Grant Reynard

1887, Grand Island, Nebraska – 1968, Leonia, New Jersey

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Grant Tyson Reynard, who earned an international reputation as an illustrator, realist painter, teacher, and lecturer, was born October 20, 1887 to Stephen Blackstone Reynard and Jennie Lynd (Bacon) Reynard in Grand Island, Nebraska. As a young boy, he worked in his father’s music store, and became a skilled pianist and soloist, singing at many church and town functions. His father was also the manager of the Grand Island Opera House, and young Reynard met and sketched well-known people who came to the mid-Nebraska community such as Theodore Roosevelt, Buffalo Bill Cody, and fellow Nebraskan William Jennings Bryan.

In 1966, Grant Reynard wrote about his early interest in the arts:
“I was provided with a measure of vision and portion of talent which I believe is a God-given desire put into man. Since my parents were musicians, I studied piano as a boy, but soon got the notion, out there in Grand Island, Nebraska, to have a try at putting down (with an eighth-grade pencil and any paper handy) my interest in the world around me. I first copied Gibson girls out of the magazines up at the Elks Club where I was supposed to be setting pins in the bowling alley. After other early endeavors on the edges of my examination papers, which, by the way, boosted my stock with the teachers, I would invade the business section of town and, being a shy boy, hide behind posts or crates to draw the merchants and town characters. As I look now at those early drawings, I am amazed at how they bring the characters of that little prairie town to life, right into the here and now. They were drawn with ease and excitement, for I had no idea how difficult it was to make a figure. I sent $60 for a twelve-lesson art course out of Chicago, which promised that I might become famous. It wasn’t until later that I found in the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts how tough it was to draw, and how much there was to learn.”

In 1906, Grant attended The Art Institute of Chicago (formerly the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts), working days at Marshall Field and studying at the Institute at night. He returned to Grand Island the following year, where he worked in his father’s music store and as a pianist in dance halls through 1908. After rebuilding his savings, he returned to the Art Institute in 1909 to complete his education.

Reynard moved to Leonia, New Jersey in 1914 to become a free-lance illustrator, attending the Harvey Dunn School of Illustration. It was here that he met and became lifelong friends with Dunn, Charles H. Chapman, Frank Street, John Steuart Curry, and Harry Wickey – all prominent artists.

Grant recounted his move to the New York City area from Chicago:
“Eventually, I came east to Leonia, here in New Jersey, and joined a summer art class in illustration taught by Harvey Dunn who hailed from South Dakota. Sensing that I was a western lone wolf, he would send me out from the studio and the other hard workers, with instructions to bring back drawings of people and places I could find up toward Fort Lee on the Palisades. I salute him for his good sense in not insisting that I follow him, and for helping me later to contact the magazines where my illustrations enabled me to make a living and to marry my Gwen who presented me in due time with two lovely young lady models.”

“In those early days I met Harry Wickey who gave me my first insight and appreciation of Daumier, Goya, Rembrandt and the great line of draftsmen-painters that he admired and studied. I found Wickey a great and generous artist and friend whose counsel and inspiration continue to serve me to this day. We met Mahonri Young who was living in Leonia and we felt that his knowledge of media and just about everything connected with art was endless. In their various ways, these artist friends were most helpful and with their encouragement I began to raise my sights toward fields other than illustration where I might paint just the things I wanted in the way I wanted. In those days of the 1920s, what a group of men there was both painting and doing illustration: Sloan, Glackens, Shinn, and Bellows, to name only a few.”

Reynard became Art Editor for Redbook Magazine in Chicago in 1915. He continued creating illustrations for Redbook until 1924. Between 1924 and 1929, he was active as an illustrator for The Saturday Evening Post (Reynard completed nearly 50 pieces for the Post), Country Gentleman, Ladies’ Home Journal, Cosmopolitan, Harper’s Bazaar, Hearst’s International Magazine, Collier’s, McCall’s, Woman’s Home Companion, Liberty, and Scribner’s Magazine. Most of these illustrations were created in the charcoal medium.

In 1928 Grant spent his first of eight summers at the MacDowell Colony, Peterborough, New Hampshire. It was here that he met Willa Cather. Reynard recalled, “Willa Cather, the distinguished writer and a fellow Nebraskan, came to my studio one afternoon. On viewing my paintings – I had been doing a series of large-scale allegorical canvases – she gave me some advice I never forgot.” Cather told Reynard that, in her early career as an author in New York, she had written stories based on imagination. However, her greatest success was not achieved until she returned in retrospect to the scenes of her Nebraska childhood in My Antonia. Reynard got the point. For the balance of that summer, he wrote and illustrated incidents from his own background. At the urging of friends, he submitted some of these illustrated stories to Scribner’s where they were selected for publication.

Grant Reynard expounded on the advice he received from Willa Cather:
“It was a turning event in my career. I made the break from illustration and editors to the free world of drawing, painting, and printmaking. From the late twenties to this day, I have created only for myself, without concern for an audience. Nothing but the great pleasure of doing the drawing or painting has been in my mind as I have worked. In many cases I have labored long hours or days over a problem but I am not sure that it should be called work.”

Reynard had 13 of his illustrated articles published from 1927 to 1972 in magazines such as American Artists, Scribner’s Magazine, and The Saturday Evening Post. In 1941 Reynard wrote, illustrated, and published a book of poetry entitled Rattling Home for Christmas. He also became active in creating war propaganda materials that same year for “Artists for Victory” and continued to create images for the group until the end of World War II. After the war, Reynard created complete illustrations and articles for the Ford Motor Company ($75 per watercolor and $15 to $20 for sketches) and West Kentucky Coal Company. In 1948 he undertook 33 illustrations for Theodore Dreiser’s book, An American Tragedy.

In the mid to late 1950s, his work began to shift increasingly from illustration to a greater concentration on his own creative work. He traveled extensively across the country to lecture and teach. Reynard returned to Nebraska almost every summer to conduct a series of lectures and art classes in Omaha, Lincoln, Grand Island, Kearney, and North Platte before heading off to Colorado and the mountains.

Grant Reynard was a member of the National Academy of Design, Salmagundi Club, Allied Artists of America, New Jersey Watercolor Society, Associated Artists of New Jersey, Society of American Graphic Artists, American Watercolor Society, Audubon Artists, Prairie Print Makers, and American Artists Group. He served as President of the Montclair Art Museum and, in 1955, was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Baldwin-Wallace College (now University) in Berea, Ohio. Today, his work is included in the collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, National Gallery of Art, Library of Congress, all in Washington D.C.; Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, Massachusetts; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City; The Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio; Wichita Art Museum, Kansas; Sheldon Museum of Art, Lincoln, Nebraska; and Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Grant Reynard died in Leonia, in 1968 and is buried in Paramus, New Jersey.

Artist quotes have been taken from A Measure of Vision, May 1966.

updated 2013, 2018

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