Tag Archives: Illustration

Zdeněk Burian: Paleoartist and illustrator

There will not be any more information here than you can learn on Zdeněk Burian’s wikipedia page, but what I have done is compile as many of the loose plate copies from his works that they are selling on ebay and dropping them into a giant album of varying resolution. I have also ordered a couple of his books that haven’t been translated and was going to wait until the arrived to post, but they haven’t even shipped yet.

Burian’s work is as iconic as anything the Charles Knight produced and includes many mass market non paleontological book illustrations such as Tarzan and Robinson Crusoe.  There was an interview published online just this past November that has some more biographical stuff about Burian. The original (where I pulled the featured image of the artist) is here, if you don’t read Czech you can work on the Mad Gab that is translated by Google here, it should be good enough to give you a broader sense of his work.

One of the things that I wanted to include here actually folds back onto my work on the paleoart of Ralph Shead. When the paintings were finally found one of them seemed out of place for Ralph’s style. In fact his great-nephew Bill was sure it wasn’t his because of it. With the name broken off now, all we had to go on was that the guys who worked with it on the break room wall was all certain it was by the same guy, and that Shead was the only museum artist. While I was pulling the images from a series of Ebay auctions selling one page at a time I stumbled across the answer: both are correct. It *was* a Shead painting, but it *wasn’t* his style. This is because it was a copy of a Zdeněk Burian piece.

Zdeněk Burian print from a book.
This scene was completely new to me, as I was never around to see it as part of the original Stovall Museum Mural. Photo by Author.
Ralph Shead’s version (left) of Burian’s ancient seas

I am hoping that one of the books that I have coming that contain colored images will have the colors of this one.

Burian’s work is prolific as well, a simple Google Image search will spread before you the breadth of his work in time, species, and publication.

Here is a nice slideshow done on youtube:

as well as an interview done in a museum which I assume is in Prague(?) You don’t have to understand Czech to enjoy the amazing pieces on display here, but if you do you will be able to get more info about Burian.

R.B. Shead: Art Director

If you have been following along, you will recognize the crescendo of  this Shead story has taken over my posts and summer research. It is hard to think of anything else I could add to what I’ve discovered so far save just adding to his already herculean numbers of completed pieces of art. Following the magazine covers that were part of his enormous portfolio and utilizing the interlibrary loan services at my library I secured a few copies of the Specialty Salesman Magazine. 

They aren’t readily available and is one of those magazines whose volume numbers roll over in the middle of the calendar year. Luckily I was able to get a copy of November 1925 as it explained the change in editorial and layout (in great detail), and the new direction that the magazine was headed. This is fortunate because one of the pages featured a set of portraits of the magazine staff including their titles.  Not only was Ralph Shead a contributing illustrator to the magazine he was the magazine’s art director. This explains the several covers that were part of the portfolio as well as the few pieces of art that weren’t his.

Specialty Salesman’s Staff November 1926
R.B. Shead, Art Director

So far the earliest I have seen is the November 1925 edition, but one of the portfolio covers shows  the change from 1924 to 1925. Perhaps he was working for the museum even earlier. I am still trying to track down as many copies of the magazines as I can to at least figure out when he started publishing illustrations there. This isn’t a particularly easy task as the magazines are large format (about 12×14 inches) and average 150 pages each. Some of the earliest ones I have seen swell to nearly 250. This means they take up a lot of space on library shelves and are likely not to be requested much. This is one of those instances where the physical copies of the magazines are essential to determining who produced the art. As great as microfilm is for text it is just as bad when it comes to images. We’ve preserved hard black and white letters for 500 years, but there was no apparent reason to care about that the images were. Simple pictures and visual aids are of no importance. (This is where we need a dedicated sarcasm font). For instance, in microfilm you would never be able to make out the works on the wall or on Shead’s easel in this image. Working with the physical copy you can clearly see one of the originals from the previous post hanging on the wall.

I am working on getting a clearer scan of that page to see if I can match any more of the extant pieces with the Art Department’s studio. I am hoping against hope that the one he is working on in this photo is one of the originals, but I fear I may have already used up my allotment of luck for this project.

Before I show the few matching pieces that I have found I want to share a little about the magazine itself. As its title suggests it is a magazine for men and women who sell. Sell what, exactly? And to whom? The mid twenties saw a rise in the traveling salesman and this magazine was a trade magazine of sorts to those enterprising enough to go door to door. Even if you’ve never been visited by a brush or vacuum cleaner salesman, you know there kind. This is exactly what Daffy Duck was doing representing the various head offices in Walla Walla, Washington. It wasn’t just a television trope.

Among the short stories illustrated by Shead and a handful of others there were scores of advertising pages providing dealer direct stock of men and women’s clothing, fountain pens, pocket watches, and even fire extinguishers. It is basically a magazine full of all the things that are relegated to the backs of most magazines today.

With nearly 9 more years to round out the 20s I do not know when or if I will be able to complete the decade an further to see when Shead’s final piece appeared, but there is more than enough here to attest to the profound productivity during his time in Indiana. In the 14 issues that I have catalogued Shead produced 84 illustrations and the all their covers.

For every one of the originals that are still in the portfolio there are several that exist as illustrations only. Some are part of the same stories, others are dispersed throughout countless other stories.

Shead’s illustration surrounding this poem “The Gallant Salesman” also shows that his animal scenes were just as good as any of those featuring people. It would be almost a decade before his subjects took him back to Norman to the campus museum and into prehistory.

As a final though on Shead’s work and to tie it all back around to his work at the Stovall museum and where I first encountered him, there is a marvelous collection of images that are all part of the same  project. Throughout this project besides breaking through some of the obscurity of the man and his work, I have been able to see his watercolor study, the plaster Marquette (which it turns out are not his), and a beautiful black and white photo of the finished diorama as it ran in The Oklahoman in 1952. 

Leptomeryx plaster models by Shead to be used in the Oligocene case in the museum. Copyright Sam Noble Oklahoma Natural History Museum
Leptomeryx plaster models by Shead to be used in the Oligocene case in the museum. Copyright Sam Noble Oklahoma Natural History Museum

 

Original Oklahoman Caption: “”big game hunter Frank buck has nothing on Dr. J. Willis Stovall, director of the museum at the University of Oklahoma, with the possible exception of Buck’s “Big’em back alive” slogan.” Photo Courtesy Oklahoma Historical Society

R.B. Shead: Pre-Museum Years

Several days after visiting with Ralph’s great nephew, Bill, he called me to say he had found a small watercolor study for one of the old museum dioramas and a few charcoal studies that Ralph had done as a student and others that were originals submitted as accompanying illustrations for short stories.

I was finally able to go back with my camera and take better photos of the paintings as well as look at these new finds. Those “few” sketched turned out to be an enormous century-old portfolio filled with over 100 pieces of art that Ralph had done either for story illustrations, studies, or magazine cover layouts. I was in awe.

The magazine covers were layout for The Specialty Salesman: The National Inspirational Monthly for Men and Women who Sell. The earliest cover layout was the January 1924 issue. I have no idea if these are the same ones that include the illustrations, but I have three years worth (12 months collectively bound) requested through interlibrary loan to find out.

Other covers included a music journal and an advertising flyer for the ad service that Ralph was working for in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

The nudes and studies are not dated but could be from his time as a student at the University of Oklahoma. The earliest dated piece is from 1916 which was Ralph’s senior year at OU. The architectural details (Cherokee Gothic) reveal that it is somewhere on campus.

R.B. Shead 1916

Most of the illustrations, when dated, are 1925 and 1926. These make up the bulk of the portfolio, which, incidentally survived the house burning down in 1937. Flipping through these huge (18×24 inches) original illustrations was something that doesn’t happen every day, and all could have easily been lost 80 years ago.  In addition to just being great artwork, the instructions for the engraver and printer were included on many including the finished sizes for printing, the largest being a mere 8.25 inches.

There a a few pastels and watercolors among the monotones as well.

One of the watercolors ties back into Shead’s museum work. It is a watercolor sketch for one of the many dioramas he painted for the Stovall Museum at the University of Oklahoma starting around 1933. Shead created these Leptomeryx plaster models for reference.

Leptomeryx plaster models by Shead to be used in the Oligocene case in the museum. Copyright Sam Noble Oklahoma Natural History Museum
Leptomeryx plaster models by Shead to be used in the Oligocene case in the museum. Copyright Sam Noble Oklahoma Natural History Museum

Finally, in the back of the giant portfolio was a “regular” sized sketchbook. The remaining sketch pages were all landscape studies from the 1940s complete with the color descriptions for painting– things like “pinkish bluff” and “light purplish bluff.” Many of these are recognizable areas for anyone who frequents the Southwest. Most specifically the Sandia Mountains of New Mexico. 

The Sandia Mountain sketch is dated September 1948 which means this enormous portfolio spans at least 32 years of work including Shead’s time as an OU  art student, his work as a professional advertising and illustration artist, his return back to Norman and his unfathomable amount of artwork at the museum, and, likely, the personal landscapes that adorn the walls of his home. Such a corpus of work, in addition to the fact that nearly anything at the Stovall Museum with paint on it was his, proves that R.B. Shead is fantastically more than the few sentences dedicated to him in the “official” university histories.