Charles A. Morgenthaler was born on 18 June 1893, in Hallsville, Missouri, to William and Ruth Morgenthaler. He graduated from Columbia High School, Columbia, Missouri, in 1913 and worked at various commercial art jobs in Milwaukee and Chicago before enrolling in evening classes at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1915.
He moved back to Missouri and enrolled as a special student at the University of Missouri for the 1916-1917 school year. The following year he enlisted in the Army Signal Corps and was trained as an aerial photographer. He finished his training just as World War I ended and was discharged before he could be shipped overseas. Morgenthaler returned to Missouri and took small jobs in Kansas City and St. Joseph. On December 28, 1919, he married Nannie (Tene) E. Nichols in Hallsville.
During the 1920s he worked at an assortment of jobs including surveying and making maps for the Missouri Highway Department, designing stage curtains and theatre interiors for the Kansas City Scenic Company, and freelancing for publishing companies and advertising agencies in Missouri and Chicago. He returned to Chicago to finish his course work at the Art Institute from 1921 to 1923 and 1927 to 1928.
In 1929 the Morgenthalers moved to St. Louis where Charles began his career as a commercial artist in earnest. He freelanced for many advertising agencies, publishing houses, and small businesses, most notably, Goldman's Furniture and Ad-Craft. At Ad-Craft he created movie theatre displays and print advertisements for such companies as the Missouri Pacific Railroad, Lucky Strike and Kodak.
In 1938 he jumped at the opportunity to work at the Brown & Bigelow Company in St. Paul, Minnesota, famous for their calendar designs. Two years later he took a job with the War Department and was sent to Fort Benning, Georgia, to create illustrations for military training films. Morgenthaler returned to St. Louis in 1942 and spent most of the war years working on his oil paintings and watercolors.
In 1946 and 1947 he sketched over 1000 service men and women at military hospitals in the Midwest and in Germany for the United Service Organizations (USO) Camp Shows. He was one of only six artists asked to travel to Germany for this project. He continued to volunteer for the USO during the Korean War and Vietnam War, drawing over 1400 military personnel in all. The sketches were microfilmed by the USO and copies were sent to the patient's relatives.
After World War II, Morgenthaler returned to freelance commercial artwork, doing projects for Gardner Advertising Agency in St. Louis. Some of his work there included ads for Ralston Purina and Pet Milk. He also worked on the restoration of the murals at the Missouri State Capitol dome in 1951 and at St. Louis' Old Courthouse in 1955.
In 1959, and again in 1964, he designed the floats used in the annual Veiled Prophet parade in St. Louis and in 1960 he was hired to help restore Paul Philippoteaux's murals on the walls of the Cyclorama at Gettysburg National Battlefield. While in Gettysburg he also painted the background murals at the Hall of Presidents and did a sketch of Dwight D. Eisenhower's farm, which was used as a postcard design.
In 1966 the Morgenthalers bought the house of zither maker Franz Schwarzer in Washington, Missouri, where Charles continued to work mainly on his paintings. They moved to Columbia, Missouri, in 1973 where he died on December 10, 1980 after suffering a stroke several months earlier.
He served on the St. Louis Art Commission and was an active member of the St. Louis Art Alliance, the American Artist's Professional League and the Art Director's Club. The Morgenthaler home has been fully restored in Hallsville, MO and is the home of the Hallsville Historical Society. The Boone County Historical Society had approx 200 of his works in their inventory. About 30 of his paintings are in the holdings of the State Historical Society of Missouri.
Information provided by Brendan Mazur, who is donating two of Morgenthaler's works to the University of Missouri-Columbia, Museum of Art for their Morgenthaler Collection and a collection of the artist's books to the Morgenthaler home site.