News of Yore: Sculpture Cartoons

Photo-Model Cartoons First Made in Baltimore (1/27/40)
Jack Lambert Believed to Be First To Practice New Art . . . Appeared in Evening Sun September, 1938
By Harry S. Sherwood (E&P, 1/27/40)

Baltimore, Jan. 22-A Baltimore sculptor’s fancy for modelling in clay, for his own amusement, scenes
from the life about him, has developed a new form of newspaper cartoon first used by the Baltimore Evening Sun in September, 1938, and now being used by other newspapers. Jack Lambert, pupil of Herman MacNiel, is the sculptor. While national magazines have occasionally used the method to produce cover designs and for illustration, Mr. Lambert is the first to apply it to cartoons, and it is believed that he was the first to use it in any form.

The new technique involves first the modeling of the figure, or figures, of the cartoon and then the photographing of the figures. Mr. Lambert first used it for a small Baltimore magazine about 12 years ago. In its present form, he says it represents a combining of the sculptor’s art with the photographers, the latter being very important.

Picture Has Depth
One of the marks which distinguish the new form is the depth the picture appears to have as contrasted with the flatness of the ordinary newspaper cartoon.

Asked to explain the origin of the form, Mr. Lambert told Editor & Publisher of it as follows:

“For years I have had the habit of modeling scenes suggested by newspaper reading. I did such things in idle moments for my own amusement, usually destroying the thing as soon as it was finished. I remember one of my first was a group representing a Negro youth under arrest and waiting with the policeman at a call box, with the figures of lookers-on about them.

“Another group represented a criminal getting the third degree; the criminal himself with two hard-boiled detectives bending over him.

“For a time I got some fun out of these groups without thinking of putting them to any special use. Of course caricature figures and busts are very old. The French had done some of this work and such figures are exhibited in the Modern Museum in New York.

Magazine Used First
“After awhile it occured to me that such things might be photographed. I did one which was reproduced in a photograph by a small, local magazine. It was a polo player skidding to a quick stop. It seemed to go well. I did another at the time of the repeal of Prohibition, for an advertisement. It represented a man broadcasting the news.

“Then I offered the idea for the newspaper photogravure. I failed to arouse the editors’ enthusiasm.

“Finally I submitted the idea to Philip M. Wagner, editor of the Evening Sun, for use in newspaper cartoons He liked it at once. He contributed much to the success of the first we printed and his advice has been very helpful since. The first figures I made to be used in a cartoon concerned the primary fight of United States Senator Millard E. Tydings in Maryland in 1938, when President Roosevelt threw his influence towards Tydings’ opponent, David J. Lewis. I tried repeatedly to get a group of several figures and finally threw all my designs away. At the end of the primary, when Tydings was successful, the Evening Sun printed a cartoon from my model showing Tydings saying ‘Bring on your purge.’ That was the first. Numbers have been printed since.

Photography Important
“Sculpting the figures is only a part of the cartoon. The photographing of the figures after they have been modelled is very important. If the light is not made to fall on the figures exactly as it should, you get a clouded effect lacking the sharpness that is desirable.

“Robert F. Kniesche, a staff photographer of the Evening Sun, has contributed much to this phase of the work. After the use of the cartoons started we at times adapted the modelling to photography, modelling the figures in such a way that they would take the light advantageously. We think we can improve this aspect of the cartoon in the future and are still experimenting with it.

“The figures are usually modelled so that the figure, or the group, is about 18 inches wide by 15 inches high Familiar modelling clay is used. At first we put the modelled work up against a black background. We found that inclined to make the picture as it finally appeared dark and obscure. Often we model the background in clay as a part of the figure or group to get a clearer effect. The figures are modelled only on the side presented to the camera, the back being flat and unfinished. We have found that usually we get our best effects from heavy relief.

Takes About 6 Hours
“It takes me about six hours to model a group when no likeness of an individual is involved, about two hours longer when a well known man, say Chamberlain, the British prime minister, is involved.

“Sometimes an idea occurs to me and I submit it to Mr. Wagner for his suggestions. Sometimes the idea is Mr. Wagner’s.”

Mr. Lambert has lived and worked in Baltimore for 20 years. He was born in New York and studied at the National Academy of Design and at the Society of Beaux Arts. He has exhibited his work at the National Academy of Design, at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and at the Baltimore Museum of Art.
His friends say he has an extraodin-ary gift for fixing in clay the figures that appear on the streets of every American city, reproducing them with striking fidelity to life.

[Allan’s note: actually Mr. Wagner is not the first to use sculpted three-dimensional ‘cartoons’ in newspapers. Helena Dayton-Smith, for one, was doing this same sort of material in the 1910s.]

3 comments on “News of Yore: Sculpture Cartoons

  1. Allan,

    QUERY: Cartoon character from the 1950s

    There was a cartoon character in the 1950s who appeared in the Sunday comics and probably elsewhere. I remember him about the same time as Dagwood and L’il Abner. He could even be from one of those strips.

    He was a fat guy who had a tricycle type rig that had a wooden house on the back over the back axle. It sort of looked like an out-house structure with a smoke stack, and he peddled it at great speed all over the place and it swayed back and forth. The only name that comes to mind is Hewey or Huey.

    Any ideas??

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