Albert Dorne had a wretched childhood. He was born in the slums of New York and grew up in poverty, suffering from tuberculosis, malnutrition and heart disease. Fatherless, he quit school after 7th grade to support his mother, two sisters and younger brother. He tried everything to feed his family, from selling newspapers on a street corner to prize fighting to working on a shipping dock.
One of the things I like about Dorne is that he had all the credentials for life as a thug, yet the siren song of art was stronger and pulled him through.
At age 10 Dorne began cutting school 3 or 4 days a week to sneak off to the Metropolitan Museum of Art where he taught himself to draw by copying almost every work of art in the place. The determined little boy soon became well known around the museum. Dorne lived in constant fear that his school would catch him, and he went to great lengths to cover his tracks. He later discovered that his teachers already knew what he was up to and had agreed not to turn him in. They admired his talent and ambition, and thought his chances were better at the museum than at school.
When he turned 17, Dorne decided to make his move into the art business:
Dorne went on to become one of the most popular illustrators in America, rich beyond his wildest dreams.
"I went to a man who ran a one-man art studio and offered to work for nothing as an office boy while I learned the business. The 'nothing' as a salary sounded fine to him. But I still had to take care of my mother-- and by this time I was also married so I had two families to support. I worked in the studio six days a week from nine to six-thirty. Then I'd get home, have supper and a nap, and go back to work all night seven nights a week from midnight to eight in the morning as a shipping clerk... I did this for a whole year. Finally... I was made a full fledged artist with a salary. I was able to give up my night job. After almost a year of this, I decided I could make more money and perhaps find better work as a free lance artist."
Dorne's traumatic childhood left him scarred. He drank heavily. Yet, the bee fertilizes the flower it robs. His experience endowed him with two great gifts. First, he developed a powerful survival instinct. Like a weed pushing its way up through the sidewalk, Dorne always hustled and found assignments when other illustrators lacked work. Second, growing up in a world of desperate, scruffy people Dorne developed a sharp eye for the human carnival. Note how Dorne's insightful line captures a riot of folds, lumps, wrinkles and patches in these marvelous drawings.
However damaged he may have been by his experiences in life, these drawings demonstrate that he never lost the unabashed joy of drawing. Look at the pleasure he took in drawing fanciful hands.