Clara Elsene Peck
(1883-1968) American Illustrator.
One of a relatively few women to merit an entry in Walt Reed's The Illustrator in America 1860-2000, Clara Elsene Peck had a varied career distinguished by a sure-handed design sense and elegant drawing reminiscent of fin-de-siecle posters and the English Arts and Crafts movement.
A Michigander by birth (Allegan), Peck grew up in St. Paul and received training at the Minneapolis School of Fine Arts.
Subsequently she landed in Philadelphia, where she secured work from the publisher George W. Jacobs, creating decorations and lettering designs for books. (It has been reported that during this time she studied under the American impressionist William Meritt Chase at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, though I'm not sure of its relevance.)
Peck married the illustrator John Scott Williams, with whom she settled in Leonia, New Jersey, in the orbit of Harvey Dunn–a charismatic teacher who set up his own illustration school in that town. (Dunn's efforts with the Leonia School of Illustration–founded 1915–mimicked Howard Pyle, with whom Dunn had studied in Wilmington. Pyle died unexpectedly in 1911; to a certain degree Dunn assumed his mantle. Dunn is also associated with the Grand Central School of Art in New York City, founded 1923.)
Some of Peck's most distinguished work predated her Leonia years. She illustrated several books, two of which are in the Reed Archive: A Lady in King Arthur's Court (1907) and The Border Lands (1909). Examples from both are shown here. The King Arthur book especially shows Peck working with Art Nouveau and English Arts and Crafts sensibilities, both in her lettering and decorative work as well as the illustrations, which make use of strong contours, flattened two-dimensional spaces and elegant arrangements of form and pattern. Plentiful magazine work came in the wake of these projects, and the 1910s and 20s were good decades.
Her periodical illustration was produced for women’s magazines: Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, The Ladies Home Journal, Today’s Housewife. A winsome project for The Delineator appears below. She also created some particularly lovely covers for Theatre Magazine during the 20s. During that decade she received awards from the New York Association of Women Painters and Sculptors. (Note: of greater interest than CEP's awards is the fact that there was such an association; we should like to learn more about it.)
Peck's marriage to Williams ended, date uncertain. (Some of her work was produced in collaboration with him, and is jointly signed PW.) In the 1940s she signed on to produce religious comic book projects for Topix Comics, a St. Paul publisher. She also worked for Treasure Chest of Fun and Facts, published by George A. Pflaum, distributed to parochial schools. Presumably some persisting friend or family connection to Minnesota came into play to acquire such projects. She'd worked a design idiom from the 1890s through the 20s, which would have seemed increasingly creaky during the Depression and war years. Topix and Treasure Chest may well have been the best gigs available. During the 1950s she turned to watercolor work for its own sake.