Gallery show puts spotlight on midcentury illustration art - Casper, WY Oil City News
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Gallery show puts spotlight on midcentury illustration art

A detail of a painting by Harry Anderson made for McCall’s Magazine in 1941 is on display and for sale at Scarlow’s Gallery, Art & Coffee in downtown Casper. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City)

CASPER, Wyo. – For much of the last century, professional illustrators were celebrated and envied.

The illustrators’ work graced countless big magazines, movie posters, pulp novels and advertisements.

But like the newsstands filled with LOOK Magazines and five cent candy, those days are only memories.

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“Illustrators were like stars, they were sought after for all kinds of things and that whole world has really gone away,” said Frank Taraba.

A painting made for a magazine is part of the collection of illustrations owned by Frank Taraba that is on display at Scarlow’s Gallery, Art & Coffee. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City)

For years Taraba has specialized in collecting and selling original illustrations, the very paintings and drawings that hired artists hand-made for publications or advertisements.

Naturally most of these originals were lost or discarded after their initial run, but Casper native Taraba has managed to amass some 2,500 pieces which he sells and shows around the world. He’s shown the works in galleries and museums regionally, including the Nicolaysen.

Starting this month, a curated selection of Taraba’s original illustrations are on display and for sale at Scarlow’s Gallery, Art & Coffee in downtown Casper.

The collection was designed to be more accessible and affordable, with many pieces priced under $100.

An illustration by Dick Kohfield commissioned for a romance novel in the 1970s. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City)

Taraba said he wanted to aim this show for people who might want to buy gifts for friends, family or simply for themselves.

“I think that unlike a lot of artwork, most illustration art has some kind of a narrative to it,” said Taraba. “It tells a story, and I think a lot of people still like to hear a good story.”

“It goes beyond just being a pretty picture.”

Unique to this collection are dozens of black and white furniture showroom illustrations that highlight industrial design for homes during the last midcentury. The majority of them were commissioned by W & J Slone, a once-popular but now defunct furniture retailer in New York City.

“Those were run in the newspapers in New York from the 50s through the 70s, and they were the ads for the furniture department of that store,” said Taraba.

“Those are interesting because it was important to have a strong line to keep things from getting muddy (in reproduction), and you have to grab the public’s attention.”

There are also a series of individual chairs and sofas, which likely came from a furniture designer’s portfolio that would be shown in department stores to prospective buyers.

Several large paintings commissioned for magazines and books are also featured, as well as a large drawing of Bing Crosby that was used for an LP issued by RCA Records in the 1970s.

A portrait of Bing Crosby was that was used for a 1970s RCA Records LP is on display. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City)

“For this show we focused on the more affordable, especially with the smaller pieces,” said gallery owner Clair Marlow. “It’s for the art appreciators rather than the art collectors.”

“Everyone loves it, everyone can relate to it and enjoy it,” she said. “It’s beautiful work, it’s fun to have a collection like this in here.”

Hand-painted or drawn art for commercial use is a faded craft. Owning or just seeing an original piece of illustrated art takes a person back to when brushes and paint, rather than pixels, seduced the eyes.

“It seems like a simpler, better time in a certain way,” said Taraba.

Scarlow’s Gallery, Art & Coffee is located at 122 West Second Street. Taraba’s original illustration collection will be up through January.

Small cards with original illustrations of midcentury furniture are on display at Scarlow’s Gallery, Art & Coffee. The cards were likely inside a portfolio used to sell furniture designs. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City)
(Dan Cepeda, Oil City)
A detail of an illustration for an ad for W & J Sloane in NYC. (Courtesy of Scarlow’s)
A girl draws by light, painted by Clement Donshea, date and publication unknown. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City)