A proponent of simplicity as a virtue, Stevan Dohanos has said, "A clean, strong, uncluttered image forms the basis of a good picture." Born in the steel mill town of Lorain, Ohio, Stevan Dohanos, called the 'American Realist' was a founder of the Famous Artists School in Westport, Connecticut.
One cannot discuss the illustration art of Dohanos without mentioning Norman Rockwell because their Saturday Evening Post cover images are invariable compared. Whereas Rockwell was noted for idealizing Americans and their way of life, Dohanos had an all-consuming love for the common everyday things in life. He stated "As an artist I have always gloried in finding beauty in the ordinary things of life."
Dohanos was influenced by 'The Eight' (Henri, Sloan, Glackens, Shinn, Prendergast, Davies, Lawson, Luks) and the realistic depictions they painted, saying, "the truth and quality of the art could not be long denied." He was more true to fact and form than Rockwell who tended to over indicate and exaggerate. The difference between the two illustrators is more obvious in their choice of subjects rather than in their techniques. It is said that Dohanos focused more on the locale of the people he portrayed rather than the people themselves, making him more objective than Rockwell. Norman Rockwell once described the privilege of painting for the Post, "the greatest show window in America for an illustrator. If you did a Post cover, you had arrived."
The proof of Dohanos success was that he painted over one-hundred and twenty-five Saturday Evening Post covers during the 1940's and 50's, illustrating scenes of American life including baseball games, ice cream, mobile homes, gas stations, children with toys or butterfly collections, barns, and of course, Harley-Davidsons.
Dohanos also illustrated for Esquire magazine amongst other magazines and designed forty-six stamps for the U.S. Postal Service.
Stevan Dohanos studied art in night school, like many other talents who could neither afford the time nor tuition at a fulltime or better-known institution and then later at the Cleveland School of Arts. However, he was able to get a job painting signs and lettering and learned more through hands-on work experience about color, scale, texture, composition and other basics, than he did in art school.
Later in his career, he did advertising commissions using still-life subjects rather than lifestyle images, showing people employed in various poses. He completed an advertisement for Dunham's shoes and employing the techniques he acquired as a billboard artist in its preparation.
Dohanos was considered the Cultural Spokesman for the Saturday Evening Post because of his clear visual images and their poignant messages of Americana revealed. He cherished his relationship with the Post, and relished the differences between his work, Rockwell's and other Post favorites. Often times he would use images from Westport, Connecticut and local readers could catch glimpses of their neighbors in the backgrounds of scenes depicting everyday activities.
Dohanos along with Rockwell came to represent the quintessence of American magazine illustrators. His images were generally slightly humorous, optimistic, manifesting the best of American ideals, and they were always familiar to the reader. Stevan Dohanos is considered "The Delineator of the Heart of America."
His paintings are in the collections of the Avery Memorial of Hartford, The Cleveland Museum, New Britain Museum of American Art, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and the Whitney Museum of American Art.
©2004 National Museum of American Illustration