Both of my father’s parents were artists.
At the beginning of the first World War, my grandmother, a medical illustrator, was teaching courses at Yale University. Then, according to family lore, when my grandfather was about to ship out to Europe with the infantry, his caricature of his commanding officer fell into official hands.
In a stunning display of enlightenment, the army immediately sent him to Yale to be trained in medical illustration. Thus, I am here today.
This story leaves out the fact that Jack Lambert had already attended the National Academy of Design in New York, and had ambitions to be a sculptor. However, once the Great Depression came along. He took work where he could find it, including giving puppet shows to schoolchildren. Putting his sculpturel talent to work, he built the marionettes, and my grandmother dressed them.
Decades later, when I was about 12, I asked them to make me a marionette.
They obliged with this little character, a Depression-era bum if there ever was one.
My grandfather inscribed the two works shown below to his friend Allen Porter. As a very young man, Allen worked at the Chicago Sun. At the time, my grandfather was the paper’s editorial cartoonist. Later, he moved on to the Baltimore Sun, and stayed there until he retired in the 1960’s.
Allen became an accomplished designer, and a member of the Chicago Bauhaus community. He found me online and offered me these pieces, which I readily accepted. He has graciously kept in touch and encouraged me in my work.
In the USA of mid-20th century, the issue of red-baiting was in the news. The pencilled caption on the cartoon is “Let’s Ration Red Paint.”
If he were alive today, my grandfather might change the label on the “reactionary’s” red paint from “COMMUNISM” to “TERRORISM”. Clearly, he was suggesting we stop labeling people out of fear, without regard for fairness or justice.
As you can see, my grandfather packed a lot of energy into an image, just what a cartoonist needs to do. I love the classic, 20th century look of this character. Like the marionette, he’s got spats!
Allen also sent me this photograph. Jack Lambert was an innovator, combining photography, sculpture, and cartooning. Evidently, this is an illustration for the war bond drive. At that time, two of his sons were pilots in the Army Air Corps, flying missions over Europe.
After the war, he used this same technique on two covers for Colliers Magazine, illustrating the Democratic and Republican conventions. On one, painted clay sculptures of donkeys, dressed in the usual funny convention outfits, are running across the page, on the other, it’s elephants.
And speaking of topical,
This drawing is a draft, unsigned, undated, and never prepared for publication. Instead, he seems to have done another drawing in which a police truncheon knocks a gun out of someone’s hand. (Perhaps the editorial board preferred to avoid a reference to gun dealers.)
These cartoons lack the layers of irony we encounter everywhere today. They come from a time when cartoons tended to be more straightforward, so that the message doesn’t leave much room for misinterpretation.
Few of my grandfather’s sculptures survive, He made them in clay, and as he made new pieces he reused the material, Similarly, he discarded his cartoon drafts, as most cartoonist did at that time. So I feel very lucky that I spoke up and asked him for a pile of drawings I saw in his studio. He was a funny guy, and a serious artist. When, as I child, I asked him for advice about how I could become an artist he told me just one thing. “Learn to draw.”
Being a working artist has its joys and challenges, but, through it all, your support and encouragement sustain me. Thank you so much for being my audience.