by William Valerio
Charles Santore is a Philadelphia treasure. One of the great illustrators of our time, he is a practitioner of an art that has thrived in Philadelphia – a newspaper and printing city – since the days of Benjamin Franklin. No watercolorist working today can match Santore’s flair for drama or his brilliant luminism, and Woodmere is excited to present “Charles Santore: Fifty Years of Art and Storytelling”, on view through May 13. We had to follow “Violet Oakley” with something special, and this is it: the first major retrospective of Santore’s career.
Although he had already worked for the Saturday Evening Post, Time, Life, Redbook, and many other publications, Santore became nationally famous in the 1970s for his cover illustrations for TV Guide, which boasted 20 million weekly subscribers. Santore was catapulted to the top of the illustration world when he began producing covers for the magazine in 1972, the first a likeness of Peter Falk as Columbo.
Subsequent covers included the stars of “Kojak,” “Soap,” “All in the Family,” “The Jeffersons,” “Taxi,” “60 Minutes,” and many others. His final illustration for TV Guide brought together the inauguration of President Ronald Reagan and Super Bowl XIX, both of which took place on January 20, 1985. TV Guide’s publisher, Walter Annenberg, was a friend of Reagan, and Annenberg assigned Santore the job of creating a cover to publicize both events.
Reagan actually performed the coin flip for the game. I especially love art that is a window onto our shared history, and I’m grateful that Santore has given his TV Guide cover illustrations to Woodmere for our permanent collection. Visitors can see them in the exhibition and on our website at woodmereartmuseum.org/explore-online/collection.
Santore went on to become a renowned illustrator and writer of children’s books, reinterpreting classic stories and making them fresh for our time. One of our primary goals at Woodmere is to offer museum experiences that young people will enjoy. Children – and indeed visitors of all ages – will treasure Santore’s visual storytelling for “The Wizard of Oz,” “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” “Paul Revere’s Ride,” Snow White,” “A Stowaway on Noah’s Ark,“ and other tales. They will also delight in two videos we made, combining Santore’s illustrations and the musical artistry of Warren Oree and the Arpeggio Jazz Ensemble.
Visitors can meet Charles Santore in person at the exhibition opening celebration at Woodmere on Saturday, Feb. 24, from 2 to 4 p.m. Or they can go to iTunes, SoundCloud, or Stitcher and subscribe to our new podcast, Diving Board, to hear our conversation with the artist: Santore talks about his philosophy on life and art, and tells the fascinating story of his “Soviet Bear” advertisement, the USSR’s meddling in the American media in the 1980s, and President Reagan’s request to have the original “bear” illustration at the White House. I hope you’ll join us for this thrilling exhibition.
William R. Valerio, PhD is the The Patricia Van Burgh Allison Director and CEO of the Woodmere Art Museum