Wednesday, July 02, 2008

WALTER EVERETT (1880 - 1946)

Walter Everett's life seemed to revolve around his artwork.

As a gifted child, he was preoccupied with drawing and painting. He rode a bicycle 30 miles to take art lessons from Howard Pyle, the father of American illustration. By his early 20's Everett was already acclaimed for his work in some of the most prestigious illustration markets in the country. He did this beautifully composed drawing for Colliers at age 20:



Everett was an excellent artist but he focused so much on art that he often ignored his other responsibilities. He spent so much time mastering his craft, he frequently forgot to pay his rent or utility bills. He devoted countless hours to cutting and reshaping his beloved brushes, and even designed his own easel (which he imported from France) but he neglected his wife and son, who tired of his obssession and left him in 1917. In pursuit of artistic excellence, he even ignored the demands of his clients, refusing to compromise his high standards to meet their deadlines.


This masterpiece by Everett is from the Kelly collection of American Illustration. Everett worked on it so long that the client did not have time to print it in color, and had to settle for black and white.

His personal pride in his art was apparent from his bold signature in the drawing above:



and the sign he painstakingly hand lettered for his studio:



Yup, it seems that Everett was prepared to give up just about everything for art. It was his reason for living.

Then, at the peak of his career, in an act of howling madness, Everett "gathered the bulk of his life's work," burned it to ash and disappeared from illustration forever.

Nobody knows why.


39 Comments:

Anonymous Casey said...

Don't leave us hangin'! What happens next?!

7/03/2008 2:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe he finally found something better to do.

7/03/2008 3:34 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Casey, Everett was a real mystery in the annals of illustration. He had been highly sought after by all the top art directors who were willing to tolerate his eccentricities, but he abruptly stopped appearing in print. He lived a quiet life but just abandoned the career that had meant everything to him. I read an interview with his grandson who had no better insight than anyone else.

7/03/2008 4:19 PM  
Blogger Mark Stroud said...

Wow! what a jaw dropping ending.

7/03/2008 5:38 PM  
Blogger frank gressie said...

that's so strange...and a shame. i wonder if there are any secret sketchbooks around, cause as an artist, i think, you just can't stop all at once...

7/03/2008 5:55 PM  
Anonymous Kev Ferrara said...

Thanks David,

Walter Everett has been my favorite artist for years, and I've done a ton of research on him, or as much as can be found. Including looking through years and years of women's magazines at the New York Public Library with the hope of coming across a story illustrated by him.

Needless to say, researching Everett is a frustrating endeavor. My research has led me to believe this, however:

Everett was phenomenally busy, especially in the Saturday Evening Post, from 1900 until 1911, at which point he began teaching at the Pennsylvania Museum School of Industrial Art as a way to take a break. He resigned from the faculty in 1914, according to Henry Pitz, abruptly “in a claustrophobic moment” because of the “increasing numbers of students” joining his class, because art editors were even more anxious for his work than ever, and because the “obvious success” of his teaching prowess “annoyed” him. Pitz says Everett was “lazy” but Everett’s prior prolific decade demonstrates otherwise. I think he was just exhausted.

Everett’s masterful work, it seems to me, only began in the 1920s… a strange fact, considering by then he was already two decades into his career. I wonder if it was the influence of Rockwell or the Dean Cornwell school of art on him… his form is so much stronger in the 1920s than it had been. The color marketplace/parrot piece you posted is from the January 1925 issue of Good Housekeeping. And I’ve been hard pressed to find a “masterpiece” prior to that painting. (By the way, there is a second phenomenal illustration from that story, the Loneliness of Peter Parrot, also printed in black and white, that has not yet surfaced.)

The Step By Step (vol. 4 no. 1 January 1988) article on Everett by Ben and Jane Eisenstat shows at least 5 or 6 “masterpieces” by Everett, all from the period between 1925-1935 from the collection of his ancestors. The Eisenstadts have exhibited at the Pennsylvania School another Masterpiece of Everett’s that was the companion illustration to one of those appearing in the Step by Step article. Aside from the known “masterpieces” of Everett’s from 1925-1935 that we know exist, my research (and I could be wrong) shows that there are maybe only 5 or 6 others that have not surfaced, but were published as illustrations.

This has led me to believe that Everett burned, not his masterpieces, but his lesser works (of which there were many, especially compared to the 1925 illustration you posted). And that gives hope that the handful of classics that we know he painted, but cannot locate, may yet turn up.

Anyway,
kev

P.S. For those who are interested, I think Everett’s best stuff appeared here: Good Housekeeping Jan 1925, Ladies Home Journal April 1927, November 1934 and April 1935, McCalls March 1926, August 1926, July 1928, February 1929, July 1930, Country Gentleman May 1931, and Woman’s Home Companion May 1932. If anybody has any dates for his best work post 1924 that I’ve missed, I’d love to hear about it! Thanks!

7/03/2008 6:09 PM  
Blogger Li-An said...

Very intesesting post and comments. I hope it will be possible to see more of his work.

7/04/2008 3:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Given his astonishing forgetfulness, I'm surprised that he didn't forget to marry a woman and make a child. (This isn't meant to be cheaply sarcastic, I really feel surprised.)

" he abruptly stopped appearing in print. He lived a quiet life but just abandoned the career that had meant everything to him."

But he continued painting for himself.

(Ivan)

7/04/2008 8:29 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Kev, you are terrific! I've never heard of anyone who knew enough about Everett to consider him their favorite. If I'd only known, I would have consulted you before writing this post. I've read the Eisenstat article, which is where I got the quote about Everett burning the bulk of his life's work, but I suppose it is possible that he spared the best. I do think he did some excellent work in his earlier years. For example, I think that drawing from 1901 was really quite precocious and strong.

7/04/2008 9:36 PM  
Anonymous kev ferrara said...

David, no doubt the early Everett painting you showed is precocious. A painting of that quality for a 20 year old is astonishing. Elsewhere online there is a published illustration of Everett's from 1897, when he was 17.

Everett's "strict realism" phase, as exemplified by the piece you've posted, lasted through to Everett's time as a teacher, on into the early 1920s, even as he experimented with more loosely brushed, more design-oriented styles obviously influenced by Leyendecker, (who must've been quite the king of the hill prior to WWI). Some of Everett's early story assignments from the S.E.P. have one highly realistic chiaroscuro type piece accompanied by two highly cartoony, leyendecker-influenced decorations. The mix is disconcerting, mismatched... Yet at times, as with some of his biblical era illustration, glimpses of his true abilities would shine through. His pictures from around 1920 show he was truly struggling to integrate his various stylistic interests into one.

Thus it is very gratifying during the mid 1920s when Everett learns to combine his love of realism with his love of virtuosic brushwork and intense compositional design and patterned color and his need to give his figures sturdier form... and I think that must have had to do with, not only his maturity as an artist, but also the sudden vogue for Brangwyn, the prominence of Cornwell and Rockwell, the example of Sorolla... all this may have lit a fire under him to become the great master many already assumed he was. The influence of these artists also allowed him to see past the surface flash of Leyendecker's brushstrokes to the solidity underneath. Looking through his tearsheets, one can easily make a case that Everett really didn't become "one of the greats" until he was in his mid 40s.

By the way, Frederick Remington also burned a lot of his earlier "inferior" work.

7/05/2008 11:04 PM  
Blogger Lizzie said...

I think all this massively egotistical burning of "inferior" work is perhaps one of the greatest tragedies of all. It perpetuates this ridiculous notion that lay people think that artists are just born knowing what they know and don't have to work at it, and so summarily dismiss it as a trade and devalue it.

There is nothing wrong with showing how you grew as an artist with your hard work, perseverance and dedication. No artist ever, living or dead, just woke up one day and knew everything there is to know to paint a masterpiece -- and by burning all their previous "student" type pieces, they make this notion appealing to the masses who don't understand that Drawing and Painting are just as much a trade as Stonemasonry and Plumbing.

7/07/2008 9:47 AM  
Anonymous Kev Ferrara said...

Lizzie, I think the "masses" have a perfectly sensible take on the rarity and value of artistic talent. Making art is not just stonemasonry, thank you very much. Why not ask a stonemason about Michelangelo or Frazetta (for a less politically-managed perspective).

It is hardly "massively egotistical" to burn bad artwork. I've crumpled up a few pieces of my own work today. And man it felt good.

As far as mythologization goes, humans are forever mystifying that which they do not understand. Whether it is the stars above, the wind in the trees, feminine beauty, or artistic talent. As long as it leads to no crime, what is the harm? It seems to me that the world could stand to have a few more mythic heroes these days, and a few less sneering pedestal smashers. (This is just my opinion however.)

7/07/2008 1:17 PM  
Blogger Jack Ruttan said...

Did anyone in those days (and often these) not have a bold signature?

7/07/2008 6:18 PM  
Anonymous Beth said...

I just ran across a short story by Willa Cather called, "Two Friends" in the July 1932 issue of Woman's Home Companion. There are two great illustrations by Everett for this story.

7/08/2008 3:37 PM  
Anonymous kev ferrara said...

Thanks Beth!

I've always loved the composition of the first piece, but it definitely looks like Everett didn't get that one done in time. Lots of it looks unfinished. But its such a beautiful composition and the girl is painted great.

I read that Ms. Cather did not care for Everett's depiction of the two men in that picture and I don't think he ever illustrated one of her stories afterward. (Everett had illustrated her work for 30 years by then.)

The second piece is also a beautiful composition, but the faces seem unfinished. Especially compared to, say, the face of "peter parrot" on David's main post.

Take care,
kev

7/08/2008 8:41 PM  
Blogger Work of Art said...

Wow....Walter sounds like an artist friend of mine in France, always ready to trash her life works, luckily so far she has not. Everett appeared to have been very gifted, yet too detached from real life. A pity he didn't hang in there!

7/09/2008 12:16 AM  
Blogger C.B. Canga said...

i always love hearing stories like this about other illustrators. he had amazing skills. too bad most of it is lost. such a waist.

thanks for sharing

7/09/2008 2:22 AM  
Anonymous Beth said...

Hi Kev,

Thanks for your comments. I knew about the McCall's magazine, March 1926 illustration that Everett did for Cather's "My Mortal Enemy" but don't know of the other ones he illustrated for her. Do you happen to know? Thanks! and thanks for your blog. It's really interesting.
Beth

7/09/2008 12:10 PM  
Blogger illustrationISM said...

The 2 examples shown are the best i've seen portraying SHADOWS! Awesome ambience of 'non-light'! Thanx for introducing Walter Everett to me!

mark jaquette @
illustrationISM & BAMMgraphics

7/12/2008 1:25 AM  
Blogger y said...

love this site. really do. you do a great job. its always a pleasure.

7/15/2008 11:15 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Y, thanks so much for a very sweet comment. I really appreciate it.

7/17/2008 12:32 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Lizzie, I certainly share your interest in seeing the formative works of great artists, but I am not surprised that many artists don't want us to see their formative works. So much of art is sleight of hand, making difficult things look easy, concealing the path you took to make something. In some ways, artists are like vaudeville magicians who don't want to give away their tricks.

Kev, I have crumpled up a few bad drawings in my day as well, but I must say I never took the "bulk of my life's work" and set it ablaze. (I'll leave that to my heirs after I'm gone!) I am most grateful for all of the knowledge and wisdom you have contributed on the subject of Everett. I had no idea there was such a repository of information about him out there, and I have enjoyed learning more about him from you.

Jack, good point!

7/17/2008 8:46 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Beth, it's a great world when someone can write, "I just ran across a short story by Willa Cather called, "Two Friends" in the July 1932 issue of Woman's Home Companion." Ho hum, just another typical day reading the July 1932 issue of Woman's Home Companion. I love it!

Work of Art, sounds like somebody should take your friend's inventory into protective custody.

C.B., as you can probably tell, I get a kick out of these stories too. They are revealing in lots of ways.

7/17/2008 8:52 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Illustrationism, I agree with you, those shadows are very cool, but in two different ways. Look how much color he squeezes into those shadows in the painting of the market, compared to the flat black that consumes most of the drawing. He was quite something!

7/17/2008 8:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the blog, David, I am really enjoying it!
Beth

8/05/2008 12:20 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Beth, thanks for writing!

8/06/2008 5:53 PM  
Blogger Roland said...

that was a nice post

i luv the info
kabonfootprint

9/09/2008 7:38 AM  
Anonymous cooldude055 said...

This is really a good post. Thanks for sharing those photos.

3/12/2009 4:09 AM  
Anonymous goodpeoplegives said...

Thanks for this one.

4/13/2009 3:33 AM  
Anonymous cash4trends said...

Thanks for this one, pictures are really good.:)

4/13/2009 3:55 AM  
Anonymous billrainier said...

Thanks for sharing this great post, keep it up.

4/13/2009 4:24 AM  
Blogger CK Dexter Haven said...

I all! I am so excited to see so much buzz and discussion of Walter's work! Granted this all took place two years ago but hopefully some of you will read this. I am just about to embark on a trip to the East Coast to do an investigation of Walter's life and professional career. Walter was my paternal great grandfather and we're hoping to put together a permanent public collection of the work we've inherited (probably 15 paintings and lots of sketches). David and Kevin, I'd love to know more about where you found all this information. Were not even sure we know where he's buried...we just have family stories and little fact since Walter's only child (my grandfather) passed on about 40 years ago. Please feel free to email me if you have any information!! olivia(at)oliviaeverett(dot)com

3/01/2010 4:27 PM  
Blogger CK Dexter Haven said...

Also, just thought I'd mention that the "bulk" of the work he burned is thought to be all of his personal work ...the stuff he did for himself and not necessarily for publication. The pieces my grandfather Oliver retrieved after the fire were rolled up canvases which had been cut off their frames and tossed into the barn. Walter had forgotten about all the work which is why it wasn't burned. The problem was that it much of it was damaged (although not horribly) and Oliver decided the best way to preserve them was to nail them to plywood boards...lol.

3/01/2010 4:39 PM  
Anonymous Douglas Jones said...

I also am thrilled by this blog, as Walter Everett was my great-uncle (married to my grandmother's sister). So I also have heard the family stories, but with the twist that he had an affair with one of his models (why the marriage to Aunt Polly blew up) which caused my mother to admire his talent, but kind of have it out for him for hurting her mom's sister.

I am assuming the paintings Olivia mentions are the ones we had in storage for many years while Oliver and Anne Everett were unable to care for them or store them. I recall there were some watercolors of flowers that were just stunning.

I have an original Everett, which I got from a student of his, Lloyd Nelson Grofe, in 1976. It is one of four illustrations for the book "The Recording Angel" by Corra Harris (1912). It is only thanks to Google Books that I know this!

So keep it up, art lovers! Maybe Walter Everett's talent will come to be recognized once again in spite of the dearth of surviving works!

8/08/2010 7:20 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

CK Dexter Haven and Douglas Jones: I am so happy to hear the perspective of family members. Your information is particularly valuable because the written record is so sparse. If you ever feel like sharing more, please write me at david.apatoff@gmail.com

8/11/2010 4:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

CKDH & DJ: Talk about six degrees of separation! Nelson Grofe was my grandfather. Walter used to visit their farm near Boyertown, PA to rehearse his lectures on color theory. "Color is a sensation, it has no material existence" was one of his comments that she remembers well.

8/13/2010 5:40 PM  
Anonymous Douglas Jones said...

To anonymous,

I am very pleased to tell you that I own three of your grandfather's works, all bought on the same 1976 visit that resulted in my acquiring the Everett. My sister also has at least one of Nelson's paintings, which is of the farmhouse of Ots and Tootsie Roberts. Tootsie was my father's sister and they were friends of your grandfather. Small world, indeed!

David, is there some way to post images of some of these works so your members can see them? Personally, I think Nelson Grofe was brilliant and I enjoy his paintings every day.

8/22/2010 1:16 PM  
Blogger Mansford Masters said...

I'm sure the toll his artistic endeavor had taken on his family life had caught up with him, and so finally taking a break from his work one day he realized he was utterly alone, and probably burned his work out of spite

5/18/2013 10:27 AM  
Blogger Gus deGuzman said...

Wow! Great work!

1/31/2014 1:14 AM  

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