Marcus Mitchell “Mark” Fenderson was born in Monticello, Minnesota, on August 1, 1863, according to a 1904 passport application (see photo) at Ancestry.com. His middle name was his mother’s maiden name; according to Historic Homes and Places and Genealogical and Personal Memoirs Relating to the Families of Middlesex County, Massachusetts (1908), “…Myra Abby [Mitchell], born 1833: married Reuben Fenderson, of Wilton, Maine”. In the 1870 U.S. Federal Census, he was their only child; they lived in Farmington, Maine. His father was a retail grocer. The New York Times obituary, December 7, 1944, said, “…His father died when he was a small boy, and his mother sent him to her brother’s school at Billerica, Mass., for his preparatory training. His uncle, noticing the youngster’s artistic bent, encourage him to take up art, and he eventually studied in France and Italy. He began his career as a newspaper illustrator of news events.” He has not been found in the 1880 census.
The Lewiston Evening Journal (Maine) noted, on July 22, 1893, that, “Mr. Mark Fenderson, who has been visiting Farmington, returned on Friday to New York, where he is employed as one of the artists on the The Recorder.” A 1911 issue (from July to December) of Life magazine interviewed him; excerpts below:
“Mr. Fenderson, we desire to know where you were born.”
“And when did you first become an artist?” Mr. Fenderson was plainly embarrassed by this question, so we altered it in accordance with nature.
“I believe not. I just came up quite naturally. After being born in Minnesota I lived in Maine, and after arriving at the tea stage in my career found myself as far West as Chicago. It was then that I began to draw pictures.”
“And what were they like?”
“I wouldn’t dare tell you explicitly. It is sufficient to say that they came under the head of cartoons. I suppose I must have grown tired of Chicago, and so I found myself drifting East, and in the course of time I sought Pittsburg as a haven of refuge.”
“I continued to draw cartoons for the papers for some three years. Then once more the spirit beckoned.”
“And you came—?”
“To New York—”
“And to Life. Yes. I haven’t yet recovered from the crisis of having my first picture in Life.”
“…And now that we have you regularly installed as one of our best contributors, can you not tell us something more about yourself? You are too modest, and not explicit enough.”
Mr. Fenderson smiled.
“I can tell you of a thing that once happened to me, which it seems to me worth while recording. One day when I was a boy I called in Boston upon F.G. Attwood.”
“You mean the Life artist who used to delight as many of our readers.”
“Yes. Even at that time I had artistic aspirations, and I asked Mr. Attwood if he thought it paid to be an artist.”
“And what was his reply?”
“He said: ‘My boy, it is the only thing that pays, whether you get any money or not.’ And I have been thinking of that ever since.”
In the 1900 census, he lived in Manhattan, New York City at 54 Union Square. He had been married six years to Anna, who was not counted. The year of his birth was recorded as 1862. He drew the strip Mannikinland for the New York World beginning April 1900. According to a passport application, the couple traveled out of the country in September 1904; the destination was not stated. His address was 52 Union Square. In December 1904 he produced The Baby for McClure. The New York City Directories for 1902, 1903 and 1906 listed him in its illustrators category at 52 Union Square East.
He lived in Manhattan at 2 West 18th Street, according to the 1910 census. He was a magazine illustrator and Annie was an artist. The American Art Directory, Volume 10 (1913) listed the couple at “4 West 18th St., New York, N.Y.” In American Art Annual Volume 12 (1915) their address was “144 West 23d St., New York, N.Y.” The New York City Directories for 1916, and 1926 through 1929 listed him in its artists section at 144 West 23rd Street.
He has not been found in the 1920 census. The New-York Tribune covered the Society of Illustrators “Playtime” exhibition on May 13, 1922: “The exhibits…consists of paintings, drawings, wood carvings, masks and trinkets made by the illustrators in the spirit of diversion from the beaten track of their profession….Mark Fenderson makes a specialty of collecting tin cans which he warps into clever candle holders for the sake of amusement…” He contributed drawings to the 1924 book The Life Story of an Ugly Duckling by Marie Dressler. The American Art Annual Volume 22 (1925) listed his address as “144 West 23d St., New York.”
The 1930 census listed Fenderson in Hastings on Hudson, New York at 423 Farragut Avenue. He was a college teacher and his wife made miniature paintings. The New York Times said he was an art instructor at the Townsend Harris High School in New York. A Richmond Times-Dispatch article, dated February 16, 1930, reported his artistic development in wood carving.
When a famous wood carver gave a discarded work bench and some tools to his friend, Mark Fenderson, a few years ago, neither of them had any thought that from it would spring one of those developments that give to art its perpetual youth and freshness. Fenderson certainly did not want to be a carver. He admired good carving, but saw it as a craft rather than an art. That he took it up at all was more to stop his friend’s nagging than from desire, and there was no reason for any one—even Fenderson himself—to suppose that anything would come of it: he has been more surprised than any one else to find that it could be a rare medium for artistic expression….
Fenderson’s point of view was of something totally different. Essentially an artist and illustrator, he is a skilled draftsman with an unusual feeling for perspective and proportion. With a complete disregard for the hoary traditions of wood carving, he considered its possibilities as a medium for the art that he knew. With wood as paper and tools for a pencil he took it up avidly, but with no idea of all that was to be learned: the preparation of the wood, the use of various tools, and the technique of getting on wood the effects that were in his mind.
Needing surfaces to decorate he built furniture of his own design; first chests, then tables, chairs, a bed, a desk, a desk-easel for Mrs. Fenderson’s miniature painting—all for the furnishing of his studio and apartment. With each piece there came greater facility in the use of tools, more insight into the possibilities of the medium, and a distinct advance over those that had gone before….
According to the 1940 census Fenderson was a widower living at 429 Farragut Avenue in Greenburgh, New York. His occupation remained as teacher. The New York Times said he retired from the staff of Townsend Harris High School in 1941. Fenderson passed away on December 7, 1944, in Dobbs Ferry, New York. His death was reported in the Times and Herald Statesman (Yonkers, New York), and both said he was 71. The Hartford Courant (Connecticut) gave his age as 73, while the Associated Press reported it as 79. He was 81, based on his passport application. The reports of his death mentioned his best-known and widely distributed cartoon of a sad rooster leaning against the coop, “The Dejected Rooster”.
A color print adaptation of Fenderson’s cartoon was advertised in
The Lewiston Evening Journal Magazine, February 10, 1945, profiled Fenderson.