(1881 - 1959)
Joe Duncan Gleason was active/lived in California, New York. Joe Gleason is known for marine, landscape and portrait painting.
Biography from the Archives of askART
Joe Duncan Gleason's modest beginnings hardly hinted at his illustrious
life to come. Raised in Los Angeles, youngest of three children born to
a woman who was emancipated enough to divorce her husband, in 1894 at
the age of 14, he began working at the Union Engraving Company as an
illustrator. Over the next twenty years, thanks to scrapbooks
kept by a doting mother, it is possible to keep close track of his
growth and see how he developed the many different facets of his
Biography from the Archives of askART
His main thrust was always art. While
supporting himself as an illustrator, he completed his abridged
schooling and art education at art school in Los Angeles, San
Francisco, Chicago (school year 1902-3) and finally the Art Students
League in New York (1903-4 and spring 1906). In New York
(1903-1914), he illustrated for such magazines as Leslie's Monthly, Ladies Home Journal, Forecast, Mother's Magazine and Hearst's Magazine.
The New York years were marked a boundless energy that opened him to
many new experiences. On at least two occasions he exchanged art
work for free trips by train on the AT&SF in the summer of 1904 and
the Northern Pacific in the summer of 1909. In fall of 1905, he
traveled to and worked briefly in Mexico, and in 1910 he made a summer
tour of Europe by motorcycle and of North Africa on foot.
the same time he pursued his several other interests. He played a
stringed instrument. And, in the realm of athletics, he became a
champion on the Roman flying rings, winning, each year between 1907 and
1923 (with a break at 1914-1918 when he was in Los Angeles and couldn't
compete) the American Amateur Athletic Association national
championship. A sidelight of this skill were his acrobatics
performances on the live stage. On top of everything, he kept his
own yacht, a 36 foot yawl and was a frequent sailor on Long Island
In the early teens, like many illustrators, Gleason
felt the yen to become a fine arts painter. Rejected from service
in World War I because of poor eyesight, he returned to Los Angeles
where he focused on making impressionist style landscapes of the area's
valleys and hills, traveling to remote places in a specially converted
1915 Hupmobile. His seascapes, unique in their inclusion of
people, were painted at nearby Laguna Beach. Having come from the
technically demanding field of illustration, he did landscapes that
exhibit greater pictorial qualities than much of the local output, and
he was honored with several one man shows at local commercial
In a unique blend of interests, he associated
himself with the Los Angeles Athletic Club on several levels. He
made many illustrations for the Club's magazine, Mercury (as
well as for other Los Angeles publications, such as Pacific Mutual
News, and Touring Topics) and kept up an almost continuous changing
display of his paintings in the club headquarters. Under the
Club's affiliation, he competed in local gymnastic competitions and
performed hand balancing acts for charity events. While the war
raged, he donated more than 50 gymnastics performances to the local Red
Cross fund raisers and to entertain soldiers. Gleason capped his
Los Angeles residence with his marriage in late June 1919 to Dorothy
Ferguson, an accomplished pianist and music teacher who also shared his
love of sailing. This ushered in a new period in his life.
Gleason and his wife moved to New York where he returned to magazine
illustration. He kept up his interest in fine arts by painting
portraits, specializing in child studies, and began to develop what was
to become his specialty: marine paintings. Even from the earliest
years, these varied widely from four masted sailing ships to private
yachts and even to modern Navy ships.
For research purposes,
he traveled frequently to New Bedford, and Fairhaven, Massachusetts,
where some of the windjammers and whaling ships remained as museum
displays. He began to author articles on yachting and on
California history, which he illustrated with his own art work.
In 1922 he published Windjammers, a limited edition book of
original etchings of sailing ships. He also made elaborate ship
models. A couple of years before the death of his mother on July
14, 1925, Gleason began building a studio at the home place on Fourth
Street, Los Angeles. Newspaper notices state that his mother
wanted him to come back to Los Angeles, and indeed, about 1924 Joe and
his wife returned permanently there.
The artist settled,
however, in San Pedro, the city's harbor to the south, where, from his
hillside studio, he had a panoramic view of all the ships coming and
going. Gleason's life continued to be one of variety. In the mid
1920s, he did his first work for the motion picture studios when he
assisted the director of Cecil B. DeMille's movie Yankee Clipper
with the authenticity of everything in the movie pertaining to the
ships. He was still the indefatagable traveler. A
summer/fall 1928 trip took him back to New England for a stay in the
old sailing port of Fairhaven, with visits to Salem and
Gloucester. And, in the early summer of 1929, through his
friendship with Donald Douglas, head of Los Angeles's Douglas Aircraft,
he and his wife had the rare privilege of flying across country in a
special tri motored plane - flying time 22 hours and 55 minutes with
two overnight stops and a change of pilots in St. Louis. At one point,
he was even allowed to hold the controls. After a week in New
York, he and his wife returned to Los Angeles on a steamship from New
Orleans via the Panama Canal. His friendships with wealthy people
made him a frequent guest aboard their yachts.
While art was
always Gleason's main interest, beginning in the 1930s his buoyant,
outgoing personality made him popular as an after dinner speaker,
engendering a steady stream of invitations to appear before Chambers of
Commerce, women's clubs, art clubs, high schools, etc. Some talks
addressed the romance of sailing while others were lecture
demonstrations in which he would discuss sailing ships or relate
anecdotes of places he traveled while at the same time complete a
pencil sketch or a painting in view of the audience. On fund
raising occasions, the painting was raffled off. Sometimes the
program included musical selections played by his wife, an accomplished
pianist. In the financially difficult 1930s, Gleason's hard work
and many talents seem to have paid off. At the rock bottom of the
Depression, in June 1932, he was financially able to move from a studio
in the rural hillside suburb of La Canada to the wealthier and
closer-in area of Los Feliz Hills, adjacent to Hollywood, where he
remained until his death.
Obviously, his specialty of ship
painting made him unique. He obtained some income from painting
portraits of private yachts based in San Pedro. In 1934, he
taught art at his studio. He was a continual prize and
award winner at the many local competitive exhibitions to which he
indefatigably sent canvases. And, his talent at illustration made
him invaluable to the area's motion picture studios, who used artists
to give first visual form to a script. For the whole of 1938 he
was employed by Warner Brothers working on such films as Captain Blood, Anthony Adverse, The Charge of the Light Brigade, and Dodge City. Between 1939 and 1941 he worked for MGM for whom he designed the Yearling, and from the beginning of 1943 to the middle of 1944 he was back at Warner Bros. making continuity sketches for Destination Tokyo, This is the Army, Hollywood Canteen, and The Very Thought of You. Other movies with which he was involved include Robin Hood and Petrified Forest.
WWII, like many artists who could not serve in the armed forces for one
reason or another, he did his part in other ways. He joined the
U. S. Coast Guard Auxiliary where his background experience qualified
him to teach seamanship and to patrol the harbor with his own sloop,
the Dorothy. (He remained with the Auxiliary to the end of his
life, holding various officerships and teaching night classes on safety
at sea and other topics.) He was also captain in control of the
light switch for his residential area, in case the city needed to be
blacked out. His war poster was one of four chosen by Artists for
Victory for reproduction as labels promoting purchase of bonds and
stamps. He painted several pictures of U. S. Navy ships showing
them as powerful and aggressive. And, he visited hospitals where
servicemen were recuperating and drew portraits of the soldiers to
boost their morale. At times his wife joined him and played the
After the war, Gleason continued to paint and to sell
ship paintings, but his scrapbook is more filled with notices on his
lectures and his activities as an officer with several art clubs.
To his ever popular lectures on ships during the age of sail he added
his 1948 trip to Mexico. For Californians, Mexico's natural rural
beauty untouched by the "advances" of civilization, had been a lure
since the late 1920s, but turned into a "must" destination for artists
in the 1930s and 1940s. Gleason illustrated his talk with some of
the new Kodachrome slides he took in Mexico City, Veracruz,
Tamazunchole and Taxco. Other lectures covered his activities as
an artist for the motion picture studios.
He was honored a
number of times when local high schools, continuing a tradition begun
by Gardena High School where the senior class gifted a painting to the
school, purchased his works from annual competitive exhibits they held:
Gardena H. S. (1935), Hoover H. S. (1935), Clearwater H. S. (1948),
Mira Costa H. S. (1952), and Dana Jr. H. S. (1955). On the club
scene, he served as an officer with several art clubs, the most
longstanding of which was Artists of the Southwest (1948-1952,
1953-56+) As president, as well as Chairman of the Co-Ordinating
Committee for Traditional Art (an umbrella organization representing
several LA area conservative arts clubs), in the late 1940s and early
1950s he became one of the main spokes persons against modernism.
At the time, modernism (its most outre form being Abstract
Expressionism) was revolutionizing the art world, upsetting the status
quo, shouldering talented realists like Gleason out of competitive
exhibitions. Like many, he believed modern art was decadent,
anarchistic, and a tool of Communism. Being of a convivial personality,
he was a natural choice for interview. He spoke before various
luncheon meetings, in 1949 on Hollywood Talks it Over on the
new medium of television, and in 1950 on KFI radio. In the
yachting realm, he remained active with the California Yacht Club, the
U. S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, as well as the U. S. Power Squadrons,
making recreational voyages with fellow yachtsmen up and down the coast
to destinations like Catalina, Ensenada, Monterey, Santa Barbara, and
San Diego. At least twice he crewed and once was a guest on one
of the yachts competing in the Newport-Ensenada 135 mile race for
sailboats (1950, 1951, 1952).
His book, Islands of California
(1950) and the expanded Islands and Ports of California (1958) proved
helpful for Pacific Coast yachtsmen giving not only a history of the
various offshore islands but also information about sailing conditions
in and around them, including places for safe anchorage, etc. In
1953 he joined his voice to those who lobbied to make the west end of
the private island of Catalina into a state park, and in 1954 he became
a member of the state-wide California Marine Parks and Harbors lobby
fighting for more small boat harbors and marine parks in California.
at any art work created by Gleason, one has no doubt that he was a
highly accomplished artist. Because of the thorough scrapbooks
kept by his mother and then his wife it is possible to see his growth
from his first tentative illustrating efforts at the age of 14 through
his powerful and fully developed illustrations of the early twentieth
century, to his post-1914 easel works. Like other illustrators
who took up the fine arts, he transferred his ability to paint objects
and figures to the medium making him more accomplished than the average
landscapist. Moreover, he excelled at the very difficult subject
of ships whose curved hulls and masses of detailed rigging make them
some of the most challenging objects to render with correct
perspective. Through decades when landscape and Regionalist
figure paintings were the dominant themes, he steadfastly painted
square riggers, whaling ships, private yachts, and the new and mighty,
metal sided U. S. Naval ships. He saw the sea as masculine, and
his craving to do something powerful compelled him to paint it.
date the family knows the names of almost 800 paintings that he
completed, but the present locations of most of them are unknown.
Almost as soon as he finished one it was purchased and out of the
Joe Gleason was a native of California, born in Watsonville, in 1881.
He was known for his landscape and marine paintings of San Pedro Harbor
on the California coast. He also wrote and illustrated several books on
California maritime history and worked for the scenic art department at
Metro Goldwyn Mayer and Warner Brothers studios.
Biography from Roger King Fine Art
raised in Los Angeles, California, and was working for the Union
Engraving Company when he was only fourteen years old. He was skilled
at drawing and sketching and took his first art training at the
University of Southern California as a pupil of Lees Judson. Gleason
then moved north to San Francisco to attend the Mark Hopkins Institute
of Art. While going to school he worked for the Sunset Engraving
Company as a commercial artist.
He studied in Chicago at the Art
Institute of Chicago and from 1900 to 1901, took lessons from Frank
DuMond at the Art Students League in New York City. He supported
himself as a commercial artist.
He stayed in New York for ten
years before returning to Los Angeles in 1910. He exhibited at the Los
Angeles County Museum of Art (1924), the Arizona State Fair (1932), the
California Palace of the Legion of Honor (1945) and the Golden Gate
International Exposition (1939). He painted murals in the Hotel Clark
and for Gardena High School (Los Angeles).
When he wasn't
pursuing a career in art, Gleason was training as a championship
gymnast. He won the International Championships eleven times on the
Rings. Gleason was also an author and illustrator of two books he wrote
about the California coast. Later in life he worked for the MGM and
Warner Brothers Studios in Los Angeles.
Gleason died in Glendale,
California on March 9, 1959.
Edan Hughes, Artists in California, 1786-1940
Joe Duncan Gleason (1881-1959) was born in Watsonville, California and studied at the University of Southern California with Lees Judson. He attended the Mark Hopkins Institute in San Francisco, the Art Institute of Chicago, and studied with Frank DuMond at the Art Students' League.
** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at
In New York he worked as a magazine illustrator; the proceeds were sufficient to enable him to travel in Mexico, Europe, and North Africa. After returning to California, Gleason painted Impressionist-style landscapes around Laguna Beach and had several successful solo exhibits at local galleries. Gleason was an accomplished athlete on the Roman "flying rings," winning the Amateur Athletic Association's National Championships from 1907 to 1923.
After his marriage in 1919, Gleason returned to New York where he made illustrations and painted portraits. He began to focus on marine painting, traveling to New Bedford and Fairhaven, Massachusetts to study windjammers and whaling ships. He made detailed ship models and in 1922 published a limited-edition book of original etchings of sailing ships.
In 1924 he moved to San Pedro, California and by the mid-1920s was working at movie studios, authenticating, illustrating, and making visuals for scripts for MGM and Warner Brothers. His background in illustration was an asset in assignments calling for the depiction of square riggers, whaling ships, and U.S. Navy metal-sided ships. Gleason was active as an art teacher and became a popular after-dinner speaker, where he spoke on subjects ranging from sailing to painting to television. He received many awards at competitive exhibitions.
He became increasingly involved with art clubs and as a spokesman against modernism in art, which he viewed with suspicion. Active in the California Yacht Club, Gleason crewed on a few occasions in the Newport-Ensenada races. He was also active in the U.S. Power Squadrons and the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, and actively lobbied for California state marine parks, including privately-owned Catalina Island.
Share an image of the Artist email@example.com.