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 Mead Schaeffer  (1898 - 1980)

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Lived/Active: New York/Vermont      Known for: illustrator-action genre, marine

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Ad Code: 3
Mead Schaeffer
from Auction House Records.
San Francisco Cable Car
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
An illustrator of a popular boys adventure book series as well as a number of classics and magazine covers, Mead Schaeffer had a distinguished career as one of America's top magazine and book illustrators. His work, according to Walter Reed ("The Illustrator in America") "divides itself into two periods: the early one deals with romantic, swashbuckling and theatrical subjects. The second, although still strong and dramatic, is based on authentic, factual themes and is more reportorial."

He was born in Freedom Plains, New York and studied at Pratt institute and with Harvey Dunn and Dean Cornwell. He was regarded as a brilliant student who illustrated his first of seven "Golden Boy" books by L.P. Wyman in 1923 when he was twenty five. He also did a number of illustrated classics for Dodd Mead including "The Count of Monte Cristo", "Les Miserbles", and "Moby Dick."

With the objective of dealing with contemporary subjects that he could actually observe, Schaeffer traveled out West with his Vermont neighbor and good friend, Norman Rockwell, which, along with other travels, resulted in many "Saturday Evening Post" covers. Other magazines for whom he created illustrations are "Ladies Home Journal", "Country Gentleman", "Cosmopolitan" and "Good Housekeeping".

During World War II, he created a pictorial chronicle of the fourteen branches of the armed services for the United States military, which provided all of the facilities, and under the sponsorship of the "Saturday Evening Post," the resulting paintings were exhibited in 90 cities. The artwork is no in the permanent collection of the USAA, an association of military officers, former officers and their families, in San Antonio, Texas.

In 1930, Schaeffer won the Salmagundi Club's Shaw Prize and in 1944, a Gold Medal at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

Written by Lonnie Dunbier

Source: Walt Reed, "The Illustrator in America"

Biography from American Illustrators Gallery:
Mead Schaeffer was Norman Rockwell’s contemporary and his Vermont neighbor. They became very close friends and Schaeffer and his family even served as Rockwell’s models for a number of paintings.

Born in Freedom Plains, New York, Schaeffer grew up in Springfield, Massachusetts with the express goal of becoming an illustrator. After high school he enrolled at Pratt Institute and was considered one of their most outstanding students in the Class of 1920, reputed to be their best class ever. While at Pratt he was influenced by Harvey Dunn who occasionally critiqued the student’s work and was quite impressed with Schaeffer’s projects.

Still a Pratt student Schaeffer illustrated his first of seven ‘Golden Boy’ books authored by L.P. Wyman. At the age of twenty-four, he was hired by the publisher Dodd-Mead to illustrate a series of books much like NC Wyeth had done for Scribner’s Classics. Among the titles were Moby Dick, Typee, and Omoo by Herman Melville. Other books for Dodd-Mead included The Count of Monte Christo and Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. He also did Adventures of Remi, The Wreck of the Grosvenor, The Cruise of the Cachalot, and King Arthur and His Knights.

These book illustrations began in 1922 and extended for the next number of years, culminating in 1930. When this first phase of his career ended, his illustrations of classic novels also ended. It was during this period that he met Dean Cornwell, possibly in 1926, and decided he needed further painting instruction and went in a different direction with his career.

From the 1930’s until the 1940’s, Schaeffer decided to stop painting buccaneers, Captain Blood, and titled Europeans, and to focus on real people in real settings. Perhaps, due to the influence of Rockwell or perhaps a result of the shocking revelations of World War II, he was quoted as saying “I suddenly realized I was sick of painting dudes and dandies…I longed to do honest work, based on real places, real people and real things.”

In fact, he traveled several times out West with Rockwell, and they shared many exciting experiences on these trips. They both felt that there was too much of New England in their paintings and entered a phase of intense searching for subject matter elsewhere. Schaeffer found commissions pouring in from Good Housekeeping and McCall’s, while Rockwell continued his strong contacts with the Post. Perhaps due to Rockwell’s contacts, Schaeffer was introduced to the Saturday Evening Post’s art director, for he started to receive assignments from that most prestigious magazine. Next came commissions from The Ladies’ Home Journal, Country Gentleman, and Cosmopolitan.

During the course of his career, Mead Schaeffer’s work was clearly divided into three distinctive segments, the first of which were the classic novels mentioned above. The second area of his interest was to document contemporary American scenes for current magazine publication. And the third period was comprised of his depictions of the American military, which obviously occurred after his exposure reporting military actions.

Mead Schaeffer would not be called prolific, for he was so methodical and somewhat plodding in his execution and his output was limited. Yet, his armed forces paintings were considered to be the most authentic paintings done during WWII, and many hang today in the headquarters lobby of USAA in San Antonio.

Schaeffer retired to his air-conditioned Vermont barn with a trout stream within easy reach from his studio window. He died in 1980.

©2004 National Museum of American Illustration,

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at registrar@AskART.com.


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