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Stephen Kroninger
American History
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A received a phone from Rudy Hoglund some months ago asking if I'd be interested in doing a bi-monthly illustration for the Encounter colums by Peter Carlson in AMERICAN HISTORY magazine. Although I would have jumped at the chance to work with Mr. Hoglund again the deal was sealed when hen he told me that the first story was about Groucho Marx and T. S. Eliot. As a huge Marx Brothers fan and particulary a Groucho fan since I was a kid so was already familiar with this story. I first read Eliot in junior high school because Marx mentioned this meeting in one of the many Marx books I'd read at the time. Anyway, I thought there was a bit of serendipity in this being this first story I was to create an image for.

 The second one concerned a meeting between Mark Twain and Helen Keller. I thought the best image came from this paragraph, "When they reached his billiard room, he told her that Rogers had given him the pool table. And he offered to teach her to play 'Oh, Mr. Clemen,' she said, 'it takes sight to play billiards.' Not the way Rogers plays, he said. 'The blind couldn't play worse' "but the editors did not agree. They felt it was a bit too harsh or disrespecful. My thinking was if the story passed down through history I figured Helen Keller found Twain's joke as funny as I did. Anyway, I didn't have the last word and had to rethink the image. What we came up with took a bunch of tries.

 I next chose this passage, "With her fingers, Keller inspected Twain's face, and his famous thatch of white hair....The instant I clasped his hand in mine, I knew that he was my friend," She later wrote, "I shall never forget how tender he was."
 My first attempt was considered to look too much like an actual photo. No argument there. It did.
 The second one suffered from the same maladay as the first, too much like a tinted photo.

 I then tried making them as complete cut-out caricatures but Mr. Hoglund wanted to keep historical photos for the heads.

 In the final piece I combined both approaches using disparate photos to add texture to the historical heads.

 The third piece is a meeting between King George III and John Adams. Adams felt like a fish out of water and that the eyes of the entire British empire were scrutinizing his every move. The sketch included lots of eyes that didn't make it into the final piece. I thought they made the image too busy so I dropped them.


The fourth featured Nikita Kruchev and Marilyn Monroe. Above is the sketch.

 Another change from sketch to finish, as Mr. Carlson tells the story Monroe was unimpressed with the Soviet premier so I altered her squeezed balloon fingered hand to this disdainful wet fish handshake.

This piece is Hermann Goering and Charles Lindbergh. From the text, "After lunch, Goering led his guests on a tour of his mansion, pointing out the paintings, statues and tapestries he’d “borrowed” from museums. Then he took them to a porch, where he displayed the piece d’ resistance—“Augie,” a lion cub from the Berlin zoo.
“I want you to see how nice my Augie is,” Goering said, plopping down on a sofa. “Come here, Augie.”
Augie, three feet tall and four feet long, leaped into Goering’s lap and began licking the general’s face. Somebody laughed, and apparently the noise frightened Augie.
“The startled lion let loose a flood of yellow urine all over the snow white uniform!” ... Goering shoved the lion off his lap and jumped up, “his face red with anger, his blue eyes blazing.”


 The most recent piece is about Jackie Robinson's historic meeting with Branch Rickey, the owner of the Brookly Dodgers. As Rickey hurled all types of insults at Robinson to see if he would lose his a cool, a cool he would need as the first African-American player in the National Leagues. At one point Rickey even threw a punch at Robinson narrowly, but purposely,  missing his head. I chose to illustrate that image. Robinson is in the Kansas City Monarchs uniform he wore as a player in the Negro Leagues.
 
 Also I beg forgiveness from Dodger fans. In the doodle I mislabled Branch Rickey as Giants owner Walter O'Malley. I'm not sure what short-circuited in my brain at the time to make that error.

 It's a wonderful magazine and I'm happy to be associated with it.


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