ElmerE. Simms Campbell was born Elmer Simms Campbell on January 2, 1906, in St. Louis, Missouri. His parents, Elizabeth Simms and Elmer Cary Campbell were both educators and his mother was a watercolor artist. Campbell earned his illustrative talents honestly from his mother and began developing his own technique very early on.
EducationWhile attending Englewood High School in Chicago, Illinois, Campbell’s unique artistic style won him a notable art prize. After graduating high school, he was accepted into Lewis Institute in Chicago. He also created artwork for humor publications while in school.
CareerWhile going to school, Campbell worked for the post office and the railroad lines in order to make ends meet. Working for the railroad lines, he would often illustrate the passengers. He soon landed his first serious job when he began working for the Triad, an art studio in St. Louis. He then worked for a New York ad agency while taking more classes at the Academy of Design and at the Art Students League.
‘Map of Harlem’Campbell created a series of artwork, titled ‘Night-Club Map of Harlem’ in 1932. His illustrations were published in Sterling Brown’s ‘Southern Road.’ Campbell later collaborated with writers Arna Bontemps and Langston Hughes, providing the illustrations for the children’s book ‘Popo and Fifina: Children of Haiti.’
‘Esquire’In 1933, Campbell accepted full-time employment with Esquire magazine. He became the magazine’s resident illustrator, gaining notoriety for his satirical depictions of White society. He created the magazine’s mascot, Esky who was also included in the ‘Cuties’ comic strip series. Campbell’s ‘Cuties’ comics were nationally distributed and later compiled into a book. He wrote for Esquire until the 1950s.
FirstCampbell became the first Black illustrator to be syndicated and to have his work featured in U.S. national periodicals on a regular basis. His work was featured in publications, like Ebony, The New Yorker, and Playboy. His race was often unknown to readers and since he predominantly illustrated White characters, he received much acclaim.
LegacyCampbell lived in Switzerland for some time, only returning to the states after his wife, Vivian, died. E. Simms Campbell later died on January 27, 1971, in White Plains, New York. He was 65 years old. He was posthumously inducted into the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame in 2002 and samples of his work live on display at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum at Ohio State University.
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