Section: Features

Designing a career

Designing a career

by Paige Beyer

Famed American realist painter George Bellows kicked off his career at Kenyon, but not as a student. Bellows illustrated the Kenyon yearbook, Reveille, despite not actually attending the College.

Studying under Robert Henri, a member of the Ashcan School art movement, Bellows aspired to achieve success as a painter. Although he shifted from drawing to painting, Bellows kept a sense of social commentary in his work. He became known for his depictions of urban life. His rough brushstrokes lent his paintings a fluid, unfinished look.

Bellows painted the world in the way a person might casually take a photo with their cell phone, according to Charlotte Lee ’18, a Gund Gallery associate. “Even in both his cartoons and his paintings he was known for depicting the poor as the hero instead of a background character — the political commentary on just being an average human being,” she said.

A native of Columbus, Ohio, Bellows was a student at The Ohio State University (OSU), where he played both baseball and basketball. In fact, Bellows contemplated pursuing a professional baseball career but instead left OSU his senior year to study at the New York School of Art.

While still attending OSU, Bellows illustrated for the university’s student-run yearbook, Makio. He based his illustration style on political cartoons and drew inspiration from Billy Ireland, a fellow Ohio native who went on to become a famed cartoonist.

How Bellows’ illustrations came to be in Reveille, then, remains a mystery. Bellows’s primary connections to Kenyon came through athletics. At the time, OSU and Kenyon were regular competitors, and according to an article written by former Kenyon College Archivist Thomas B. Greenslade, the speculation is that a few Kenyon players saw his drawings and recruited him for the job.

The art director of the yearbook at the time, Dr. Fletcher R. Jackson, of the Class of 1904, wrote in Greenslade’s article, “There was no artist in college at the time the book was published, and we had to get outside help.” Jackson knew Bellows better as an athlete, having competed against him in both baseball and basketball. “It was a big surprise when later on he became such a famous artist,” he wrote.

Today, Kenyon’s yearbook differs drastically from that of 1903. Gone are the days of illustrations, as technology has led to both simplicity and possibility. “Now, [the computer] provides the grids [platform used for photographs] for us, so we have a lot more flexibility,” Executive Assistant to the President and Provost and advisor to Kenyon’s yearbook Pamela Faust said.

Although the digital age has shifted the focus of yearbook art, Faust wouldn’t rule out adding drawings back to the yearbook. “It’s certainly something that would be a great way to pull art back in,” she said. “I think that would give it an extra spark.”

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