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Stevan Dohanos: cover to cover.

STEVAN DOHANOS: COVER TO COVER

Of all the unlikely places for a Hungarian-born American teenager to begin his career as an artist and magazine cover illustrator, an Ohio steel mill would seem to top the list. But it was here that Stevan Dohanos serendipitously discovered a talent that would take him out of the somber environment of the steel mill and into "the bright world of imagination."

Had he not worked into an office job, where he became entranced by art calendars arriving in the mail, Dohanos might have drawn nothing but an eventual steel mill pension. But he began copying the pictures in colored crayons and selling them to fellow office workers for two or three dollars a copy. Although most of the pictures were scenic landscapes, in the process--fortunately for the SatEve Post and its readers--he discovered magazine art.

One of the budding artist's three-dollar best sellers turned out to be the Norman Rockwell Post cover of a tramp roasting a hot dog over a fire built in a tin can, with a hungry dog eyeing the cooking with anticipation. How Dohanos would have derided any suggestion that one day he too would be producing art for the famous Saturday Evening Post and become a personal friend of the equally famous Norman Rockwell!

Only after attending night classes at the Cleveland School of Art and graduating to sign painting and billboard design did Dohanos begin his "Post graduate" work. Beginning in 1938, his scenes of suburbia and the trials and tribulations of life in middle America were to grace the covers of the Post for the next two decades.

Dohanos left little detail to the imagination. Once, while illustrating a bullet-punctured tire for an adventure serial, he carried a tire to the local police to pump it full of lead. To his dismay, the bullets left only tiny, "self-healing" wounds.

If imagination were necessary, however, the artist had no trouble coming up with it. One of his most famous Post covers depicts a tree house, which actually was perched on real estate owned by Harold Von Schmidt, a fellow Post artist. At the time Dohanos recreated the scene, his three sons, who had often played there, were grown and gone; the artist's memory of those happy scenes, however, served him well.

The imagination and talent of Stevan Dohanos also brought him to the attention of the Postal Service Stamp Advisory Committee, where he served as art advisor for a number of years. Although government policy prohibits the stamp designer from signing his work, many of the stamps the 20 million or more collectors are competing for today were done by none other than Stevan Dohanos.

For these meticulous assignments, an artist was chosen who could best graphically express a required theme in an area slightly less than one square inch. ("Think small," in other words, as Dohanos titled the stamp section of American Realist, Stevan Dohanos, his beautifully illustrated book of lifetime achievements.) The space for illustration was further limited by the title, the text, the name of the country, and the denomination of the stamp.

Other hindrances included the need for historical accuracy and a restriction on the number of colors the artist could use, but Dohanos enjoyed the challenge.

Philatelists may look for Dohanos' distinctive style in Cancer Crusade, Airlift ($1), U.S. Savings Bonds, Freedom From Hunger, and many Christmas stamps.

As Dohanos' stamps became miniature windows presenting America's past, present, and future, so do his covers prove better than words how little the artist missed in depicting the lifestyle of middle America at work, at play, and at war.

Many of the artist's original framed cover paintings are on display at the American Illustrators' Hall of Fame in Indianapolis. Here paintings are hung next to the actual covers so that visitors can see dramatic differences in color and size from the originals to the finished magazine covers. In the past two decades numerous cover artists including Stevan Dohanos have returned to see their paintings. Dohanos was particularly pleased to see his originals in all their glory preserved for posterity.

Stevan Dohanos, now semi-retired and living in Westport, Connecticut, once pointed out that magazine illustration, having come into its own, is looked upon as an important pictorial history of the American scene.

"It is my hope," he said, "that I have added my small share to the cultural repository."
COPYRIGHT 1991 Saturday Evening Post Society
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:magazine illustrator
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Article Type:Biography
Date:Mar 1, 1991
Words:734
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