Art Center

CHAPTER IV
ART CENTER COLLEGE OF DESIGN

At the University of Nebraska, I had started out in business administration, which I took for two years and did not like. I was taking as many art courses as I could. Those were not particularly good art classes. My objective was a commercial artist — advertising artist. I had to get to more serious art training in order to be effective as a commercial artist. I had always been able to do a certain amount of commercial mt — signs for store windows — that type of thing, which later led to outdoor advertising — more signs — more elaborate signs. And more money in signs.

At that time, one of the commercial art schools was at the University of Chicago. I had taken a couple of correspondence art classes with the Federal Art Institute in Minneapolis, Minnesota. That was a good course as correspondence schools go, but I was determined to go to a regular art school. One was really just beginning in California –Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles. It was expensive. I had to borrow from my local banker, my father. And being an astute business man, he insisted on collateral. So I took out an insurance policy for $1,000 and signed over that policy to my father as collateral for my first year’s loan. This later became quite a bone of contention with my first wife, who was not a business woman, and didn’t fully appreciate my father’s rights to my insurance policy in case of my death.

I didn’t graduate from the University of Nebraska, although I went there four years, because I was short in both colleges — business administration and liberal arts.
I was short credits in a foreign language and mathematics. In 1939, after four years at the University of Nebraska, I went to Art Center College of Design for two years.

You couldn’t say I was short on formal education. As it turned out I graduated from everything else like ROTC; and later in the army air corps, Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas; the Air Force University, and Art Center College of Design. Art Center didn’t have a graduation system at that time, but belatedly in 2003, I received my diploma from there, as did many others who attended Art Center at the same time I did.

When I was at Art Center College of Design, it was not accredited at a time when the government was getting in the business of accreditation of schools. When the government got in the business of schools and accrediting, they imposed the same requirements of points in foreign language, mathematics, science, etc. And until the GI bill, when Art Center found they couldn’t survive without the GI bill, it was not accredited. To get the GI bill they had to meet the accreditation requirements, which they did.

Since I went before the war, I did not use the GI bill, so I was sort of trapped in a no win educational counting game. All around me people were getting awards and graduating with an accredited education, but my education deftly avoided all accredited schooling. Every time you changed your mind about what subject you wanted to specialize in, you found it did not match the point system available to you.

While at Art Center I had an apartment with two other boys from Lincoln. My folks got an apartment in the same building. They came out in the winter. I always went home for Christmas. My mother said that was her Christmas present to have me home

During my two years at Art Center, I took a number of courses aimed at getting a commercial art career. One course was taught by the top art director for Paramount studio, Jack Martin Smith. I still see his name on old movie credits as art director on various films. At Art Center, he taught set design for the movies This course also included book cover designs for books associated with the movies.

One of the assignments was a book cover for a newly released movie of Osa Johnson’s about Africa. Among the sketches that I had done, there was one that I felt had a good book cover look to it. It was an illustration of the map of Africa with a symbolic big claw of the king of beasts — the lion — raking across all of the illustration of the map of Africa. To get the authentic look for my illustration, since most of us have never seen a lion’s claw up close, I decided to get realistic by getting the closest thing to a lion’s claw that I could find. That was a cat’s claw.

In a parking lot outside of the apartment where I was living, cats congregated from time to time working on the garbage cans. I had been watching one huge yellow cat, and felt that he was tame enough to be cooperative while I examined how his claw was constructed. I had to use one of my roommates to help me comer this beast, not to catch him. I was the catcher. This cat was not cooperative. When I grabbed it to carry it back to the apartment, it became ferocious — hard to examine a cat’s claw when it’s being ferocious. I was holding its paws with one hand and the rest of the cat was struggling furiously to escape its captor. In the process, the cat bit me on the finger of my left hand and clamped down tenaciously. This startled me to the extent that I threw my hand high in the air to get the cat loose. The cat had my finger in its mouth down along the side of my nail. As the cat flew through the air, accomplishing its objective of getting loose, it split my finger.

My cat wound took a good week to heal. Being left handed, naturally it was my left hand that was wounded. It set back my drawing schedule for not only that project but others I was involved in. I did do the book jacket cover. I was told by Mr. Smith, the instructor, that the publishing company for Elsa Johnsons’ book was interested in negotiating for the use of my illustration, blood and all. I did not make a deal for the cover, as I never heard further from that publisher.

Another of my assignments was designing the interior of the captain’s cabin for the movie, Mutiny on the Bounty. Because it was a ship, three sides of the interior of captain’s cabin had to be curved. This was very difficult to draw because of the foreshortening.

Every song and dance movie — big elaborate musicals — had to have a winding staircase for the star to descend — usually in the climax of the film. This was also one of our assignments.

Trained by my experience with the captain’s cabin foreshortening problems, the only tiring that surpassed that was my drawing of an electric fan moving. As the years went by, Art Center grew to be quite an elaborate institution as you can see from the articles. In later life, I was a member of Art Center’s Board of Trustees for many years.