John Held, Jr. was an artist and illustrator with a long, successful career. His talent in drawing appeared early, and he was working as a newspaper cartoonist in his native Utah by his mid teens. In 1910, he moved to New York and began publishing drawings in Vanity Fair, Judge and Life. After a stint in the military during World War I, he returned to New York and began producing lighthearted pictures of characters such as “Betty Coed” and “Joe College,” fun-loving flappers and dashing young men which captured the spirit of the Roaring Twenties generation.
His magazine and advertising illustrations were not only hugely fashionable but helped define the popular culture of the Jazz Age. As one of his contemporaries put it, “[F. Scott] Fitzgerald wrote it, and Held drew it.” His publication credits reads as a list of the leading magazines of the time, in addition to the ones already mentioned he drew for The New Yorker, Harper’s Bazaar, Redbook and Century Magazine. He is said to have been the most highly paid graphic artist of the period. According to the illustrator Al Hirschfeld, in 1924 Held’s income was well over $1 million a year.
This period came to an end with the Great Depression, when Held lost his fortune. He moved on to writing, publishing five novels with a darker perspective on the flapper era, and designing the sets for the 1937 Broadway production of Hellzapoppin. Meanwhile, based at a Connecticut farm he had purchased in the 1920s, he pursued fine art, especially watercolor and sculpture. In 1940, he was sponsored by the Carnegie Corporation as an artist-in-residence at Harvard University and the University of Georgia. He continued to produce animal sculptures and watercolor landscapes through the end of his life.
“Collections.” University of Michigan Museum of Art. http://www.umma.umich.edu (23 April 2004).
Hirschfeld, Al. “The View From the Rumble Seat.” New York Times Book Review. December 6, 1987, p. 14.
“John Held, Jr. and the Jazz Age.” Norman Rockwell Museum. 28 September 2002. http://www.nrm.org/exhibits/held (23 April 2004).