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 Kerr Eby  (1889 - 1946)

About: Kerr Eby
 

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Lived/Active: Connecticut/Ontario / Canada/Japan      Known for: etching, illustration-sea-landscape, camouflage artist

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BIOGRAPHY for Kerr Eby
Facts/Data
Birth
1889 (Tokyo, Japan)
 
Death
1946 (Norwalk, Connecticut)

Lived/Active
Connecticut/Ontario / Canada/Japan




Often Known For
etching, illustration-sea-landscape, camouflage artist

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Kerr Eby (1890-1946)

He was born in Japan in 1890, the son of Canadian Methodist Missionaries.  After their return, the family lived in several Canadian towns before 15 year-old Kerr, having worked as a printer’s apprentice at a local newspaper, moved to New York City to become an artist.  He took art classes at Pratt Institute while working for a lithographic firm to help cover his tuition and living expenses.  These expenses soon overwhelmed him and he returned to Canada and took a job surveying in northern Ontario.  His time in the wilderness reinvigorated him and with his earnings he returned to NYC where he worked at a lithographic firm in the day and took evening classes at the Art Student League.  After a few more summers surveying in Ontario, he became a full time illustrator.  From 1913 to 1917, Eby rented a summer studio and rooms in a rundown waterfront warehouse just up the Mianus River from the Holley House, the boarding house that was the center of the Cos Cob art colony in Greenwich, Connecticut.  In that studio he kept an etching press and in the summer of 1915, he and that press became a part of American art history.
 
At the crest of his fame in the summer of 1915, 56 year-old American painter Childe Hassam was staying at the Holley House when he decided to perfect his recently rekindled interest in etching.  Until then, despite having started his career as an apprentice to a wood-engraver and having done a few etchings in his early days in Europe, etching never held his interest.  That summer it did.  As noted in the New York Sun’s review of Hassam’s etching exhibit later that year at the Frederick Keppel & Company gallery in New York City, “a fellow artist, who etched, happened to be his neighbor in the country near Cos Cob, and placed his press and atelier at Mr. Hassam’s service.  There a number of plates were begun, and once fairly launched in these experiments Mr. Hassam caught the true etching fever, and gave almost his entire summer to making plates and printing them.”  The "fellow artist" was 25 year-old Kerr Eby.  Eby had already mastered the art of etching and several of his etchings from that press are now thought to be influential on Hassam.  Eby would continue to produce etchings throughout his career. (Keppel was Eby's uncle and an important art dealer in New York who helped establish prints as fine art in American.  Keppel would exhibit Hassam’s prints until 1932 and was often the exclusive dealer for Eby's etchings.)
 
Eby is as well known for his First and Second World War combat works as he is for his "peace-time" works.  In 1917, Eby enlisted in the U.S. Army and served in an ambulance unit and later as part of a camouflage unit in France.  But he continued to sketch his observations and these became prints after the war.  They show the horror and drudgery of war and in 1936, with war looming in Europe, Yale University Press published many of them in his book, War: Drawings and Etchings.

Eby, at age 51, tried to enlist for World War II but was refused.  He was chosen by Abbott Laboratories to be in its combat artist program. For four months, he was in the South Pacific with the Marines at Tarawa and Bougainville. There he became ill with a tropical disease which ultimately killed him two years later.  He did finish his drawings for Abbott but, except for two, he didn’t have time to complete the etchings from his battlefield sketches.  He died in Norwalk, Connecticut in 1946.

Submitted by John A. McKinney, Jr.

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Tokyo, Japan to Canadian missionary parents, he earned an international reputation as an etcher. In 1907, he came to New York and studied at the Art Students League and the Pratt Institute. Early he did illustration and then became an expert etcher. In World War I, he was a sergeant in the Army Engineers and put his reactions to that experiece in a series of etchings, 1935, called "War." His depictions of combat realities of war are some of the angriest visual arguments against war ever expressed in this country. This includes his World War II depictions of landings in the Pacific.

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