Mead Schaeffer (1898-1980)


Mead Schaeffer began life in the small town of Freedom Plains, New York on July 15, 1898. He was the son of Charles, a Presbyterian evangelist preacher and his wife Minnie. Shortly after his birth, the family moved to Springfield, Massachusetts, where Mead developed a fairly realistic view of the ups and downs of a simple life, as he experienced the unfolding of his father's job on a daily basis. Marriages, illness, birth of babies and funerals were the common theme of a rural existence. This could well have been the inspiration that sparked Mead's interest in using his creative imagination and artistic expression to embellish the stories that surrounded him.

Finishing high school in 1917, he went on to attend the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York where he graduated at the top of his class. He quickly gained the attention of great teachers like Harvey Dunn and Charles Chapman. These men had established a school called Leonia School of Illustration in 1915, which personified qualities reminiscent of their famous teacher, Howard Pyle. Because of Mead's relationship with Dean Cornwall, another up and coming illustrator, he was drawn to this circle of talented teachers. "I gratefully look back on the time when I was privileged to sit at Harvey Dunn's feet. . .he taught art as a religion or awfully close to one, " commented Schaeffer. Because of this relationship, Schaeffer quickly got work with the smaller and more traditional magazines.

While still in his twenties Schaeffer had already begun ambitious projects for the book-publishing house of Dodd, Mead & Company. As an illustrator of story books which included The Count of Monte Cristo, Les Miserable, Typee, and Moby Dick, Schaeffer was able to take theatrical and romantic themes and exercise his more imaginative nature by letting his mind run wild. Known also for his illustrations of boys adventure books, he attracted a following of admirers while doing seven Golden Boy books by L.P Wyman. Many of these later works also contained pen and ink and woodcut illustrations.

Around this time romance blossomed on a personal level for Mead, and he was married to Elizabeth on September 17, 1921. They would in short order produce two masterpieces together in their daughters, Consolle and Patricia. Certainly the birth of his daughters expanded the demands of his life, and soon he was looking for a more normal atmosphere in which to parent his growing girls. At this time he moved his base of operations from New York to Arlington, Vermont, where he converted an old barn into an air-conditioned studio. Two other notable artists, John Atherton and Norman Rockwell, would also play a major role in shifting Schaeffer’s focus to a more rural and real time setting. He became Norman Rockwell's best friend and often they would find themselves the subject of the others artwork. The opportunity soon arose for Schaeffer to become a regular artist on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post. They often took family vacations together in hopes of finding a part of the country that would inspire a new story to tell to a national audience.

As the war years descended upon the country, a different expression of Schaeffer's work emerged. The second stage of his career, while still imprinted with strong and dramatic overtones, would take on a more realistic translation. No longer free to make up and create a world of the imagination, Schaeffer was left to interpret what the soldier was faced with in the day to day. He was asked to develop a pictorial chronicle of the various branches of the armed services for the United States military, and under the sponsorship of The Post this heroic story traveled to 90 cities across the country to raise money for war bonds. From 1942 to 1944 he was a war correspondent for The Post and illustrated more that sixteen covers. The public considered him to be the most authentic storyteller of this time. Not satisfied to imagine what the men were going through, he would hitch rides on a submarine, a Coast Guard patrol boat, and various aircraft so that his visual recreation left nothing untold. Determined not to let down the men of the armed services, he authentically recreated their life of service.

As the war machine came to a halt, Schaeffer continued his longstanding relationship with Rockwell and The Post. One of Mead's favorite pastimes was fishing, and the artist would often describe himself as a full-time angler and a part-time illustrator. A stickler for detail, he would travel throughout the country sketching the countryside, while his wife would photograph the same scene at different angles. When home from the trip he would spend hours pouring over the photos until he was certain that each and every point had been addressed correctly and was captured to his satisfaction. He always entered a new part of the country with an open mind, trying to interpret rather than judge the scene at hand. In the span of his life he created 5,000 illustrations in the 30 years of his active career. He was considered by many to have carried his beautiful artistic renderings into the realm of fine art. On November 6, 1980 at the age of 82 he died of a heart attack while at a luncheon with his contemporaries. He was living in Sea Cliff, Long Island at the time of his death.