The Reeses (Emily and Walter)

Reese, Emily Shaw (Born 1886) American Illustrator.
Reese, Walter (1889-1943) American Illustrator.

The Reeses, Print ad for Scranton filet nets and lace curtains. Ladies Home Journal. October 1918.

The Reeses were active in the illustration market during the 1910s and 20s. They did some magazine covers between 1910 and 1915 plus the odd book, but mostly they specialized in advertising work. Little known today, when the first Art Director's Club annual appeared in 1921, five of their ads graced its pages, including the Scranton Lace full-page number shown here. Two Wolfshead Undergarments ads and a pair of Sherwin-Williams ones fill out the set.

Catherine Grassl (born 1910), a librarian in Menomenee, Wisconsin, methodically tracked magazine ads and the illustrators who worked on them over many decades. Her clip file collection of advertising art was donated to the LIbrary of Congress in the 1980s, and copies of her 4x6 index cards were made available in the 1990s to Walt and Roger Reed at Illustration House. In the process of trying to track down information on the Reeses, Ms. Grassl's index card for them turned out to useful. The last national campaign the pair worked on appears to have been Ivory soap, ads for which appeared in 1929, 1930 and 1931. 

After that, zippo.

Walter O. Reese resurfaces teaching drawing and illustration at the Cornish College of Art, in Seattle. Snippets of internet research suggest that he may have been there as early as 1929, according to the testimony of a former student who entered the school that year. An oral history interview with William Ivey, the Northwest School ab-ex painter (Archives of American Art, Smithsonian, available here) reveals that in the late 1930s Ivey took drawing classes at Cornish with Walter Reese, and that the painter took a dim view of his instruction. "There was a fellow named Walter Reese there who was certainly not stimulating... [it was all about craft]. As I recall you'd draw a figure and you'd work on that same charcoal drawing all week, and then you'd do another one the next week." Ivey reports that Reese was head of the art department at Cornish, which also included departments of Dance and Music. 

As for Emily Shaw Reese, I can find no further mention of her. It is possible that the couple started a family, and that maternal duties ended Emily's career. She was three years Walter's senior. She would have turned 40 in 1926, when their advertising docket began to fall off some, which would have been unthinkably late for a first pregnancy. Perhaps they did not remain together. If any researcher, archivist or descendant has anything to add to this abbreviated account, please leave a comment here or contact me directly.

The tenderly stylized drawing, sophisticated use of pattern as a design element, and control of color are manifest. As a medium, watercolor was somewhat gendered female, and I am tempted to conclude that the division of labor may have had Emily working up gorgeous watercolors over Walter's linear sketches, but that is mere conjecture. Ivey's testimony may be coloring my speculation. I find the Reeses' illustrations quite winsome, and I cannot imagine a didactic draftsman being responsible for them. I suspect that the touch was Emily's. It can be no accident that their advertising clients sold to women, and that the terms of the sale were intimate. The teens and twenties bracket the passage of women's suffrage in 1920, and new market offerings in bath products, lingerie, hosiery and cosmetics–worn openly!–found ready audiences. 

The Reeses disappeared from illustration and advertising design after 20 strong years. Regardless of what followed, they had a nice run.

The Reeses, Print ad for Wolfhead Undergarments. Ladies Home Journal. March 1920.

The Reeses, Print ad for Williams' Talc Powder. Ladies Home Journal. May 1919.

The Reeses, Print ad for Warner Corseting. Ladies Home Journal. October 1922.

The Reeses, Print ad.

The Reeses, Print ad for Leisure Vassar Oxford. 1920.

The Reeses, Print ad in Ladies Home Journal. July 1922.