Motor Illustrator: Fred Irvin
October 1964 cover. A woman in a blue blouse and richly colored pink suit, wearing pearls, white gloves, and a navy fascinator, ticks off the problems with her car as the wide-eyed, white-coated service technician takes notes. In the background, other service men converse and visit the chuck wagon.
Fred Maddox Irvin (November 18, 1914 — February 7, 2006) was born in Chillicothe, Missouri and illustrated numerous cartoons, children's book covers, and magazine covers. His father was a traveling salesman who was also an accomplished musician and composer; he encouraged in his son a love of the arts. Irvin knew from an early age that he wanted to be an artist, and his artistic sensibilities were formed by life in a small town (one with an actual claim to being the home of sliced bread). He graduated from Chillicothe High School, where he also was President of the Art Club, in 1932. In August 1934, he left home to go to the Kansas City Art Institute. In June 1935, his drawings were on exhibit at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, and he studied there through most of 1936. In 1940, he made the move to New York City where he attended the Arts Students League.
During the forties and fifties, he made his living illustrating for advertising campaigns (such as Royal Crown Cola) and magazine stories. At some point, he associated himself with the Charles E. Cooper Studio, a beehive of activity for many successful commercial artists of the day who brought simple lines and imaginative, idealized concepts to advertising. Through the years, Irvin's magazine work would include these publications: The Elks Magazine, Argosy, Woman's Day, Reader's Digest, Collier's, American Weekly, and VFW magazine.
Just after Irvin's New York career began, though, he enlisted in the U.S. Army (in July 1942). He was a warrant officer (below commissioned officers but above non-commissioned officers), entering as a Private and advancing to Sergeant. During World War II, he served in a visual aids unit and, for a time, was stationed on Saipan (Mariana Islands). (Note: Some of his Saipan war sketches are in the collection of the Admiral Nimitz National Museum of the Pacific in Fredericksburg, Texas.) Discharged from service in 1946, Irvin returned to civilian life in New York and lived there until 1956. From at least 1953 to 1963, he was active in illustrating MoToR.
In the mid-fifties, he moved to Santa Barbara, California, and, in 1959, became the artistic director and resident artist for television station KEYT-TV. He stayed there for five years. During the sixties, and through the nineties, he took on more work with book illustrations, working with publishers Bobbs Merrill, Ginn & Co., Golden Books, and D. C. Heath. He also illustrated more than twenty children's sports books for Albert Whitman Publishing of Chicago. One of those books, Free Throw, released in 1968, showed black and white junior high students playing basketball together. At a time when racial mixing was not shown in children's books or black children were essentially given white features and a warm tan tint, Irvin chose a more realistic depiction.
Some of the book work he did was for Disney stories: The Flying Car and Walt Disney's Swiss Family Duck. These are some of the other titles he illustrated for children: Land of the Lost: The Surprise Guests; ABC Around the House, My Little Book About Flying; When the Dikes Broke; Three in One Car ; The Waltons: The Bird Dog; Hurry Up, Christmas!; Petey and I; and The Fairy Princess Superstar Barbie. There was also a series of biographies for young adults: Walt Disney. Young Movie Maker; John L. Lewis: Young Militant Labor Leader; Eddie Rickenbacker, Young Racer and Flyer; Vincent Lombardi: Young Football Coach; David Sarnoff: Radio and TV Boy; Duke Ellington: Young Music Master; Harvey S. Firestone: Young Rubber Pioneer; Lyndon B. Johnson, Young Texan; Harry Houdini: Young Magician; and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Gifted Young Poet. Additionally, he illustrated the Macmillan Dictionary for Children, as well as selections for the Book of the Month Club.
Irvin moved into animation in the late seventies, working at Hanna Barbera on story lines, layout, and character design. Some of his work there included Jana of the Jungle, Godzilla, Mister T, and Alvin and the Chipmunks. There was work at animation studio Ruby-Spears, too, from 1979 to 1985, where Irvin worked on Scooby-Doo and other television episodes.
In 1978, Irvin appeared in Who's Who in American Art. A member of the Society of Illustrators of Los Angeles, the Pastel Society of New York, and the Santa Barbara Art Association (where he also served on the Board), he died in San Diego, California in 2006. A great many of his paintings and drawings have pride of place at the Grand River Historical Society in Chillicothe, Missouri.
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