The Famous Artists Schools had five correspondence art courses, cartooning, illustrating, painting, writing and photography; they always wanted to do sculpture too but couldn’t figure out how to deal with the student submissions of assignment work.
Each course was laid out the same way. The school had 12 famous practitioners in each field as their “Guiding Faculty” who were the ones that created the texts and assignments that I and the other “instructors” would criticize by means of written, drawn or painted corrections and advice on the lessons.
The Guiding Faculty, of course, didn’t work in our Westport, Connecticut office buildings but they did visit from time to time and give us lectures on their own work and look at some of our student critiques. Some of them who happened to live locally came over to the school frequently like Robert Fawcett (who got friendly with me and would give me tips on my own work). Harold von Schmidt also came to visit quite often to see his friend Al Dorne our fearless leader and principal founder of the schools. A few of our cartoon course Guiding Faculty like Whitney Darrow lived in Westport.
The cartoonist Virgil Partch (VIP) would come from California to visit and Milton Caniff (Terry and the Pirates and Steve Canyon) and others would come, and when they did, Dorne would take our small group of cartoon instructors and the visitor out to lunch at a very high class restaurant in Westport. I remember going out once with Rube Goldberg and after we had our lunch we all sat there and smoked great long cigars.
One notable visit was from the legendary sports cartoonist Willard Mullin, who decided that he’d like to try a critique of one of the students’ works before we went out to lunch. He sat down at my drawing board and a lucky student got an original Mullin drawing of a baseball pitcher. I watched in awe as the master started with the pitcher’s throwing hand extended forward in the throw and drew a sweeping arm line down to the pitcher leaning into the thrust.
When the painting course’s Ben Shahn would visit, I would show his slides of paintings to invited guests from the Westport Womens Club. I was chosen to do that because I was the only one in the building who knew Shahn’s work so well that I could navigate, looking at and putting each individual slide into our antique slide projector one at a time (it only held two slides). I did the same thing for the famous Chinese watercolorist Dong Kingman who used to make believe he couldn’t speak English well enough to answer the dumb questions from the audience (more about Dong in another story).
I think the funniest visit was from our superstar Guiding Faculty member … the one and only Norman Rockwell. He visited about once a year but the visit I remember best was when my friend and car-pool buddy, Zoltan raised his hand to praise Mr. Rockwell’s work. Zoltan was the schools’ staff photographer. He shot stuff for the text books mainly; it was pretty pedestrian stuff. Zoltan was a nice, simple soul, not very well versed in the art that surrounded him at the school.
Zoltan stood up and said that his favorite work of Rockwell’s was his annual Santa Claus in the Coke ads. Rockwell answered that he didn’t do the Coke ads. Zoltan’s reply was, “Yes you do … you know those great Santa Clauses… I love them!” Rockwell reiterated that he was not the illustrator that did the Coke Santa Clauses. To which, Zoltan replied, “Yes you do… the Coke ads!” Now, Zoltan was arguing with Rockwell. Finally after a few more back and forths, Zoltan quietly sat down.
I know that Zoltan was never convinced, like so many other Americans, that Rockwell didn’t do Haddon Sundblom’s Santa Clauses.