Friday, September 18, 2009
A GIANT: BERNARD FUCHS (1932-2009)
Bernie Fuchs started out in a most unlikely place and time.
Born in a tiny rural town in the heart of the Great Depression, he grew up with no father, no assets or connections, no art training, and no prospects. He was even missing three fingers on his drawing hand (the result of an accident in his youth).
Yet, Fuchs was quickly swept to the top of his profession on a wave of talent and personal quality. The New York Artists Guild named him "Artist of the Year" by the time he was thirty; he became the youngest illustrator ever elected to the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame; and for over forty years, his sleek, sophisticated, beautifully designed work was selected by one jury after another at the Society as among the best of the year. (Try to think of another illustrator who has been as influential to the field in the latter half of the 20th century.) As Walt Reed wrote, Fuchs' pictures "are probably more admired-- and imitated-- than those of any other current illustrator."
I met Bernie Fuchs a few years ago when he reluctantly agreed to be interviewed for an article I wrote about him. As much as I admired his work, I grew to admire him as a person even more. I never heard him utter an unkind word about anyone; he was humble and sincere to a fault, always quick to give credit to his colleagues, or to anyone who extended a helping hand along the way. But as generous as he was to others, he held his own work to the toughest standards, decade after decade, right up to the end.
I recently made a pilgrimage to Bernie's hospital bed. He was pale, gaunt and under heavy sedation. He could no longer eat or breathe except through tubes. He had lost the ability to speak so he used a little notebook for scribbling short messages to his family, who had gathered around him for the end. I looked down at his notebook and saw he had been sketching a human ear. I said, "Wow-- still drawing? You don't give up easily, do you?" He gave me a tight lipped smile and with a tough, defiant look in his eye shook his head no, he didn't give up easy and he was damn proud of it. That attitude, which was the core of his greatness, was still inside him then and would be the last part to leave.
The expression in his eyes alone was worth the trip to Connecticut.
Last night, Bernie's work was done. The wave that took him to the pinnacle of success in his field swept him onward to another shore.
From The Wolves, 1996