Thursday, October 10, 2013

A Guy Who Loved to Draw: Reed L. Crandall

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

The next two posts will feature the artist, Reed L. Crandall.  The second post will focus on his career as a comic book illustrator and later life. Thank you to John Whitlock and Ella Crandall Whitlock for sharing photo albums, memories and paintings completed by their uncle/brother.   

Perhaps you walked past it as a student at Newton High School or remember when it hung above the Art Room door.  Today, laughing, excited middle school students  run up and down the stairs in front of the painting at Santa Fe Middle School. The bright, colorful three panel wall mural of Native Americans engaged in  traditional crafts has been a part of the building for nearly 80 years. Originally located in the Art Room, the art completed by NHS sophomore Reed Crandall in 1933 is located in the stairwell at the Santa Fe Middle School.

Wall Mural by Reed L. Crandall, 1933
Santa Fe Middle School, Newton, Ks
Reed Crandall is best known for his work as an American illustrator of comic books and magazines, but his talent is also apparent in the pieces he created as a student at Newton High and Cleveland School of Art.

According to family stories, at the age of  four, Reed picked up a pencil and started drawing.  His family was amazed at his skill, noting he could barely speak in full sentences, but he sure could draw! Years later a friend would note that "Reed was a relaxed, laid back sort of guy who just loved to draw."  Reed L. Crandall was born on February 22, 1917 to Rayburn L and Delia Crandall in Winslow, In. The family included a brother, Dillon and sister, Ella.

Crandall Family Album
In 1932, the family moved to Newton, Kansas, and thirteen year old Reed Crandall enrolled at Newton High School as a freshman.  The art teacher at the time was Miss Marie Orr and she encouraged Reed's talent.  During his high school years, he completed the Native American wall mural at Newton High (later Santa Fe Middle School) and many other projects.

Possible H.S. Art Class Project
Painting of a Dog by Reed Crandall, n.d
Courtesy Santa Fe Middle School, Newton.

In 1935, when Crandall was a senior, Miss Orr encouraged him to mount his own show in Newton before going to art school in Cleveland. The work he exhibited was diverse and included thirty-one canvases with subjects ranging from scenery, Native American life and still life in water colors and oil.  He also had a dozen pieces of sculpture. 

Photo of sculptures Crandall included in the 1935 exhibition.
Courtesy John Whitlock

Delia Crandall
Completed in 1960s or 1970s
Courtesy John Whitlock
In the fall of 1935, Crandall entered the Cleveland School of Art, Ohio, which even today has a reputation of being one of the best design schools.

Painting completed at Cleveland School of Art
Courtesy John Whitlock
His dream was to find work as an illustrator for magazines after finishing at the Cleveland School of Art.

Painting completed at Cleveland School of Art
Courtesy John Whitlock
Crandall graduated from the Cleveland School of Art in 1940. In addition to graduating, he was awarded a $400 prize and voted "the best illustrator in the school."  In June 1939, Crandall undertook his first professional illustration project and he was paid $150. However, the role of magazine illustrator was gradually being phased out due to new advances in photography.  Magazines just did not need illustrators. Crandall  heard about a new, growing field that was paying artists well - illustrating for comic books. Crandall began working in the Jerry Iger Shop, an early supplier of stories and art for various comic book publishers, in approximately 1940.

Frank Borth, fellow artist
Painting of a female nude above desk is by R. Crandall
Crandall Family Album
Reed Crandall's career had begun! Our post next week will follow Crandall  as he becomes a nationally known comic book illustrator.

  • Evening Kansan Republican, 7 May 1936, "Art Students Go Places".
  • Newton Kansan, 15 September 1982, "Reed Crandall" Obituary, p. 5.
  • Root, Vincent C. "Exceptional Newton, Kan. Art Student Wins High Honors in National Art Department Contest", The Santa Fe Magazine Vol. 28-9, 1933.
  • Crandall Family Album courtesy John Whitlock.
  • Hill, Roger. "Reed Crandall Newton's Illustrator of the Comics" HCHM Archives, "Crandall File".
  • Stiles, Steve. "A Look at E.C. Great, Reed Crandall" 
  •  "Reed Crandall"
  • George Leary, principal, Santa Fe Middle School, Newton, Ks, 10/09/2013.
  • Comic Book Marketplace, June 1998
    • Gleeson, Tony.  "Fantastic Fiends and Mad Machines: Reed Crandall's Pre-Code Blackhawks".
    • Hill, Roger.  "R. Crandall! A CBM Tribute to the Master of Fine Illustration!"
    • Hill, Roger. "Remembering Reed!"

For a related post about the Crandall family:

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  1. I learned that Reed Crandall lived in Wichita, KS in 1963. I looked him up in the telephone book, found his number and called him. After a short conversation he invited me to visit the following Thursday evening at he and his mother's four-plex apartment. A short time after that I made my first Saturday afternoon visit and continued these Saturday afternoon visits until 1969 when Reed left to visit his old friend, Al Williamson in Pennsyvania. During my visits Reed would often be working on stories for the Warren magazines, CREEPY and EERIE, stories for TREASURE CHEST, FLASH GORDON or drawings for various Edgar Rice Burroughs fanzines and collectors. Most of the time Reed would just give these Burroughs drawings away. There is little doubt that Reed was one of the best artists to work in the comic book industry -- and certainly he could draw horses better than most of them.

    1. Thank you for your memory of Reed Crandall.