• Steven Heller

Frost for the Ages

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You may never have heard or seen the work of Arthur Burdett (A.B.) Frost (1851–1928), but he was one of the luminaries of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century illustration and cartoon. He was one Harper & Brothers publishing house stable that included such renowned and prolific artists as—the pop stars of their days—Howard Pyle (1853–1911), E. W. Kemble (1861–1933) and Frederic Remington (1861–1909).

The house and its Harper’s Weekly published some of the 19th century’s most significant writers, including Herman Melville (1819–1891) and Mark Twain (1835–1910). Frost went on from there to publish illustrations for British Punch, Scribner’s and, most notably, the early American Life magazine.

Born in Philadelphia, a hotbed of illustrative talent, he attended the Philadelphia Academy of the Fine Arts. And in addition to his ability to capture key emotive moments, he was a master at creating the illusion of motion in 2D.

“Frost’s work was informed and inspired by many artists,” notes an online biography from the Norman Rockwell Museum.”His teachers surely left a lasting impact on him, but perhaps the artist’s biggest inspiration came from English photographer Eadweard Muybridge, who used state of the art technology to produce quick, serial photographs that captured progressing phases of movement—a technique known best through the artist’s groundbreaking studies for The Horse in Motion, from 1878. Frost borrowed and translated this, developing what came to be the American comic strip style, made up of successive imagery and dialogue. The style lent itself effectively to the artist’s slapstick sketches.”

After he died, his friend and fellow icon of American illustration, Charles Dana Gibson, wrote this tribute in St. Nicolas magazine. You’ll note that some of the illustrations depict African Americans in the stubbornly degrading stereotypical manner of the times, but Frost’s range of capturing emotion and humanity went further than the limitations of those conventions. He is all but forgotten today. It’s useful to remember some of these old timers.

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