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Classic Covers: Thornton Utz, A Salute to Dad

There’s a ruckus up in the boys’ room. Dad slips up the stairs, only to find two angelic boys fast asleep in their beds. The “this is way too familiar” theme was typical of artist Thornton Utz (a German name pronounced Ootz). Admit it, you were supposed to be asleep a few times and pulled the little innocent “angel” routine when you were about to be caught. Did any of us ever really fool Dad?

A 1949 Post article salutes Utz, delighted that he and artists like him could “disprove the old canard that Art doesn’t pay.” Thanks largely to magazines like yours truly, artists moved “out of the garret and into the ranks of the regular eaters.” And Utz and family were able to eat well. The article happily reports that last year his net income “topped $30,000.” If you’re not impressed, be hereby reminded that the average salary in 1948 was $3,600. It would appear that Post readers readily identified with Dad going to work in the morning and coming back whipped (6/28/52) or how one dad just gave up on yard work and painted the patio green (5/2/1953). Were those neighbors envious of his ingenuity–or did they think he was nuts? These were among the many multiscene covers, such as Mr. Mom from May 12, 1956. Nine scenes show us Dad getting up early, fixing breakfast, putting in a full day at work, getting the kids to bed and getting his payoff–a visit to his newest pride and joy.

As a gawky 12-year-old himself, Utz started out with a comic strip he handed out to neighborhood kids. High school was Memphis Technical, where he studied his craft. With an equally enterprising classmate, he did display work for the Memphis Mid-South Fair, splitting the $3 a week they earned. They knew they wanted to be illustrators like J.C. Leyendecker, but had no idea how to accomplish this. “Either of us could probably have been talked out of the whole idea if we’d been offered a good job driving a laundry truck.” When we see the vacationing family from the June 18, 1960 Post cover, we’re delighted no laundry truck appeared just then. Pipe in mouth, fishing gear in hand, Pops is out the back door of the cabin retreat before Mom and the kids even have the car unpacked. Which is our wish for all dads out there on their well-deserved day–do what you darn well want!

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  • Harry West

    As a senior at RINGLING SCHOOL of ART in Sarasota in 1964-65, I apprenticed for Thornton Utz. It was inspiring to watch him create his illustrations and paintings with such ease. I was there before he did the portraits of Princess Grace, but in his filing cabinet were a dozen or more photos of her when she had posed for him years before for a magazine illustration (before she was a movie star)
    The last POST cover above – “Unwelcome Pool Guests” – was a “re-do”. Utz wasn’t happy with the face of the guy in the foreground, and apparently re-worked the face too many times, and started over. I have segments of the first “edition”. For some reason he cut it in sections before giving it away.

  • Kimberly

    I was just blogging about an experience I had roughly 40 years ago with the Utz’s. In an attempt to share his works, I have come across your sight. Here is my commentary about that experience which will have followerers ;linking back to you.

    “I earned my first ‘real adult’ sewing machine when I was somewhere around the 5th grade, around 1970. I made appliques for and sewed them on a bedspread with it, which matched the drapes, for a custom home that artist Thornton Utz was building on Siesta Key. His wife Maude hired me through a mutual acquaintance I used to spend summers with (babysitting). The machine was a 1940′s Necchi with its own cabinet and it was almost like driving a stick shift car in that everything was manual with levers. It was not unusual to have your right hand engaged with the machine while guiding the fabric with your left hand. It also had a knee lever which was a totally new concept for me. In retrospect, I am glad that I learned on such a machine, it helped me develop a good bit of sewing know how and coordination. I started making money with that machine shortly after.

    I will never forget the Utz home either. It was a seven level split floor plan; it had nooks and crannys and spiral stairs all over the place and the front door was a (real) castle door that had been imported from somewhere in Europe. It was massive and concave and his studio must have been at least three stories tall with windows just as tall. I will never forget that experience and it was nice, just now, bringing the memory into the 21st century.”

  • Diana Denny

    Thank you for your updates – we love hearing from people who knew or have extra information about our artists! – Diana Denny, Archivist

  • sue maxwell

    I lived near the Utz’s while I was in highschool and was best friends with their daughter, Wendy. He later became a portrait painter and painted Grace Kelly after she married Prince Ranier. She had been of of his early models. They were a fun family to know, and he was extremely creative in so many ways. Wendy has followed in his footsteps and does water color painting. His lovely wife died of cancer, while we were in college, and later on he remarried. Fond memories of many years ago. Sue

  • karl martin

    I worked for Thornton Utz in the early 1970′s as a student at Ringling School of Art in Sarasota. I was constantly amazed at his talent—-his portraits were not just stiff, posed images but truly did capture the subject—especially children. I am fortunate to have been painted by him 6 times, and to own several sketches and paintings–inc. one of his son Scott. he was a remarkable talent, and a remarkably nice person. His home , that he built with his own hands was incredible—hand bent wooden stair banisters –like “bentwood” furniture etc.

  • violet

    I commisioned Thorton Utz to paint portraits of my 2 grandchildren. I was in his home several times. The paintings hang in my home. One of the portraits is on a plate he did.
    All this was about 25 years ago.