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.
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.
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
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