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AUTO HISTORY

Motor Illustrator: Ruth Eastman

July 1923 cover. An active young woman dressed in tennis whites, carrying a red wrap, and cradling a tennis racket, opens a car door to drive away.

July 1923 cover. An active young woman dressed in tennis whites, carrying a red wrap, and cradling a tennis racket, opens a car door to drive away.


Artist/illustrator Ruth Eastman (Rodgers) (December 27, 1882 — July 1976) was well known in her day for pictorializing female beauty, energy and abilities. She was born and grew up in Nassau, Long Island. Her father, George W. Eastman, was an attorney specializing in real estate who founded the Roslyn Savings Bank and was active in politics and temperance activities. Ruth's mother was Jennie Rushmore who also had two other surviving children, Lester and Mortimer. The couple kept a lovely home that was refuge and resort to their many friends.

Ruth enjoyed a privileged upbringing and studied art in New York with William Merritt Chase at the Art Students League. She would later study art in Paris and London, as well. By 1903, she was teaching illustration classes at the Art Students League. That year she also took two first place prizes in the Queens-Nassau Fair for a black and white sketch of an energetic businessman walking along a city street and for a pen and ink sketch of two children staring into a bakery window.

As reported in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle of May 2, 1915, she spent time in March 1915 with Puerto Rico's Governor Arthur Yager and his wife, visiting Venezuela. They looked around the Caribbean island of Curacao, too, and cars awaited them at the north coast of Venezuela to take them over the mountains to Caracas. Ruth had met the Governor when she wintered over in Puerto Rico, whiling away hours playing cards, dancing, attending parties, and taking car rides. Cars may have appealed to her sense of adventure, since an article in the December 7, 1919 issue of the New York Tribune said Eastman could drive "any kind of motor car that goes on four wheels, but she seldom uses more than three." The implication was that she enjoyed some reckless driving activities.

Eastman's career as a magazine cover illustrator had already begun by 1911, and she was in demand to draw color cover work for Judge, McCall's, House and Garden, The Saturday Evening Post, Liberty, Today's Magazine for Women, American Magazine, Country Gentleman, Collier's, The People's Home Journal, Ainslee's, and others. She excelled in composition and the use of bold colors, and she pictured active, confident women. They might be driving, skiing, skating, playing tennis or golf, riding, shooting, playing cards, going to the opera, swimming, picking apples or flowers, traveling abroad, cooking, sailing, doing crosswords, etc. And they looked like fashion plates — never a hair out of place, always turned out in fashionable, often colorful attire. She sometimes worked from photographs and drew the model unclad before returning to sketch in the fashionable outfit. Her powerful work for MoToR magazine was introduced from 1918 to 1921.

In 1917, she drew a WWI poster for the Red Cross Committee on Public Information campaign. The campaign warned citizens to avoid giving comfort to the enemy, and Eastman's poster showed one debutante holding a teacup and reminding another deb not to pass along stories started by spies.

She also did calendar work, game work (illustrating the paddock for a 1922 horse racing game), catalogue work (United Cigar Stores), and book illustration (1904's The Puritan Maid: A Poem). She illustrated commercial advertising for products such as Jantzen swimwear, Coty cosmetics, Vanity Fair, Murad Turkish cigarettes, Pratt and Lambert varnish, Mallinson's Silks, etc. She contributed an illustration to 1927's program for a charity ball for the Society of Beaux Art and Architects. In 1935, she also illustrated a poster for a Broadway show: "Jumbo" with Jimmy Durante.

She was happily married later in life (at age 45) to James Linn "Ducky" Rodgers of Cornwall, New York, a Captain in the U.S. Navy who had attended Princeton as well as the Naval Academy. They summered in Cornwall and wintered near Montego Bay, Jamaica, where Ruth painted as a hobby, focusing primarily on Jamaicans, landscapes, and seascapes. A few years after James's death in 1969, Ruth's eyesight began to fail her. She moved to a friend's home in Maryland, where she died some time during the mid-seventies. She had been a member of the New York Society of Illustrators, the Guild of Free Lance Artists, and the Artists' Guild of the Authors' League of America.

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