Thursday, March 22, 2012

Louis Paeth and Outdoor Life in the Early 1920s by Peter Paeth

Louis Paeth and Outdoor Life in the Early 1920s by Peter Paeth

As you know, I frequently check through eBay listings for possible examples of Louis Paeth work. His surviving art files contained a signed, full-page magazine illustration, portraying Eliphalet Remington and the history of Remington Arms, clipped from a December 1921 edition of Outdoor Life.  Because of the existence of this work, I decided to create an EBay search for 1921 Outdoor Life magazine listings, so as to be notified by email when an issue came up for auction.

This past January, I received just such an email: a July 1921 copy of Outdoor Life was on sale.  In the listing, the seller included additional photos of some interior pages which revealed another full- page illustration of my father’s, this time a depiction of Samuel Colt and the history of Colt Firearms

Needless to say, I was thrilled by this discovery of work he had completed before his 21st birthday and made sure I won this auction. 

Now, an internet search for Colt historical information revealed that in 1957 the company had donated its Colt Factory Firearm Collection and a large manuscript collection to the Connecticut State Library.  Scrolling down the library’s finding aid for RG103, Colt's Patent Fire Arms Manufacturing Company records, under “Printed Materials/Company related,” I found the entry, “L. Paeth’s illustration of the Colt revolver.”  I immediately called the library to inquire if this entry might represent a work I had not seen.  After I sent a librarian my scan of the Colt Outdoor Life illustration, she responded that hers was identical to that which I had emailed, but with a blank textbox where the written history had appeared in the published version.  Although, as of yet, I have been unable to obtain a scan of this work, I remain cheered in the knowledge that this signed artist’s proof of my father’s has found a place in the Colt Archives housed in the Connecticut State Library. 

If there is one lesson that I’ve learned in my historical detective work, it is this: even though I may have inspected something carefully a number of times, it may not be until yet one more subsequent examination that a revelation appears.  Just so, on a recent night after my Colt find, I was looking through a group of several small illustrations that my father had long ago cemented onto heavy cardstock paper, probably for the purpose of portfolio display.  I was familiar with all this work and knew where each had originally appeared in publication, excepting one: a small, hand-cropped illustration of a man reading in his easy chair, his feet resting on a footstool.  The caption that remains with this illustration is “give your pal a year’s subscription.” 

I had always assumed that I would never find this in a publication and so, not given it much thought.  But on this night, it suddenly occurred to me that I needed to look at this small sketch with the magnifying glass, and when I did, I realized that the magazine the man was reading was Outdoor Life!

This discovery, in light of the two full-page Outdoor Life illustrations for Colt and Remington, took me to the website of World Cat, the world’s library catalog, to see where I might find libraries that held collections of 1920’s Outdoor Life.  A little searching and I found that the library at Washington State University, only some 250 miles from my home in Western Montana, contains a collection of Outdoor Life magazines that dates back to 1910.   Fortunately, other plans had already been put in place to visit the area in mid-February, and so on February 23, I traveled to Pullman, Washington to look through WSU’s back volumes of Outdoor Life.
Once there at the Holland and Terrell Library, within ten minutes I located the illustration of the man in the easy chair from my father’s files; there he was on the index page of the December 1921 edition of O.L. complete with footstool and the encouragement for readers to give gift subscriptions at Christmas

Starting into the 1922 volume, I soon encountered the signed Louis Paeth work which accompanied a February 1922 article on auto camping.

This bucolic yesteryear camping scene brought to mind illustrative work done unsigned later in the ‘20s for Harley-Davidson.

More searching through the back issues followed, during which I came upon several more familiar looking sketches illustrating outdoor articles and column headings for regular monthly features, these, too, were probably my father’s work.

As productive as my visit had been to this point, the biggest eye-openers had yet to make their appearance.  I was making my way chronologically through the ’22 volume when the July issue happily confirmed my long-held assumption of the existence of more full-page firearms tableaus by revealing a signed Louis A. Paeth Winchester/Henry page.

Then, an hour later, when the February ’23 issue yielded a final signed illustrative biography on Arthur Savage and the history of the Savage Arms Corporations, my trip was complete. 

With the revelations it had brought, I now better understood the beginnings of my father’s artistic timeline and felt proud to think of Louis in his early 20s, already a recognized and capable enough illustrator to have been contracted for a series of illustrative work for four of the major firearms manufacturers in the United States: Colt, Remington, Winchester and Savage.

After so many unsigned illustrations and so many dry wells, these thoughts cheered our ride home from Pullman, Washington and strengthened my resolve to press on with research into the life and work of my father, Louis A. Paeth.           

Louis and Peter Paeth ca. 1953.

-- Peter Paeth


Kathryn M. Henning said...

Peter... Your dad was so good to me when I was a little kid. He always took time to visit with me. I loved him so dearly. I miss both of your parents very much. I used to look at my aunt Irene and think... I want to be just like her when I grow up. I wish we could have been closer when we were children. I wish I could have known you...

Kathryn M. Henning said...

I am fascinated by this blog!!!