What causes artists to gather in one location or another?
How did Athens in the 4th century BCE become a center of cultural activity? What made Florence so appealing to artists in 15th century Italy? What brought artists to Paris or St. Petersburg in the 19th century, and why did so many artists gravitate to fin de siecle Vienna to sip from the "Sacred Spring"? Was it because of the quality of the light in these locations? The economic opportunity? Pixie dust in the tapwater?
Whatever the secret ingredient, it similarly lured hundreds of artists-- mostly cartoonists and illustrators-- to Westport, Connecticut.
Westport was an artist's community for much of the 20th century but it became the supernova of American illustration in the "Madmen" era of the 1950s and 60s. Lights blazed all night long in art studios around Westport where some of the hottest and most talented illustrators and cartoonists in the world worked long hours to satisfy the great demand for their art. It was not uncommon for an artist to climb into his (yes, almost always "his") fancy sports car at two in the morning to visit another artist's studio where they drank, compared notes and worked until dawn.
Westport became the home of the Famous Artists School where illustrators such as Norman Rockwell, Albert Dorne, Stevan Dohanos, Robert Fawcett, Ben Stahl, Harold Von Schmidt, Al Parker, Austin Briggs, Jon Whitcomb, Peter Helck, Fred Ludekens, and later Bernie Fuchs and Bob Peak performed a consulting role.
Art director Howard Munce, another resident of Westport, proudly wrote about his town:
Records show that at least 160 illustrators have lived and worked here. In the 1940s an influx of cartoonists from the Disney Studios migrated here, as did other illustrators from Chicago, Detroit and Cleveland. Later, the Famous Artists School brought a group of young artists to act as instructors.Westport was also the home of Walt Reed, founder of the modern discipline of illustration art history. Unlike other public libraries, the Westport Public Library offered massive filing cabinets of reference pictures for illustrators and cartoonists to use in their assignments.
And of course Westport also had Max's Art Supplies, the local art shop that sold the raw materials for those fabulous pictures, beginning in 1956.
|Some of Max's famous clientele, 1981|
|Some of Max's famous clientele, 2006|
Some of the talented artists who lived or worked in the Westport area included:
John Held, Jr.
Harold von Schmidt
Guy Pene du Bois
Robert G. Harris
The creative energy and talent that these artists and their peers poured into thousands of pictures for all the top accounts was truly astounding-- the challenges, the craftsmanship, the fierce competitions, the innovations. This was a remarkable site. And now the moving finger, having writ, moves on.
When Bernie Fuchs died in 2009 I was contacted by a young reporter working for the Westport newspaper, looking for background information for an obituary. As I described Bernie's era the reporter said, "Oh, yeah... I remember now. Somebody once said that some artists lived around here."
|In the salad days: Fuchs with Porsche, beautiful wife and large home with studio.|
And today we received the word that Max's Art Supplies is closing for good.