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 Harry Waters Armstrong  (1883 - 1954)

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Lived/Active: Michigan/Illinois      Known for: easel painting, drawing, commercial art, book and magazine illustration

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Harry Waters Armstrong   (1883 – 1954)

Harry Waters Armstrong was born September 16, 1883, at Watertown, New York, the son of Henry Briggs and Mary Johnson Armstrong.  He spent his childhood and youth in Watertown, where he received his early education.  He subsequently attended the Art Institute of Chicago*, and after graduation, worked for a time as a cartoonist for western newspapers, living for a time in Portland, Oregon, on a houseboat.  He subsequently returned to Chicago and went into commercial art*, working for many years for the Chicago Street Railways Advertising Company and teaching art to evening classes at the Art Institute of Chicago. 

On April 8, 1911, he married Louise Van Voorhis, whom he had met as a fellow art student at the Art Institute.  The Armstrong’s subsequently made Manistee, Michigan, their regular summer home, purchasing the Harley House at 536 Fourth Street.  In 1932, Armstrong retired from the commercial art field and the couple moved to their home in Manistee permanently.

During his retirement, Armstrong continued to devote himself to art, concentrating on landscapes and genre subjects, teaching art at the civic center, and directing and acting in local plays – a continuation of an activity he had entered at the Goodman Theatre at the Art Institute.   He also acted as local head of the National Youth Administration, and planned and directed the first annual Forest Festival, acting as advisor or director of subsequent ones as well.  On March 3, 1948, Louise V. Armstrong died, and a little over a year later Armstrong married Gertrude S. Kind, whom he had known while both were students at the Art Institute. 

Armstrong’s paintings, pastels, charcoals, and pen-and-ink drawings were characteristically influenced by his experience as a commercial artist, being notable for their poster-like qualities, with bold lines, tight compositions, and lack of color molding.  Perhaps his greatest contribution were his charcoal and pen-and-ink drawings of welfare cases during the Great Depression.  One of the best of these appeared on the dust jacket to Louise V. Armstrong’s book, We, Too, Are the People, published in 1938.  Others, used as political and government posters, received wide circulation. 

In addition to his car cards, created while working in Chicago, Armstrong did some book and magazine illustration, while his post-retirement paintings and drawings appeared in a number of shows and private and public collections.  In his later life, he was the unofficial “artist-in-residence” of Manistee. 

The artist died in Manistee on February 18, 1954.

Submitted by Edward P. Bentley, Art Researcher, East Lansing, Michigan

Manistee County Library, Reference Department, Manistee, Michigan.

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