Saturday, February 23, 2008

Local Flora (and Fauna)

Upon researching historical photos related to the Mount Adams vicinity, I ran across this - a great painting by the commercial artist, Jim Flora (1914-1998).

"Mount Adams Winter Scene" [1937]. The earliest existing, only color student piece - prior to Flora's mature graphic style.

I was only semi-cognizant of Flora's work, recently adding his books - The Mischievous Art of Jim Flora [2004] and The Curiously Sinister Art of Jim Flora [2007] - to my Amazon Wish List, mainly after researching referrals connected to other purchases I had made (such as Amid Amidi's Cartoon Modern [2006]). Little did I know that he was once a Cincinnatian, attending the then-renowned Art Academy of Cincinnati [student from 1935-39].
Cincinnati Art Academy & Art Museum [before 1928]. Source: Cincinnati Public Library [via CincinnatiMemory].

Connected to the Cincinnati Art Museum, the Academy was really housing some fine artists back in the day - namely, graphic artists such as Flora, Charley Harper, Edie Harper (Charley's wife), but also more traditional artists, like Frank Duveneck (one of my old idols), Harlan Hubbard, Edward Volkert (of which my great-aunt had a substantial collection), and of course, my great-uncle Jack Bingham (whom we named our son after). In addition, there have also been numerous younger talents which have stemmed from the Academy, reappearing mainly in the Northeast today (the path that most artists seem to take, considering NY is the 'center of the art world').

"Manhattan" [1954]. Print from a hand-tinted woodcut.

Anyway, perusing through Flora's portfolio, there are notable instances of his relationship with Cincinnati, done while in school and printed through Little Man Press (a home-sewn publishing company started by Flora and author Robert Lowry). In this era, a different type of transportation infrastructure (one with character) enveloped the city and country, which obviously made an impression on him...

Untitled [undated]. Segment of a large, early work.
"Uncle Charley Royer, engineer" [early-1990s]. Sketch.

...due to the fact that he paid his school debts by working around them - a job given to him by his uncle, an employee
of the Cincinnati Railroad Terminal Roundhouse [a.k.a. Cincinnati Union Terminal].

Cincinnati Union Terminal [undated]. This train terminal sits on the west edge of downtown Cincinnati. From looking at its location (upper left), Flora would have had a long trek home if he lived anywhere near the Art Academy, which was in near Eden Park on the east side of downtown (very close to the area of his initial painting) [via CincyImages].

"Flora wrote in 1988:
My uncle John Royer was night foreman of the Cincinnati Railroad Terminal Roundhouse. He was able to get me a job wiping the soot off the huge old steam locomotives. I would go to art school from 9:00 A.M. until 4:00 P.M. and then work in the roundhouse from 5:00 P.M. until 1:00 A.M. It then took me an hour and a half to get from work to my furnished room and to bed by 3:00 A.M. I was always yawning from lack of sleep."

A persistent dedication to an expressive life, built through several obstacles, but none greater than the Depression. Considering he was also an "architectural dropout" adds to the numerous
reasons for my personal empathy and admiration.
• Quotes and corresponding Flora images via Jim [ref. Mt. Adams painting, NYC print, Untitled Train, and Charlie Royer (quote source)].

1 comment:

Irwin Chusid said...

Thanks for the Flora recognition. One of these days, we're going to find images Flora produced for P&G, Shillito's Dept. Store, and Union Central Life Insurance from '39 to '41 while struggling as a freelancer after leaving the academy. Somewhere in an attic, in your neighborhood ...