1904 - 1968
Spencer Douglass Crockwell was born into a comfortable middle class household on April 29, 1904 in Columbus, Ohio. His father, Charles Roland Crockwell, was a mining engineer; his mother, Cora, was the daughter of an Iowa attorney. He became a commercial artist and experimental filmmaker who spent a good part of his career creating illustrations and advertisements for the Saturday Evening Post.
In 1907 the Crockwell family moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where he graduated from high school and then attended from Washington University. Initially he studied engineering, but soon switched to business. While still an undergraduate, Crockwell took courses at the St. Louis School of Fine Arts and quickly realized that he wanted to be an artist. After graduating from Washington University in 1926, Crockwell continued to study at the St. Louis School of Fine Arts until 1929. The following year he relocated to Chicago and continued his studies at the American Academy of Art. In 1930 and 1931 he studied in Europe on a Traveling Fellowship.
In 1932 Douglass Crockwell moved to Glens Falls, New York, which was to be his home for the remainder of his life. The following year he married Margaret Braman. They had three children, a son Douglass and two daughters, Johanna and Margaret.
During the depression he created murals and posters for the Works Progress Administration including Post Office murals in White River junction, Vermont; Endicott, New York; and Macon, Mississippi. In 1934 he painted Paper Workers, Finch Pruyn & Co. (the leading Glens Falls, New York company) for the WPA.
In the 1930s Crockwell developed an interest in experimental animated films that occupied him for the rest of his life. In 1936 and 1937, he collaborated with David Smith, a sculptor, to create surrealist films. Because of his interest in experimental films, his output of paintings was limited to just twenty to forty illustrations a year during this time.
Crockwell painted his first of many Saturday Evening Post cover in 1933. He also worked for Life, Look, and Esquire, and numerous national advertisers including Friskies dog food, Welch’s Grape Juice, Republic Steel, Brown & Bigelow calendars, Avondale Mills, and General Electric.
During World War II Crockwell created posters for United Service Organizations (USO), the Army, the Marines, the Nurse Corp. and an award winning poster for the American Relief for Holland. He went on to create poster art for the MGM movie The Yearling in 1946.
Douglass Crockwell was hired in 1947 to provide paintings for the United States Brewers Foundation “Beer Belongs” ad campaign. Launched in 1946, the campaign’s goal was to rebranded beer as a part of a wholesome American lifestyle. The campaign ran for 10 years, producing 136 advertisements by various artists. The exact number Crockwell contributed is uncertain, but it is estimated that he did roughly half the total number of illustrations.
Like Norman Rockwell, Douglass Crockwell worked in a realistic style and was particularly good with children.
In fact, he often referred to himself as “the poor man’s Norman Rockwell”.
Since both artists produced cover illustrations for The Saturday Evening Post during the same period, Rockwell once suggested that Crockwell consider changing his name. While he did not change his name, Crockwell sometimes signed his work “Douglass,” "DC," or simply "D” to avoid any confusion.
Douglass Crockwell also had a lifelong interest in sciences, particularly atomic physics. In 1954 his theory of the particle field was the subject of an "Amateur Scientist" column of Scientific American magazine.
Crockwell was an active member of numerous civic organizations, notably a founding trustee and the first director of The Hyde Collection, a respected art museum in Glens Fall, New York.
His work received two St. Louis Artists Guild Awards (1930, 1931); the 1942 Art Directors Club of New York Award for best poster; the 1944 and 1945 Art Directors Club of New York Award for best human interest color illustration; the 1947 Art Directors Club of New York Gold Medal for best poster; the 1957 Los Angeles Art Directors Award for best painting; as well as numerous awards for his films.
Douglass Crockwell died at home on November 30, 1968. His paintings can be seen in museums nationwide and in the permanent collection of The Smithsonian.