Dean Cornwell Self Portrail

Dean Cornwell signature is a man of varied and paradoxical resources. Once a professional musician, he can always join their union and get a job as a trumpet player or drummer. As a kid, he passed an ice-cream factory to and from school. With his characteristic capacity for absorbing detail he learned the business so thoroughly that while playing the trumpet at a mountain resort, during vacation, he was half owner and chief mixer of a wholesale plant shipping several hundreds of gallons daily. His business career was short-lived, though highly profitable. He was determined to become a cartoonist, but the correspondence school in which he enrolled was prosecuted for fraudulent use of the mails. The next step was Chicago, three weeks at the Art Institute, and a job on the Tribune as staff artist and expert letterer. Lettering was nothing new to the boy who had made pocket money in his grade-school days by painting signs for the local butcher and baker to hang in their windows. As a staff artist, seventeen hours, seven days a week, was his schedule for several years. No hobbies except a model T Ford and a new ambition to do serious magazine illustration possessed him. After a summer's study with Harvey Dunn in Leonia, New Jersey, he wired Ray Long, then editing the Red Book, to send him a manuscript. Jim Flagg, "Brownie," and others wrote Long congratulating him on the newcomer. Between 1915 and 1927 he painted a thousand canvases. At thirty-five, he turned to mural painting. His first job in the Los Angeles Public Library, which was completed after six years of backbreaking work, is the largest executed by one man since Michelangelo decorated the Sistine Chapel. Dean Cornwell was born in Louisville, Kentucky, with a name the community respected and a rebellious streak in his nature. His childhood was spent avoiding school and otherwise trying zealously to live down his name. Ironically enough each year of his life has added to the prestige of this name he resented, a name peculiarly appropriate for a Dean of American Illustration. Meanwhile, he keeps up a lip on the trumpet just in case.

From Faces & Facts By and About 26 Contemporary Artists by Willis Birchman, Privately Printed, 1937

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Essay copyright 1934 by Willis Birchman. Illustrations copyright by their respective owners. This page designed & © 2001 by Jim Vadeboncoeur, Jr.
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