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 Robert Clinton Frankenberg  (1911 - 2001)

About: Robert Clinton Frankenberg


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Lived/Active: New York      Known for: illustrator, figure, genre, animal

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
A New York City painter, illustrator, muralist, dioramist, stage-set designer and art teacher, Robert Frankenberg worked in many mediums including pastel, charcoal, oil, watercolor and pen and ink. In 1948, he began a forty-year career as a member of the staff of the School of Visual Arts and served as Director of the Illustration Department. In 1984, he won the school's Annual Distinguished Artist-Teacher of the Year Award.

Frankenberg illustrated more than 150 books including "Two Years Before the Mast" and for magazines including "Fortune", "The Saturday Evening Post", "Medical Journal", "Look", and "Time". Mural commissions included the Pennsylvania State Building.

In 2005, a retrospective of work by Frankenberg was held by the School of Visual Arts.

Robert Frankenberg was born in Mount Vernon, New York and studied at the Art
Students League in New York City from 1928 to 1929 and with William McNulty.
In 1939, his dioramas were in the World's Fair Exposition in New York.

'Quick Sketches', "American Artist", May 2005
"Who's Who in American Art", 1993-1994, 20th Edition, p. 383
The following, written by Francis Di Tommaso, Director of the Visual Arts Museum, is from the Exhibition Catalog.

Saturday, February 5 - Saturday, March 19, 2005

Robert Frankenberg: An Artist's Life
In Memoriam, 1911-2001

An artist's studio often mirrors the person who works within its walls. The light, the objects, the furnishings and the physical condition of the places where artists ply their craft subliminally combine to form a sort of walk-in portrait of their occupants.

Robert Frankenberg's studio was also his home -- the place where he lived and where he made his living (aside from teaching). The little apartment in downtown Manhattan overlooking the East River at first glance looks like a typical comfortable one-bedroom flat, with a few more paintings than most and a large easel by the window. But then you begin to notice paintings in neat rows behind a wooden screen in the living room and many more carefully stowed behind this dresser or that door. You see stacks of spiral sketch pads on shelves filled with books, many of which were illustrated by the artist. You discover that adjoining wall closets actually form a hidden mini-workshop, complete with tools and art supplies, and that there are
boxes and files full of drawings and illustrations. Hanging behind the easel is the artist's almost spotless apron and his palette -- its surface well worn, but scraped clean and ready for use. You understand that there was no real division between Frankenberg's home and his studio.

This arrangement suited Celestine Frankenberg, Robert's wife, just fine. As director of library services at the advertising agency Young & Rubicam for many years, she had an affinity for imagery of all sorts. She remembers fondly living with "Robbie's stuff" for the 42 years they were married. So this exhibition, for her, is in part an affectionate homage to those years -- to the life she shared with this artist.

Arguably, Robert Frankenberg's most enduring contribution was as a teacher. In 1948, he joined the nascent Cartoonists & Illustrators School (later to become the School of Visual Arts in 1954) and by 1984, shortly before retiring, he had taught more than 3,000 students. He served for several years as head of the Illustration Department and stalwartly defended the teaching of drawing through the '50s, '60s and '70s, when art world trends were trying to sweep it aside as irrelevant. In the citation for Frankenberg's 1984 Annual Distinguished Artist-Teacher of the Year Award, SVA founder and chairman Silas Rhodes said:

"In many small and large but unheralded ways during those [early] years you gave your support to this fledgling institution. You held out against those who would eliminate drawing from the curriculum as was fashionable then in all schools across the country. Holding the center when all about you were wobbling, was your quiet and steadfast contribution."

Two years later, in a letter to his erstwhile faculty member, Rhodes went further:
"Your devotion to the school, your inspiring teaching and your faith that we could become better than we were was the cement that held us together during good times and bad. Robert, I salute you as my friend and want you to know that without you, there never would have been an SVA."

Robert Frankenberg was not a star and never evinced any interest in being one. For him, art was a serious profession, and he devotedly practiced it throughout his entire adult life with discipline and without fanfare. This exhibition is a tribute to him and to a life in the arts well lived.

Francis Di Tommaso
Visual Arts Museum

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