Hardie Gramatky's Story

Back to Los Angeles: a time of art and love

In 1928, Hardie enrolled at Chouinard, a highly respected art school at the time. After that first vivid impression of him, my mother saw him in other classes, and they began dating. She said: "Hardie had bought an old Model T for $10 up in Palo Alto, and he and I would go out sketching or he'd take me home. 'Bout every time we'd go out, we'd have a blowout. Hardie never even bothered to open the door, but he would just jump over the door, reach down, pull out the inner tube, put a patch of something on it, slap it back in and leap in the seat ... and off we'd go. It was so funny."

My father's enormous energy was a characteristic that people noticed throughout his seventy-two years. Susan E. Meyer later described Hardie in American Artist, July 1972: "An artist enjoying the free manipulation of paint - such as Hardie Gramatky - seems to plunge into his painting from a standing position."

My mother recalled details about some of the teachers she and Hardie had:

"Clarence Hinkle was a wonderful teacher. He taught us a way of underpainting, using a palette knife to spread white oil paint on the canvas and then work into it with pure color. Pruett Carter arrived about 1930 and that was a big lift. He was a wonderful, established illustrator and it was a great feather in Nelbert Chouinard's cap to get him. The high point was going over to Pruett and Teresa's home after class and talking late into the night about New York. Also, Pruett had a way with words - he made up such colorful words and even loved Hardie's puns.

"F. Tolles Chamberlin? Oh, he was a dear man. He'd be hovering behind us, humming, and then he'd take the charcoal and add boxes to show the relation between the rib cage and the pelvis. Hardie and Millard [Sheets] and Phil [Dike] and a bunch of the guys would go over to his studio in Pasadena and take a special life class. I was too tired after a day of classes, but Hardie worked all day and he still would go on over there. Lawrence Murphy was a delightful man who lived alone down on Bunker Hill or some place like that. He had an air about him - a jaunty tilt to the brim of his hat. He was a great artist, and he had forgotten more about drawing than we'd ever know!

"Arthur Millier taught us etching at Chouinard and he was also the art critic for the Los Angeles Times. One time Hardie took me out to Mr. Millier's home to print some etchings. Hardie was turning the press for me and somehow I got my finger in the way and the heavy old roller went right over and squashed my finger. Didn't break it, but Hardie felt terrible. He didn't do it on purpose."

Hardie told a story about a high school friend Clyde (Vic) Forsythe. One day in 1929, Vic called him up and said, "Hardie, guess what? I have Norman Rockwell in my studio, and he's painting Gary Cooper!" My father rushed over there and watched in fascination as work on the Saturday Evening Post cover progressed. In the background he could hear Vic calling other friends with the same message. Each time there would be a long pause, and then Vic would hang up. Apparently, no one else believed him!

In later years, Hardie and Norman Rockwell knew each other in the Westport Artists group in Connecticut, and around the early 1950s, Hardie was invited to be one of the original twelve artists in the Famous Artist School that Al Dorne and Norman Rockwell were starting, but his life was so full with writing and illustrating children’s books and painting fine art watercolors that he declined. However, in the 1970s he helped the Institute of Children’s Literature.

While at Chouinard, Hardie would often go on sketching tours for several days, driving wherever the notion led him and painting numerous pictures. Later he would recall:

"In my art student days I was tremendously influenced by that sunlight painter, Van Gogh. So much so that I spent most of my days outdoors, painting everything from the seacoast to the desert. I painted like mad. On one count over a period of three years I found I had painted on an average of five watercolors a day ... Sometimes I went on trips with that great California painter Phil Dike. Then we would literally knock ourselves out with palette and brush, getting up at five in the morning and painting until after dark.

"My theory was a simple one. I figured that the more you painted the more of a master of your medium you became; so that when you really had something to say you said it directly without having to consider the medium. My idea was to play my palette like a pianist plays a keyboard: never conscious of reaching for color or tone, but getting the most subtle shades and harmony with the greatest of confidence." [Quoted in “The Watercolor Series”, American Artist, March 1947.]