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 Walter Hans Hortens  (1915 - 1988)

About: Walter Hans Hortens


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Lived/Active: New York      Known for: magazine illustration-military subjects, stamp design

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An example of work by Walter Hans Hortens
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following biographical information has been provided June 2010 by Michael Hortens, son of the artist.

Walter Hortens was a technical illustrator/cartographer* who worked in the New York City area from 1942 until 1988.  His work appeared in most major American publications including Fortune and Time magazines, The New York Times, National Geographic and other publications.

Hortens was born on July 21, 1915 in Vienna, Austria.  His father Willie was from Austria and his mother Rachel was from Cairo, Eygpt.  Willie emigrated to America in 1925, and the family (Walter, his sister Hilda and mother Rachel) came to America on Black Friday, the day of the 1929 Stock Market Crash.  Although times were hard, by1933 young Hortens managed to win a partial scholarship to Pratt Institute* in Manhattan.  Two full scholarships and two partial scholarships were offered yearly.  He graduated from Pratt in 1936, worked for the industrial designer Eugene Lux, then got another job and traveled with a friend from Stevens Institute in Hoboken, NJ to work for the WPA in Washington, D.C.

By 1941, he came back to New York to find work as a freelance illustrator.  In 1943 he was drafted into the Army and was assigned to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  His unit shipped out to North Africa not long after that and he was stationed in Oran, Algeria. It was during this time that his unit created two and three-dimensional maps of the southern coast of France and Italy to by used by the general staff planning the Allied invasion of southern Italy. The map-making skills he learned while in the Army would serve him later in his career.

Because he could speak both French and German, Hortens was helpful to his fellow soldiers in dealing with the local French and French-speaking Arab population.  After approximately a year and a half spent in North Africa, his unit was shipped out to the Hawaiian Islands to create maps for the planned invasion of Japan.

By 1945, Walter Hortens had attained the rank of staff sergeant and been honorably discharged from the U.S. Army.  Not long after that he opened up his own illustration studio on the corner of 63rd Street and Lexington Avenue in New York City.  For the next 43 years Walter would maintain an office in that part of Manhattan.

In 1948, he married Margaret Phelan of Milbank, South Dakota.  The couple spent the following year in Paris, France where Walter studied at the Academy Julian* under the GI Bill and Margaret worked for the U.S. State Department.  Because his technical illustration was photo-realistic* in style, his assignments often were images depicting mechanical devices, scientific phenomena or historical events.  With the advent of popular air travel, Hortens was employed by advertising agencies to create exaggerated national and world maps highlighting air routes for different airlines.  Still later, he became a member of the New York Society of Illustrators*, and under their sponsorship created paintings for the U.S. Air Force depicting the anniversary of the Wright Brothers first flight at Kitty Hawk, NC as well as other events used by the Air Force for promotional purposes.  All of his Air Force paintings are now part of their traveling exhibitions.

In 1959, Hortens created a U.S. postage stamp design commemorating the introduction of soil conservation practices for U.S. farming.  Additional stamp assignments followed.  Using his talents both as an illustrator and cartographer, Walter created the first illustrations in Life magazine depicting the "Chunnel" or new train tunnel linking England and France under the English Channel.  

During this time and lasting until his death, Walter Hortens would be an active member in the Society of Illustrators eventually becoming its president from 1985 until 1987.  He was a founding member of the New York branch of the Graphic Artists Guild*.  This group lobbied for fair treatment of artists and their works in the market place.  Additionally, Walter judged artworks done by young artists sponsored by the Police Athletic League.

Walter worked up until the time of his death.  His wife Margaret and sons Michael and Kevin survived him.  He was a gifted artist, had a zany sense of humor and was a loving father.

* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see Glossary



** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at
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