When my father graduated from Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Tech University the country was in the midst of the Great Depression. He needed a job. This was not easy as he was an art school graduate looking for a job as an illustrator. He had a decision to make. He made a decision to leave his home town and head to Detroit. Detroit had auto advertising, and every year they needed new car catalogs. My dad got a chance to prove himself, stayed, and started his own commercial art studio. NYC called, but he stayed put.
Here is a painting he did of my mother.
Because of the auto business Detroit’s advertising business expanded and thrived.
There was a steady need for artwork, and it paid well. Detroit for many years was a magnet for this country’s best young illustrators. The work was often done under severe deadlines to meet printing schedules. The constant pressure was not everyone’s cup of tea. Plenty of the ” top of their class” visual artists poured into Detroit, and later some leaked out
Some of the world’s finest illustrators started their careers in Detroit surrounded by other skilled artists. It always troubled me when a good artist left to expand their opportunities. It made me proud when they succeeded.
Here are four artists who all left Detroit. There was always an abundant supply of talented replacements. These guys left before photography replaced illustration in advertising. Photography was deemed more believable. This was before Photoshop.
Bernie Fuchs was a great American illustrator best known for his magazine illustrations, and U.S. postage stamp designs. Fuchs’ painting style was based in photography, but nevertheless always maintained a painterly simplification of detail and color. Bernie started his career working in Detroit as a car advertisement illustrator at New Center Studios., where I also worked after he had left town.Some of his most acclaimed work was for sports magazines; over the course of his life he created over 50 covers for Sports Illustrated.
I worked with Robert Heindel at New Center Studios when he was an apprentice just out of school.
He was a painter, illustrator, and stage designer best known for his paintings of dance and performing arts. Heindel created over 1300 paintings and drawings of dance and performing arts. He was described as the best painter of dance of his time.
Well-known patrons of dance and the performing arts collected Heindel’s works and sponsored his exhibitions, including Princess Diana, Princess Margaret, Princess Caroline, and Andrew Lloyd Webber. His works are found in the permanent collections of museums including the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, London.
Mark lives in Missouri, where he concentrates on his fine art.He has won hundreds of awards for his work and has been the most awarded illustrator in the history of the Society of Illustrators in New York City.
I have known John for 60 years. He left Detroit to do magazine illustration in NYC. He now lives in Carlsbad, Ca. He is considered one of the world’s greatest colorists.
All these artists came to Detroit because of our town’s promise of work.
The decision to stay in town or seek greener pastures continues to be a tough decision and has provided many with second thoughts and doubts.
Detroit has always been rich in jazz artists. Michigan’s Universities, churches and jazz rich families have been a gusher of musical talent. Sometimes this rich stream of musicians goes downstream to bigger ponds. Chasing the shiny apple isn’t for everyone. Becoming famous means packing up, saying goodbye to family and friends and then finding some affordable digs in the Big Apple, NYC. Some settle into their new environs and some put their car in reverse and return home. Many artists never leave.
ROOTING FOR DETROIT
I am a blatant fan of Detroit, where I was born, but I pale in my enthusiasm next to one of Detroit’s staunchest advocates, Ralphe Armstrong. Ralphe will certainly mention his love for his town whenever he takes the stage at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café. Ralphe can be, well, glib. He has the gift of gab. It is hard to take his picture without his getting that devilish glint in his eyes. But, when he talks about Detroit up on that stage, it is from the heart. Ralphe is one of many of our home grown talents who are in demand world-wide and have spent a lot of their life on the road. Ralphe has always come home, and when he does he tells us how happy he is to be back.
What is it that keeps an internationally renowned artist like Ralphe Armstrong so rooted? Is it his many friends? Perhaps he likes being around so many other great artists. Maybe it is because Detroit is a good place to draw inspiration. Detroit is challenging.That is for sure. We screw up and dig holes for ourselves, but we climb out and we are always interesting.
I believe that Ralphe Armstrong is aware of many of the snarly things growing in the soil of Detroit. He knows the rocks and weeds that make the flowers struggle to bloom. But bloom they do. The children of Detroit when given patience and opportunity work hard and achieve. They are what Ralphe sees happening when he looks into a student’s eager to learn eyes and it’s what keeps him rooted.
STAYING AND TEACHING
There are musicians who can make a living in music. A lot of them survive by teaching young people what they know, then the students become the teachers and they get by by teaching the next generation, and so it goes. This is a good thing. Detroit has maintained a prominence in music because we have always had an education system that has embraced the arts.
Detroit has a tradition of tough instruction that demands hard work and focus combined with a sense of tradition.
I have always thought that Detroit is where jazz goes to school. Detroit certainly has always had a tradition of producing A list jazz artists. More importantly, for decades they have had A list teachers. They are in the schools and in neighborhoods and playing alongside the young players at the clubs and on their recordings.
Living in Detroit or being from Detroit
Being from Detroit gets musicians some gravitas. Having grown up and having learned to play in Detroit means something when a band is being assembled. You will likely contribute a relentless steady beat, you will know a lot of tunes and will be brave and resilient. Being from Detroit counts for something.
Living in Detroit means that you will get a chance to be with other players from Detroit.
I think that this is the primary reason we keep so many of our house cats at home.
COMING THIS WEEK TO THE DIRTY DOG JAZZ CAFÉ
STAY AT HOME CAT JEFF CANADY
Don’t miss this chance to witness some high energy jazz that comes only from Detroit and our young artists.