Saturday, February 26, 2011

Robert K. Abbett (1926-2015)

Robert Kennedy Abbett was born in Hammond, Indiana, on January 5, 1926, to Clarence C. and Vere (Kennedy) Abbett. He studied nights at the Chicago Academy of Fine Art and graduated from Purdue University and the University of Missouri. Bob Abbett served in the U.S. Navy during World War II.

Abbett wrote for a public relations firm in Chicago before embarking on a career as an artist, working in succession for a number of art studios. His first magazine illustrations were for Extension magazine. Abbett's list of freelance clients during the 1950s and '60s includes Argosy, Reader's Digest, Redbook, Sports Afield, This Week, and True, as well as Ballantine, Bantam, Dell, Fawcett, Pocket, Pyramid, and Signet books.

Bob Abbett left illustration behind in the 1970s, afterwards devoting himself to painting pictures of outdoor sporting scenes, hunting dogs, game animals, and similar subjects. He was also a portraitist, a teacher, and magazine columnist. He lived at his own Oakdale Farm in Connecticut for many years and died at home in Bridgewater, Connecticut, on June 20, 2015. He was eighty-nine years old.

You can read more about Bob Abbett at his official website, Oakdale Prints, here, and on a recent blog entry at a blog called Today's Inspiration by Leif Peng, here. A Google Image search will show a variety of Mr. Abbett's many fine paperback cover illustrations from the 1960s. Below is a small sampling from my own library.

Revised and updated on December 6, 2019.
Text copyright 2011, 2019 by Terence E. Hanley

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Henry Jackson Lewis (ca. 1837-1891)

Henry Jackson Lewis is considered the first black political cartoonist in the United States. He was born a slave in either 1837 or 1838 (according to his son, Chester Arthur Lewis) in or near Water Valley, Mississippi, not far south of Oxford. He taught himself to read, write, and draw, overcoming not only his beginnings in bondage but also a childhood accident in which he fell into a fire, leaving him crippled in his left hand and blind in his left eye.

Lewis’ story does not pick up again until 1872 when he purchased a lot in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, at about the same time he married Lavinia Dixon. Chester Arthur Lewis was the last survivor of the Lewises' seven children, and it is by way of a tape-recorded interview with him that we know much of what we know about his artist father. The younger Lewis also donated some of his father’s artwork to the Du Sable Museum of African-American History in Chicago.

Lewis got his start as an artist by sketching for Harper’s Weekly during the late 1870s. His skills as a topographical and architectural draftsman helped secure him work with the Smithsonian Institution under Edward Palmer and his Indian Mound Survey. The original drawings for the project are in the collection of the Smithsonian’s National Anthropological Archives. Still other engravings based on Lewis’ drawings were published in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper in April and May of 1883.

Around 1885, Lewis found employment as a porter at the Arkansas Gazette and learned something about the newspaper trade by watching staff artists and engravers at work. In late 1888 or early 1889, he relocated to Indianapolis, recruited by editor Edward Elder Cooper of The Freeman, a black newspaper billed by its publisher as “The Harper’s Weekly of the Colored Race” and “A National Illustrated Colored Newspaper.” Targets of his cartoons included racist policies and expressions, but Cooper and Jackson waged their harshest campaign against the Republican administration of President Benjamin Harrison (who was, incidentally, also from Indianapolis).

Lewis’ last drawing appeared in the March 28, 1891, issue of The Freeman. Less than two weeks later, on April 9, 1891, he died in Indianapolis. His family remained in Indianapolis. John W. Lewis, the oldest Lewis child, became an artist himself and drew for The Freeman, The Indianapolis World, and The Indianapolis Recorder.

Henry Jackson Lewis--the first known black political cartoonist in the United States. This is a self-portrait from the Indianapolis-based
Freeman. Note that Jackson is turned to his left: a childhood accident left him blind in his left eye.

One of Lewis' drawings of Indian mounds, this one at Walnut Lake Station, Arkansas.

Finally, a pair of Lewis' political cartoons, from The Freeman, June 2, 1889.
An entry in observance of Black History Month.
Text and captions copyright 2011 by Terence E. Hanley

Friday, February 11, 2011


Without trivializing what the people of Egypt have accomplished, Indiana Illustrators offers an entry on Egypt.

An advertisement for Caterpillar Tractors by Junius S. Cravens (1883-1936).
A striking illustration for a short story, perhaps from Cosmopolitan, by Walter S. Louderback (1887-1941).
A.R. Tilburne (1887-1965) illustrated several covers for Weird Tales.  Animals were a specialty.
Another Tilburne cover for Weird Tales.
Hugh Rankin (1878-1956) preceded Tilburne as a cover artist for Weird Tales.
Finally, another Rankin cover for Weird Tales.
And an artist whose work, inspired by Egypt, seems to be unavailable on the Internet, despite its prominence: Helen Eaton Jacoby (1888-1967), born and educated in Indianapolis, designed a series of friezes with an Egyptian theme for the Murat Shrine Temple in her hometown sometime before World War II. Unfortunately, I have not been able to find any images of her work. If anyone has access to them, please send them my way. Best wishes to the people of Egypt and throughout the Middle East in their efforts to bring democracy and prosperity to their region.

Text and captions copyright 2011 by Terence E. Hanley