Harry Anderson’s story is as unique as his ability. Born in 1906 in Chicago, he was going to be a mathematician. He started college at the University of Illinois in 1925. He took an art course as an easy counterpoint to the math classes and discovered both a talent and a love for drawing. From such simple choices our lives are made.
With the change in major came a change in venue. He moved to Syracuse, New York, to attend the Syracuse School of Art in 1927. It was a classical art education with the entire first year devoted to drawing from the cast – a practice of presenting the student with a bust or other piece of sculpture in various lightings and having them render it in different media. It’s a grueling technique despised by most students for its repetitious boredom, but it instills basic drawing skills that are crucial to an illustrator’s success. With the second year’s classes came figure drawing and anatomy classes as detailed as those for medical students. More fundamentals that stood him in good stead his entire career.
At Syracuse he met and roomed with Tom Lovell who became a lifelong friend and an important illustrator in his own right. They graduated with honors and moved to New York to share a studio and make their fortune. Unfortunately, this was 1931 and the Depression was in full force. It took Anderson over a year to make his first magazine sale and several more years before he felt established enough to move back home to Chicago.
With some New York magazine sales behind him, he joined an art service agency that found work for its artists in return for a portion of the fee. By 1937 he was working on national ad campaigns like the one for Sealed Power Piston Rings in 1938 (above right). He was also much in demand for story illustrations for the major magazines. His work appeared in Collier’s, Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, Ladies’ Home Journal (image at left from the August 1946 issue), Redbook, The Saturday Evening Post and others. The images were on a par with the best work being done at the time.
He married Ruth around 1940. She worked in the same building as Harry and posed for him on one occasion. The following year he left the agency and joined the studio of Haddon Sundblom – famous for his Coca-Cola Santa Claus paintings. He was too old for military service but he did contribute one poster to the war effort. The purchase of a home during this period led to a second fork in his career path.
He and Ruth joined the Seventh Day Adventist church and in 1944 Harry was asked if he would contribute to their publishing efforts. Harry generously said yes and the next year his most famous image was crafted. “What Happened to Your Hand?” (at right) was done for a children’s book in 1945 and immediately touched the hearts of that audience. The adults in charge of the publishing program were less enthusiastic; some even considering it near-blasphemous to show Christ in the present day. Cooler heads prevailed and Anderson spent the rest of his active career splitting his efforts between commercial assignments at his premium wages and religious ones done for love and for scale.
His art director at Review and Herald Publishing was T.K. Martin and it was his vision of Christ as a tangible presence in modern times that was shared and executed over and over again by Anderson. The inner peace that allowed Anderson to make his choice to contribute his time and effort at virtually minimum wage was evident in his paintings and in his depiction of Jesus.
Actually, that’s unfair to Harry. That dedication and calm is present in all of his work. As an important and popular illustrator, he’s almost unique in the gentleness of his images. Quite capable of depicting nearly anything (see the western scene at right), his choice of assignments and his approach to them was always in line with the dictates of his heart. Not many people can live their lives the way they want to. It seems that Anderson did. He enjoyed the same quiet, focused strength in his private life that’s evident in his art.
He was featured in a 1956 issue of American Artist and received awards from several art associations throughout his career including the prestigious New York Art Directors Club. In 1994 he was inducted into the Society of Illustrators’ Hall of Fame.
In the Sixties he began painting calendars for Exxon Oil company (then Esso) and was able to stretch his artistic muscles on images based on “Great Moments in American History” and “Great Moments in Early American Motoring.” Interestingly enough, Anderson was actively supporting himself with illustration work at a time when most of his generation was in forced retirement. Norman Rockwell is the only other illustrator I can think of who was still working and, I don’t think coincidentally, also was one of the very few who took a moral stance with his work and maintained it throughout his career.
In the mid-Sixties, he expanded his religious horizons to include the Mormon Church, for whom he created a mural for the 1964 New York World’s Fair. It was done in oil paints which he’d abandoned early is his career due to allergies to turpentine. New thinner products allowed him to explore the medium again. He produced a dozen more oil paintings for the Mormons, many of which have been reproduced in one of their publications entitled the Family Home Evening.
In 1976, Review and Herald Publishing released Harry Anderson, The Man Behind the Paintings, from which much of this essay is taken. The picture one gets from reading it is that of a man of conviction and great talent who was aware of both and didn’t feel the need to discuss either. His talents weren’t limited to painting as he crafted models of ships and buggies, hooked rugs, carved flocks of birds, made furniture, and enjoyed many other dexterous skills. He sounded like a very interesting person.
He died in 1996 at the age of 90, the last of a generation
of illustrators from The Golden Age of magazine illustration.
It’s almost certain that he was one of the last active
members of that group. His work is still being circulated, and
appreciated, today, in publications like Your Bible and You
and The Desire of Ages. It would be nice if they could
issue a reprint of the book about him at left.
To learn more about Harry Anderson, see:
|Harry Anderson, The Man Behind the Paintings||Raymond H. Woolsey and Ruth Anderson, 1976 Review and Herald|
|The Illustrator in America 1880 to 1980||Walt and Roger Reed, 1984 Madison Square Press|
|Illustrators 36||Fred Taraba’s Hall of Fame essay, 1994 Watson-Guptill|
|The Vadeboncoeur Collection of Knowledge||Jim Vadeboncoeur, Jr. 1998|
Illustrations are copyright by their respective owners.
This page written, designed & © 1998 by Jim Vadeboncoeur, Jr. Updated 2011.
Learn about other ILLUSTRATORS.