Sunday, June 23, 2013

Glenn O. Coleman (1881-1932)

Glenn Odem Coleman was born on July 18, 1881, in Springfield, Ohio, but grew up in his parents' home state of Indiana. His father, Cassius M. Coleman, was a pressman for an Indianapolis newspaper, his mother, Minnie Odem Coleman, a singer and pianist. As a boy Coleman hung around the riverfront on the west side of the city, in rail yards and around Kingan's meatpacking plant. The urbanized and industrialized landscape would become the focus of his art.

Glenn Coleman attended the Industrial Training School, forerunner to Manual Training High School. His classmates would have included illustrator Walter Jack Duncan (1881-1941), illustrator and author Robert Cortes Holliday (1880-1947), poster artist and performer Robert J. Wildhack (1881-1940), and artist and educator Harry E. Wood (1879-1958). Coleman did not finish his high school program however. Instead he went to work. In 1901 he was listed in the Indianapolis city directory as an illustrator with the Indianapolis Press. Three years later he was in New York City, also working as an illustrator. Coleman continued his art education in New York, studying first under William Merritt Chase, then under Robert Henri. Chase's other students at the time included not only Wildhack and Duncan from back home in Indiana, but also Rockwell Kent, Coles Phillips, Edward Hopper, and Guy Pene du Bois.

Glenn O. Coleman is known now for his association with Robert Henri, Everett Shinn, John Sloan, and the other artists of the "Ashcan School," so called because of their interest in city scenes and the grimier side of life. In 1909 The Craftsman printed four full-page reproductions of Coleman's series entitled "Undercurrents of New York Life." Within a few short years, the artist began contributing to the leftist organ The Masses under the editorship of Max Eastman and the art directorship of John Sloan. Art Young (1866-1944) was probably the most well known and accomplished of the cartoonists who contributed to The Masses. He may also have originated the term "Ashcan School."

For the rest of his relatively brief life, Glenn Coleman created paintings and graphic art depicting contemporary life in the city. His work found its way into the collections of several museums, including the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Brooklyn Museum. In the year of Coleman's death, art critic Holger Cahill placed him in the company of John Sloan as a leader among realists "whose notations of contemporary life in paintings, etchings, and lithographs are among the fine contributions to American contemporary art."

After keeping a studio in Long Beach, Long Island, for many years, Glenn O. Coleman died childless on May 8, 1932, at age fifty. His father, a widower, died three months later, thus bringing an end to the Coleman line.

A cartoon by Glenn O. Coleman from The Masses, 1915. The medium looks like crayon on textured paper or perhaps on linen. The style is dark and heavy and hearkens back to the lithographic cartoons of the nineteenth century. HonorĂ© Daumier was the exemplar of that type of cartooning. The gag is the old "He Said-She Said" type from before the refinements brought about by The New Yorker and its cartoonists of the 1920s.
Here's another cartoon by Coleman, really an illustration for an unwritten story or even a piece of graphic art approaching fine art. The gag, though pertinent today, is mostly superfluous. This is from Art for the Masses: A Radical Magazine and Its Graphics, 1911-1917 by Rebecca Zurier (1988).
Text and captions copyright 2013 Terence E. Hanley

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