Who in the art world is Chester K. Van Nortwick?

His name rests on the bottom of 30s calendar prints, and is emblazoned in the pages of nursery tales of the time. Yet, for a collector trying to learn more about the man, Chester K. Van Nortwick-- like so many artists from the Golden Age of Illustration-- seems almost as intangible as the fairy book characters he painted.

His work imitated the popular style of Maxfield Parrish in the same way calendar artists like R. Atkinson Fox did. But a close look at Van Nortwick's little scenes, with their lively characters, rich color and magical detail, reveals the illustrator's ability to successfully capture much of the humor, depth and quality of Parrish work that few of his contemporaries achieved.

A good example of this can be seen by comparing Parrish's famous Life magazine cover of Humpty Dumpty (first image below), with Van Nortwick's own delightful rendering (second image) of the animate egg in "A Tiny Book of Nursery Rhymes."

Yet it's interesting that Van Nortwick's beautiful and whimsical works, in period frames, are still possible to uncover in antique malls, flea markets and on Ebay-- and fairly economically, too. I've seen Van Norwtick prints run on average from $20-$85, where a good vintage Parrish print-- and even many an Atkinson Fox-- runs in the hundreds and upwards.

Okay, so it's nice work of the era, and can be found at a good price-- But who exactly IS this Chester K. Van Nortwick? A bit of sleuthing on our friend C.K. almost feels like research into absence. For instance, I discovered that while both Fox and fellow illustrator George Hood are acknowledged in books like "Maxfield Parrish and the American Imagists," not a peep is said about Mr. Van Nortwick.

It's enough to make you question whether he was nothing more than a pseudonym, dreamed up by an imaginative publishing company (which, in the case of Atkinson Fox, was done quite regularly during this time)!

But then I turned up some information from "Vintage illustration: Discovering America's Calendar Artists. " There, author Rick Martin comfirms the reality of the man's existence-- and has this to say about Van Nortwick:

"C.K. Van Nortwick was an early art print and calendar illustrator who was born in Rhode Island and moved to Denver, Colorado, at an early age. He studied at the Art institute of Chicago. His work first appeared from the mid-1920s to the mid-1930s.

"Van Nortwick's work was published almost exclusively by the Gerlach Barklow calendar company of Joliet, Illinois. Gerlach Barklow's publicity releases gave little personal information about Van Nortwick. They described him only as a 'well-known painter of allegorical subjects whose works suggest the quality of Maxfield Parrish.'

"Van Nortwick's earlier works seem to display many of Parrish's stock-in-trade images: urns, fountains, mountains, and languid beauties reposing in lush romantic landscapes. But between 1927 and 1930, Van Norwick painted three sets of twelve paintings intended as prints for monthly mailings. The sets were entiled 'Mother Goose,' ''Fairy Tales' and 'Boyhood Heroes.'"

And AskArt.com shares the following information regarding Chester Van Nortwick:

"Chester K. Van Nortwick was born in Providence, RI on December 21, 1881 and died in Brewster, MA on October 8, 1944. He was the son of George Washington van Nortwick, an accomplished and celebrated engraver.

"Chester lived in Colorado during his youth and served as staff artist on the Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post. He received private instruction for several years and then entered the Chicago Art Institute."

Also, my search turned up Van Nortwick's work as a part of the permanent collection of the Provincetown Art Association and Museum (PAAM), though no detail is listed online regarding him there, or what pieces reside in the collection.

Chester K. Van Nortwick may never gain the recognition of illustration great Maxfield Parrish, or the dedicated following of R. Atkinson Fox. But his work was a quietly present part of childhood reading and home decor in the 20s and 30s.

From the Golden Age of Illustration, so many artists-- Alice Adams, George Hacker, DC Lithgow and others-- seem to have slipped from the walls and bookshelves of American family homes and into relative obscurity. Here's hoping the age of technology will help us dust off a few, and bring them into the light again.


If anyone has any additional information they'd like to share about Chester Van Nortwick, I'd love to hear from you!

And for the rest of you good folks-- if you'd happened to miss my special thriftshopromantic.blogspot.com-only Wednesday post-- "Treasure Box Wednesday: The Adventure Begins," click here.

Otherwise, I hope you see you THIS Wednesday as I share a few of my latest finds, including the seizure of one gorgeously gaudy vintage lamp!


Rosemary said...

Hi Jenn,
I loved learning about CK Van Nortwick today. I did not know about him. The illustrations were so good, I'm surprised we don't know more about the guy.
I always love looking at old watercolor illustrations.
Hope you are having a great Sunday.
I am off to look at your Wednesday post. I didn't realize you posted on Wed. I guess I have been a bit busy.

Carrie said...

I found this post very informative.
Since they have such a large collection of american illustrators, I checked the web site for the National Museum of American Illustration (Newport, RI) but they also have nothing on van Nortwick. It's sad because his art is quite beautiful.

ThriftShopRomantic said...

Heya, Rosemary-- You're not off your game; I hadn't posted on Wednesdays until last week. I'm just going to post here on the Blogger site on Wednesdays and not update my main project site with the new post because that other program is pretty cumbersome and takes a lot more time-- which I don't usually have during the week.

Carrie- thanks so much for checking that site for Van Nortwick-- I wasn't aware of it. Amazing, he was even FROM Rhode Island where the museum is located, and there's STILL nothing about him there. It makes you wonder how many good artists were out there and received no recognition.


Vintage Bunny said...

That is very interesting,I will check out the pictures when I go to the thrift store.
I absolutely love your blog and am adding you to my blog roll

Greg said...

I see he passed on in Brewster, which is the next town over from us. I wonder if one of the small local museums here on the Cape has any information about Van Nortwick. I'll keep my eyes peeled!

ThriftShopRomantic said...

VintageBunny-- hey, thanks! Awfully sweet of you, and glad you're enjoy the blog.

Greg- gracias-- somehow I suspect it'll be a big nada but never hurts to have someone else on the case. :)

Debbie said...

Very interesting post Jenn.....I'll have to keep an eye open for the Van Nortwick name from now on!

Anonymous said...

I have a large oil on canvas of his work.
My grandfather bought it from him in the late 30's.
It's called "Launching of the Lifeboats".
It depicts turn of the century Coast Guardsmen in the process of initiating a resucue off the NE coast.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for this research. I have a bookmark calendar produced by Gerlach Barklow with a partial image of his "Once in a Lovely Garden" and was trying to find more info about it.