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 Willard Downes  (1908 - 2000)

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Lived/Active: New York/District Of Columbia/Florida      Known for: illustrator, caricature, landscape

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Willard Downes
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following is a text of the "Downes" from Ramsey Pavitt, from Great Falls, Virginia, and a collector of the artist's work:

Willard Downes, noted illustrator and city resident

Willard Alfred Downes, 92, of Gulfport, Fla., a commercial illustrator and fine arts painter, died Saturday, Nov. 11, 2000, in Florida.

Mr. Downes was born in Washington and grew up in Fredericksburg. He went to New York City at age 17 to pursue a career as an artist. He spent more than 40 years there as a newspaper, magazine and advertising artist, before he moved back to Fredericksburg in 1978.

In earlier years, Mr. Downes learned the craft of gold leaf and worked with wrought iron. He was hired to help paint billboards for Columbia, Paramount and Warner studios, in Atlantic City, and then in Philadelphia.

He also did abstract painting and portrait drawing of movie stars of the 1930s, including Tallulah Bankhead, Clark Gable, Errol Flynn and Spencer Tracy. One of his most profitable drawings turned out to be his sketch of publisher and movie mogul William Randolph Hearst for "Editor & Publisher" magazine. It led to a part-time job with the Hearst newspapers.

In New York, he attended the Art Students League, the National Academy of Design and the Industrial Arts School, and started a dual career as a commercial illustrator and fine-arts painter.

In all, Mr. Downes turned out dozens of portraits for newspapers, at least 50 press kits for the movie companies, and hundreds of paperback book covers. He headed up the $15 million advertising campaign for Kent cigarettes.

His works have been displayed at the Jasper Gallery at Madison Avenue and East 57th Street in New York, the Gallerie Julian in Olde Town Alexandria, the Hull Gallery and the Venable Neslage Gallery, both in Washington, the Parsons Museum in Southhampton, N.Y., the Saharooni Gallery in Naples, Fla., and locally at Gallery DeMay on Caroline Street.

His work included illustrations for such magazines as The Saturday Evening Post, Life, Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan, Ladies Home Journal, as well as book publishers such as Fawcett, Golden Books, Manhunt, Readers Choice and Popular Library.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, he was a free-lance illustrator for "The Free Lance-Star".

Mr. Downes' original paintings of Yellowstone National Park that were created for Kent, and posters for the "I Am Still an American" series created during World War II, now reside in the Library of Congress. His newspaper reproductions of stars of stage and screen have been promised to the Smithsonian Institution.

He held memberships in the Society of Illustrators, the Cartoonists Guild and the Newspaper Guild.

Survivors include his wife, Paulina Fetzko Downes; a son, Willard Downes of Sacramento, Calif.; and three grandchildren.

A grave side memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Friday in Fredericksburg Confederate Cemetery.

Laurel Hill Funeral Home, Spotsylvania, is handling the arrangements.
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The following is from Will Stutts:

I shall endeavor to be of assistance. I know that Downes was born in Washington, DC, and died there in 2000. He, of course, was American and his works reflect same. He moved at 17 years of age to New York City and began a long career as, primarily, an illustrator and caricaturist. He was employed by major movie studios (MGM, Paramount, etc.) in the 1930s and 40s, and many of his works were caricatures of major film stars. He seems to have 'dabbled' in a variety of media including modern impressionism in the 50s.

I do know that some of his works are in the Library of Congress and, I think, Smithsonian collections -- he did illustrations of National Parks for the Parks Service. I believe he remained rather active until late in his rather long life (he was born in 1908).

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