors & Illustrators. As someone well versed in the latter half of that duo, what does that partnership mean to you?
(laughs) Well, I’m not quite that latter half! I was never an illustrator myself, but rather an art director for Reader’s Digest. But working with the Society of Illustrators, and eventually becoming President, I am very sympathetic to the needs of both sides.
I feel that there isn’t enough mixing between both disciplines, especially in the age of the computer. This exhibit will hopefully tear down some of the barriers that have been placed over the years, by showcasing some brilliant, beautiful original work that could not have been done without collaboration. It takes two to tango, and this show will display some of the best dance partners for the past century.
“I feel that there isn’t enough mixing between both disciplines, especially in the age of the computer. This exhibit will hopefully tear down some of the barriers that have been placed over the years…”
The artwork that will be featured in the exhibit will include labels that detail the relationship between some of the art directors and illustrators. One of these is the late, great Ken Stuart, who I worked with at Reader’s Digest. Ken was art director of the Saturday Evening Post for eighteen years, and worked with Norman Rockwell on that publication’s many famous covers. We also have Richard Gangel, who was art director of Sports Illustrated for more than twenty years. Gangel inspired many illustrators, in part by never getting in their way.
A Purposeful Partnership will be filled with rich, lush original artwork, stretching back many decades. I know you and your Collections Manager Eric Fowler curated the entire show, but are there any works that particularly move you?
Oooh, there are quite a few! There’s a J. C. Leyendecker cover for the Easter 1934 edition of the Saturday Evening Post. It’s simply captivating to see in person. Leyendecker’s style was so unique. He did about 300 covers for the Post, and when Norman Rockwell — who was a huge admirer of Leyendecker’s work — was approaching that number himself, he decided to stop, not wanting to surpass his idol.
But that’s just one painting. Some of the artists that will be on display are a veritable hall of fame of illustrators: For example, Dean Cornwell (known as the dean of illustrators), Walter Baumhofer, Earl Mayan, Coby Whitmore, Gary Kelley — who did some amazing work for Barnes & Noble— and Richard Amsel, who created the title and poster artwork for the movies The Sting and Raiders of the Lost Ark. In total there will be 75 works.
And one great thing about this work is that on the whole it’s naturally big. It’s frustrating to see work nowadays that was crafted digitally, and when you display it, it’s a small print, not a beautiful big painting. For young art directors and illustrators, this show will be a treat to see work from an age where everything was created conventionally and often times at a very large size.
A Purposeful Partnership: Art Directors & Illustrators opens next Wednesday, November 5th, at the ADC Gallery, 106 W. 29th Street, New York.