Famous Artists School Lives. Who Knew?

Recently, in my other life as a “Woog’s World” columnist, I made a snarky reference to Famous Artists School.

Specifically, I called it — and its kinfolk, the Famous Writers and Famous Photographers School — “a Westport institution that crashed nearly as rapidly as it grew.”

A few days later I got an email from a Magdalen Livesey.  Though her name sounds like the creation of one of the only people ever to flunk a Famous Writers course, I opened it.

Magdalen Livesey wrote:  “Although your article didn’t say it in so many words…it left the impression that Famous Schools has been moribund for quite some time.”

She was happy to inform me that “Famous Schools” are alive and well.

A meeting of Famous Artists' artists, circa 1954. Clockwise from lower left: Ernest Fiene, Doris Lee, Ben Stahl, Stuart Davis, Adolf Dehn, Arnold Blanch and Will Barnet. (Photo courtesy of Smithsonian Archives of American Art)

They were acquired by Cortina Learning International in 1981, she said.  In 1990 the offices moved from Riverside Avenue to Newtown Turnpike, and in 1995 to Wilton.  That’s the current location, with a warehouse and shipping facility in Danbury.

Famous Artists School currently has students in “many different countries around the world, as well as in the States,” Magdalen continued.  Since 1967 they’ve had “a very active licensee” in Japan — Kodansha Famous Schools — with 15,000 students.

The present Famous Artists Courses include “the classic textbooks,” along with complete-at-home assignments that are sent in for “critiquing and evaluation by artist-instructors who work in their own studios.”  Coming soon:  a revised, updated downloadable version.

In 1993, Magdalen said, a 45th anniversary exhibition was held at the Westport Arts Center.  Stevan Dohanos — the last surviving member of the original 12 apostles founding “Famous Artists” — was still active then.

“We actually had quite widespread publicity for that event,” Magdalen added, “including a featured article in the Westport News.  Perhaps you are too young to have been aware of it.

Perhaps not.  A more likely answer:  Who remembers 1993?

But Famous Schools is not resting on its 45th-anniversary-17-years-ago laurels.  Their next project:  rejuvenating Famous Writers School, “which is still active but on a more limited basis.”

Magdalen’s email came at an appropriate time.  It’s Easter Week.  Her name conjures up Mary Magdalene.

And her tale about Famous Schools is an important reminder that — when you least expect it — someone, or something, can rise from the dead.

11 responses to “Famous Artists School Lives. Who Knew?

  1. The Dude Abides

    In 1958, with my brother and I both under the age of ten, my father suggested we learn about the stock market. I invested in Occidental Petroleum and my brother in Famous Artist’s School. Guess who made the better choice??

  2. Then again, Dude, my mother, Buzz Allen, was a fashion illlustration instructor at FA for years during the 1960s-70s during the Dohanos reign and was happy to get the work, which supplemented her NYC freelance income. She wasn’t alone. She used to call FA “the WPA for artists.” She also said, “It’s no sin for an artist to earn a steady paycheck.” From our point of view, FA had a big edge over OcciPete. A shame that Duff got skunked on the FA stock, however.

  3. Wooooo-Hooooo!!!


    Your score: 100%

    What This Score Means:

    80% or better
    This excellent score indicates that you have an innate sense of art and design, and would certainly benefit from the comprehensive and personalized instruction that is the hallmark of our Famous Artists Courses.

  4. The Dude Abides

    Perhaps we need another WPA for writers, hey Tom???? Maybe that will be in the second Stimulus package. What is a steady paycheck anyhow? Do you exchange rings?

  5. A WPA for writers? Sign me up. A steady paycheck? I vaguely remember that concept, Dude.

  6. In 1968 while deployed to Saigon (US Army) , I signed up with FAS. Unfortunately, the Tet Offensive ripped that. Bloody ground manouvers including the Battle of Tan Son Nhut (I was a squad leader) took a heavy toll. Then I was redeployed to Fort Bragg to serve as a training NCO.Unfortunately, I allowed FAS to slip through the cracks.

    Years later, a relative who had the FAS books in storage shipped them to me. After retirement, I exhumed my talent, and throgh careful attention to FAS’s instruction and guidance in thr red, green, & yellow folders – I came back to life!

    If you wish to view samples of my work, check out deviantART.com. My dA handle is tribeofdan Regards iDave


    In retrospect Ben Stahl was most influential for mr. My favorite work of his -CIRCUS PEOPLE.

  7. John B. Lankford

    In regard to Famous Artist’s School ( of which I am a twice graduate..1965 and 2001), I have to say that not only is it alive but the school helped me tremendously in improving my watercolor. The visual critiques from instructor Hank McLaughlin as well as the most helpful Magdalen Livesey made it a joy to take. In short…FAS is the “real deal” in art teaching…and you don’t have to drive across America to get it! Thanks.

  8. I would like to know about any experiences with the Famous Writers School.
    jb gillman

  9. My dad, Edwin Eberman, along with Al Dorne and Harlan Logan, was a founder of FAS . My years growing up were filled with the excitement of the growing company. I remember going to Stephen Donhanos’ house, as well as Norman Rockwell’s. My dad retired before things began to change. He retired to pursue his hobbies–painting, gardening, travel, and died in 1984. My mom, Janet Ross Eberman died three and a half weeks ago at age 101.
    Bobbi Eberman Fisher

  10. Clive Lawrance

    I worked for FAS in Mississauga ON. Canada in 1968 to 1972 when they closed the Canadian office and shipping waregouse. Mr. Wes Maxwell was the operations manager for Canada. I remember Bob Lally and Skip Annett coming to visit us. Especially on our last day. It was a sad day. I was 18 when I started and got to know all the reps over the phone. Pay was lousy but it was the 60’s. LOL..I still remember the codes.loke YPAC, PTC, FPTC (french version).. I have a FAS sales rep case still in good condition. I was the warehouse clerk and shipper. I still remember the old phone number I had to call in Westport…203-227-8471…Probably someones house number now….Ahhhhhh Memories……..

  11. Aila te Pas

    It is not really true that Kodansha Famous schools was the only active licensee
    My father Gerrit te Pas was the owner of FAS Scandinavia for a very long time and was also the most successful and serious FAS business. I think Livesey forgot that