Sunday, November 23, 2014

Was Credit Camouflaged? | Roosevelt Murals

William Andrew Mackay booklet on Roosevelt murals (1944)
Here's yet another post about American muralist William Andrew Mackay, who was an early contributor (some say the earliest) to World War I ship camouflage. In previous posts, his name has come up frequently, because of his own achievements but also because of the work that was done by other artists who had attended his NYC camouflage school. Aside from camouflage, at one time he was a widely known muralist, having created prominent works for the Library of Congress, 1939 World's Fair, Minnesota House of Representatives, and others.

As a muralist, perhaps his most famous achievement is a set of massive murals in the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Hall at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Completed in 1935, the famous murals are 34 feet high and 62 feet wide, covering an area of 5,230 square feet. Mackay died on the street of a heart attack in 1939. In 1944, the museum published a posthumous booklet, written by Mackay and A.A. Canfield of the New York State Department of Public Works, titled The Murals in the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Hall (NYC: American Museum of Natural History, in which it is twice stated that the murals “were painted by William Andrew Mackay."

More recently, in a process requiring two years to complete, the Roosevelt Rotunda murals were restored and reopened to the public on Roosevelt's birthday, October 27, 2012. In various news reports, the public was reminded that the man who made them was Mackay, described as "a pioneer in the development of ship camouflage in World War I." 

That said, we found it of interest to happen upon a long-forgotten news article titled “’T.R.’ Memorial Murals Painted by Pittsburgher,” published in The Pittsburgh Press, on October 30, 1936—

A former left handed trumpet player from Pittsburgh was the artist who actually painted the murals in the [Roosevelt Rotunda at the] New York State Theodore Roosevelt Memorial…

The man who created the murals, it was discovered today, was Cliff Young, who earned his way through the Art Institute of Pittsburgh by playing a trumpet. He is left handed.

It was not known that Mr. Young had done the work, as the booklets which carry a description of the memorial building have referred only to William Andrew Mackay, winner of the competition held between 25 nationally known artists who submitted sketches.

Responsible for the discovery of the part played by the left-handed trumpeter was Willis Shook, [founder and] director of the art school who stumbled upon his former pupil on a recent trip to New York.

Mr. Mackay directed the execution, employing Mr. Young to do the work, according to Mr. Shook.…

Mr. Young twice painted in his own portrait in the murals, although he hung a beard on his face in order to carry out the scheme of the original designs [as in his self-portrait as Vladimir near the bottom of the mural on Russian history].…

Cliff Young, Figure Drawing Without a Model (1945), p. 42.

With additional sleuthing, we found out that Cliff Young (1905-1985) was a painter and cartoonist who worked for DC Comics during World War II as an illustrator of Green Arrow [Wikipedia article includes one of Cliff Young's covers].

He also wrote two books about learning to draw, Figure Drawing Without a Model (NY: House of Little Books, 1946), and Drawing Drapery from Head to Toe (same publisher, 1947, later reprinted by Dover, 2007).

Originally from Pittsburgh, he studied at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, Grand Central School of Art, Art Institute of Chicago, National Academy of Design, Carnegie Institute, and Art Students League of New York.