• J. J. Sedelmaier

A Commercial Artist’s Life: The Ubiquitous Work Of Louis Paeth

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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….

Louis Paeth

Louis Paeth 1900-1973

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 Imprint/Print Mag. 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.

Louis Paeth


Flyer pavilion at the 1933 Century Of Progress World’s Fair – 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.

Louis Paeth

Orange Crush-Dry label ca 1929.

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 recently, 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.

Louis Paeth

Original UK & USA editions of Animated Cartoons by Edwin G. Lutz 1920–1926.

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.

Louis Paeth

Sketchbook of W.G. Read

5. My article on CIBA/Geigy medical illustrator Frank Netter elicited a lovely note from his daughter Francine whom I can now call a pal!

Louis Paeth

Illustrations by Frank Netter from Ciba-Geigy Collections “Heart Edition.”

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 (my first!) 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.”

Louis Paeth

“Winter Sports In The Dunes” Chicago South Shore & South Bend Railway poster by Louis Paeth – 1927

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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 …

Louis Paeth

Brochures in my collection for more than 40 years, before I had any clue about who had done the artwork for them …

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!

Louis Paeth

The full set of Pullman booklets that I would later discover were illustrated by Louis Paeth. These were the subject of another of my Print articles ….

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 over 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.

One of the North Shore Line posters from the 1920–1930 series whose credit was “Artist Unknown” until Peter Paeth and I were able to determine it was his father Louis’.

Louis Paeth

Louis Paeth – 1918

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.”

Louis Paeth

A Summer Curriculum catalog received by Louis Paeth in conjunction with his enrollment in The Chicago Academy Of Fine Arts.

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.

Louis Paeth

Additional material from the Chicago Academy of Fine Art mailing above – 1919

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.

Louis Paeth

Louis Paeth

Louis’ registration cards for The School Of The Art Institute Of Chicago. 1920-21.

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.

Louis Paeth

Several artist’s proofs of Foster’s illustrative work in Louis’ “morgue” would seem to indicate his admiration of Foster’s work.

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.

March 17, 1919 – Opening day at the State & Lake Building, Chicago.

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.

Saved in his portfolio are multiple copies of artist’s proofs of several ads, including ones like this for the 1919 Oakland Motor Car Company—ones which he was likely assigned background artist.

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.

Louis Paeth

The submission announcement for the “Constructive Cover Designing” competition.

Louis Paeth

Advertisement for the book highlighting the winning entries.

Louis Paeth

The final slipcased 1923 edition of “Constructive Cover Designing,” presenting the winning entries.

Paeth’s winning piece as it was presented in the book.

The caption from Louis’ winning entry.

Louis Paeth

This copy of Paeth’s personal proof  of the award winning “Shop Talk”, printed on rigid card-stock, was used as nondescript BACKING for another piece of art slated for sale by his wife Irene. She had held several garage sales to liquidate the stockpile of art from Louis’ morgue, and had NO idea this was one of his pieces. She would mount and seal them with tape in acetate sleeves, and mark them with a price. Undoubtedly many other of his pieces were ultimately sold at these sales.

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.

Louis Paeth


His business card of the time reflected the sporting and outdoor focus of his early freelance career.

Louis’ business card 1920–1924.

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.

Louis Paeth

The cartoon of the steamboat, “City of Toledo” is signed “Peter Pate,” but was actually drawn by Louis employing the pseudonym that he had used previously when signing his artwork. (Other contributors to this edition used pseudonyms as well: “Fullov Castor,” “Sagebrush Sam,” “Pegasus Taron”)

Louis Paeth

This Harley Davidson ad, like the steamboat cartoon (promoting the upcoming rally of the American Motorcycle Association later that month in Toledo), shows representative typography and cartoon work the magazine employed when creating their clients’ advertising.

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 works below are some of the sporting goods illustrative work he saved in the portfolio of his finished work.

Louis Paeth

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.

Louis Paeth

1920s South Bend Bait Company ad.

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.

Chicago Burlington & Quincy Railroad – 1925

Louis Paeth

AMEX travel brochure cover 1929.

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.

Louis Paeth

Louis 1929

Louis’ business card 1925–1929.

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.

Louis Paeth


Louis Paeth

Typical of Louis’ WE work from the late 1920s.

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.

Louis Paeth

I’ve had these wonderful booklets in my collection since high school.

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.”