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 Lon Keller  (1908 - 1995)

About: Lon Keller
 

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Lived/Active: New York/Florida      Known for: sport event illustration, action athlete images

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Lon Keller
An example of work by Lon Keller
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following was written and submitted October 2004 by Jay Keller, son of the artist:

Born in Lititz, Pennsylvania in 1907, Lon Keller developed his artistic talent in the 1920's, graduating Cum Laude from Syracuse University with a fine art major in 1929. The economic conditions at the time made the normally difficult start of a career in art and illustration virtually impossible.  Henry Alonzo, as he was known then, took a job managing the store at the School of Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania. During that time, he produced his first commercial work illustrating the house newspaper for Sun Oil.  He then did some covers for the Keystone Automobile Club magazine.

Keller preferred art subject was women.  In 1932, the editor of the football programs at Penn, having seen some of his work, engaged him to produce the cover for the Cornell - Penn Thanksgiving Day program cover, which featured a female football fan.

In those days, because of cost, quality sports programs with four-color covers were out of reach for all but the Ivy League and Big Ten.  Most of these were custom produced for each school by national advertisers including Chesterfield, Lucky Strike and Camel. The production was handled by a California printing company, LS&Z.  As a result of a visit by the salesman of LS&Z to Penn where he saw the Cornell-Penn cover, they began to use Lon in 1933.  It was here that Lon met Don Spencer

Shortly thereafter, Don Spencer left to start his own company.  He recognized that the cost of production could be drastically reduced if all programs were produced centrally at one time.  This would enable the expansion of the college market to many smaller schools.  Keller began his long career with the Spencer Advertising Company, moved to New York in 1937 and married Esther Keller in 1938.

Largely because of the quality of the art on the covers Spencer programs were considered souvenirs.  Rarely, as in the past, would there be many left on the seats. Colleges found they could sell many more programs at each game, significantly adding to the revenue.  As a result, Spencer quickly became successful in syndication of football programs for close to 95% of the colleges with football or basketball contests.

In addition, in 1940, Spencer was successful in contracting with Coca-Cola to produce programs that were supplied to high schools by local bottlers throughout the country.

In 1936, Spencer had a press run of thousands of college programs per year, which grew to millions per year by 1946.  Similarly, Coca-cola distributed over 60 million programs between 1940 and 1948 to over 5,000 high schools.  At its peak, it was 36 million per year.

By count, Keller was responsible for over 250 of the college covers and over 173 for Coke producing about 15 per year on average - usually in oil on canvas about 36" by 24".

When not producing art for Spencer, he illustrated program covers for each of the three service academies, for the NFL, The National Olympic Committee, the Yankees and Mets (he developed the logo for each) and the Dodgers and Giants when they were in NY, heavy weight boxing matches, roller derby, horse racing, hockey, the Harlem Globetrotters and more.

It is safe to say that there are hardly any sports fans in the US over the age of 40 that have not been exposed to Keller's covers during what was called "The Golden Era of Sports".

As technological progress gradually lowered the costs, more and more schools began producing their own programs, using photography for covers. This coordinated nicely with Lon's desire to continue painting but at his own pace, selecting subject matter that might interest him at any given time. He moved to DeLand in 1984 and was still painting when he passed away on June 28, 1995.

www.lonkeller.com 

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