Art exhibit features collection of individual works by New York Society of Illustrators

PLAINVIEW – As a student in art school, Dr. Candace Keller said she remembers vividly visiting the college library and thumbing dreamily through the hefty volumes of the Society of Illustrators Annual of American Illustration. At a whopping 500-plus pages, the annuals presented the best of the best each year of commercial illustrators, and budding art students clamored to see what those artists were turning out.

Now, Keller is seeing that artwork up close and personal in the newest exhibit to grace the walls of the Abraham Family Art Gallery at Wayland Baptist University. Opening October 30, the Society of Illustrators’ 50th annual traveling exhibit has detoured to the south for a stint in the Abraham Gallery, running through Dec. 3.

The exhibit features 40 of the hundreds of pieces chosen each year by the New York-based society from its 50th annual publication, which will come out in 2009. The gallery display will include work by 37 different artists and cover a wide variety of media from acrylics to digital graphic design.

“Illustration succinctly gives you a visual idea that represents, advertises or promotes what it is supposed to draw attention to,” said Keller, who is curator of the gallery and professor of art at Wayland. “It is a very encapsulated concept, with vivid and memorable images. Some illustration is highly complex and some is very simple, but each work has a psychology and an intention. Many of the works have wonderful detail, and you really want to get close to see it.”

Keller said the show is in great demand and is the first appearance at the Abraham Gallery, and she notes that most of the work represents commissioned work by corporations, individuals, book publishers and recording companies for specific projects. Illustrators are highly paid arts professionals and their work is in great demand, but that doesn’t mean the work has any less merit in a strictly fine art sense.

“There used to be this sort of divided thought between artists and illustrators, but that’s not really the case anymore,” Keller said. In fact, artists like Norman Rockwell, N.C. Wyeth, Maxfield Parrish and others are included in the society’s Hall of Fame and are typically not regarded as illustrators specifically.

The show represents the best in the six categories in the society’s printed annual: sequential, editorial, book, advertising, institutional and uncommissioned. Featured artists include Brad Holland, Sterling Hundley, Mike Benny, Jody Hewgill, Yuko Shimizu and Anita Kunz.

The society was founded in 1901 by nine artists with aims of promoting and celebrating illustrative artwork. The group held monthly meetings and regular exhibitions of its work, and members regularly provided their talent for the U.S. government during war eras for posters and other materials, such as the famous “I want you” poster with Uncle Sam by James Montgomery Flagg. Members began working with the U.S. Air Force in 1954 to document its activities and that relationship continues today.

The 1950s also saw the development of a scholarship fund to assist aspiring young artists, and the Museum of American Illustration was opened in 1981. In 2001, as part of the society’s centennial, they released a series of stamps in partnership with the U.S. Postal Service, and they held a special exhibit honoring the heroes of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The Abraham Gallery exhibit is free and open to the public during regular gallery hours: 10-5 Monday through Thursday, 10-4 Friday and 2-5 Saturday. For more information, contact the gallery at (806) 291-3710.