July 16th, 2012
Our newest digital project, Images From Life, brings some of the classic cartoons, covers, and ads from the first Life magazine out from the archives. Life magazine was founded January 4, 1883 by John Ames Mitchell and Andrew Miller in a New York artist’s studio. Miller served as secretary-treasurer and managed the business side. Mitchell, an illustrator, served as its publisher. He invested in a revolutionary new printing process using zinc-coated plates which improved the reproduction of illustrations and artwork. This helped give Life an edge over its completion from the successful, established humor magazines, Judge and Puck. They hired Edward Sandford Martin, founder of the Harvard Lampoon, as the first literary editor.
Their introductory issue had the motto: “While there’s Life, there’s hope.” They let the readers know that while they would address issues of politics, fashion, society, religion, literature, etc., they would do so with “casual cheerfulness,” speaking fairly, truthfully, and decently. They also wanted to have fun.
By 1893, Life magazine decided to construct its own building. It included studio space and apartments for the artists, to create home within Life’s home. The firm of John Mervyn Carrere and Thomas Hastings created a Beaux Arts building and contracted Philip Martiny to create a sculpture for the entrance of the building. He created Winged Life, the cherub that became the symbol of Life magazine throughout its existence. The building now serves as the Herald Square Hotel. If you go to their site, you will find a lot of information on Life magazine and its artists.
Many famous illustrators and authors were contributors to Life. One of the most important was Charles Dana Gibson who sold his first contribution, an illustration of a dog outside his kennel howling at the moon, to Life for $4. Gibson’s most celebrated figure, the Gibson Girl, had her early appearances in Life in the 1890s. She soon became the nation’s feminine ideal and earned a place in history. Robert Ripley published his first cartoon in Life in 1908 and Norman Rockwell’s first cover for Life was published in 1917. Dr. Seuss submitted cartoons in the late 1920s.
After World War I, the publishing world changed, encompassing a cruder and more cynical outlook. Life’s clean fun format caused it to struggle to compete. Even though they managed to hire the most talented authors, artists, and editorial staff, the magazine continued to lose popularity. The New Yorker, publishing its first issue in 1925, copied much of the best of Life’s style and format, and wooed away much of its editorial and art staff. Though its staff tried hard to keep current, it fought to make a profit in the 1930s. Henry Luce purchased Life in 1936 for its name only.
With Images From Life, we wanted to share some of the legendary art and artists with the SCAD community. Some of the artists are well known, some are not so well known. We also wanted to share some of the advertisements in Life. They are very informative of the time period. If you want to find the collection directly, we will add a link soon, but for now, use the link on the Library’s catalog page for the Don Bluth Collection of Animation. When you get to the Bluth Collection, click on the home option at the top and this will bring you to all of the collections. Just select the Images From Life icon with the cherub. This is a fascinating look at advertising and cartooning history, and we hope you will enjoy looking at is as much as we enjoyed bringing the project to you. We have barely touched the surface of the materials that are available from Life, and are going to continue to add new images as time permits!