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 John Septimus Sears  (1875 - 1969)

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Lived/Active: Utah      Known for: paintings, etchings

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Morman Tabernacle in Salt Lake City
Morman Tabernacle in Salt Lake City
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Biography from Anthony's Fine Art:

John Septimus "Jack" Sears (1875-1969) was a Tribune and Deseret News man, as well as a former J. T. Harwood student and Mahonri Young colleague and friend who would be a longtime University of Utah Department of Art instructor. 

He also became known throughout the country for some pretty fair cartoons and journalistic drawings done for several American magazines and newspapers.  Sears began the study of painting and drawing under Harwood from 1891 to '93.  Winning a local competition silver medal in 1892 "for best oil painting for those under 18," he then studied for another year at the Mark Hopkins Art Institute in San Francisco under Arthur B. Mathews, William Keith, and others.  Back with Harwood in 1895-1896, Sears "sold frog legs to a Salt Lake hotel, "merchandised a "tubful of medals he had won as a cyclist," and even played some baseball "for money" in an effort to raise enough for art school in the East.  He was in New York the next year at the Art Students League with Douglas Volk, George DeForest Brush, William M. Chase, and Ernest Knaufft, while working for William Randolph Hearst's Journal as a "joke drawing" artist in order to stay in school. 

Taking the second newspaper job in 1897 with the Deseret News in Salt Lake City, he was a cartoonist with the Salt Lake Tribune the year following, working with Mahonri there, before accepting an out-of-town stint as a cartoonist for another year with the Times News and Southern Star of Chattanooga, Tennessee.  Moving on to New York at the turn of the century, Sears became a reporter for Bradstreets (a news organization) for a couple of years, and then in 1904, he took jobs as illustrator for the New York Morning Telegraph and the New York Evening Journal, and studied painting with Dan McCarthy.  Working for the Telegraph until 1907, Sears was in New York with his old Salt Lake Tribune coworker and friend Mahonri Young, and the two were both swept up in the excitementof a new and energetic era in American art. Taking lessons in 1907-8 from the great teacher Robert Henri (easily one of the most forceful personalities involved in an early-century American thrust toward more honest illustrative "social realism"), Sears joined Young during the period in a romance with the new and bustling core of an artistic urban awareness that was innovative within the context of this country's ongoing cultural development.  Sears left Henri's studio after a year, and from 1907 until 1917, he worked as a freelance artist.  Involved in various projects through that decade, the artist also worked for the Democratic National Committee in 1911 and its GOP equivalent in 1912. 

Two years later, Sears became involved in illustrations for an Elbert Hubbard story Pig Pen Pete, and finally brought his considerable talents as draftsman, printmaker, and graphic designer to the University of Utah in 1919.  After Edwin Evans's resignation from the chairmanship of the university art department following the end of the 1918-1919 school year, the program went forward under three instructors: Evelyn S. Mayer, Florence Ware, and Jack Sears.  Much of the responsibility of running the department during the period just after Evan's departure fell to Sears, who became an instructor with the program for twenty-four years before departing in 1943.  It was an involvement that spanned the chairmanships of his former teacher J.T. Harwood (1923-31), fellow-Harwood student, A.B. Wright (1931-38), and the beginning of LeConte Stewart's era in late 1938.  To organize a "commercial art department" within his old teachers' Department of Art at the U of U, Sears initiated both printmaking (with Harwood) and illustration/graphic design emphases at the U of U that were carried on in later years by such talents as LeConte Stewart, Arnold Friberg, Keith Eddington, Sherm Martin, Doug Snow, Ed Maryon, Gerald B. Purdy, Robert W. Kleinschmidt., Roland Siegrist, Calvin Sumsion, Paul Showalter, Tim Drew, Ray Morales, and Mac Magleby. 

Continuing at the U of U until 1943, Sears became particularly known for his Cat Drawings (published in book form during his last year as a university instructor) and more generally for his continued work as a cartoonist.  His works were found in private collections across the country, and in the end, as freelance work for the Salt Lake papers continued throughout his later career, he received a "Pallet Gold Pin" award in 1958 from Utah Art Educator's Association "for meritorious service in the field of cartooning."

He rejoined the Deseret News staff in 1920, and continued to work at both the paper and the university until 1924.  For Sears the return to employment in Utah with one of the "fountainhead" institutions for local graphic design and illustration was a very natural thing; thus, in a way, he had paid homage to the beginnings of the Utah development he was to key with the initiation of his "commercial art department" at the U of U.  Jack Sears, who did not die until June 6 of his ninety-fourth year, estimated in 1948 that he had completed some 25,000 drawings and sketches during a career that included also the creation of many landscapes and portraits.

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