Turn Back the Pages: Spring Training & Robert Weaver

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In 2012 I visited what is now known as the D.B. Dowd Modern Graphic History Library at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. The library is home to a collection of work by the illustrator Robert Weaver (1924-1994). Weaver came to prominence in the 1950’s and 60’s working for clients such as LIFE, Cosmopolitan and Esquire. He was a socially engaged illustrator who painted in a loose, raw style and approached his work like a journalist.

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While browsing the collection at the library one series stood out to me: an assignment that he did for Sports Illustrated in 1962. The magazine sent Weaver to cover spring training baseball in Florida and he created over 40 drawings from life. A selection of those images became the basis of 6 paintings that appear in the March 5th, 1962 issue.

The series stood out because of the number of pieces created and the way he handled them. Weaver wasn’t concerned with creating polished drawings; he was taking notes like a journalist in the field might. He not only drew the players, but also focused on the fans, the vendors, and even took note of the racially segregated sections of the stadium. The number of drawings is impressive. He obviously went above and beyond the minimal requirements of the assignment. He created a wide range of compositions that give a good sense of spring training during that time.

Let’s look at a few specific drawings from the series. In Drawing One notice the kid holding an autograph book. Then in Drawing Two take note of the kid to the left holding a baseball.

Weaver took those elements and placed them in his composition along with Roger Maris to create one of his paintings in the series.

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In this other drawing, notice the baseball player leaning on a bat. Weaver used his pose and slightly altered it for another painting.

Worth noting is the column has minimal writing and is credited not as illustrations but as “Paintings by Robert Weaver”.  The feature was about Weaver as the author, exceedingly unusual for magazine illustration assignments. Typically, a writer writes an article and the illustrator then creates images for it.

In the 1960’s Sports Illustrated was one of a handful of publications that sent artists out on assignment to work directly from life. As words can communicate an author’s thoughts and feelings, an artist’s line can do the same, often in a more visceral and concise manner. Sports Illustrated understood the value in this, as seen in this assignment by Robert Weaver. This approach to illustration, an artist working outside of the studio like a journalist, was later called “Visual Journalism”.  It’s less prominent in publications today, but is still practiced by artists around the world in groups such as “Urban Sketchers” and on a personal, non-commercial, level.

Here is the entire article from the 1962 issue and a selection of drawings from the series.

For more information on the D.B. Dowd Modern Graphic History Library please visit their website at: https://library.wustl.edu/spec/mghl/

To find out more about Urban Sketches visit: www.urbansketchers.org

 

Tags: , ,

Categories: History of Illustration

Author:Daniel Zalkus

Daniel Zalkus is an Illustrator and graduate of the School of Visual Arts in NYC. You can see more of his work at: danielzalkus.com

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