August Hutaf painted with a huge hand, a hand as broad as a side of venison. Like many men of his stature, 6'4" and weighing more than 300 pounds, he displayed an amazing dexterity and grace. The work of August Hutaf testifies that he was one of those rare individuals who could charm and delight with his whimsical postcards or capture the breath of those lucky enough to have seen his serious oil paintings and pottery.
The Leap Year series (PCK c. 1907 and Sanders c. 1908) and First Pin Fraternal series (Ullman c. 1908) were probably the best known of the Hutaf postcards, but the ones I remember most from my childhood were the Apple series (A.B. Woodward c. 1907). As a child I was charmed by them and felt a connection to the person who drew them. Gus died before I was born but I grew up on stories about him. He was a magical teller of stories who would weave tales for my mother from whatever subject caught his fancy. He would point to the bums in the gutters of skid row and invent stories about how they came to be there, or passing a shabby boarded up storefront he would entertain her with stories about fantasy kingdoms that lay on the other side of the broken and boarded door.
Gus and my great-aunt Lil were childless but doted on my mother and her brothers. Once when visiting my grandparents Gus was delighted to find my uncle, then 3 years old, bundled up and playing in the snow. He sketched a picture of Chester and titled the picture "Little Jack Frost". Later Gus, who was an advertising executive, sent the picture to Jack Frost Sugar who has used the sketch as their logo ever since. Gus loved children and kids are a reoccurring theme in many of his postcards. For instance the Little Hayseeds series (W.S. Heal c. 1907) shows country folk experiencing the city for the first time through the eyes of children. The Blacktown Babies series (Ullman c. 1907) follows a little Black boy and girl through the lazy days of summer, and Papa series (W.S.Heal c. 1907) has baby bringing papa his hat, pipe, and slippers.
Evidence of Hutaf's amiable nature permeate the subject matter and composition in his postcards. There is a sweetness about them that was rare even in the early days of the new century. The Advice to the Lovelorn and Advice to Vacationist series (PCK c. 1908) are collectible for the tongue-in-cheek, gentle humor as well as wacky, creative artwork. He penned a series of "vinegar valentines" which, though barbed and witty, did not have the nastiness demonstrated by some other artists. These mean comic valentines (by Rotograph and c. Hutaf 1907) continue to have an enormous commercial appeal.
Though Hutaf was best known for his commercial artwork such as his postcards, theatre programs, sheet music and book illustrations, he kept company with Montgomery Flagg, Norman Rockwell, and Edward Brewer as a listed artists of the Rastus advertisement for Cream of Wheat Cereal. He also did highly collectible limerick advertisements for White Rock Water, Wilson Whiskey, and Kant Slip Kelly Springfield Tires.
Serious collectors of fine art also collect his oil paintings, watercolors, pottery and posters. Frank L. Hahn highlighted Hutaf's hand painted mission pottery in his 1996 Collector's Guide to J.B. Owens Pottery and quoted a period (1903) pottery reviewer by saying "All you people who worship the antique and rail against the degeneracy of modern art must fall down on your knees before the old Mission pottery. That you have never seen anything in pottery that is more artistic you may be well assured."
In 1917 Gus did a recruiting poster for World War I Tank Corps,"Treat 'Em Rough, Join the Tanks" which features an attacking cat leaping over a tank and which became (and remains) the trademark for the tank corp.
As Cartographer Royal to the Hoboken Free State he was consigned to do a bird's
eye visual map of Hoboken which was published by the Hoboken Map Company in
Not only was Gus incredibly creative, he may also have also been remarkably resourceful. Family lore has it that he invented the concept of painting lines down the middle of the street to direct traffic flow. The day of the St. Patrick Day Parade was fast approaching and, since the advent of the automobile, the city was faced with the problem of containing or controlling the traffic without snarling the side streets in New York City. Gus suggested painting lines (green in honor of St. Patrick) down the center of the street and allowing traffic to flow in one direction and the parade to march by in the other. The rest, as they say, is history.
The mark of Hutaf's personality was an art of expression itself, for no one who knew Gus Hutaf could fail to love the big-hearted, jolly, rollicking soul who had a message of good cheer for everybody, everywhere. He was an irredeemable optimist. Christopher Morley once wrote, "his work is humorous, charming, decorative and deserves to be collector's items. When Old Gus and all of us are forgotten, there will still be copies of his work on the walls of godfearing people."
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