That the Society of Illustrators in its 76th year can operate from a spacious, well-located townhouse is due in no small measure to the foresight and leadership of Wallace Morgan. It was his (and C.D. Williams’) idea to bring the loose knit group of artists, who met irregularly in one of several New York restaurants, together for a monthly smoker (tobacco supplied). As an outgrowth of the smoker, the Artists and Models Show followed and in the late 20’s hit Broadway under the Shubert Brothers banner. The royalties it produced fulfilled Morgan’s dream of a permanent headquarters for the Society, at first, a blacksmith shop on 24th Street and in 1939 its present digs on East 63rd Street. He served as President from 1929 to 1936 and was an active voice for many years thereafter.
Wallace Morgan was a very prolific artist whose works depicting the human condition showed spontaneity and zest. His subjects, taken from all strata of society, were drawn with humor and compassion and a knowledge of the characteristics of each. He most often worked in charcoal but also did some pen and ink and color wash illustrations. A free hand artist, he never used photography. As he put it: I’ll be damned if I’ll use a camera…Besides, they never do me justice.”
Born in New York City in 1873, Morgan, whose father was an art instructor, attended classes for six years at the National Academy. In his 20’s, he was a staff artist on several New York newspapers including: The Sun, The Herald and the Telegram. His quick sketch style and keen eye for characters were perfected during these years. Later, during World War I, while serving in the AEF as an official artist in the company of Charles Dana Gibson, Jack Sheridan and C.B. Falls, he produced volumes of sketches of battles, Generals and the soldier’s day to day routine.
Julian Leonard Street, one of the best known authors of the early 1900’s, called upon Morgan to accompany him on his travels which were to be serialized in Collier’s Weekly. Abroad at Home appeared during 1914 and American Adventures during 1917. He also illustrated The Red Cross Girl, one in a series by Richard Harding Davis. The other Davis volumes had been illustrated by the likes of Christy, Gibson, Gruger and Emerson.
Morgan was quite active in other New York organizations as a member of The Players, Century and Dutch Treat Clubs. He was made an honorary member of the Art Students League where he had taught for several years and in 1947 was elected to the National Academy of Design.
An active artist even in his later years, Morgan illustrated a noteworthy series for Carstairs Whiskey in 1947. He died the following May at the age of 75.
This touching report of a memorial exhibition appeared in the Illustrators Bulletin, January 1950.
Wallace Morgan’s gentleness, his heart and humor, are still with us. Take a walk over to the Faragil Galleries and you’ll see Wally. The reason his art is great is because it is a clear, pure expression of the man we all loved. His culture was too ingrained to reach for mannered style, and his intellect too profound to stoop to a quick quip. Just as he spoke with sparkling wisdom-so his art speaks today-and will continue to speak.