I've just come across the work of the illustrator JC Leyendecker. I love the all-american heroic look that he gave his figures. He was a mentor and great influence on Norman Rockwell. Of course it can be agreed that Rockwell's images are burned into our collective consciousness about what our American self-image is. Both Leyendecker and Rockwell were artists for the Saturday Evening Post covers. I've always loved Rockwell's work and fell in love with that style. I knew that designing Post covers was too big of a job for just one man, but I never knew who the other artists were. I also knew that the Post liked to keep that nostalgic/Americana look during this time period. You can imagine my surprise when I found that it wasn't the great Rockwell, but his mentor Leyendecker who originally worked in this style. Now that doesn't take anything away from Rockwell. While Leyendecker's compositional and figurative influence can be seen in Rockwell, it was Rockwell who chose the characterizations, subjects and story-telling skills that set him apart.
Then there is that little detail about Leyendecker that a lot of the "baseball, mom, and apple pie Americans" would have us overlook. Leyendecker was gay. That handsome boy-next-door persona that he perfected was drawn not just with his talent but with his keen admiration of the male form. The wholesome All-American youth that graced the magazine covers and print ads for Arrow shirts was created by a man that truly loved men. How ironic it is that a gay artist would go on to influence man that would shape the imagery of the American character and nationalism. Rockwell would paint soldiers, athletes, farmers, business men as noble heroic figures with character and personality that reflected who Americans thought themselves to be. And to think that the guiding light that illuminated those images came from a gay man serving as a mentor. So, could it be that those patriotic and wistful Americans that admired Rockwell were also admiring the gentle gay influence of Leyendecker's soul? It's something to think about.