Monday, October 30, 2017

Creator: Mahlon Blaine, Illustrator

Mahlon Carradin Blaine was born June 16, 1894, in Albany City, Linn County, Oregon, according to his World War I and II draft cards. The second World War card had his full name.

In the 1900 U.S. Federal Census, Blaine was the only child of Wilson, a men’s clothing salesman, and Carrie. His father’s surname was spelled Blain, and Blaine’s first name was recorded as Mayborn. The trio resided in Albany, Oregon.

Blaine was counted twice in the 1910 census. Blaine’s mother remarried to Claud D. Jack, a tea salesman. The trio lived at 5004 Steele in Tacoma, Washington. Blaine’s divorced father remained in Albany at 403 West 1st Street. It’s unclear how much time Blaine spent with each parent.

At some point Blaine’s family moved to Portland, Oregon. The newspaper The Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), August 27, 1932, said Blaine “in 1912 became office boy for The Oregonian.”

A 1916 Portland, Oregon city directory listed Blaine at 510 Stephens.

On June 5, 1917, Blaine signed his World War I draft card. He was a farmer in Dilley, Oregon. Blaine’s employer was his mother. He was described as medium height and build with blue and dark eyes and grown hair. Blaine claimed an exemption because of he was “blind in left eye”.

Blaine and fellow artist, Wylog “Ernest” Fong, were arrested for drawing the Portland waterfront. Their misdeed was reported in two local newspapers.

The Oregon Daily Journal
(Portland, Oregon)
January 19, 1918

Artists Too Near Waterfront for Their Own Safety
Mahlon Blaine, an artist, whose home is in Dilley, Or., and Ernest Fong, a Chinese, also an artist, set out this morning to sketch riverfront pictures, contrary to a war law of Uncle Sam, and were taken before United States Marshal Alexander for investigation.

When Marshal Alexander told them the making of pictures of waterfronts might result in aiding the enemy, they declared they would confine their art to scenes which would less likely be of interest to the kaiser.

“I wan’t aware that the law was so strict,” said Blaine. “I didn’t mind being arrested, but would rather jump into the river than have it thought I was making sketches for the kaiser.”

Both were released.
The Oregonian
January 20, 1918

“Spy” Artists Halted
Policeman Does his Duty, Medal or No Medal
Mahlon Blaine and Ernest Fong Promise to Make No More Pictures of Portland Waterfront

Visions of German spies, craftily plying their trade in making war sketches of the waterfront of a Pacific port, came before a detective of the police force as he caught sight of a couple busily sketching the Portland skyline near the Steel bridge. With a duty to be performed in sight he stepped forward and accosted the “spies.”

“You’re arrested,” he declared.

“You’re kidding us,” scoffed Mahlon Blaine, artist. Ernest Fong, his associate, grinned his belief in the detective’s attempt at humor.

“Not so you’d notice it,” replied the arm of the law. “Don’t you know its against the law to sketch the waterfront. How do we know you’re not going to send those pictures to Kaiser Bill, so he can see how the Portland harbor looks?’

The two artists looked at one another.
“Hadn’t thought of that,” admitted Blaine.

“Well, that’s the way it might look to Uncle Sam. You’s better come up to see the United States Marshal.”

Marshal Alexander was soon convinced of the innocence of the devotees of art. And the artists promised to seek further for their subjects. So everything turned out satisfactorily except for the detective, who will probably not get a medal for capturing “dangerous German spies.”
The Oregon Daily Journal, July 21, 1918, reported the arrest of scores of men, including Blaine, on the charge of failing to carry their war classification cards.

The American Art Directory, Volume 14, was published in 1918 and had an entry for Blaine: “Blaine, Mahlon, 915 Van Ness Ave.. San Francisco, Cal. (P.[ainter]).”

The 1920 census was enumerated in mid-January. Freelance artist Blaine, his mother and step-father were residents of Portland, Oregon at 504 East Stephens. The 1920 Portland city directory listed Blaine’s home address as 505 Stephens.

The Spanish-language newspaper El Heraldo de Mexico (Los Angeles, California), January 28, 1920, reported Blaine’s gift.

Un Valioso Obsequio de un Pintor para las Victimas de Veracruz
El senor Mahlon Blaine, pintor, a quien los conocedores consideran como uno de los mas originales, mas hábiles; un artista genial, en una palabra, por conducto de nuestro compañero de redacción, el Lic. R. Gomez Robelo, ha cedido al Comité de Auxilios un pastel que representa una mañana de sol, para que se destine el producto de su venta al fondo de auxilios para las víctimas de Veracruz.

El senor Blaine nos hace saer que pindra una dedicatoria autógrafa al pastel, para la persona que lo adquiera, y el Comité ha pensado en que esta obra de arte, sea puesta a la venta en remate que se hara en alguno de los próximos festivales de caridad, admitiendo desde ahora las ofertas que quieran hacerse.

El Comité de auxilios, por conducto de El Heraldo de Mexico, de las mas sinceras gracias al senor Mahlon Blaine por esta rasgo de generosidad y de simpatia para nuestra Patria.

Google translation
A Valuable Gift of a Painter for the Victims of Veracruz
Mr. Mahlon Blaine, painter, whom the connoisseurs consider as one of the most original, but skillful; a great artist, in a word, through our writing partner, Lic. R. Gomez Robelo, has given to the Aid Committee a cake representing a sunny morning, so that the product of its sale is destined to the aid fund for the victims of Veracruz.

Mr. Blaine makes sure that he inscribes an autograph dedication to the cake, for the person who acquires it, and the Committee has thought that this work of art, put on sale at auction, will be done at one of the upcoming festivals. charity, admitting now the offers they want to make.

The Committee of aid, through El Heraldo de Mexico, of the most sincere thanks to Mr. Mahlon Blaine for this trait of generosity and sympathy for our country.
The passing of Blaine’s father was reported in The Oregonian, April 30, 1920. At the time he was a resident of Dayton, Ohio.

A 1921 Los Angeles, California city directory said Blaine was an artist who lived at 130 East Avenue.

On August 30, 1922, a passport was issued to Blaine who was traveling to Mexico. The Los Angeles artist said he was going to cross the border at El Paso, Texas. A notarized letter, dated August 18, 1921, said Blaine

…has business in Mexico City, D.F., Mexico, which necessitates his immediate attention and requires his presence as follows:

That he must prepare an exhibit of paintings, etc. for exhibition at the Centennial Exposition opening September 12th, 1921, for Lic. Ricordo Gomez Robelo. That he must be in Mexico City, D.F., on or before September 5th, 1921.

That Signor Lic. Ricordo Gomez Robelo wishes me to accompany his wife, who is in ill heath and his young son, who have passports and every thing necessary, etc. for the trip…
Passport Photograaph

The New York Evening Telegram, November 27, 1922, reported Blaine’s work on the latest Douglas Fairbanks film.
Richard, the Lion-Hearted, would probably rise from his tomb if he would but see a cow-puncher of the American West painting the works of art which held the admiration of that twelfth century monarch.

However, Mahlon Blaine, a buckaroo from Arizona, did just that very thing when he painted many of the sets in “Douglas Fairbanks in Robin Hood,” now at the Lyric Theatre

Mr. Blaine is a born artist, and after punching cattle for years attracted attention with the brush. Through an inheritance he was enabled to study abroad. Mr. Fairbanks engaged him to create the art work on a number of scenes and sent him abroad two months for research work.
As of this writing, Blaine has not been found on any steamship passenger lists.

The Christian Science Monitor (Boston, Massachusetts), March 1, 1923, published a report on a modern art exhibition in Los Angeles.

Los Angeles, Feb. 21 (Special Correspondence)—The first exhibition of modern art in this city opened at the MacDowell Club recently. There were 172 pictures by 24 painters. Comparatively few of these artists have become familiar through the various exhibitions and it is in fact in protest against the continued rejection of their paintings by local juries, that they have now used the ever-friendly walls of the MacDowell Club.

…Coming to the extremes, cubism, etc., one can only gaze and wonder. Even the titles are queer—“Vudu Futhmique,” “Owngz” and “Glaggle” from the brush of Ben Berlin; “Saint About to Reform” by Mahlon Blaine (why should a saint reform?),…Blaine’s “Banker Counting Pennies” gains notoriety by being nailed to the wall through the center of the picture, at an angle, “Peroxide” has a strand of raveled rope tacked carelessly to the frame, possibly to stimulate the golden-haired model’s tresses…
The Oregonian, October 8, 1923, said Blaine was a passenger on the steamer Admiral Farragut that was bound for San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego.

The Steinbeck Review, Spring 2012, published Nick Taylor’s article, “Mahlon Blaine, John Steinbeck, and The Maniac (1941)”, who wrote, “Blaine and Steinbeck met in November 1925 on board the steamship Katrina, which was headed from Long Beach to New York City. Steinbeck was twenty-three years old and had just left Stanford for the last time. Blaine, eight years Steinbeck’s senior, was returning to New York from a stint decorating studio sets in Hollywood….”

Blaine had a listing in the 1927 eastern edition of Advertising Arts and Crafts, “Blaine, Mahlon, 160 W. 11th St., Sti 7608.”

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (New York), May 8, 1927, published Blaine’s observations of various New Yorkers.

Perhaps New York is a wicked city after all. Mahlon Blaine says that he had no difficulty in findings suitable models for the various devils which serve as decorations in “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” a new John Day publication, which has just been chosen by the American institute of Graphic Arts as one of the 50 books of the year. Mephistophelian gentlemen discovered in taxis, restaurants, theaters, even in Mr. Blaine’s own Gramercy Park studio, lent themselves to his recording pencil….
The Daily Olympian (Olympia, Washington), August 13, 1929, published Gilbert Swan’s article about San Francisco and said “There was Mahlon Blaine, whose illustrations are to be found today in books and magazines—and a score of others. Most of them figure in the surviving legends of San Francisco’s Bohemian days.”

Blaine created the cover art for Steinbeck’s Cup of Gold (1929) and To a God Unknown (1933).

Blaine was a Manhattan resident in the 1930 census. The freelance illustrator and apparently his West Virginian wife, Thelma L., made their home at 124 Bank Street.

The San Diego Union, November 1, 1931, said “Mr. and Mrs. Walter Shuttleworth entertained with a week-end house party. Guests were Mrs. W. Bowman, Mrs. F.E. Stivers and Miss Bernitta Bowman of Hollywood, and Mahlon Blaine of New York City.”

Blaine was profiled in The Oregonian, August 27, 1932.

Call of “Boy” Still Rings in Ears of Noted Artist
Mahlon Blaine, ex-Oregonian “Copy Rusher,” Another of Those Who Make Bigs Towns Sit Up and Take Notice.

Another local boy who has more than made good in the big cities has come back to Portland to renew friendships, talk over the “old days” and to state, most emphatically, that Oregon’s a great place in which to live.

The returning celebrity is Mahlon Blaine, ex-office boy and tyro artist of The Oregonian, who now is one of the leading book illustrators and movie set designers of the country. He is here with Mrs. Blaine visiting his mother at Dilley in Washington country.

Interviewing Blaine was accomplished only after numerous interruptions for, while being questioned, he espied several persons who were staff members of The Oregonian when he served as an office boy and of course, reminiscences were in immediate order. When the discussion of “old times” was ended, the story of his rise to prominence was modestly unfolded by the artist.

Unknown and with a suitcase full of drawings, Mr. Blaine hit New York in 1926 and, as the opening step in his bid for fame, listed the names of all book publishers, arranging them according to their distance from his hotel. The first he visited was the McBride Publishing company and after displaying his sample drawings was given a book to illustrate. It was Thomas Burke’s “Limehouse Nights.” One of Mr. Blaine’s favorite authors is Thomas Burke. 

Scoring in his first attempt, the Oregon boy quickly gained a reputation and since 1926 has furnished the art work for more than 50 books. The latest was “Black Majesty,” by John Vander Cook, the sale of which has already passed the 500,000 mark.

Like many others of the literary world, Mr. Blaine was soon drawn to Hollywood and in the past few years has divided his time between New York and the celluloid capital. He joined the art staff of Howard Hughes’ studios and designed many of the sets for the gangster picture “Scarface.” The recent controversy over the showing of the film here and the subsequent arrest of a theater owner interested Mr. Blaine greatly and he expressed some surprise that the show had caused any objections.

“It was intended to give the public a real insight on gangsters, their mode of living and their nefarious activities and was not intended to offend anyone,” he said.

Mr. Blaine was somewhat reluctant to talk about his work, being much more willing to tell of the days when he responded to the call of “boy” or “copy,” familiar in all newspaper offices.

Born in Albany, the artist spent his early days there, and in 1912 became office boy for The Oregonian. After a year at this he transferred to the art department where, he revealed yesterday, he received his first instructions in drawing. From Portland he drifted to California and then back home, doing whatever jobs he could obtain but always studying the work that was eventually to lead him to success. When he felt prepared he made his bid and, as aforementioned, scored in a big way.

Although here for only a week, Mr. Blaine’s stay has been long enough to convince him that Oregon’s climate has no superior, and in the future, he said, all his summers will be spent on the family farm at Dilley.
California voter registration lists, at, recorded Blaine’s address. In 1932 and 1934, the Democrat lived in Los Angeles at 1452 North Alta Vista Boulevard.

The San Diego Union, May 23, 1935, said “Mr. and Mrs. Walter Shuttleworth have as guests Mrs. Shuttleworth’s brother-in-law and sister, Mr. and Mrs. Mahlon Blaine, of Hollywood and New York City.”

The Oregonian, July 5, 1935, described a window display with Blaine’s work: “Contained in the display are a dozen of the original full-page illustrations drawn by Mahlon Blaine, noted American artist, who is now engaged in finishing a set of murals at the San Diego exposition. Mr. Blaine, according to the publishers, has illustrated some 60 best sellers in the past ten years.”

Blaine’s work on the murals was noted in the San Diego Union, May 24, 1936: “…The mural was designed by Juan Larrinaga, art director of the project, assisted by Arthur Eneim and Albert McKiernan. P.T. Blackburn, Mahlon Blane [sic] and Nichalas Reveles were the artists who carries out the project.”

Blaine’s Los Angeles address, in a 1938 directory, was 351 South Norton Avenue and his spouse was “Fern E.”.

Blaine used the pseudonym G. Christopher Hudson on the books Satanism and Witchcraft (1939) and and The Maniac (1941).

In the 1940 census, Blaine’s monthly rent was forty cents at the Mills Hotel, 160 Bleecker Street, New York City. According to the census, Blaine was single, had four years of college and the owner of an interior decorating service. 

Blaine was mentioned in the Work Projects Administration’s American guide series title, Oregon: End of the Trail (1940).

Blaine signed his World War II draft card on April 25, 1942. The freelance worker lived in New York City at 130 Charles Street which was crossed out and replaced with 505 West 124 Street. That address was crossed out and updated on June 5, 1943 with 6427 Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood, California. Blaine’s description was five feet eleven inches, 190 pounds with blue eyes (one artificial) and black and gray hair.

One of Blaine’s friends (and patron) was Joseph Dunninger.

A review of Blaine’s art, in a group exhibition at the Gene Sullivan Gallery in New York, appeared in Arts Magazine, January 1957. 
…Whatever Dunninger’s work is like, the work of his two co-exhibitors is theatrically bad. A joint press release informs us that Mahlon Blaine is a famous illustrator who has illustrated many best sellers, and that Aline Rhonie is a well-known muralist. It would be unfair to suggest that Aline Rhonie is in the same class with Blaine, but what she exhibits are small darkish oils stuccoed with glitter—a knight in armor, three chapeaux, a group of jazz blowers, some tropical fish. As for Blaine, while his gouaches—his medicine men, covered wagon, floating skiffs laden with tropical flowers and a native woman—are not offensively bad, the same cannot be said of his lurid series of watercolors illustrating (by a single figure): Gluttony, Anger, Envy, Lust, etc.
Blaine passed away January 1969. His last residence was New York City.

Selected Dust Jackets

Further Reading and Viewing
ERBzine, profile and bibliography
Grapefruit Moon Gallery, Mahlon Blaine, 1894–1969

Heritage Auctions, artwork and books
JVJ Publishing, profile
The Outlandish Art of Mahlon Blaine
, preview
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, preview

Mahlon Blaine’s Book Event, Minneapolis1

(Next post tomorrow: Halloween)


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