The years between the World Wars were a golden age of fine illustration in an unlikely place—the covers of college football programs. View vintage Michigan program covers online at U-M’s Bentley Historical Library.
Man in Motion
The program cover for the 1920 game against the University of Chicago—a member of the Big Ten until 1946—was created by Clayton Seagears, a self-taught artist for U-M's student humor magazine, the Gargoyle. Seagears' painting of a place-kicker revealed his ability to capture motion on canvas. He later put that talent to use as a wildlife artist for The Saturday Evening Post and Collier's. That led to a second career in natural resources; he wound up as New York State superintendant of conservation. During a long retirement based in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., Seagears traveled the globe to sketch and paint animals and birds in the wild.
On Nov. 14, 1925, Michigan beat Ohio State 10-0 in the midst of the great car craze of the 1920s. The anonymous artist of that day's cover depicted a glorious roadster rolling up to the gate to Ferry Field, where the Wolverines played from 1906-26. In the passing crowd, several ladies wear the famous cloche hats of the flapper era.
Here an unknown artist honors not the hero on the field but the fan in the seats, waving his pennant and cheering through his bullhorn. If the artist's model was in the crowd of 48,000 at Ferry Field that day, he saw Michigan, led by All-Americans Bennie Oosterbaan and Benny Friedman, crush Wisconsin 37-0.
An artist identified only by the initials A.B. painted a heroic portrait of the All-American Bennie Oosterbaan for the Homecoming program of Nov. 19, 1927. This copy of the program—now housed at U-M's Bentley Historical Library—bears the hurried autograph of Fielding H. Yost (football coach 1901-23 and 1925-26, athletic director 1921-40). It was the team's first season in Michigan Stadium, planned by Yost and built under his stewardship as athletic director. That day's 7-13 loss to Minnesota was Oosterbaan's last game as a Wolverine. Yost apparently signed the program at an event in Muskegon, Mich., Oosterbaan's hometown.
Charles Lindbergh's 1927 crossing of the Atlantic in "The Spirit of St. Louis" inspired this 1928 cover by Maurice Lichtenstein, editor of the Gargoyle. Before Lichtenstein reached U-M, he was thrown out of the Chicago Art Institute for attaching cartoon gag lines to priceless Rembrandts. After U-M, as "Lichty," he pioneered the "sloppy" style of American cartooning in his syndicated panel "Grin and Bear It," which he launched in 1932. Lichty died in 1983 but "Grin and Bear It" is still published.
The cover of the program for Oct. 5, 1929, showed a drum major festooned in colors that a later generation of U-M students would call psychedelic. It was the work of Ross Bittinger, a young instructor in the College of Art and Architecture. That day's game against "MSC"—Michigan State College—was a 17-0 victory for Michigan. The game preceded "Black Thursday," the opening event of the great stock market crash of 1929, by less than three weeks.
William Titcombe, a U-M professor of architecture, deployed straight lines, simple shapes, and a mirror image to make this elegant design for the Michigan-Harvard game on Nov. 9, 1929. It was Harvard's only appearance in Michigan Stadium. The Wolverines barely won, 14-12. (A single ticket stub for the game recently sold for $57 on eBay.)
In 1935, an uncredited artist created a stunning series of graphic designs in a style that combined art deco and bas-relief. The artist's themes were "Courage," "Activity," "Effort," and "Endurance." The illustrations sounded an appropriate note of humility for a team that went 4-4. "Endurance" was putting it politely on Nov. 23, when the Buckeyes beat Michigan 38-0.
In 1937 and 1938, a series of covers depicted football scenes in idealized images of childhood, a common theme among the era's illustrators. The covers were the work of Michael Kady (1901-77), a popular commercial artist based in San Francisco. Kady's paintings appeared in advertisements and illustrations in such magazines as Look and Good Housekeeping throughout the 1930s and '40s. These include a famous ad of World War II for North American Aviation titled "Reunion in America," showing an American G.I. reunited with his wife and baby. (Scroll down to find "Reunion in America.")
Six weeks before Pearl Harbor, artist Howard Brodie (1915-2010) captured the nostalgic bliss of the loyal alumnus back on campus for the big game. Brodie was only 25 when his illustration appeared on the program cover of Oct. 18, 1941. He went on to a notable career as a combat artist in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, and as a courtroom artist in the years before cameras were allowed in courtrooms. For CBS News, he illustrated the Watergate hearings and the trials of, among many others, the Chicago Seven, Charles Manson, Lt. William Calley, and Patty Hearst. Brodie's work as a U.S. Army artist in World War II earned him a Bronze Star for valor.