Norman Price was a man who offered a compliment with sincere affection and accepted one with modest composure. His appreciation of the lives and works of his fellow illustrators is recorded in his extensive, hand-written accounts of lectures, interviews and formal dinners. He summed up his feelings in a James Montgomery Flagg quote: “The present is no sooner here, than it is gone.” To this end he spent much of his energies preserving the wealth of illustration history which was spoken, written and painted during the first half of the 20th century.
As an illustrator, Price was placed in the same company as Harvey Dunn, Frederic Gruger and Wallace Morgan (“The Big Four” exhibition, 1947). His paintings of historical events were thoroughly researched and dramatically presented. The strength of his composition and his ability to mix a fine line with shaded tones were talents that he applied to any assignment. However, History, especially American, was his forte.
Norman Price was born on April 16, 1877 in the small Ontario town of Brampton, near Toronto. As a boy he was introduced to the illustrator’s art through the magazines such as Harper’s, Scribner’s, and The Century which he and other Canadian art students anxiously awaited each month. In 1896, after one year at the Ontario School of Art, he took a job with Grip Litho while continuing art school at night. His ambition to be a concert pianist had not panned out by 1902 and so he decided to continue his art training in Europe. Having earned their passage tending cattle, Price and three fellow artists arrived in London. They lived in a private home, Carlton Cottage, and after brief studies at Goldsmith Institute and the Westminster School of Art, they opened Carlton Studios. They were soon immersed in the business of art. Dismayed by the pressures of clients and collections, Price left for Paris in 1909. There he studied with Jean Paul Laurens at the Academie Julian.
With his English wife, Nita E.J. Anson, and their son Donald, Norman came to New York in 1911 where he opened a branch of Carlton Studios in the Flatiron Building on 23rd Street. He left the studio the following year and began to produce the illustrations which were to be seen in such publications as Liberty, Harper’s, The Century, American, True, Cosmopolitan, Argosy, Collier’s, MacLeans and Woman’s Home Companion. Among his many longstanding advertising accounts were The Metropolitan Insurance Co., Sherwin Williams Paints, Kaywoodie Pipes, Victrola, Jell-O and Coca Cola. Despite this proliferance of advertising and editorial work, Price will be most remembered for his stirring book art. Perhaps his best known are the Robert W. Chambers novels. The first to be illustrated was the pirate novel “The Rogue’s Moon,” serialized in Liberty in 1928. Chambers wrote: I am at a loss for words to describe my admiration for Norman Price’s work. Drawing, composition and character are unusually fine. I am most grateful to Mr. Price for putting the vital spark into my stuff.”
Price came to know the many research sources of New York necessary to illustrate the diverse lifestyles of Meriweather Lewis and Paul Revere, Lief Erickson and Will Rogers. Such research can be frustrating. He recalled in the Illustrators Bulletin his ease in locating an antique set of Union bagpipes for a Don Byrne story and the extreme difficulty in locating an antique Irishman who knew how they were played.
The Society of Illustrators Exhibitions in the 20’s and 30’s regularly included Price’s works. He was active in many Society projects especially in his role as Curator. The information contained in his hand-written inventories is invaluable today. Price said: there is much food in these musty old books, if anyone is hungry and wishes to nibble.” A member since 1920, he became a Life Member in 1946 and served as Honorary President from 1948 to 1951. Shortly after Price’s death, the Society of Illustrators held a Memorial Exhibition at which time the library was named in his honor.
And now Mr. Price: It is a grand old Society and a friendly one-and when all is said and done it is quite unique that things go along so well when one stops to think that it is accomplished by illustrators who give their personal time and energy gratis, and enthusiasm only helps them carry on. Long live the Society!