Motor Illustrator: Robert Bernard Robinson
[Note: Because Robinson was the face of MoToR magazine longer than any other illustrator, we are including a cover image for each of the decades in which he contributed to the magazine. ]
1926 cover. An irate customer points to the catalogue price for a new tire but an angry parts dealer stands his ground on a slight price mark up.
May 1936 cover. A garage man in white coveralls takes a break from providing emergency service one spring day and hits some golf balls at the practice range.
October 1942 cover. In a patriotic image atypical of the artist, Robison paints factory smokestacks belching fumes that turn into the red stripes of the flag. The pictured factories keep vehicles rolling (represented by a large tire at the left) and planes flying through the starry night.
August 1950 cover. A service dealer buffs a shine on a blue car, amused at a young cowboy playing hold-up with his reflection in the passenger's side door.
Robert Byron Robinson (June 3, 1886 — December 6, 1952) was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania and studied with renowned illustrator Howard Pyle at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts from 1909 to 1912. In 1912, he set off for Paris to see what he could learn from the explosively active art scene there but returned confirmed in his realistic style. He established a studio in Wilkes-Barre and, later, another one in New York City, settling his family in a home in Douglaston, Queens. He specialized in illustrating magazine covers, starting with Saturday Evening Post, where he provided illustrations from about 1910 to 1925. He also worked on other publications such as American, American Druggist, The Farm Journal, Liberty, and Redbook. His extensive work for Motor magazine lasted from 1926 to 1952. We know he drew advertising illustrations for Fisk Tire and Winchester rifles but he may well have illustrated other ad campaigns.
It was his magazine work, though, that warmed his readers' hearts. By making human interest stories, often comical ones, come alive as genre scenes, he connected to his audience. Whether portraying a young boy wanting to be just like his dad, a hobo duo doing their best to keep motoring, or a garage mechanic escaping work for long enough to enjoy watching a ball game, readers enjoyed getting to know their motoring counterparts. The focus was clearly on people; often vehicles were not shown at all. There were triumphs and woes aplenty as perky ingénues, wealthy dowagers, and prankster mechanics played their parts. There was also racial stereotyping and sexism in some of these illustrations but they were, after all, informed by popular sentiment of the times.
In 1912, Robinson judged a photographic exhibit at the Wilkes-Barre Camera Club, and in 1917, he became a member of the Society of Independent Artists. The artist was 66 when he died.
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