Art School

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post:  Most weekend mornings I sit down to post on Pictorama with at least a pretty good idea where I am going. However, life in the bunker has impacted my accumulating, of objects but also ideas, not being out in the world much.

Deitch Studio continues to do a pretty brisk bit of business during the pandemic (the need for comics and funds to be raised not diminishing with the quarantine), but with working nonstop and never leaving our intimate one room abode, opportunities for the acquisition of well, stuff, is somewhat limited and my intellectual life seems to boil down to reading Judy Bolton mystery novels. (I’ve written about my affection for this contemporaneous competitor of Nancy Drew here and here. However, I recognize the limitation!) A pay reduction at work has put us on what I like to call a money diet – and I can report that I appear to be better at reducing spending than calories. I am, as a result, more parsimonious and selective in my purchases. (I am sure eBay is feeling the result of my economizing.)

All this to say, I slept a bit late today and ambled over to the computer with no idea what I was hoping to serve up on this Sunday edition of Pictorama. I reached into one of the boxes on my desk where photos are stored, thinking I had a little clutch of photos I should look through. Instead I reached further into the box (right under the Little Orphan Annie sheet music I wrote about here), and pulled out this photo. I believe it came from a fascinating cache of photos sent to us by Kim’s friend Tom Conroy while ago, many of them are housed in these boxes.

It is not my first foray into the riches offered by these boxes. I have written about photos from Tom’s collection previously including one of Lilian Harvey boasting a Felix doll (here); Felix as an early TV test (here); and a Betty Boop and Felix find which can be found here. Thank you again Tom!

Today’s photo is identified only in a pencil scrawl as Hollywood Art School on the back, and has lead to a discussion between Kim and I as to whether or not this might be Los Angeles’s Chouinard Art School, where Disney trained his first animators in the late 1920’s. These students largely attended on scholarship as an act of kindness on the part of the school’s founder, Nelbert Chouinard. These would be Disney’s initial clutch of animators, later known as the Nine Old Men and they were instructed in the evenings by Donald Graham.

Graham was a Chouinard graduate turned teacher who was affiliated with the school from the late 1920’s until the early 1970’s. As a student he earned his way through school as a janitor there, sleeping in a bathtub at the school instead of paying rent. (He later “graduated” to teaching perspective at the school instead.)

They remained close over the decades and this debt was later repaid in 1961 when Disney rescues the now foundering enterprise and consolidates it into Cal Arts, the school he and his brother founded. (This was evidently a story not without controversy, but for today I leave it at this edited version.)

For any of us who have taken an art class this is, in many ways, a familiar scene. It appears to be a class in portraiture and the students are working from photographs, not a model. An art school like this, in the US during first part of the 20th century, would have been a trade school perhaps more focused on marketable skills for its students. The students are, to a one, men. They are also notable for their uniforms of collared shirts, ties and vests – instructors, who are working the room are clad in full suit and tie. (They appear to be ticking things off a list as they walk around the students, examining their work.) Sun streams in these windows, and one student wears an eye shade to protect from the glare on his work.

Students are seated at individual drawing tables, weighted with cast iron legs. Between them, placed strategically, are tables to hold supplies. One student in the middle seems to be a bit far from one and appears to have a few things in his lap instead. A table closest to us has photos piled on it, probably from prior assignments. It’s hard to see but there is another pile of photos on a table at the back wall, behind one of the instructors. The wooden chairs are a random mix and there is a table against one wall with some examples for the students. (A careful look draws my eye to one of a man with his mouth open that seems pretty impressive.)

In the lower right corner there is an insignia that says Browning N.Y.C. and after a quick search I had a moment of thinking that this might instead be a photo of the exclusive Browning School located here in Manhattan’s exclusive East 60’s. Founded in 1888 it certainly was around for this period, but as it tops out at twelfth grade I do not think it is possible – some of these students are balding. I cannot find any information that makes me believe they had an early trade school division.

The photo evokes the smell and look of such a classroom, and despite its exclusively male population and the rather formal attire, it could easily be exchanged for a class I might have taken at the Art Student’s League. I am reminded that Kim recently did an online talk for comics students at The New School. While they are not enjoying the camaraderie of their peers these days, nor the eagle eye of an instructor directly over them, they got an unusual view into Deitch Studio – complete with Kim yanking the day’s sketches off his desk. We hope that there are some compensations for being a student during these quarantine days.

 

 

 

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