John Ford Clymer (1907-1989)ARTIST GALLERY
"When I got into my early teens, like all boys, I got to wondering what in the world could I do to make a living and live in the mountains? One day I got to thinking about it and thought, that's it! I'll paint pictures and then I can live wherever I want to live." - John Ford Clymer
Born and raised in Ellensburg, Washington in 1917, Clymer was influenced by the pristine beauty of this charming Victorian-style village. Located in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, this enchanting wilderness setting would become the playground in which John would cultivate his love of the outdoors. His parents, Elmira and John P. Clymer, were early settlers to this area, building and operating a greenhouse and florist business. Maybe it was the setting he was raised in, but it soon became apparent that John was not a scholar. Long hours in a classroom pouring over books bored him. He recalls his happiest times were long summer vacations or the hours after school exploring this vast terrain.
Until a traveling magazine salesman sold the Clymer family several magazine subscriptions, John did not have an inkling what his future might hold. Enamored by the work of Walt Louderback that he saw within these publications, John Clymer began to ponder the opportunities available in his part of the country for art education. He came upon a correspondence course and spent his free time working toward this goal. Several of Clymer’s high school teachers noticed John’s potential and determination, and encouraged his blossoming talent. While still in high school, Clymer produced promotional advertising for the Ellensburg Rodeo and several advertisements for the Colt Firearms Company. After graduation Clymer moved to Vancouver, British Columbia he painted billboards and signs by day, and by night he attended art school. His early years of training were spent in the Pacific Northwest, an area that would influence the Native American and western themes that eventually became his hallmark.
Knowing that much of the work in illustration was centered on the East coast, Clymer traveled to Wilmington, Delaware, to expand his knowledge of commercial art at the Wilmington Academy of Art. Many of the teachers were former students of the well-known, masterful instructor, Howard Pyle. Access to greats like N.C. Wyeth and Frank Schoonover, gave John the opportunity to be critiqued and influenced by the best and the brightest. After five years, he pulled up stakes and found himself in the artistic community of Westport. One hour from Manhattan by train, the rural community of Westport quickly became a well-known artist colony. John and his new bride Doris, established this as their home base in 1937 and began life as a family.
In the mid-1940’s, Clymer began to break into the magazine business. His first cover for The Saturday Evening Post appeared on January 31, 1942. Between the years of 1942 and 1962 Clymer fascinated the readership of The Saturday Evening Post with his patriotic and western artistry by producing over 80 covers and story illustrations. During the war years, John, and his companions such as Tom Lovell, became prolific as story illustrators in the most popular magazines.
As the memory of war gained some distance, Clymer's truer gifts emerged. His fondness for the Western landscape would be revived as an elixir to heal the wounds of a nation. Taking these wonderful panoramic views that always contained an endless horizon line, he would seamlessly include a human experience. Throughout the 1950's and into the 1960's, his Post covers carried themes that were simple and pleasurable: a picnic lunch, a nature hike, or an afternoon ride through the apple orchard. Examples included herding horses in Wyoming and a roundup on the Yakima River (Post covers September 13, 1952 and May 10, 1958). The scenes seemed to center around general stories of everyday life rather than individual tales of a personal event. In all cases, the figures seem dwarfed by the majesty of the American West. His characters reflect a childlike wonder at the enormity of nature. The beauty of his approach is in his ability to transcend a specific place in time.
As the sixties approached and photography began to gain a stronghold, Clymer's pictures evolved to reflect a new view. His style was more indicative of a drawn snapshot. Clymer’s illustrated Post covers of April 15, 1961, and September 9, 1961, evoke in the viewer a photographer’s eye for breathtaking panoramic vistas. His career in commercial work was winding down and his yearning to cultivate his gallery art would become his focal point for later in life.
After many years as a successful illustrator Clymer longed to paint pictures that were strictly of interest to him. John and his wife, Doris, picked up stakes and moved back to the part of the country in which they began. "Jackson Hole is the hub of the Northwest", quipped Clymer. "From here I can easily get to wherever I want to paint." No longer forced to conform to due dates and fixed subjects, he began to focus on fine art. In 1969 he received a commission from the Winchester-Western Company to create three 5 x 10 foot paintings for the Whitney Gallery of Western Art. This would be the direction of his work for the remainder of his life and would establish him solidly as a master painter of "Images from the Frontier". Clymer died in 1989 in Jackson Hole, Wyoming after spending a lifetime giving an enduring face to this part of the country he loved.