Mead Schaeffer was an American illustrator who was born on July 15, 1898 in Freestyle Plains, NY and grew up in Springfield, Massachusetts. Schaeffer was born to a Presbyterian evangelical preacher. At the age of 7, Mead visited an art studio with his mother and after “smelling the turpentine”, Mead would be inspired to do art. Thirteen years later, Schaeffer attended the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and became one of the best students in his 1920 class despite the fact that the school had no illustration course. He produced great illustrations than any other institution. He later traveled to Leonia, New Jersey where he would befriend and meet his admirers Dean Cornwell and Harvey Dunn. Mead would work and pose for the two illustrators with no pay and the only payment that he needed from them was advice and criticism. On September 17, 1921, Schaeffer married to a fellow student named Elizabeth Wilson Sawyers for 53 years and would assist him with photography, travel, business, etc. His outstanding achievements at Pratt and his fascination with the Golden Age of Illustration would make Schaeffer a sought after illustrator by many companies. He quickly became the highest paid illustrator and worked for 20 magazines and newspapers such as Dodd, Saturday Evening Post, and American Magazine. He also illustrated books like Moby Dick, Les Miserables and Tom’s Cringle Log. Schaeffer would meet with Norman Rockwell in Arlington, Vermont to establish with studios in Washington DC to create illustrations for the war effort. Both Schaeffer and Rockwell would draw sketches of soldiers fighting in action. However, they didn’t have any money to fund the project, so one day, while traveling to Vermont from Washington, they stopped at Philadelphia to meet with Ben Hibbs of the Post. He liked their ideas and commissioned them for magazine covers. Schaeffer’s talent would allow him to make the Armed Forces Commemorative series which would appear on the Saturday Evening Post. Schaeffer would travel all over throughout the United States to do more illustrations for the Post. By the time he was done, Schaeffer completed around 5000 paintings. His illustrations were so popular among people that police and politicians would offer him free tours of the area so that he can find a place to draw and hotels would pay for his rooms and entertainment. But due this, his wife Elizabeth would make Schaeffer move to the remote Sea Cliff in New York where Schaeffer would live throughout his retirement. Schaeffer died in 1982 due to a heart attack.
Schaeffer’s early illustrations were mostly focused on romance and adventure stories and had a painterly technique with various brush strokes. During the onset of World War 2 and his partnership with Rockwell, Schaeffer changed the theme of romance to painting real people in real places to create the sense of legitimacy. Although he later used photography for art, Schaeffer initially would instead use live models for drawing clothes and would use his imagination when doing expressions as he believed that cameras lack emotion. After the war ended, he changed his theme again to soldiers returning home in small villages and everyday life. He would draw people who had different jobs such as fishing, mining, and drilling. Schaeffer is known for his incredible and careful attention to detail, light, texture, and the ability to proper recreate tension or action. I think Schaeffer’s work is absolutely amazing. The fact that he is able to draw everyday scenes with incredible amount of detail is absolutely stunning. The way he does lighting and shadows shows a strong sense of contrast and really makes his figures and scenes pop out. His realism is also accompanied by a touch of impressionism where there are certain areas where you can tell there are brush strokes. That touch of impressionism to me, really adds a lot to his work because it gives a photo realistic work an artistic vibe and more emotion to his paintings.