Sunday, April 27, 2008

Bim, BEM, Bum: Bergey!

About four years ago I met Joshua Bergey, who told me he was working on a book about his illustrator grandfather, Earle K. Bergey. I honestly couldn't conjur up an image of his work at the time. Recently, I assigned a project to my illustration class to draw the future. This prompted bringing in some books, Infinite Worlds by Vincent di Fate and Science Fiction of the 20th Century, an Illustrated History by Frank M. Robinson, both borrowed from my neighbor/illustrator, Doug Smith. Doug is both a fan and collector of pulp fiction art and science fiction illustration. Earle Bergey's work is heavily represented in both these books, being a master of many genres, working for mainstream magazines as well as science fiction magazines and pin-ups. I asked Joshua to speak to my students which he very generously did last week.

Earle K. Bergey was born in Philadelphia, PA in 1901 and attended the Academy of Fine Arts there. He began illustrating in 1926 for local newspapers, comics, magazines, and into the 40's for the expanding paperback book market. He became famous for "Bim, BEM, and Bum," for typically featuring a scantily clad woman (bimbo?) in the clutch of a Bug Eyed Monster, with some heroic bum coming to the rescue. Joshua never met his grandfather, but his own artistic career prompted a keen interest in his grandfather's creative life. Earle Bergey died at only 51, leaving behind a scattered and devalued body of work. Joshua has devoted his time to searching and reclaiming ownership of the large cache of now highly collectible art.

He showed a painting that was not used for the final bookcover, a great inside peek for students at the fickle world of publishing, one in which illustrations may go through many variations to meet the demands of the client, producing quite magnificent yet unpublished pieces.

This piece graces Joshua's mantel, a testament to Earle Bergey's finesse with smooth skin tones and theatrical handposes.

Many of the works Joshua has found have required major rehabilitation and restoration. Back in the day, these were considered disposable or not worthy of careful storage. Joshua has met former models in his quest for stories and art related to his grandfather.

Students were curious about how much Bergey got paid for his paintings (about $200) and how quickly he did them.
Joshua guessed that a typical oil painting may have taken about two weeks. Given his prolific output, they may have been done within a week. With the imagination, versatility, and sex appeal of his work, Earle Bergey made his mark on the times. Joshua has found numerous examples of his grandfather's stylish innovations in modern film and design genres.

Here Joshua shows the small painting done as a rough for the larger painting that became the bookcover on the right.

Thanks to Joshua for sharing his family stories, artistic legacy, and original collection of Earle Bergey's paintings. It was an informative and visually delicious slice of illustration history. Bergey's art is iconic of a culture on the brink of modernism.

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