Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Frederick Webb Ross (1885-1963?)

Frederick Webb Ross was born in Shelbyville, Indiana, on March 19, 1885, and attended Shortridge High School in Indianapolis. After studying art under William Forsyth in Indianapolis, Ross traveled to New York City, where he studied at the famed Art Students League. He also kept a studio in Washington Square. One of his instructors in New York was a fellow Hoosier, the renowned painter and teacher, William Merritt Chase.

A century ago, in 1911, Ross embarked for Europe, studying in France and traveling in France, Italy, and England. Little else is known of him and his career, although it is known that Ross worked as an illustrator, painter, and muralist. In June 1934, he completed a mural in his New York studio, one that was shipped to Terre Haute, Indiana, for reassembly at the Federal Building then under construction. Ross's mural, a twenty-foot-by-twenty-foot triptych depicting the signing of the Magna Carta, is still in place, having survived what was for a time an uncertain fate. The Federal Building is being renovated and will soon be home to the Indiana State University College of Business. You can read more about the building and the mural on the website of the Terre Haute Tribune-Star, here.

Ross may also have been involved in architecture and interior design. His date of death is unknown, although it may have been in April 1963.

"The Signing of the Magna Carta," a mural executed by Indiana artist Frederick Webb Ross and on display at the Federal Building in Terre Haute, Indiana. The photograph is by the Terre-Haute Star-Tribune. The man in the picture is unidentified. Believe it or not, this is the better of only two images I could find on the Internet showing the mural. It and the room that houses it are pretty grand. They deserve more publicity.

Caption and text copyright 2011 by Terence E. Hanley

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Reed Kinert (1911-1976)

In the early 1900s, airplanes were not just a novelty. They were a marvel, almost a miracle, and flying in one was the dream of every American boy and girl. Hoosiers figured prominently in those pioneering years of aviation. Not least among Indiana pilots of course was Wilbur Wright, born in 1867 near Millville, Indiana. Before the turn of the century, Wilbur and his Ohio-born brother Orville set up a bicycle shop in Dayton, Ohio. In 1903, they flew an airplane of their own design and manufacture at Kill Devils Hill in North Carolina, thus launching not only their small Flyer, but also the Age of Aviation. The story of the brothers' success and their proximity to Richmond, Indiana, must have been a powerful draw for a young boy growing up there. At age twelve, future pilot and artist Reed Kinert began collecting material on aircraft and aviation, thus beginning a life devoted to things with wings.

Born on August 31, 1911, Reed Charles Kinert attended schools in his hometown before setting off for studies at the College of Los Angeles. In 1932, Kinert learned to fly in Richmond by taking lessons from a barnstorming pilot.  He operated the airport in Richmond and worked as a weather observer at the nearby Centerville Airport before becoming a barnstorming pilot of the 1930s. He also began creating illustrations for collectors and for the Vought and Aeronca aircraft companies. Between 1933 and 1947, Kinert was a flight instructor and test pilot. As an artist, Kinert designed insignia for two Navy bomber squadrons and worked as an illustrator and cartoonist for United Aircraft Corporation of America, and Beechcraft Aircraft. He also served as art director for the Aerospace Division of Librascope, Inc.

Kinert attended nearly every National Air Race beginning in 1929 and put his experiences to good use in his book, American Racing Planes and Historic Air Races (1952). He was an air racer himself for some time. Kinert wrote and illustrated books on aviation for much of his career, including his four-volume Racing Planes and Air Races: A Complete History (1967-1969). Other titles included America’s Fighting Planes in Action (1943), Our Fighting Planes: The Story of U.S. Military Aircraft of World War II (1946), and Little Helicopter (1947). His Early American Steam Locomotives: First Seven Decades, 1830-1900 (1962) was awarded a non-fiction prize by Indiana University in 1963.

In his author's note for Our Fighting Planes, published immediately after World War II, Kinert expressed feelings about flight that justify a long quotation:

Flight is the expression of spiritual achievement, the antithesis of the worn shoe and the weary foot. Flight is the opposite course to the rocky road, the long climb and the dusty plain and is the answer to an ageless human longing to see what is over the hill. In religion, they call it the instinct to immortality. With flight, peoples can battle loneliness and separation and isolation and bigotry and prejudice. With flight, free men will become more free. . . . In these pages I have made no attempt to glorify war, only flight itself, for war is hell.

Reed Kinert died on September 9, 1976, in San Diego, California. This year marks his centennial, observed here if nowhere else.

It's hard to choose just one or two pictures from Reed Kinert's book, Our Fighting Planes (1946), for display here, for there are so many beautifully done pictures among its pages. But I have always liked airplanes with an unusual configuration, so I have chosen Northrop's P-61 Black Widow, America's first airplane designed specifically for nighttime operations. 
From the same book, Boeing's workhorse, the famed B-17 Flying Fortress. The American fighter is the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt, the largest and heaviest single-engine fighter of the war. (The "P" designation by the way is for "pursuit," which gave way to our current "F," for "fighter," after the war.) The airplane going down in flames is the Nazi jet, the Messerschmitt Me 262 Schwalbe. No matter whether Kinert's illustration shows a real or fanciful event, it's still cool. And that's what this book is like. Even though Kinert was in his mid-thirties when Our Fighting Planes was published, his drawings convey all the feeling of a schoolboy's drawings of imagined heroism and adventure against the forces of evil.
Pilot, aviation enthusiast, and artist Reed Kinert of Richmond, Indiana.

Captions and text copyright 2011 by Terence E. Hanley

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Civil War

At 4:30 in the morning, on April 12, 1861--one hundred and fifty years ago today--Confederate artillery commenced its bombardment of Fort Sumter at Charleston, South Carolina. Thirty-three hours later, the Union garrison at the fort surrendered. The next day, April 15, 1861--four years to the day before he died from an assassin's bullet--President Abraham Lincoln issued a call for 75,000 troops to put down the insurrection. Thus was ushered in our great Civil War, perhaps the most profound event in American history.

In 1861, Indiana was in its forty-fifth year as a state. Its population was 1,350,428, fifth among the states. Initially, Indiana planned on filling the ranks of six regiments, about 4,600 men in all. Lew Wallace, a veteran of the Mexican war, was to serve as adjutant general and was charged with raising the needed number. So many men answered the call that some had to be turned away. By the end of the war, though, 197,141 Hoosiers had served in the Union cause, second among the states. Another 100,000 filled the ranks of the state militia. Over 25,000 of these men lost their lives. Not counted among that number is the nation's commander-in-chief, who--though he was born in Kentucky and elected from Illinois--spent his formative years in what is now Spencer County, Indiana.

The men who went to war came from all walks of life, art included. Some drew and painted scenes in their own diaries, letters, and sketchbooks. Others created works for publication. Lew Wallace (1827-1905) of Brookville and Crawfordsville was--in addition to being a lawyer, military officer, governor of New Mexico, minister to the Ottoman Empire, and author of the best-selling American novel of the nineteenth century--an artist and illustrator. James Farrington Gookins (1840-1904) of Terre Haute and Indianapolis, who served with Wallace for a time, drew sketches for woodcuts published in Harper's. And Adolph G. Metzner (1834-1918) of Indianapolis kept a sketchbook of the things he witnessed during his war years. (I have written about him in a previous entry, and his work is subject of a newly published book.) Countless artists who came after them have depicted scenes of the Civil War. In any case, we commemorate the men and women who served and died during those four years that rent a nation and the century and a half since that have mended it.

The weekly newspaper was a fairly new thing in America when the Civil War began. Rapid communication by telegraph and rapid transport by train allowed publishers to stay on top of current events and to get the news out to a nation of readers in pretty short order. Photography could not yet be reproduced in the mass media. Instead, newspapers and magazines relied on line art, cut on blocks of wood and assembled into printing plates. Most woodcuts were the work of two artists, the sketch artist who submitted his work from the field and the engraver who transferred the sketch to wooden blocks, worked in a painstaking way for the production of the final image. 

Here's a woodcut from the June 22, 1861, issue of Harper's Weekly, captioned: "The Eleventh Indiana Volunteers Swearing to Remember Buena Vista, at Indianapolis, May, 1861--Sketched by Mr. James F. Gookins." Gookins was a Hoosier, a mostly self-taught artist, and a student of law at Wabash College when war broke out. He served for a time with Lew Wallace and the Eleventh Indiana Volunteer Regiment, a unit of Zouaves which saw service very early in the war. The story accompanying Gookins drawing in Harper's:

Remember Buena Vista
On page 388 we publish a picture of a most striking scene, which occurred at Indianapolis, in the inclosure [sic] surrounding the State Capitol, a few days since. The artist from whose sketch our picture was made, Mr. James F. Gookins, of Company I, 11th Regiment Indiana Volunteers (Zouaves), writes us as follows concerning it:

The Regiment was presented by the ladies of Indiana with a splendid stand of colors, after receiving which the whole Regiment, kneeling, with uplifted right hands, took an oath before God that, with His help, they would not only avenge themselves of the insults cast at the flag of the nation, but furthermore of the contumely and wrong received by the Indiana troops at the hands of Jeff Davis during the war with Mexico. To keep this oath more continually before them they have adopted the motto "Remember Buena Vista!" as their warcry.

Another image from Harper's. The caption reads: "At Romney, Va., June 11th, 1861,--The Eleventh Indiana Zouaves, Colonel Lewis Wallace, crossing, on the double quick, the bridge over the Potomac." The artist is unknown.
The story of the Civil War is of course incomplete without Abe Lincoln. His election to the presidency was--in the minds of the secessionists--the event that precipitated the South's withdrawal from the Union. Even then, a legend had begun to build about him and his life. John McCutcheon (1870-1949) drew from that legend, just as so many cartoonists  have, before and since. From John McCutcheon's Book.
As a child, Franklin Booth (1874-1948) learned to draw by imitating woodcut illustrations from books and other publications. By the time Booth began working professionally as an artist, Abraham Lincoln had reached the status of an icon in American art, history, and popular imagination. This drawing, though it has the appearance of a woodcut, was actually done with a pen. It's a decoration for an unknown use. Like Lincoln, Booth grew up on an Indiana farm, in the artist's case, in Hamilton County, northeast of Indianapolis. He was perhaps the most accomplished Indiana illustrator of his time. His drawing of Lincoln here only hints at his really astonishing technique and enormous body of work.   
There are of course other illustrations by Indiana artists on the topic of the Civil War. Unfortunately, many of them are protected from usage on the Internet. If anyone has pictures to offer, please send them to me at:

Text and captions copyright 2011 by Terence E. Hanley