Society of Illustrators

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Society of Illustrators members at the Berkeley Theater in Manhattan (February 19, 1914)

The Society of Illustrators is a professional society based in New York City. Founded in 1901, the mission of the Society is to promote the art and appreciation of illustration, as well as its history. The Society encourages high ideals through exhibitions, lectures, education, and by fostering a sense of community and open discussion.

Founding and history[edit]

On February 1, 1901, a group of nine artists and one advising businessman founded the Society with this credo: "The object of the Society shall be to promote generally the art of illustration and to hold exhibitions from time to time." Attendees to the first monthly dinners included Howard Pyle, Maxfield Parrish, N.C. Wyeth, Charles Dana Gibson, Frederic Remington, James Montgomery Flagg and Howard Chandler Christy.

During the World War I years, Society members worked through the Division of Pictorial Publicity, creating many original poster designs, including James M. Flagg's US Army recruiting poster of Uncle Sam. Eight Society members, commissioned Captains in the Engineers, were sent to France to sketch the war. After the war, the Society operated the School for Disabled Soldiers.

1920s[edit]

Headquarters under renovation

In 1920, the Society was incorporated, and women became full members. The 1920s and 1930s were the heyday of the Illustrator's Shows. These theatrical skits featured the artists and their models as actors, songwriters, set designers and painters. Professional talent such as the Cotton Club band and Jimmy Durante also performed. Through member Watson Barrett, the Illustrator's Show of 1925 was held at the Shubert Theatre, and the Shuberts purchased the rights to the skits for their Broadway productions of Artists and Models.

In time, those funds allowed the Society to acquire its present headquarters, at 128 East 63rd Street. Norman Rockwell's Dover Coach became the backdrop for the bar on the fourth floor. This painting currently hangs in the Members Dining Room.

During World War II, the Society again contributed to the effort with a massive campaign of posters, illustrations and visits to veterans’ hospitals to sketch the wounded. These pictures were sent to families to help boost morale. The Illustrator's Jazz Band was formed to entertain the wounded. In 1946, a Welfare Fund for indigent artists was established. In 1948, the Joint Ethics Committee developed the first Code of Fair Practice. Lectures and demonstrations filled the house during those years.

In 1954, the U.S. Air Force began sending members around the world to document its activities. This program continues today. Thousands of paintings have been contributed over the years. The first Scholarship Fund was established in the early 50s and, in 1959, Norman Rockwell became the first member elected to the Society's hall of fame.

Museum of American Illustration[edit]

In 1959, the Society held its first Annual Exhibition, juried by Bob Peak, Bradbury Thompson, Stevan Dohanos and others. It opened with 350 original works of art and led to the publication of the first Illustrators Annual. In 2008, the Society celebrated its 50th Annual Exhibition.

Other notable events include the filming of Loving (1969) with George Segal portraying a frustrated illustrator; the Warwick (NY) Training School for Boys Saturday school (1961–65); The antiwar show "Genocide" (1972); the Bicentennial Show at the New-York Historical Society (1976–77); and the publication of 200 Years of American Illustration and The Illustrator in America; outreach programs to the Police Athletic League (1966–present); the New York City Parks Department (2001–present), and the New York City Board of Education (1999–present); the donation to shelters and charities of over 6,000 children's books (1992–present).

The Museum of American Illustration was established in 1981. Today the permanent collection includes nearly 1800 works by such artists as Norman Rockwell, Howard Pyle, N.C. Wyeth, James Montgomery Flagg, Bob Peak and Bernie Fuchs. 2001 was the Society's centennial year, a 12-month celebration begun with the U.S. Postal issue, Great American Illustrators. That year was punctuated with the 9/11 Memorial Exhibition, Prevailing Human Spirit.

Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art (MoCCA)[edit]

On August 2, 2012, the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art (MoCCA) announced plans to transfer their assets to the Society. It confirmed the continuation of the well-known MoCCA Fest. Exact plans for the collection's display are still to be confirmed.

External links[edit]