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George Pollard's Palette

Used by the artist George Pollard of Kenosha, Wisconsin, as a 'scrapbook' of his distinguished career.
(Museum object #2007.108.1)

Renowned artist George Pollard (1920-2008) of Kenosha, Wisconsin, used this painter's palette during his career as a portrait artist of some of the world's most influential people. According to Pollard, he used it for many years, and whenever he painted an important person, he left a small amount of oil paint along the edge of the palette "until it became as full of paint as you see it now."

The dollops of oil paint served as mementos to the work he completed and to his experiences interacting with his portrait subjects, getting to know their personalities that he adeptly brought to life on canvas. As Pollard added more dollops of paint to the palette, it likely became more symbolic than functional. The palette, with all of its mementos, was witness to and served as a 'scrapbook' of Pollard's distinguished career.

The Wisconsin Historical Society possesses four portraits by Pollard: Wisconsin governors Patrick Lucey, Lee Sherman Dreyfus, Anthony Earl, and Tommy Thompson. Pollard also created portraits of important Wisconsin figures such as Congressman Les Aspin and Milwaukee Mayor Henry Maier and numerous athletes from Wisconsin's professional sports franchises.

Pollard grew up in tiny Waldo, Wisconsin. Encouraged by his mother, he began drawing at a young age and after high school attended the Layton School of Art in Milwaukee (now the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design). He moved on to the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and then to Chicago to study under Frederick Mizen, one of the nation's top illustrators. This instruction honed his natural talent for drawing, painting, and illustrating.

When World War II began, Pollard enlisted in the Marine Corps. Stationed in New Zealand, he found time to teach portrait classes and make sketches. His work garnered the attention of his commander, who asked Pollard to sketch First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt while she visited the troops in 1943. This was Pollard's big break, and he soon made portraits of numerous military officers, eventually leading to a sitting with the iconic General Douglas MacArthur.

After the war Pollard returned to the Layton School of Art and graduated in 1946. He married his wife Nan the following year. The couple settled in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where they collaborated on celebrity doll books at Lowe Publishing. During this time, George's career as a painter and sketcher of portraits blossomed. In a career spanning sixty years, he made more than 5,000 portraits, including Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Reagan; Mother Theresa; Supreme Court Justices William Douglas and William Rehnquist; and sports and entertainment figures such as Muhammad Ali, Bart Starr, Vince Lombardi, and Ray Charles. He even painted Pope John Paul II, which won the Pontiff's Medal, an honor usually reserved for heads of state.

[Sources: Pollard, George. The Journal of a Portrait Painter and His Family of Artists (Whitman Press, 1998).]


Posted on April 24, 2008

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