Learning from the Masters: The Famous Artists School

Exhibition Website

Jul 8 2017 - Nov 19 2017

Established in 1948 by a group of artists led by Norman Rockwell and former Society of illustrators President Albert Dorne, the Famous Artists School, in Westport, Connecticut, became a household name during the mid-20th century. It offered aspiring artists correspondence courses in illustration, painting, and cartooning as a viable path to a creative and successful career, or, as the School put it, to a “Richer Life Through Art.” This special exhibition explores the artworks and creative methods featured in the program, during the 1940s and 1950s.

 Learning from the Masters includes  original artworks, studies, photographs, archival films documenting live demonstrations and commentary by the artists, contemporary interviews, and lesson plans. The exhibition is organized into seven sections that explore the major instructional themes that the famous illustrators identified as foundational for artists.

The Art of the Story explores the process of creating a visual narrative through such examples as Norman Rockwell’s whimsical Saturday Evening Post cover Art Critic, and Al Dorne’s biting Collier’s illustration Six Greedy Loafers, both from 1955; Making it Personal illustrates how artists such as John Atherton (Self Portrait as Fisherman, c. 1948) can express their personal point of view by infusing themselves and the world around them into their art; Drawing as a Tool for Seeing showcases such creative approaches to drawing as Al Parker’s pastel on paper illustrations; Composing for Best Effect shows how artists such as Robert Fawcett (Man on Ledge, 1941) create a strong sense of mood and drama; The Well-Designed Image demonstrates the use of balance, color, contrast, size, and attitude, to create such effective works as Fred Ludekens’ 1950 story illustration The Outlaw of Longbow; Drawing the Figure details how such artists as Jon Whitcomb effectively portray the figure in motion and in space, casting and working with models and photographic references; and An Eye for Color illuminates how such works as Peter Helck’s Melt Shop (n.d.) have been brought to life through the creative use of color.

The Famous Artists School was founded by twelve noted artists and illustrators whose work reached millions through the covers and pages of the nation’s most popular mid-century publications. In addition to Rockwell and Dorne, these included John Atherton, Austin Briggs, Stevan Dohanos, Robert Fawcett, Peter Helck, Fred Ludekens, Al Parker, Harold von Schmidt, Ben Stahl, and Jon Whitcomb. Students who enrolled in the program received coursework and feedback modeled after the working methods of these artists, who were among America’s most highly regarded illustrators, and who had created a curriculum based upon their artistic techniques.

This curriculum attracted more than 60,000 students during its heyday from the 1940s through 1960s, among them numerous soldiers returning from service, thanks to marketing efforts that included door-to-door sales and advertisements in magazines and comic books, often featuring a likeness of Rockwell with the tag line: “We’re looking for people who love to draw….” Through the years, the course was updated with new lessons and new famous artists.

Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website .

Whether you go or not, the companion publication, Drawing Lessons from the Famous Artists School: Classic Techniques and Expert Tips from the Golden Age of Illustration, is organized as a series of lessons in classic drawing technique. Each chapter offers both process and finished works by the founding artists and other instructors of the Famous Artists School, allowing readers to see a wide variety of approaches to learning how to draw and styles of rendering.

Enriched throughout with fascinating sidebars and photographs documenting the working methods of master realists, the book is an invaluable trove of inspiration and information on how to draw. The artwork presented  is gleaned from the amazing collection of more than 5,000 artworks and hundreds of thousands of other documents found in the Norman Rockwell Museum.

Click Drawing Lessons from the Famous Artists School: Classic Techniques and Expert Tips from the Golden Age of Illustration to place this book in your Amazon shopping cart.

  • Works on Paper
  • American
  • 20th Century
  • Norman Rockwell
  • Albert Dorne
  • Robert Fawcett
  • John Atherton
  • Fred Ludekens
  • Peter Helck
  • Austin Briggs
  • Stevan Dohanos
  • Al Parker
  • Harold von Schmidt
  • Ben Stahl
  • Jon Whitcomb

Exhibition Venues & Dates