Jerry McConnell is like a cowboy in ways more important than his opulent handlebar mustache, Levi's and snake-proof boots. It's his attitude. He's always known what he wanted and went out and got it. This is partly a result of being a child of the '30s when the work ethic was intact plus the hundreds of paperback Westerns he read and illustrated.
It is not unusual for artists to emerge from homes where there is no direct creative impetus. Jerry's father was an engineer for Bell Labs. And if Jerry had not gotten tuberculosis when he was 18, he might not have turned to illustration. While recuper¬ating for two years in bed, boredom drove him to copy pictures in National Geographic. At the same time, a neighbor who had lost his son in the war, befriended McConnell. He took him to hear Frank Reilly lecture at a local women's club. Reilly said he could "teach a wooden Indian to draw." Jerry's response to such bra¬vado was to join the Art Students League where he studied for five years. In his second year he began working as an illustrator. The precepts taught by Reilly - drive, incentive and work - put him in good stead. During his stint at the League, he became a go-fer and assistant to Dean Cornwell. He also got a chance to listen in on the gossip of the great illustrators who gathered at Cornwell's for cocktails. Mead Schaeffer, Arthur William Brown and John Gannam not only knew how to paint, they knew how to live; glamorously. They paid as much attention to their pleasures as to their work.
Jerry was a commercial success from the start; up through the late sixties he did over 2,000 covers, mostly Westerns. By mid-sixties, bored with the guy, gun and horse format, he wanted a change in style. Al Catalano at AT&T gave him a chance. An assignment in 1967 came with the direction: "Give me anything, but give me something different." Jerry's something different was his first assemblage, a box filled with artfully arranged buttons, coins and symbols of the convulsive society of the '60's. Assemblages need to be photographed, so he teamed with Cosimo Scianna to shoot his stuff. In turn, when Cosimo needed an impossible prop, Jerry crafted it. Over the years they have collaborated on everything from an underwater treasure chest ¬with a live shark! - to a wind tunnel, to 80,000 people inside a Goodyear tire, to a gallows that worked, plus the famous mummy that won them a Gold Clio.
In addition to his other abilities, Jerry is an outstanding organizational man. He joined the Society of Illustrators in 1961 and in two years was on the Board of Directors. He's been an Executive Committee member for 14 years.
He has been a prime mover in the Graphic Artists Guild. In 1976, he helped to merge the new Illustrators Guild with GAG. He is now National President of the 4,000 member organization that has chapters in six cities. His Guild work has been most satisfying because it's effecting changes in the laws and art business procedures and conduct. With all this, he still loves to draw and paint for clients and for himself. Especially for himself. His Hamilton King Award winner is just such a work. It's a rendition of Grand Central Station on a scale and with the fine detail that befits such a monument.
In the midst of a killing schedule of art work, meetings, renovation on his new loft building and time for his three children, Jerry McConnell remembers to dream. As he puts it: "Illustrators are fantasy purveyors."
- Jill Bossert 1982