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Mac Conner: A New York Life

On view March 19 - June 5, 2016 at the Norman Rockwell Museum

 

Information about Mac Conner: A New York Life from The Norman Rockwell Museum

Fifty years later, the influence of the mid-1950s to 1960s endures, with current fashion, film, music, and commercial art continuing to be informed by the art, design, and culture from the time period. The Norman Rockwell Museum explores the work of one of illustration's original "Mad Men," whose work helped shape the popular image of postwar America -- Mac Conner: A New York Life is on view at the Norman Rockwell Museum. from March 19 through June 5, 2016 (right: Mac Conner, Illustration for "How Do You Love Me" in Woman's Home Companion, August 1950. Gouache on illustration board. © Mac Conner. Courtesy of the artist)

Organized by the Museum of the City of New York, Mac Conner: A New York Life is the first exhibition of more than 70 original works by the New York City-based artist whose advertising and editorial illustrations graced the pages of such leading publications as Cosmopolitan, Redbook, and The Saturday Evening Post. Presented as part of Norman Rockwell Museum's Distinguished Illustrator Series, the exhibition is co-sponsored by The Modern Graphic History Library at Washington University in St. Louis and the Museum's Rockwell Center for American Visual Studies.

"I never considered myself an artist," notes Conner. "I just liked to make pictures. (Illustrator) Al Parker was one of my gods, you might say, along with Norman Rockwell -- I loved the way he painted; he had heart and soul and a sense of humor."

Norman Rockwell Museum's Chief Curator Stephanie Plunkett adds that,"as a young boy, Mac Conner found inspiration in the art of Norman Rockwell, which he studied on the covers and pages of popular magazines in his father's dry goods store. It is fitting that this talented artist, who became one of the most prolific and highly regarded illustrators of the mid-twentieth century, be honored at Norman Rockwell Museum. His gift for creativity and invention is evident in lively, evocative works that offer insights into American aspiration during the Post-War era."

Mac Conner: A New York Life has been curated by Terrence C. Brown, former Director of the Society of Illustrators; and D.B. Down, Professor of Art and American Culture Studies at the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts, and Faculty Director of the Modern Graphic History Library, both at Washington University in St. Louis.

Speaking about Conner's stylish depictions of women, Mr. Brown observes: "It was not uncommon for ladies to go in to a hairdresser, hold out an illustration torn out of a magazine, and say 'I want my hair to look like that!'" Connner's illustrations set the fashion, but also offered a model to which women could aspire, that was also within their reach. (left: Mac Conner, Illustration for "Don't Be Like Me" in Collier's, September 8, 1953. Gouache on illustration board. © Mac Conner. Courtesy of the artist)

In addition to the artist's final paintings, the exhibition will include Conner's reference photographs and pastel sketches, which illuminate his illustration process. Correspondence with editors and art directors provide a glimpse inside the dynamic world of publishing at a time when the advertising industry was at its height and almost entirely centered on New York's Madison Avenue. An exhibition video, featuring an exclusive interview with Mac Conner, has been produced by Norman Rockwell Museum.

Also on view, the Museum's installation Ad Man: The Commercial Work of Norman Rockwell will display many of Rockwell's own commercial projects created over 50 years, including rarely-seen artwork for Pan Am, Shredded Wheat, AT&T, and the Boy Scouts (the artist's longest running client).

McCauley "Mac" Conner (b. 1913) grew up admiring Norman Rockwell's magazine covers in his father's general store. He began studying illustration with the International Correspondence School during the Depression. Later, Conner attended the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art (today the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the University of the Arts), and earned distinction as one of the youngest artists to have his work on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post. The artist found further study with Golden Age illustrator Harvey Dunn at New York's Grand Central School of Art. Conner was drafted into the Navy in 1943 and deployed to Manhattan, where he spent World War II illustrating training materials and set down roots in the city he still calls home. (right: Mac Conner, Illustration for "Let's Take a Trip Up the Nile" in This Week Magazine, November 5, 1950. Gouache and graphite on illustration board. © Mac Conner. Courtesy of the artist)

By 1950, well established in the illustration field, Conner joined with William Neeley to create Neeley Associates, a studio with up to ten artists servicing publishing and advertising clients. For the next 15 years, Mr. Conner was a mainstay illustrator for The Saturday Evening Post and for top women's and general interest magazines, including Ladies' Home Journal, Redbook, McCall's, Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, Woman's Home Companion, and Collier's. His advertising accounts included United Airlines, U.S. Army Recruiting, General Motors, and Greyhound Lines.

Known for his dramatic perspective, bold color blocks, and eye-catching patterns, Conner's stylish illustrations were noted for their ideals of female beauty and romance that author Betty Friedan later famously -- and-critically -- labeled "The Feminine Mystique." The themes presented in his work mirror the perspectives of the publications of the day and of their readership, with an emphasis on glamour, family values, and youth. The sophisticated, beautiful women in the illustrations are often depicted as the principal players, with men taking supporting roles.

Anxieties about postwar culture can be found in the work as well, reflecting the national scare over the "juvenile delinquent problem," or the Cold War-era fascination with noir topics such as crime, intrigue, and mystery-subjects that Conner interpreted with dramatic compositions reminiscent of Hitchcock thrillers.

By the 1960s, Conner's reinvented himself as a paperback cover artist, creating lush paintings that depict exotic locales and historical themes for romance novels and women's fiction published by Warner and Harlequin Books. Later in his career, Conner investigated portraiture and illustration for children's books.

 

Information about Mac Conner: A New York Life from The Museum of the City of New York

On September 10, 2014 The Museum of the City of New York opened Mac Conner: A New York Life -- the first exhibition of more than 70 original artworks by illustrator McCauley ("Mac") Conner, one of New York's original "Mad Men." In the 1940s - 60s, Conner's captivating advertising and editorial illustrations graced the pages of major magazines, including Cosmopolitan, Redbook, and The Saturday Evening Post, helping shape the popular image of postwar America. Mac Conner is organized by the Museum of the City of New York and co-sponsored by The Modern Graphic History Library at Washington University in St. Louis and the Rockwell Center for American Visual Studies at the Norman Rockwell Museum. (right: Mac Conner, Illustration for "Strictly Respectable" in Redbook, August 1953. Gouache on illustration board. © Mac Conner. Courtesy of the artist)

Mac Conner was on display at The Museum of the City of New York through February 1, 2015. The exhibit was then on view at The House of Illustration, April 1, 2015 - June 28, 2015 before traveling to the Norman Rockwell Museum.

Conner's extraordinary career emerged from humble beginnings; he began to study illustration by correspondence course during the Depression. Later, he attended the Pennsylvania Museum School of Industrial Art and earned distinction as one of the youngest artists to have his work on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post, one of the most prestigious media outlets of the era. Conner eventually studied under Harvey Dunn at New York's Grand Central School of Art, moving to the city to illustrate wartime Navy training aids and then staying on to establish his vocation.

By 1950, Conner was well established in the field and joined with William Neeley to create Neeley Associates, a studio with up to 10 artists servicing publishing and advertising clients. For the next 15 years, Conner was a mainstay illustrator for The Saturday Evening Post and for top women's and general interest magazines, including Ladies' Home Journal, Redbook, McCall's, Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, Woman's Home Companion, and Collier's. His advertising accounts included United Airlines, U.S. Army Recruiting, General Motors, and Greyhound Lines. 

With dramatic perspective, bold color blocks, and eye-catching patterns, Conner's illustrations exude an impeccable sense of style and capture ideals of female beauty, comportment, and romance that Betty Friedan later famously -- and critically -- labeled "The Feminine Mystique." The themes presented in his work mirror the perspectives of the publications of the day and of their readership, with an emphasis on glamour, family values, and youth. The sophisticated, beautiful women in the illustrations are often depicted as the principal players, with men taking supporting roles.

Anxieties about postwar culture can be found in the work as well, reflecting the national scare over the "juvenile delinquent problem," or the Cold War-era fascination with noir topics such as crime, intrigue, and mystery -- subjects that Conner interpreted with dramatic compositions reminiscent of Hitchcock thrillers. Racial diversity is generally conspicuous by its absence, as the magazines usually required that all of the subjects be white, though isolated assignments expand diversity ever so slightly, as when Conner illustrated a story by Pearl Buck, or depicted a black man attending a Jewish funeral in a story for Collier's. (left: Mac Conner, Illustration for "Where's Mary Smith?" in Good Housekeeping, June 1950. Gouache and gesso on masonite. © Mac Conner. Courtesy of the artist)

By the 1960s, Conner's style changed in accordance with changing artistic preferences cultivated by a younger cadre of illustrators who began to fill the pages of popular magazines. Women's publications shifted their focus away from fiction, and advertising agencies began to explore the possibilities of television over print. The exhibition shows that, like many of his contemporaries, Conner reinvented himself as a paperback cover artist, creating lush paintings that depict exotic locales and historical themes for romance novels and women's fiction published by Warner and Harlequin Books. Later in his career, Conner investigated portraiture and illustration for children's books.

"Today, Mac Conner is one of the few remaining voices of an influential group of New York illustrators who created the look of a generation," said Susan Henshaw Jones, the Ronay Menschel Director at the City Museum. "We are thrilled to showcase his incredible work and introduce visitors to yet another remarkable New Yorker."

"This golden era of Mac's illustration career echoes the golden era of when New York was the hub of advertising and publishing in America.  The man had the skills and the imagination to service both with exciting images.  The public will thoroughly enjoy a look at these times," said Terrence C. Brown, a City Museum guest curator and the Director of the Society of Illustrators.

 

Future venue for Mac Conner: A New York Life

 

About the Museum of the City of New York

The Museum of the City of New York celebrates and interprets the city, educating the public about its distinctive character, especially its heritage of diversity, opportunity, and perpetual transformation. Founded in 1923 as a private, nonprofit corporation, the Museum connects the past, present, and future of New York City. It serves the people of New York and visitors from around the world through exhibitions, school and public programs, publications, and collections. The Museum of the City of New York is located at 220 Fifth Avenue (at 103rd Street), New York, NY. Please see the museum's website for hours and fees.

 

Additional images for the exhibition

To view set one of images please click here.

To view set two of images please click here.

 

Resource Library editor's notes:

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For in-depth biographical information on certain artists referenced in this article please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

Read more information, articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the Norman Rockwell Museum in Resource Library.

The publication date of this article is May 28, 2016.


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