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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Offering of the Day: A Captivating Wildlife Image by the Iconic Animal Artist Paul Bransom, the ‘Normal Rockwell’ of Animal Imagery

Paul Bransom (1885-1979)
Glacier Bear
Sight size: 9 1/4 x 7 1/4 inches
Framed: 19 1/4 inches x 17 1/4 inches
Watercolor, gouache, charcoal and ink on paper
Signed lower right: Paul / Bransom

With Robert C. Graham, Sr., New York by descent to the present owner

“Deer, foxes, bears, squirrels, moose and mountain lions: there are no surprises in his choice of subject, only the surprise of his achievement in bringing them to vivid life on paper. Technique and practice can account for much of his art, but love of his subject accomplished much more. That love etched the image of fleeting lives of birds and animals onto paper and into our memories forever” (Adirondack Life, July/August 1979).

Born in Washington, DC, Bransom made a name for himself as a painter and illustrator of American wildlife in both New York City and Jackson Hole, Wyoming for over six decades. 

As a child, he began drawing on his own and taught himself by practicing at home and at his local zoo. Fascinated with birds and animals, he frequented Schmidt's Bird Shop which not only had a variety of birds but also snakes, ferrets, and weasels. He even installed a pigeon coop with chickens and game roosters in his backyard.

The young artist left school at age 13, taking on an apprenticeship where he produced mechanical drawings for patent applications that required precise rendering of structure and detail. His skill at drawing machines earned him a job with a railroad where he briefly drew locomotives and box cars with General Electric Co. in Schenectady. 

In 1903, Bransom moved to New York City, becoming an illustrator for the New Dodd-Mead Encyclopedia. There, he shared a studio with illustrator Sigurd Schow and evolved into a freelance artist, selling his works to newspapers and magazines. Shortly after, the New York Evening Journal hired him to continue Gus Dirk's comic strip, "The Latest News from Bugville." Living and working among popular artists of the day, Bransom’s style naturally reflected influences of his early mentors and friends, two of which were Walt Kuhn and T.S. Sullivant, both of whom he met during his cartoonist days. Bransom was subsequently hired to illustrate stories and covers for the Ladies Home Journal, Country Gentleman, Century, and Good Housekeeping.

Despite his growing commercial success, Bransom continued to pursue his passion for animal sketching. Upon his return visits to DC he frequented the Washington Zoo and also took classes at the Corcoran School of Art. In New York he spent so much time at the lion house of the Bronx Zoo that Zoo Director William T. Hornaday took notice of him. Hornaday, impressed with the young artist’s work, granted him the unusual privilege of a studio in the lion house. After he completed a portfolio of drawings, Bransom began the rounds of publishing houses.  He made such an impression on the editor of the “Saturday Evening Post” that the popular magazine purchased four cover pictures and several smaller drawings on the spot. It was at this junction that his days of comic art were over.

As early as 1908 when he was just 22, Bransom desired a refuge from the hustle and bustle of city life. He and his wife retreated to the Adirondacks, settling on Canada Lake. By this time his art was highly sought after. The natural environment of upstate New York and the access to the animal subjects it provided allowed him to complete his commissions for the Post, Country Gentleman, American Weekly, and other publishing houses. During the 1920’s and 1930’s, some 35 magazines used Bransom’s illustrations. Throughout his life he illustrated nearly 50 books, including Jack London’s “Call of the Wild”, Kenneth Grahame’s English classic “The Wind in the Willows”, and editions of Hunter’s Choice by Archibald Rutledge. Book collectors today find his illustrations in books by such celebrated authors as Charles Roberts, Albert Terhune and Rudyard Kipling.

Beginning in 1947, Bransom spent sixteen summers in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. He met many other artists and illustrators in Jackson and together they taught classes and started the Teton Artists Associated.

Paul Bransom has won more than 80 awards for his art, including the Benjamin West Clinedinst Memorial Medal of the Artists Fellowship of New York City. He has also been president of the Society of Animal Artists. In 1974 he was awarded an honorary degree by Weber State College in Ogden, Utah. Today a Paul Bransom Collection hangs in the College’s library. It originated from his gift of drawings, illustrations and sketches presented to Weber State College in 1972.

Two of Bransom’s works are in the collection of the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Pieces include: Elephant, Owl, etc., n.d. - Graphite on Paper; Leaping Cottontail, 1924 - Gouache and Charcoal

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