Biography: Coby Whitmore

(June 11, 1913 – October 12, 1988)

Occupation:

Illustrator (Saturday Evening Post, Ladies Home Journal, Cosmopolitan, McCall’s, Good Housekeeping), Advertisements for Gallo Wine & Kotex, Painter, Racecar Designer

Schools:

Steele High School, Dayton Art Institute, Chicago Art Institute

Studio Work:

Haddon Sundblom Chicago, IL (Apprentice), Carl Jensen in Cincinnatti, OH (Apprentice), Charles E. Cooper (Hired and moved to NYC in 1942)

Art Genre/Grouping:

The New School/The Chicago Gang of Illustrators (Trio of Whitmore, Ben Stahl, and Thorton Utz)

Marital Status:

Married Dayton, OH sweetheart Virginia Comer (3 Children, 2 boys, 1 girl)

Where is his art now?

Private collections, Permanent collections of the Pentagon, The United States Air Force Academy, New Britain Museum of American Art, and Syracuse University

Biography

Maxwell Coburn “Coby” Whitmore grew up knowing he wanted to be an artist and illustrator, even before graduating from Steele High School in his Midwestern hometown of Dayton, Ohio. Over the course of a professional career spanning more than three decades, his reformations in the illustrative medium changed illustration design concepts forever, earning him an induction into the Society of Illustrators’ Hall of Fame in 1978.

Whitmore began his art education at the Dayton Art Institute, later migrating to an apprenticeship in Chicago, Illinois. Coby’s experiences in the Midwestern metropolis shaped his redefining style as well as the future of his career. He apprenticed in the studio of Haddon Sandblom, worked for the Chicago Herald Examiner, and enrolled in night classes at the Chicago Art Institute.

By the 1940s, Whitmore’s minimalist style of limited backdrops and props, along with a strong focus on the feminine form, had garnered a monopoly over popular artistic culture in magazine and advertising illustrations. Whitmore’s move to Chicago introduced him to a circle of young artists, most notably his future compatriots in the commentary of American life, Ben Stahl and Thornton Utz, an artistic trio that became known as the Chicago Gang.

The New School illustrators of the Chicago Gang did away with excessive clutter and lighting, turning toward minimized landscapes, backdrops, and surroundings in which to place their models. Whitmore described the evolution of his artistic process as recognition of excess controlling, subjugating, and defining his characters. In a photo shoot utilizing an old and heirloom-filled house, the artist explained, “Then, as I worked along, I discovered that the furniture subordinated the characters. A process of elimination began, and in the finished drawing, all that remains of the beautiful old house is the lamp, the sofa, and a piece of silverware.”

The artists of The Chicago Gang were partial to illuminating the subtle complexities of human relationships exposed in familiar, if not everyday, circumstances. Whitmore stripped away the overabundance surrounding their models and focused on intimate moments between people. The included additions were chosen with precise, enhancing intent. The objects present either conveyed the illustrator’s message or constructed a fully comprehensible scene incorporating as few props as possible.

The illustrator eventually headed back east to apprentice again in Ohio at the studio of Carl Jensen in Cincinnati. He married his high school sweetheart, Virginia Comer, from Dayton, and set out for New York City, where he chose to leave behind apprenticeships and classes to accept a job in the advertising art world. In 1942, Whitmore joined the prestigious art studio of Charles E. Cooper on West 57th Street. Many of Whitmore’s works depict post-war American families centered around a maternal figure who exudes happiness in the normalcy of everyday life.

Coby Whitmore’s popular illustrations were featured on both the covers and in stories of The Saturday Evening Post, McCall’s, Ladies Home Journal, Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, and several corporate advertising campaigns. Some illustrations were hidden away inside magazines with purpose, as accusations of tawdry material (women stretching in bed) forced them out of public sight and between the magazine’s pages. In an interesting twist of fate, Whitmore further advanced his artistic career by combining his sleek lines and minimalist design with his fascination for racing cars. In the early 1950s, he designed the Fitch-Whitmore Le Mans Special with racecar driver John Fitch.

As time went on, illustration was used less and less toward the end of Whitmore’s career, forcing many artists to find work illustrating popular novel covers or to head back to the classroom as teachers.

The highest points of Whitmore’s career spanned the more than three decades in which he and his wife built a family of three children, two sons and a daughter. He eventually retired to Hilton Head, South Carolina, to paint and live out the rest of his days. Today, his illustrations remain as coveted works held in both private and permanent collections at institutions such as the Pentagon, The United States Air Force Academy, The New Britain Museum of American Art, and Syracuse University.