Saturday, August 17, 2019

Casimer Norwaish (1919-2008)

Casimer Joseph Norwaish was born on December 31, 1919, in Gary, Indiana. His parents were Lithuanian immigrants by the name of Alex Norvaisis, Norvaisha, Norvaish, Norvish, or Norvick (1887-1963) and Monica "Minnie" Venslovas or Wenslovas (1888-1981). Alex was a baker and ran his own shop and delivery service. Once in the lake region of northern Indiana, he and his wife seem to have remained for the rest of their long lives.

Casimer, nicknamed Cas or Cass, was the middle born of their children. He had an older brother, Alex Norwaish (1918-1981), and a younger sister, Veronica Norvish (b. 1924), who I believe died in infancy. Casimer attended Horace Mann High School and Tolleston High School in his hometown. In 1939, he graduated from the Fort Wayne Art School in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and during World War II served in the U.S. Navy. On June 17, 1947, he married Dorothy Snapp in New York City.

Although he worked as a commercial artist and advertising artist, Casimer Norwaish has come to my attention as an illustrator. The first credit I have for him is his cover illustration for The Great Lockout in American Citizenship (1937) by William Albert Wirt (1874-1938), a teacher and educational innovator in the Gary schools. After the war, Norwaish worked for Bonsib Advertising, a firm established by Indiana artist Louis William Bonsib (1892-1979) in Fort Wayne. Bonsib served as president of the Fort Wayne Art School in 1948-1949.

I discovered Casimer Norwaish just this week when I found a paperback mystery at the local secondhand store, entitled The Kidnap Murder Case by S.S. Van Dine (Bantam, 1948) and with cover art by Norwaish. Unlike so many paperbacks from the 1940s and after, this one has something about the artist. Opposite the title page are these tidbits:

     Artist Casimer Norwaish, who painted the tense scene on the cover, claims it's absolutely authentic. To get an accurate picture of Philo Vance, "Cass" copied photographs of S.S. Van Dine. Seems he was a dead ringer for his own description of Vance. To create Madelaine Kenting, the frightened woman Vance is questioning, "Cass" says he simply drew the picture of a beautiful blonde that every artist has at the back of his mind!
Norwaish created the covers for at least three other paperback mysteries, Murder Cheats the Bride by Anthony Gilbert (Bantam, 1948), Come and Kill Me (originally Brat Farrar) by Josephine Tey (Pocket Books, 1949), and So Young a Body by Frank Bunce (Pocket Books, 1951). His illustrations also appeared in and on the cover of The American Legion Magazine in 1951. I suspect that he created still more paperback covers and magazine illustrations for which he did not receive credit. As a commercial artist and advertising artist, he would have been anonymous or almost anonymous, and so we have very little that is known to have been his work. That's a shame, for Norwaish was an accomplished illustrator who worked in a classic mid-century style that is so much missed today.

Like others in his family, Casimer Norwaish lived a long life. His came to an end on March 24, 2008, in South Bend, Indiana, and though his family was Catholic, his body was cremated.

Above and below: Casimer Norwaish's illustrations for "The Ship the Nazis Had to Get" by James H. Winchester, from The American Legion Magazine, August 1951. Two months after its publication in magazine form, Winchester's article was read by Ray Milland on the NBC radio show The Cavalcade of America on October 16, 1951. Note the spelling of Norwaish's name as "Norwaist."

Above: Norwaish's illustration for "Our New Privileged Class" by Eugene Lyons from The American Legion Magazine, September 1951.

Casimer Norwaish as a student at Horace Mann High School in Gary, Indiana, 1935.

This year, 2019, marks the hundredth anniversary year of the founding of the American Legion, as well as that of Casimer Norwaish's birth. So, Happy Birthday to both.

Original text and captions copyright 2019 Terence E. Hanley