Wednesday, August 5, 2009

How to read this blog

This blog was created to supplement the biographical material at with even more details and artwork from Ray Prohaska's career. Below are the posts previously published on the Today's Inspiration blog. To read these chronologically, begin with the post immediately below this one and scroll down. When you reach the bottom of the page, continue by clicking "Older Posts". New posts will be added intermittently and should be read starting with the next post above this one and scrolling upward.

The most recent post will always be the one immediately below the header.

Ray Prohaska (1901-1981)

Recently I received a note from Tony Prohaska, the son of prominent mid-century illustrator Ray Prohaska - another artist I've been meaning to devote some time to on the blog. Prohaska was born in Mulo, Yugoslavia and came to the U.S. as a child. He studied art in San Francisco and found work on the West Coast and Chicago before moving to New York in 1930. There he established a successful career illustrating for all the major magazines and for advertising clients. He won many exhibition awards and served as president of the Society of Illustrators in 1959-60.

Looking at this small sampling of Prohaska's work, I'm fascinated by the tremendous variation in styles. You may be surprised to hear that the top piece was done in 1950 while the middle piece was done seven years later. You'd almost expect the reverse, wouldn't you?

And then this piece below, which was contributed by Charlie Allen, suggests even more that Prohaska was what I have dubbed a "restless illustrator" - one who enjoys searching... trying new things... is not content to settle into one 'signature' style. I've asked Tony Prohaska about this and several other aspects of his dad's career, and he promised to write back with some answers.

Meanwhile, Tony has put together an extensive website devoted to his dad's life, where you can read a very thorough biography and see many more examples of the artist's work. Go to The Art of Ray Prohaska for more.

* My Ray Prohaska Flickr set.

Ray Prohaska and Friends, Part 1

* I asked Tony Prohaska if his dad socialized much with any other big name illustrators and - wow! - the stories! As well as being immensely entertaining, these anecdotes shed some light on the status enjoyed by illustrators of that time as legitimate celebrities in their own right.

From Ray Prohaska's son, Tony:

"When Ray first came to New York he became friends with James Montgomery Flagg, who took him on as kind of a protégé.

My parents met at a party at Flagg’s house, in 1935. Several other illustrators were at this party, as well as members of the press, both radio and print. Most of the revelers belonged to one, if not all, of the following clubs; The Society of Illustrators, Artists and Writers, and The Dutch Treat Club."

"Carolyn, who knew many of the revelers, told it to me this way: There was a guy named Jimmy Stranahan, who was always in the picture. He had a girlfriend, and they were draped over a sofa."

"Ray was in the kitchen and everyone was jumping with the red wine, and suddenly he, Ray, emerged from his labors. He was doing the cooking. He said to Carolyn, “What are you, the intellectual type?” No, [ she said, ] she wasn’t going to play that game. Instead, she countered with, “Read any good books lately?” and Ray started telling her about The Natives Return, Louis Adamic’s book. Carolyn said, “Well, I’ve read The Return of the Native,” but Ray brushed that aside. “ I am a peasant! I’m going back!” he exclaimed. He was going back to Yugoslavia. They must have hit it off, because the rest of the party they both remembered as boring."

"Carolyn later remembered Carl Muller’s girlfriend, Ruth, complaining because Merrill, Carl’s son, who was all of eighteen then, had run up a $15 dollar a month dry cleaning bill! She always remembered that every time, years later, she watched Merrill on the news. ( By the time of J.F.K.’s presidency, he had become an anchor for NBC News.)”

"After Ray and Carolyn met, they sort of went steady for a few years, before getting married, and they “partied” a lot. Ray had a cast iron stomach, and never became an alcoholic (at least as I understand the term, clinically)."

"Another 'drunk vs. cast iron stomach' was Ray’s friend Bob Fawcett. Fawcett got drunk at our house in Amagansett a few times, and once, when I was about six or seven, took me into the studio and gave me a drunken lecture about what an obnoxious brat I was. I might have been, but he’s the only one who ever told me I was."

* Tony has put together an extensive website devoted to his dad's life, where you can read a very thorough biography and see many more examples of the artist's work. Go to The Art of Ray Prohaska for more.

* My Ray Prohaska Flickr set.

Ray Prohaska and Friends, Part 2

Tony Prohaska writes, "Ray was a member of the Society of Illustrators from the time he moved permanently from Chicago to New York, sometime after the ‘29 Crash. Through the S.I., Ray became friends with all the illustrators in N.Y. at the time, but his particular favorite, almost a father figure, was Arthur William Brown. Ray and Carolyn were constant companions with “Brownie” . He was a frequent visitor in the early day’s of their life in Amagansett."

"Their particular friends in those days included Al Dorne and his wife Edna, Bob and Aggie Fawcett, ……and I’ll think of the others as I go along."

"Al Dorne though, would not go below 14th St. Carolyn said she thought it had something to do with not going out of his father’s precinct. Supposedly, his father was a cop."

"Ray was also friends with many of the artists at the 10th Street Studios, where he kept a studio. (They had an apartment across the street, where I lived as an infant.) Ray became buddies at 10th Street with John Alan Maxwell. Ray liked to drink and chase women... [and] was accused by Johnny’s wife of leading him astray."

When I found this ad it occurred to me that Tony's dad might have pressed some of his illustrator friends into service to pose for the reference photos. Tony replied, "I'm pretty sure the young man on the left was a local kid,"

"... but he may have also used a professional model or two, or even as you say, one of his friends, for one or more of the older guys..."

"The guy with the pencil moustache looks like Johnny Maxwell."

Then I found the scan below of a Ray Prohaska original, from a 1950 story for the Saturday Evening Post on the Heritage Auctions website. I had to ask Tony... did he pose for this piece?

He replied, "Yeah, the posing. I hated it. Seemed like I was doing it all the time. I sort of felt that every one of his jobs had a kid who just happened to be my age. He had big, old fashioned lights, including one that was like a theater light. It was..., "hold still, just one more.." and then, another roll... and of course there was sitting on some stranger's lap, male or female.., balancing on one foot to look like I was running, of course there were telephone books as props..."

"No, there were no other illustrators that used me, ....other than after I was grown, when I did a few posing jobs for Al Moore, (a teriffic guy!) who had the studio across the hall from the one that Ray inherited from Brownie, at 33W. 67th. (I eventually got him kicked out of there for a couple of parties I gave... and some rowdy visitors, to put it mildly)."

"That boy with the dog was both me and my friend Mickey Miller... He just turned 67 and is a commercial fisherman."

Tony adds, "My parents were great friends with Leonard Starr. My father and I modeled for two of his characters, circus performers... my character was Tony Abbott. For years afterwards my friends called me 'The Boy Cartoon'."

* Tony Prohaska has put together an extensive website devoted to his dad's life, where you can read a very thorough biography and see many more examples of the artist's work. Go to The Art of Ray Prohaska for more.

* Thanks to Heritage Auctions for permission to use the scan of Ray Prohaska's original art above.

* My Ray Prohaska Flickr set.

Ray Prohaska: Art Reps & Art Directors

Ray Prohaska was represented by Lester Rossin Associates - the same studio that represented David Stone Martin. Though Rossin had quite a few high profile artists (including Ray) in his 'stable', almost every Lester Rossin ad I've seen from the early 50's features Martin's art ( as in the example below).

In 1956 Ray Prohaska received an Award of Merit for the piece below from the New York Art Directors Club. (Tony Prohaska writes, "I remember posing for one of the kids on the jetty.")

That year, Ray's illustration was at last featured in the top spot of a Lester Rossin group ad in the back pages of the '56 Art Director's Annual.

Tony had a summer job one year at Rossin's studio. He describes what it was like:

"Lets see...Rossin's was one floor... a receptionist, and maybe six people in the bull pen, including one very good letterer, another guy who did airbrush, and several people who did layouts, spots, and retouching. I think there were either three or four salesmen, maybe more, but I don't remember... and Rossin did sales too. I was in the production department, and did deliveries, mattes, wrapping packages, that kind of stuff. There were two of us gofers and a production manager, named Charlie Stubbs. My fellow gofer was Fred Travelena, who became a well known comedian, and died just a couple of weeks ago."

"I'm not sure if Ray ever had an other full time agent in N.Y., beside Rossin. He thought that all agents were crooks, but that you had to find a crook that wasn't too bad. Rossin occassionally would have one of his in-house studio people do a fake Ray Prohaska. I found that out when I worked that summer job for Rossin. Ray said he knew about it, figured it wasn't out of control."

"He was friends with a guy who'd been an agent and who moved out to Amagansett around the time we did, named Jim Perkins."

Looking over James Perkins' and Lester Rossin's artist lists, we can see some of the biggest names in the New York illustration scene of the day - and see also how close knit the entire community of graphic arts professionals were, socially and professionally.

But did Ray get all his jobs by way of his rep, or did he also take his portfolio around to show to art directors?

Tony writes, "He did get quite a few jobs direct, without Rossin, but I suppose he'd pay him anyway, I'm not sure. Also, his relationship with J. Walter Thompson was an old one, and he kept that up, went up to their offices quite a bit. I think he felt that he was treated o.k. by [Saturday Evening Post AD] Frank Kilker..."

"I'd have to say that one of his favorite jobs was a job he did for Frank Zachary, who was then at Holiday, I'm sure you know of him... it was an illustration of an African scene. He loved Frank. Frank rented the house next door to us one summer, and after that, rented down at the beach every year for several years."

"In general though, art directors were the bane of his existence, and we were under strict orders not to tell them he was fishing, or they'd think he wasn't busy."

"You had to be busy or you were dead, was how he put it."

* Tony Prohaska has put together an extensive website devoted to his dad's life, where you can read a very thorough biography and see many more examples of the artist's work. Go to The Art of Ray Prohaska for more.

* My Ray Prohaska Flickr set.

Ray Prohaska: "the more he fished, the more he painted."

A Ray Prohaska illustration recognized for an Award of Merit by the New York Art Directors Club, 1947...

... and another, from a decade later.

I asked Ray's son, Tony, if his dad felt obliged to experiment with new styles during the 50's, to keep up with changing trends.
Tony replied, "I think the Art Directors kind of dictated that (the style thing)."

"I remember Ray saying, in the late fifties and sixties, that all they wanted was Bob Peak. He also refered to some of that loose later style as the "it's raining all the time", style. "

In spite of that (and from what we've seen, Ray did enjoy experimenting with style now and then) he seems to have still found a certain amount of work from the magazines for his more tradititional approach, even in the late 50's-to-early sixties.
The pieces above and below are from 1959 and 1962, respectively.

As well, Tony writes, "as the business declined in the sixties, two clients that he found were the AMA Journal, and Standard Oil's house organ.., he did a few covers for each one as I remember, and they were good."

Tony writes, "I'd probably be right in saying that Ray felt that he, Ray, and Wally Morgan (another old guy that my father was great friends with), were the best draftsmen around....Ray used the term draftsmen alot, to connote drawing." That's a statement that makes me wonder, in conjunction with Ray's somewhat frustrated sounding comment about all art directors wanting Bob Peak and the "rainy day" look, if he didn't feel somewhat demoralized by the decline of the illustration business as it had been until around 1960.

But in his biography of his father at, Tony describes a far happier situation:

"When not illustrating, he was busy painting portraits, until, that is, he discovered the East End of Long Island. Then the sea began to demand his attention, and he began to divide his time between painting and fishing. At first his paintings were realistic, rock pools and the driftwood and skate eggs that line the shore, but they became more abstract, more rhythmic, and more involved in the action of fishing. And the more he fished, the more he painted."

And this final bit, from one of our correspondences: "... he had a pretty content old age, as far as it went."

* Tony Prohaska has put together an extensive website devoted to his dad's life, where you can read a very thorough biography and see many more examples of the artist's work. Go to The Art of Ray Prohaska for more.

* My Ray Prohaska Flickr set.