RED OAK, IOWA WAS THE BIRTHPLACE OF CALENDAR ART
Hy Hintermeister; oil; "Girl Can't Coax St. Bernard Across Street;" 1961; sold: $2,420. Photo courtesy of Illustration House.
The 1890s red-limestone courthouse sitting in the historic district of Red Oak, Iowa is not much different from other courthouses of the era except for one thing.
This courthouse served as the inspiration for the birth of calendar art in America.
It started innocently enough in 1889 when two college friends, Thomas D. Murphy and Edmond Osborne purchased a woodcut of the Montgomery County Courthouse in Red Oak. To help pay for their purchase the duo sold advertising around the picture and added a calendar pad.
The brainchild was an immediate success and the promotional calendar industry was off-and-running. For the next 100-years, calendar art and The Thos. D. Murphy Co. would become a permanent part of the American scene.
The Montgomery County History Center still features the original equipment from the Thos. D. Murphy Company: A Gordon Press, a proof press, and sets of antique cases with a variety of type used when advertising copy was set by hand.
You might say, what’s the big deal? It’s only calendar art.
Some of the most celebrated artists in America started out as calendar artists. Landscape painter Thomas Moran and Frederic Remington as well as Charles M. Russell were among Murphy’s artists in their early careers. Later generations of calendar artists included Maxfield Parrish, Hy Hintermeister and Rolf Armstrong.
“The People’s Art,” as it was sometimes called, sidestepped the notion of “high art” and offered a slice of “everyday life” as art. All the soft and thorny tight spots of any given day were gist for this genre.
Nostalgic scenes such as “Temporary Tie-up” where a little girl coaxes her dog out of the crosswalk while traffic waits, and “Unwelcome Helpers” where three bears innocently investigate a camper’s laundry as he looks on in shock, such was the landscape of “People’s Art.”
Calendar art worked because it pictured a world everyone could relate to over his or her morning coffee, an art form that reaffirmed the day-to-day life of the common person.
All in all, calendars are still one of the most efficient advertising vehicles available today. They offer eye appeal, built-in demand, and cost effectiveness. No other form of advertising commands that type of wall space.
As giveaways, calendars were bigger before the advent of television and radio commercials. Nowadays, vintage calendars with their bold color lithography and amusing advertising messages have become choice collectibles.
On March 22, 2002, Illustration House in New York City featured the original artwork from the archives of The Thos. D. Murphy Co., on the block. Here are some current values for calendar art.
Claude Strachan; gouache; Thatched cottage with garden, girl feeding dog; circa 1930s; signed; 20 inches by 13˝ inches; $1,650.
Hy Hintermeister; oil on canvas; Girl can’t coax her St. Bernard across street; Oct. 10, 1961; signed; 30 inches by 25 inches; $2,420.
Arthur Frahm; oil on canvas; Young woman holding bouquet of red roses; Dec. 29, 1941; signed; 31 inches by 24 inches; $2,420.
Raymond J. Stuart; oil on canvas; Young girl walking dog on windy day; 1953; signed; 32 inches by 24 inches; $2,530.
Hy Hintermeister; oil on canvas; Bears investigate camper’s laundry; July 7, 1949; signed; 22 inches by 30 inches; $3,575.
Arthur Sarnoff; oil on canvasboard; Policeman protecting girl and dog from rain; May 5, 1965; signed; 30 inches by 24 inches; $9,350.
Marion Kavanaugh Wachtel; oil on canvas; California landscape, mountains in distance; April 4, 1923; signed; 22 inches by 30 inches; $35,200.
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