Saturday, December 17, 2005


Leslie Darrell Ragan (1897-1972) painted heavy industrial equipment the way it might exist on Mt. Olympus. He enshrouded trucks and locomotives with swirling steam and glowing celestial clouds. He painted machinery and buildings at heroic angles and imbued them with an almost divine aura. Speeding trains became works of art under Ragan's inspired vision.

The following close-up from an original painting by Ragan demonstrates how he injected the full color spectrum into clouds that most other artists might simply depict as white with blue or gray shading.

Ragan was born in the small town of Woodbine Iowa where there was not much for a young boy to look at except sky and clouds. He went to the Cumming School of Art in Des Moines and then to the Art Institute in Chicago. After serving in the military, he became a successful illustrator in California. His strong style soon became unmistakeable. Clients were eager to see their mundane equipment or buildings transformed by Ragan's luminous vision. He specialized in travel posters and in calendars.

Whether he was painting heavy mechanical structures or light airy vapor, Ragan found a way to infuse his subjects with light and enchantment.

Tastes changed (along with modes of travel) and Ragan fell out of favor. Ragan may not qualify as one of the giants of illustration, but he was an artist with a strong, distinctive vision which transformed his subjects. The illustrator Fritz Eichenberg once mused, "what makes an artist create in his own particular style is an indefinable gift, almost a state of grace. Describe it and you are bound to miss its essence." I would not attempt to analyze why Ragan saw things the way he did, but the results are certainly worthy of our attention.


Blogger leif said...

Thanks for introducing me to another fantastic artist, David. I feel like I've seen his work time and again, but it was no doubt that of others who were influenced by Ragan's approach... like Cassandre's distinctive style to mechanical colossi, not the same, but in the same spirit. Wonderful!

12/26/2005 10:45 AM  
Blogger John said...

From the Chicago poster: the ruins in the front seem reminscient of the Roman forum. I wonder Ragan was making a comparison between the glories of Rome with the glories of Chicago.

1/11/2007 5:34 PM  
Anonymous stephen heigh said...

Timeless treasures is what you share with us. I'm seeing some of the finest examples of great illustration art on your blog. These works make you feel a time period and appreciate our past. The perspectives, color palette are powerful and graphically bold.
Great work!

6/09/2008 10:57 PM  
Blogger joelbrandt said...

Thanks for providing the background on the artist. I recently purchased the New York Central poster in Jasper, Alberta and it now proudly hangs in my den in Massachusetts!

8/10/2008 10:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

does anybody know what the snow painting is worth at the size of 20x22

5/14/2010 9:05 PM  
Blogger Ryan Mutter said...

Inspiring work to say the least

7/09/2010 9:02 AM  
Anonymous GD said...

In looking for New York Central posters by my grandfather, Frank Hazell, I found your site. I was hoping the Chicago poster might be a Hazell. It looks so much like his work for NY Central of the same time period. I can only guess Ragan & Hazell knew of one another. Needless to say, I love the Chicago poster and thank you for posting it! GD

2/22/2011 4:42 PM  
Blogger Scott said...

I have a poster by Frank Hazell entitled "west point united dtates military academy in the highlands of the hudson New York Central Lines". Love any infor on this!
Thanks scott

4/14/2011 5:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Leslie Darrell Ragan supposedly illustrated the WWII U.S. poster "UNITED- the United Nations Fight For Freedom" distributed in 1943. Can anyone confirm it? North Texas Univ. credits that poster to Ragan and you can see it at the UNT Digital Library site. About the comment above on the "Roman ruins" seen in Ragan's travel poster of Chicago, those columns were built in 1917 in Grant Park. They were replaced in 2000 by what is today called "Founders Group" at Wrigley Square, a monument to those who funded Millennium Park.

4/20/2015 5:09 PM  

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