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J.J. Sedelmaier partners with Peter Paeth to bring you this extensively researched article about commercial artist Louis Paeth, whose career serves as a wonderful example of how a great many illustrators and designers navigated through the world of commercial art during much of the 20th century….
One of the marvelous aspects of working with an online blog format is unlike a printed piece, the article is instantly revisable and becomes an organic source of updated internet/online reference. At one point or another, I’ve updated the information contained in most all the articles I’ve written for this Imprint/Print Mag blog. Some of the revisions have been corrections sent in by readers, but the majority of the comments I’ve received are additions and details that fill out the profiles and treatments I’ve posted, making them infinitely more valuable to readers and researchers. I’ve been contacted directly by a wide array of people interested in contributing information, but I also get mail from those trying to do research or compile information of and on their own. For instance:
1. Robert Pasin, the CEO of Radio-Flyer (yes, the “Little Red Wagon” that celebrated its centennial in 2017) reached out to me in reference to a piece I had written on the 1933 Chicago “Century Of Progress” World’s Fair. Turns out his grandfather, the founder of the company, had designed the company’s pavilion at the exhibition that I had pictured in the piece. This same collection of 1933–1934 fair material in the article now resides in the newly reconstructed Radio-Flyer home office in Chicago.
2. After profiling the Orange Crush soft-drink company, Eileen Goodwin, the daughter of Orange Crush’s former president, emailed me to help find a home for all the memorabilia her family had retained from the home office’s files. I was able to connect her with an Orange Crush aficionado that had contacted me earlier regarding the same article.
3. Doug Hudson, animation professor at The Kansas City Art Institute, invited me to the Midwestern school to do a presentation and screening, but also to visit the original birthplace of Walt Disney’s professional career. All due to the “How Walt Disney Used His Kansas City Library Card” article written about the 1920 book Animated Cartoons by E.G. Lutz, which was responsible for helping teach Disney the fundamentals of animation. And just a couple months ago, Frank Lutz, the great-great nephew of E.G., contacted me to announce he’d unearthed a cache of rare familial material and was constructing a website dedicated to his ancestor.
4. An article about a sketchbook I’d found of artist W.G. Read garnered a series of biographical comments that significantly filled out this artist’s career history.
5. An article I did on CIBA/Geigy medical illustrator Frank Netter elicited a lovely note from his daughter Francine whom I can now call a pal!
But now I have a new tale to tell that’s come from a gentleman named Peter Paeth, and it’s been no small task to formulate the best way to share it. A bit of a backstory: In 1998, I had co-written an article with John Gruber for Print magazine titled “Sic Transit,” telling the story of a decade-long 1920s transit poster campaign in Chicago. In 2012 I expanded the article into the definitive profile of this graphic design series here on this blog. This article garnered a terrific response, ranging from graphic artists and historians, as well as railfans—a most discerning community. It also was the catalyst for an exhibit at the Milwaukee School Of Engineering’s “Grohmann Museum” in 2016. This article has been updated more than any of the other pieces I’ve done for Print.
In November of 2015 I received an email from a Peter Paeth: “My name is Peter Paeth and it’s been suggested that I contact you concerning my ongoing research into the 1920s illustrative art of my father, Louis A. Paeth. I inherited my father’s extensive art files upon the death of my mother in 2008. In my father’s collection were three original gouache paintings that were part of Chicago’s Rapid Transit poster series.”
This series was the subject of my Print article described above, and Peter went on to explain how he thought there were several posters he’d seen in the series that were labeled as “artist unknown” in various articles and books.
“Along the research trail I’ve found out that he had attended both the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago—detailing a level of art training that had previously not been known to me. During his daytime hours, I’ve learned that my Dad worked alongside some very well-known illustrators of the 20th Century (C. Allan Gilbert, Will Foster, McClelland Barclay, Andrew Loomis …) at the Charles Everett Johnson Company/Advertising Art Service, in Chicago’s State-Lake Building. In my father’s art files are also saved copies of his finished, published illustrated work. Included in this assemblage are two catalogs featuring winter illustrative work: one for the Northland Ski Company (1921) and one for the Nestor Johnson Manufacturing Company (1923), a Chicago ice skate manufacturer. I believe this winter artwork, along with some other evidence I’ve found, helps support my hypothesis that my father could have been the ‘unknown’ artist responsible for the South Shore Line ‘Winter Sports’ poster featuring a tobogganing couple.”
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Peter enclosed a slide presentation that had 30 images that supported his case. “Hopefully this isn’t an intrusion … hopefully you’ll find this interesting. Thank you, Peter Paeth P.S. About a year ago, I viewed your excellent presentation on the Rapid Transit Poster series … there were some posters I had never seen before and it was interesting to see the photos of the posters up at the various rail stations. I really enjoyed it!”
Little did I know, this friendly note would impact both of us …
With a bit more sleuthing on both our parts, we were able to determine that his dad had indeed been the unknown artist who designed the “tobogganing couple” poster. As our correspondence continued, and Peter shared more images of the illustrative work he had scanned from his father’s archive, I began to see images done by Louis Paeth that I had included in previous articles I’d written, but was not able to attribute to a particular artist. So much of the ephemera I had collected as a young design enthusiast turned out to be illustrated by Peter’s Dad!
One such example was the 1929–1930 Pullman Facts, a 12-booklet series for the Pullman Car Company. This series was yet another topic I chose to feature as an article for Print! Since then, I’ve been able to identify several more pieces of advertising/marketing designed by the elder Paeth that I’ve had in my collection, in some cases since junior high school! In addition, of the 60 articles I’ve written for Print, Louis Paeth’s work has found its way into what looks like more than 10% of the pieces! After more than 10 year’s of tireless research, Peter has been able to provide many of the biographical details of his father’s early artistic life I’ve included in this article. We even were able to identify yet another North Shore Line poster as the work of his dad’s, and was able to make it a part of the Milwaukee exhibit.
Louis Paeth was born in Naperville, Illinois (a western suburb of Chicago) on December 26, 1900. He began his art studies at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts in the fall of 1918. He entered the school’s daily residence classes to take the cartoon and illustration course taught by instructors who were professional cartoonists themselves. The preeminent teacher at the school was Billy DeBeck, who, in the summer of 1919, began his new cartoon strip in the Chicago Herald-American, “Take Barney Google, F’rinstance.”
The school was the destination for many young Chicagoans such as Louis, who were looking for a career in cartooning. Such well-known cartoonists as Doc Kuhn (“Grandma”), Frank Willard (“Moon Mullins”), and Frank King (“Gasoline Alley”) had attended the school, perfecting the cartooning skills that they would use later in their comic strips. Certainly the most famous art student to have gone to the Academy was a 15-year-old Walt Disney, who attended night school here in 1917.
After his early instruction in cartooning, Louis’ art education took a more formal turn in the spring of 1919, when he enrolled in night classes at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. This art school was and still remains one of the preeminent in the country, with an emphasis on fine arts and valuable access to its galleries stocked with incomparable artwork. Louis began his night school study there in the spring of 1919, and in the course of the next two years was taught by such SAIC instructors as noted Midwestern artists Antonin Sterba—known for his luminous portraits—and Albert Krehbiel—known for his impressionist landscapes.
But of his first SAIC teachers, perhaps it was William Frederick Foster who had the most significance in young Louis Paeth’s early artistic career. Foster taught an evening class of etching and illustration in the spring of 1919, and he was also one of several major New York City illustrators who went to work for the Charles Everett Johnson Studio after the end of World War I. This may have been the connection for a gifted young art student such as Louis to find his way to a 1919 apprenticeship at the studio.
During his daytime hours, Louis worked alongside some of the foremost illustrators of the 20th Century (C. Allan Gilbert, Will Foster, McClelland Barclay, Andrew Loomis) at the Charles Everett Johnson Company, Advertising Art Service, in Chicago’s State-Lake Building.
The Charles Everett Johnson Company was one of several art services located in Chicago, which was the center of the print and advertising world after World War I. At C.E.J., consistent with other art services’ practices, an illustrated advertisement was often produced by different hands: one artist drawing the central figures of an illustration, another artist providing the backgrounds, and perhaps a third given the task of lettering the finished ad. Louis often told the story to Peter’s mom, Irene, that in his younger days, he had worked for an art agency where his responsibility was drawing background art for advertising illustrations. Below are some examples of C.E.J.Co. advertisements in trade mags/journals.
In the spring of 1921, the Charles Everett Johnson essentially dissolved, having merged with another Chicago art service, Bertsch and Cooper, with the new organization retaining Bertsch’s name. Louis left to begin his freelance illustrative work out of a studio in the family home in Naperville. In May he submitted an entry into the Sunburst Cover Design Contest, a commercial art contest, which was sponsored by the manufacturer of the cover paper, The Hampden Glazed Paper & Card Company. From the initial 3,500 entries in the commercial art contest, an honor roll of 200 was selected and exhibited at the Printing Crafts Building in New York City, December 3–16, 1921. Louis’ entry, “Shop Talk,” was included in this honor roll, and became part of the traveling exhibition that continued on to Philadelphia, Washington DC and finally Chicago, where the entries were displayed at the Arts and Crafts Building in February 1922. Two years later, the paper company published a winnowed collection of 75 of these 200 honor roll cover designs in 1923’s Constructive Cover Designing. Louis’ original 1921 submission is Color Plate 53 from this book.
Also in 1921, Louis, aged 20 years old, had this full-page illustration published In the July issue of Outdoor Life. This was the first of four full-page illustrations that appeared in the magazine over the next two years. This particular decoration celebrated the life story of Samuel Colt and the founding of Colt’s Patent Arms Company. The original artist’s proof of this illustration is saved as part of Colt’s Patent Fire Arms Manufacturing Company Records, housed in the Connecticut State Library.
His business card of the time reflected the sporting and outdoor focus of his early freelance career.
The young illustrator’s next stop was the Callender-Sullivan Press, a Chicago publisher who put out the Sporting Goods Journal, a monthly magazine for sporting goods dealers and sporting goods manufacturers. It was to be a necessary step in Louis’ sporting and outdoor illustrative career. Although still committed to his freelance work, Louis listed his occupation as a staff artist for the Sullivan Press for the registration of his entry in the 1924 Naperville/DuPage County Directory. He saved 15 of his illustrated covers, drawn for the magazine (from 1923 to 1925) in his art files.
In the July 9, 1924 edition of “Motorcycling”, we get to see some of the cartooning work Louis Paeth did for the magazine.
His association with the Callender-Sullivan Press (e.g. The Sporting Goods Journal, Motorcyling, etc.) was the connection to commissions for sporting goods illustrations from the manufacturers who advertised in this trade magazine. These are some of the sporting goods illustrative work he saved in the portfolio of his finished work.
From the sum total of Louis’ 1920’s sporting goods artwork, perhaps this illustration of a jubilant fisherman (a saved artist’s proof in his art files), remains one of Louis’ most iconic of outdoor images. The South Bend Bait Company used this image on their publications for over fifteen years.
Other natural clients of Louis’ outdoor illustrative work were the many railroad companies located in Chicago, the hub of the nation’s rail system. Their passenger trains’ destinations often included places of sporting and outdoor recreation.
Certainly one of his most beautiful railroad brochures was this one: “Special Train – Club Tours,” which was commissioned by the American Express Travel Department for their train excursions of the West in 1929. It opens up to a detailed, illustrated map of the two-week round trip from Chicago, revealing the outline of the itinerary of the journey: west to the coast on the lines of the Burlington and Great Northern railroads, and the return through the Canadian Rockies via the Canadian Pacific.
As time went by in the Roarin’ ’20s, Louis’ illustrative art wasn’t centered exclusively on outdoor art. In 1926, the newly completed Jewelers Building was renamed the Pure Oil Building, when the company moved their corporate offices from Cleveland into the 18th to 23rd floors of the building. Louis Paeth also moved his studio into the building in 1926, five floors below Pure Oil’s corporate offices, and gave the company the opportunity to hire, in essence, an in-house illustrator for their commercial artwork. Louis did the artwork for their 1927 illustrated brochure, “Telling the Story of Pure Oil,” which served as a way the company informed the public of their relocation to Chicago.
Another ‘20s Chicago business that hired Louis for illustrative work was the Western Electric Company, whose large Hawthorne Works factory in Cicero on the outskirts of the city, manufactured telephone parts for the Bell Telephone System. Saved in his portfolio was a compendium of 10 x 16 inch proofs of advertisements that appeared in Chicago newspapers in 1928 & 1929.
The ‘20s Western Electric advertisements served as a springboard for these ensuing illustrated booklets (which were saved in his portfolio) for Bell Telephone: “The Magic of Communication,” “How to Make Friends by Telephone,” and “The Telephone in America.”
In 1932, Louis, along with two others, formed a new advertising agency: McEndree, Paeth & Vaughn. An image they copyrighted on February, 14, 1933, an “outline map of the U.S. and passenger motor bus,” became the image used in the Greyhound Bus Company’s illustrated brochure for Chicago’s Century of Progress World’s Fair of 1933 & 1934. Louis’ stay with the agency was short-lived, but as before, reliance on freelance artwork was always his option.
His gouache painting of two wild turkeys was used as the cover illustration of the January 1934 edition of the Chicago-based Outdoors Magazine.
This 1936 illustrated jingle/coloring book from within Louis’ remaining art files (and featuring vegetable characters such as the Benny Bean family) was done for Stokely Brothers & Co. and mailed to customers who sent in 12 labels from cans of Stokely vegetables.
Upon his entry into the Buckley, Dement & Co. in 1937, Louis would essentially leave his role as a Chicago freelance advertising artist, and for the next 23 years he would be working exclusively for Chicago advertising agencies. Thus, for all intents and purposes, he became an in-house artist for these agencies. It was said that Buckley, Dement, & Co., in their business as specialists in direct-mail, specialized in the production of advertising booklets. As Louis became merchandising director at the agency, one of the these booklets was their 1939 Storyland Stamps booklet/stamp album, generated for the Horlick’s Malted Milk Corporation of Racine, Wisconsin. Forty-eight different illustrated stamps were created of favorite children’s story characters and were given out (along with the stamp albums) to customers who mailed in labels from Horlick’s containers. This promotion combined a child’s interest in stamps and storybooks with the selling of the company’s malted milk. Louis saved hundreds of these unused stamps in the portfolio of his finished work, along with three pristine stamp albums.
Louis joined up with an old friend, James Cleary, when he went to work for the Roche, Williams & Cleary Advertising Agency in the mid-’40s. Cleary had worked in the advertising department for the Chicago Tribune in the early ’20s when Louis’ illustrative work had appeared there. For the next 10 years he was involved with work for the agency’s clients, including the Milwaukee Road railroad and the Studebaker Corporation.
The mid-’50s brought Louis to his final job in Chicago’s advertising world when he accepted a position with the Buchen Company. He also now was in his mid ’50s, and certainly the clock was ticking for a man in a profession that had always been a young man’s game. But, there still was certainly an undeniable demand for a talented commercial artist in that profession as well. Louis provided his artwork for such Buchen clients as the DoAll Company and the Cast Iron Pipe Research Association.
Louis eventually did lose his job with Buchen in 1960. Perhaps it was a function of the changing of the guard that JFK’s election signaled. But now, a man who was approaching his sixties was without a job. As 1961 wore on, Louis was presented a job opportunity that was far removed from the advertising world that he had worked in for some 35 years. He went to work for the Commercial Trades Institute of Chicago to do artwork for several of their correspondence school courses. This home-study school, founded in 1942, provided vocational training in such fields as auto mechanics, refrigeration and cooling, and electronics.
Soon, he had also secured a contract with the school to write a new correspondence course in building construction and carpentry. For the next two years, Louis worked on what would become an 18-volume, 96 lesson course: “Building Construction.” The project provided Louis the opportunity to employ many of the creative talents he had accumulated during his life: illustration, technical composition, photography, even his life-long avocation of carpentry and building. Thus, when first contracted for the correspondence school course, as he drew on a lifetime of construction and commercial experiences, the Commercial Trades Institute was hiring a craftsman who could both write the text and provide the illustrations to accompany it.
Along with the illustrative work, there were also many photos used to accompany the text. Some pictures were obtained from manufacturing companies, others from trade associations. But a considerable portion of the photography was done by Louis, staging himself in construction scenes, and then with the use of a self timer, capturing the picture. On the pages of Building Construction, Louis appeared in roles such as a concrete former, a sheetrock taper, a painter and an architect.
For a lesson on the preliminary steps of designing and building a house, he even convinced his wife, Irene, and son, Tom, to portray a couple checking on the progress of their new home (accompanied by their architect, Louis).
Upon the course’s completion, Louis was retained by the school as a technical editor. One of his responsibilities was editing and publishing a monthly newsletter, “Opportunity,” which printed trade articles pertinent to the fields of study of Commercial Trades Institute students and graduates. The newsletter also printed graduate and student testimonials of satisfaction with the school’s courses, providing encouragement for those reading its pages.
With his new job as technical editor, Louis returned again to the city, after having spent two years working out of his home on the construction course. This time, he commuted to his new office at the Commercial Trades headquarters on the far north side of Chicago. As he worked there in the nondescript neighborhood of Rogers Park, his office was some nine miles from the glitz of the downtown Loop, its building next to the elevated tracks of the Chicago Transit Authority. Wouldn’t anyone looking at the beauty of Louis’ early illustrative work be struck by this poignant moment in his life? He once had studio space on both Wacker Drive and Michigan Avenue. His illustrations were once featured in national magazines, publications that had held a vastly more cosmopolitan clientele than his CTI students, many of whom were GIs just returning from Vietnam, and for whom he was now producing the monthly newsletter. In his prime, he once played in Chicago’s big leagues, and now, for all outward appearances, his career was ending in the low minors.
If he was discouraged by the apparent lack of distinction in his current job, he didn’t let his family know. Instead he endeavored to do his best, and as with his early advertising art, he spared no creative effort in the layout of the monthly “Opportunity” publication. Toward that end, in March of 1970, Louis returned to an old friend from his artist’s toolbox: cartooning. Like the testimonial letters, these motivational cartoons were drawn for the purpose of encouraging the CTI students to continue on with their studies toward the vocational success they would soon achieve.
These cartoons manifested some of the same fun and humor as his early dancing fruit and vegetables. So, instead of just a career setback, a beautiful symmetry had emerged: Louis, now entering his early seventies, had come full circle. It had been fully 50 years since the days of Billy DeBeck and the courses at the Academy of Fine Arts. He was ending his career where it had begun, in cartooning.
Even as he maintained the day-to-day of his obligations at CTI, his son Peter remembers Louis speaking of and planning for the day he would return to his painting. Unfortunately, he suffered a heart attack in 1970, and though he never gave up his enduring dream of a retirement at his easel, his declining health would not permit him to do so.
Louis Paeth died on April 20, 1973.
Peter and I have remained in contact the last few years, and we both have become committed to fill out and define Louis Paeth’s vast contribution to an important part of illustration history. He has made several discoveries in his continuing research since our first encounter. One was realizing that Louis most likely illustrated the “Going To Visit The Folks?” North Shore Line holiday poster that was in my 2016 Grohmann Museum exhibit. The other discovery of Peter’s concerned a painting mixed in amongst the other artwork, that he had thought was just a part of Louis’ “art morgue.” An archivist who had been restoring and framing Louis’ art had become quite familiar with his style and technique and was convinced that this illustration was indeed a Louis Paeth piece of work. Peter had felt that this particular painting was oddly familiar, but couldn’t figure out why. Later, while leafing through a photo album that his late mother Irene had assembled, he found a photo that jogged his memory. This painting had hung for years on the wall in the powder-room of his childhood home. With a little further research, he found a reproduction of the design used as part of a 1926 Coca-Cola calendar. How exciting!
This has been, by far, the most complicated and involved article I’ve ever delivered for the Print blog. I relied heavily upon Peter’s extensive research and drafting of major portions by him with the hope that this can stand as the definitive treatment of his dad’s career. I chose to do this because I felt that Louis’ work and career was a wonderful example of how so many illustrators/designers navigated through the world of commercial art during much of the 20th century. I can only hope that Peter and I can anticipate added contributions from a variety of sources through the years, so that Louis Paeth’s story can continue to serve as informative inspiration …
I’ll leave you with some arbitrary images of Louis’ that are just too tasty not to include …
and finally …