Thousands of photographers, videographers and writers will descend on Washington University in St. Louis Oct. 9 to cover the presidential debate. But in mid-20th-century America, another sort of journalist was part of the media mix: the illustrator. Artists like Robert Weaver, Bernie Fuchs and Norman Rockwell were hired by publications like Esquire, Look and Time to chronicle key moments in elections and capture the essence of the candidates.
Library dedication Sept. 27
What: Douglas B. Dowd Modern Graphic History Library Dedication, an all-day event at multiple locations around campus When: 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 27 Where: West Campus, Brown Hall and Steinberg Auditorium What else: Dedication to include a tour of the special collection, panel discussions and lectures. To learn more, visit the Modern Graphic History Library website.
“Photography existed, of course,” said Douglas B. Dowd, faculty director of the Douglas B. Dowd Modern Graphic History Library (MGHL) and professor of art and American culture studies in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Art. “But illustrators could compress time and space into a single image and offer commentary and context.”
Great examples of political illustration are available for viewing through the Modern Graphic History Library, a special collection of Washington University Libraries. Here, Dowd and Skye Lacerte, MCHL curator, share some of their favorite examples:
Among the collection in the Modern Graphic History Library is this illustration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt by Robert Weaver. Revered as the leader of the “Expressionist School” of American illustration, Weaver used avant garde elements, photography and collage to create socially aware illustrations for Esquire, Fortune, New York Magazine, Look, Playboy and Sports Illustrated.
In the glory days of reportage drawing, top illustrators like Weaver were hired by news outlets to chronicle the big events of the day. Skye Lacerte, Modern Graphic History Library curator, ranks Weaver among the best. “There was a shift to photography in the 1950s and ’60s, but art directors also were being pressured to come up with new and interesting ways of presenting images,” Lacerte said. “Weaver often accomplished this by creating really compelling juxtapositions — two images that complete a narrative. A lot of time I will get his work and I won’t know which way is up until I see his signature.”
Bernie Fuchs graduated from Washington University in 1954 and moved to Westport, Conn., where he drew illustrations for Sports Illustrated, McCall’s, Redbook and Ladies’ Home Journal. Considered among the nation’s best communication design and illustration schools, the university also counts Jack Unruh and Al Parker among its alums.
John F. Kennedy was a favorite subject of mid-20th century illustrators, including both Fuchs and Weaver, who won acclaim for his landmark 1959 visual essay on Kennedy for Esquire. Above, Fuchs creates an impressionistic portrait of Kennedy by painting over a photograph.
Created by Russian-born illustrator Constantin Alajálov, these Saturday Evening Post covers from 1956 (left) and 1960 celebrate the electoral process. “The publishers of the Saturday Evening Post were main street Republicans, but the Post did not endorse candidates. In line with the magazine’s stress on Americana, elections were presented as civic religion,” Dowd said.
This illustration by beloved American Illustrator Norman Rockwell appeared in Look magazine in 1964, the year after Kennedy was assassinated. During his long career, Rockwell also created portraits of presidents Dwight Eisenhower, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.
The New Yorker is among the few publications that still features political illustration, but Dowd is starting to see a resurgence online. “Media outlets are always fighting the problem of boredom and similarity,” said Dowd, who admires the work of contemporary illustrators Steve Brodner and Barry Blitt. “In a world of gazillion photographs — including newly untrustworthy ones, courtesy of Adobe Photoshop –illustration is reasserting its value.”
Dowd drew this illustration of poll workers for his 2008 Election Day sketchbook, which was published by the St. Louis Beacon. “When I do on-site work, I try to transform what I am seeing into a visual idea that can be digested pretty quickly,” said Dowd, whose students will capture debate-related activities across campus. “When you’re drawing quickly, what you choose to leave out is as critical as what you put in. Often you have to decide between the two before you even start.”