Ad Code: 4
An example of work by Bern Hill
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|A free-lance illustrator and painter, Bern Hill is known for his
aesthetically innovative and historically important railroad
illustrations and for his regional scene painting of Connecticut where
he lived for much of his career. Of him it was written that he
had a "running love affair with New England and its 'magnificent
architecture.' His clean, precise technique is as cool as a Connecticut
For an illustrator of the mid-20th century,
he had a unique style that combined abstraction with realism and
challenged viewers with philosophical complexities that were unfamiliar
in advertising art. Using contrasts of light and dark and vast, unusual
visual perspectives and panoramic landscapes either in harmony with or
threatened by human-made objects, Bern Hill challenged his viewers.
had well-known clients including General Motors, American Airlines,
Reader's Digest and Saturday Evening Post. However, his name is most
associated with his depictions of trains that appeared on the packaging
boxes of model railroads and on the covers of railroad magazines such
as Railway Age. The biggest project of his career was a series of 65
posters depicting Rock Island Railway trains traveling across America.
His client was the electromotive division of General Motors. The
first magazine cover with Hill's painting was the February 18, 1950
issue of Railway Age, and the last one appeared in 1956. Because of
the limited audience, the fact that few of the magazines remain, and
the fragile nature of the paper used for the originals, Hill's train
work went through a period of relative obscurity until the early 1970s,
when his train paintings were reproduced on the covers of Trains
In the series created for the Electro-Motive
Division, the viewer invariably was positioned at a far distance from
the moving train and usually had birds-eye-view perspective that
conveyed total silence, physical distance, and compelling fascination
with the progress of the human-made sleek object that was cutting
across the quiet, panoramic landscapes of mountains, bucolic farm
scenes, outskirts of cities and precariously high, steel-girder bridges.
illustration assignment that brought regional attention to Hill was for
the cover of the 1968-69 Southern New England Telephone Directory of
his home town area of Clinton, Connecticut. He did a montage of seven
typical New England scenes that fit the Directory theme of
"Connecticut, a good place to visit . . . a good place to live". From
these paintings, the Connecticut Development Commission created a
70-foot mural that was displayed at the Eastern States Exposition in
Springfield, Massachusetts. The Directory paintings were exhibited in
Hartford, Connecticut as the opening exhibition for the gallery built
to feature Connecticut paintings located in the Hartford Insurance
Bern Hill was born in Toronto, Canada and
studied art at the Universities in Toronto and London, England.
He served a five-year apprenticeship in the Toronto engraving house
department, and in 1936, moved to London where he worked for three
years in the business and publishing industry for J. Walter Thompson
Co. and for a year at Century Press, which published trade journals.
1940, Hill went to New York City, and in 1955 moved to Connecticut,
living successively at New Canaan, Killingworth and Clinton. He and his
wife, Ruth Sonnichsen of Madison, Connecticut, had three
children. They later divorced, and he remarried in the
1970s, and moved to Dallas, Texas, the home town of his wife, Joyce
Kelly. However, several years after this move, he was diagnosed
with terminal cancer, and died in December 1977.
eschewing modernist art but painting in a leading-edge, non-traditional
style for an illustrator, Bern Hill was a great admirer of Andrew Wyeth
and felt that much of the success of the increasing popularity of total
abstraction was good promotional technique, a device he well understood
from his perspective as a commercial artist. As a fine artist, he tried
to keep an open mind towards non-representation, saying that "It may
be that I just don't understand what these contemporary artists are
trying to say. An artist is never through learning with the rapid
change of trends and ideas." (Meehan) In this context he cited his own
changing appreciation of jazz, which transitioned from the conservative
music of the 1920s to the more modern innovators.
Also as a
landscape painter, Hill preferred tempera paint, which he described as
"a fancy name for kids' simple poster colors" (Meehan).
Information submitted July 2005 by Peter Hill, the son of the artist. Included were:
undated article titled "Bern Hill: The Master of 'Feeling" by Greg
Palumbo, employee of Electro-Motive Division and writer for Railroad Heritage and other magazines.
undated clipping from the an article published in the Clinton
Connecticut newspaper by James Meehan. The title is "Work of
Clinton Artist Reflects Love for New England Countryside".
|** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at registrar@AskART.com.|