Saturday, December 20, 2014

Lowell Hess RIP

American illustrator Lowell Hess, whose work was part of the "Golden Age of American Illustration," died on Wednesday.  I have no details about his age or how he died at this time.

He was born in Oklahoma, went to high school there and then he attended the University of Oklahoma. He was, like so many illustrators, always drawing. 

"When he attended the University of Oklahoma he 'picked up a few covers for the school's humor magazine,' drew humorous depictions of student life for the college dance hall and caricatures at the student carnival. Lowell remembers that 'long after the festivities, I went home and drew funny faces late into the night.'" -- Leif Peng, Today's Inspiration

He married, and then found himself in Europe. He served as an artillery lieutenant in the US Army during WWII from 1942 to 1945. 

After the way, New York City was where he studied. He attended the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, and made the city his new home. 

In the 1950s, he worked hard to get assignments. And he go it, with a client list that included Colliers, Reader's Digest, Time-Life, Golden Books and many others. He drew 22 covers for Boy's Life. 

Photography began to supplant illustrations by the late 1950s. Lowell, like so many great freelance illustrators, found jobs scarce. By the 1960s his own income was, through no fault of his own, starting to dry up.

"After not making a dime for eight months, I told an employment agency in desperation, 'I can work with paper, I can do anything!'" he writes in THE ART OF LOWELL HESS (Dog Ear Publishing, 2011). 

This led to an interview with Graphics3. The interview must have went well, because Lowell became 

"the resident paper engineer and in-house illustrator at a company that specialized in creating pop-up greeting cards called Graphics3. Below are just a few of the many magnificent pop-up cards Lowell designed, engineered and illustrated during the 30 years he worked at Graphics3." --  Leif Peng, Today's Inspiration

Speaking personally ….

I am very sad to hear of Lowell's death. He had a wonderful life, and I know he was much loved by his own family, as well as the illustration community. 

I met him once, at a lunch in Westport, CT in 2006. The occasion was Frank Bolle's birthday. Ron Goulart, Bob Weber (the KIng Features "Moose and Molly" Bob Weber, that is), Orlando Busino and Frank McLaughlin were there. Those guys were all locals, but Lowell had somehow found his way from New Jersey, where his family now lived. 

Lowell was quiet, and I remember I had to ask Orlando twice if that was THE Lowell Hess. It was. Lowell listened to me for a minute and smiled broadly and chatted with me when I told him how much I loved his work -- especially those Boy's Life covers. A gracious gentleman whose skill will always be there for us all to look and wonder at.

The Lowell Hess Web Site
The Lowell Hess Flickr collection (maintained by Leif Peng)
Leif Peng's Today's Inspiration: Lowell Hess: "I had a reputation as an artist with talent."


Krista L. said...

I have a cherished copy of "My Christmas Treasury." I love his work and was searching for more information on him. RIP

Gary said...

Thank you for this post. The "Ali Baba" Golden Book was one of my favorites as a child, and I spent many hours lingering over the illustrations.

Gerry said...

I met Lowell about the same time you did, Mike, at one of those carttonist lunches in Westport. We had a great visit and I ended up at his house where he showed me a bunch of his magazine work, which was outstanding. But what I most remember was his display case crammed full of his carved cartoon figurines. It's how he spent his free time, and they were some of the liveliest and most charming things I'd ever seen. Very sorry to hear he's gone.

Anonymous said...

I am Lowell's stepdaughter. He had Parkinson's for years and eventually was in a nursing home the last couple. He drew as long as he could, but his vision deteriorated and the last year or so he had stopped drawing. I would say he died of natural causes or perhaps "old age". He was a very humble man with a eccentric side as his drawings often show! I am happy to help provide any information to those interested and am glad to see the warm comments!