Tag Archives: Bernie Fuchs

When Comics Were King

Over the years, Westport has been known nationally for a few things.

During the Civil War, our onions helped Northern troops stave off illness. In the ’70s and ’80s we were awash in marketing companies.

And for a longer period of time — the 1950s through ’90s — we were part of “the comic strip capital of the world.”

Vanity Fair’s September issue explores that funny period in our history. Writer Cullen Murphy — whose father was one of those illustrious illustrators — looks at all of Fairfield County as the world capital. It was

where most of the country’s comic-strip artists, gag cartoonists, and magazine illustrators chose to make their home. The group must have numbered 100 or more, and it constituted an all-embracing subculture …. In the conventional telling, the milieu of Wilton and Westport, Greenwich and Darien, was the natural habitat of The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit — and I was certainly aware of the commuters who took the train into Manhattan every morning from my own hometown of Cos Cob. But, for me, those salarymen with their briefcases seemed like outlandish outliers.

Murphy cites Westport’s “large cluster” of cartoonists Bud Sagendorf (“Popeye”), Leonard Starr (“On Stage,” “Little Orphan Annie”), Dick Wingert (“Hubert”), Stan Drake (“The Heart of Juliet Jones,” “Blondie”), Jack Tippit (“Amy”), John Prentice (“Rip Kirby”) and Mel Casson (“Mixed Singles/Boomer”).

Bernie Fuchs’ famous studio. It was demolished earlier this year.

Murphy’s father compared Bernie Fuchs to Degas. The writer adds: “Fuchs’s career was all the more remarkable because he had lost 3 fingers on his drawing hand in an accident when he was a teenager.”

Murphy does not mention Curt Swan (“Superman”). I’m sure he’s missed others.

From the 2002 book “Curt Swan: a Life in Comics”

Murphy offers a few reasons why this area attracted so many illustrators: lack of a state income tax; affordable homes, and of course the presence of other artists.

It was solitary work — which is why so many Fairfield County illustrators got together in groups, here and on Wednesdays when they brought their art to their editors in the city. They talked about their work. They also ate and drank.

Murphy notes:

One defining reality about the cartoonists was that although their characters —Beetle Bailey, Snoopy, Prince Valiant, Blondie — were known worldwide, they themselves passed through life more or less anonymously. Unlike actors or sports figures or reality-TV stars, they were never stopped on the street. They didn’t have a “gal” to protect them or “people” to speak for them.

Semi-domesticated, they depended heavily on their families, especially wives, who in many ways held the entire enterprise together, from basic finances to rudimentary social cues…. Life was interrupted mainly by mundane chores. More than a few collectors have bought original comic strips and found notations like “prescription ready” or “diapers, bologna, Chesterfields” in the margins.

Bud Sagendorf, and his most well-known character.

Of course, nothing lasts forever. Murphy writes:

The concentration of cartoon talent in Fairfield County was a product of special circumstances, and those circumstances have disappeared. Newspaper comic strips are not the force they were, and few magazines still publish gag cartoons.

The New York City newspaper strike of 1962–63 led to the demise of the Hearst flagship, the New York Journal-American, whose funny pages were the best in the country. Making it there was like opening at the Roxy. Now it was gone.

New York remains the center of the publishing industry, but the railroad is no longer a lifeline: the Internet has meant that artists can send their work from anywhere. Connecticut has a state income tax now, though that’s not what has made Fairfield County unaffordable — Wall Street is responsible for that.

Westport, of course, is now a financial capital — both as headquarters to the world’s largest hedge fund, and home to many financial executives.

I wonder what kind of cartoon Bud Sagendorf, Stan Drake, Mel Casson or any of the others would draw about that.

(Click here to read the entire Vanity Fair story. Hat tips: Doug Bonnell and Paul Delano)

From comics to capitalism: Westport is now home to Bridgewater, the world’s largest hedge fund.

Famed Studio Falls Tomorrow

Last month, “06880” told the tale of Bernie Fuchs’ studio. It — and the entire Old Hill neighborhood home that once belonged to the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame inductee — was slated for demolition.

The studio was originally built by another famed artist, R. G. Harris.

Today, a bulldozer in place.

The famed studio is on the 2nd floor, upper right.

Tomorrow, one more link to Westport’s artists’ colony heritage will be lost.

If Bernie Fuchs’ Walls Could Talk

Talented artist and former Westport Historical Society education director Elizabeth Petrie-DeVoll is connected to famed illustrator Bernie Fuchs historically and emotionally. She writes:

Bernie and I both attended Washington University in St. Louis.

When I was there I met a talented painter, Mark Green, who idolized Bernie. For 4 years Mark educated our entire class about Bernie’s work. He talked about him so much, we nicknamed Mark “Bernie.”

When I moved to Westport in 1994, Mark was thrilled to tell me that Bernie lived
nearby.

Mark is head art teacher at the Hackley School in Tarrytown. He contacted Bernie, and invited him to talk to his students. Bernie agreed. I was drafted to be his chaperone.

I drove him to the school, took him to lunch, and carried his canvases. He could not have been more humble or patient.

Bernie brought famous paintings and sketches. He spoke to an intimate and fascinated group of kids. They were spellbound.

Bernie Fuchs talking with students.

Back in Westport, Bernie invited us into his home on Tanglewood Lane, off Stony Brook. Over cocktails, he showed us his studio and his work. He explained his process and shared his secrets. He could not have been more gracious or kind.

There was a walled-in pool area surrounded by statues, which Bernie had collected all over the world. It was a sanctuary,  where he and many of his famous Westport artists friends gathered frequently. If walls could talk!

Bernie Fuchs’ “sanctuary.”

Once in a while after Bernie died in 2009, I’d drive by his home. I’d look at the big beautiful windows that led to his studio, and think how lucky I was to have known him a bit.

The other day, I saw a “Demolition” sign pinned to the stripped door. I thought how few people know what a talented, kind man lived and worked there.

Bernie Fuchs’ studio.

There’s no sign, no plaque. Just the notice to demolish.

I was hoping to find something — anything — to give to Mark, to commemorate Bernie.

An old paintbrush would be awesome. But the house is totally stripped.

Another McMansion will soon be built there, I’m sure. An amazing art studio will be gone.

And so will another part of Westport history.

(To learn more about Bernie Fuchs — the youngest person ever elected to the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame — click here. To see his artwork, click here. For an interview with the artist about his work, click below.)

“Main Street To Madison Avenue” Opens Tomorrow On Riverside

When the Westport Arts Center announced its next exhibition — “Main Street to Madison Avenue,” honoring Westporters’ involvement in advertising and art over the last 70 years — folks flocked to offer items.

Children, grandchildren and surviving spouses scoured studios, attics and basements to find sketches, paintings and storyboards. WAC officials had expected some interesting submissions. But they were stunned at how much had lain around, unnoticed and untouched for years.

One of the people was Miggs Burroughs. A noted artist and photographer himself, he hauled in his father’s portfolio. In the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, Bernie Burroughs was one of those Westporters whose drawings helped influence consumer habits around the country — and eventually the world.

Miggs had not looked at some of his father’s work for decades. The Arts Center staff was fascinated by it.

After a couple of hours, Miggs casually mentioned Bernie’s van Heusen ad campaign — which Andy Warhol later appropriated.

That fit in perfectly with the “Main Street to Madison Avenue theme.” In addition to paying homage to Westporters, the show examines nationally known artists who were influenced by the iconic design and aesthetic of that era.

And when Warhol used Bernie Burroughs’ work, his model was Ronald Reagan.

“That’s the whole point of this show: making those connections,” WAC executive director Amanda Innes says.

“Van Heusen 356,” by Andy Warhol — based on work by Bernie Burroughs.

Miggs had another surprise for the WAC curators. He said that as a child, he’d go to the Westport station with his dad. When the train pulled in, Bernie would hand his portfolio to the conductor — along with some cash.

The conductor delivered it to Bernie’s New York ad agency. That was common practice, Miggs said.

“Conductor,” by Bernie Burroughs, is part of the Westport Arts Center show.

“That’s a great story about trust,” Innes says.

“But it also shows the anonymity of these artists. They created the work, but they didn’t sign them. They weren’t invited to ad meetings. They didn’t even own the art — the agencies did.”

Part of the reason for this show, she says, is to “honor the men who created so much of this iconic imaging and branding.” (And yes, everyone in this show — like nearly all of Madison Avenue then — is male.)

The Arts Center show opens tomorrow (Friday, April 21, reception from 6 to 8 p.m.). On display is original art and advertisements from illustrators like Bernie Burroughs, Al Parker and Bernie Fuchs. Hung alongside are works by artists like Andy Warhol, Walter Robinson and Richard Prince, who appropriated so much of that material.

Westport artist Bernie Fuchs painted this for Pepsi. He also created art for Coke. Both are displayed in the WAC show.

Innes has had a great time — and an excellent education — mounting the exhibit. For example, hearing it was in the works, Harold Levine headed over. He spent 2 hours regaling Innes about his career.

He had a lot to talk about. In addition to co-founding (with Chet Huntley) a legendary ad agency, he knew Warhol when the struggling young artist asked him for work.

Sadly, Levine will not be there tomorrow. He died in February, at 95.

But that gives you an idea of the kind of show it will be.

Part of Jonathan Horowitz’s “Coke/Pepsi,” on display at the Westport Arts Center. He draws upon the work of Andy Warhol — who in turn appropriated advertisements drawn by Westport artists.

Simultaneously, the WAC will showcase 30 works by high school students. The show is juried by treasured Westport artists Ann Chernow and Leonard Everett Fisher.

Tomorrow evening, a Westport student will receive the Tracy Sugarman Award — named for another of our most famous artists.

That award — and the entire show — is a great way to tie our artistic/advertising past in with our consumer culture present. It’s also a chance to highlight the next generation of local artists.

Some day, some may gain fame for their paintings. Some may toil anonymously, but have their works seen by millions.

And — like the professionals featured in the new Westport Arts Center show — some may do both.

(During tomorrow’s opening reception for “Main Street to Madison Avenue,” the video room will run a loop of advertisements — including some from Harold Levine’s agency. The show runs through June 22.)