Thursday, October 6, 2016

Rader Love: A Daughter Remembers

Sin on Wheels, by “Loren Beauchamp,” aka Robert Silverberg (Midwood, 1961), with cover artwork by Paul Rader.

Welcome to day two of Killer Covers’ tribute to Paul Rader (1906-1986), who gained fame during the mid-20th-century with his masterful paperback-cover creations. Yesterday’s post provided an introduction to his career. Today, I offer the results of an e-mail exchange I conducted recently with Elaine Rader, the artist’s daughter, who is now in her early 60s. Below she answers questions about her father’s early interest in painting, his marriage to her mother (who also became a model for his often seductive illustrations), her favorite Paul Rader book fronts, and the sad fate of many materials he left behind after his demise.

J. Kingston Pierce: As I understand it, your father became interested in art after he and his parents moved from New York state to Toledo, Ohio. Do you know when that relocation took place? And did your father ever talk to you about his early interest in art?

Elaine Rader (shown on the right): No, I’m sorry I don’t know what year they moved. He told me that he didn’t choose his art career, it chose him. He said he could not recall a time when he didn’t want to paint.

JKP: Is it true that Paul’s carpenter father, Samuel Rader, left Toledo to move to Detroit, Michigan, and work for the Ford Motor Company? And did Paul’s mother, Minnie, move with him to the Motor City? In what year would that have been?

ER: Yes, his father worked for Ford and made the wood panels that went on the station wagons of that time. And of course his mother moved with him to Detroit. I don’t know the year, but it must have been around the 1920s.

JKP: I’ve heard that Paul did not go to Detroit with his parents right away, but remained behind in Toledo. Do you  know what was he doing in Toledo by that time?

ER: I believe he was still studying at the Toledo Institute of Art, so I would think he stayed in order to finish up his classes and he may have had some commissions to do, as well. I believe he lived with his sister* during that time. But that is all from memory. I have nothing in writing to be absolutely sure of that.

JKP: Is it correct that your father first married in Detroit in 1931? Do you know his first wife’s name? And is it true that the young couple moved to Philadelphia, where the wife was from, and that they divorced in 1940? What happened to that first wife?

ER: Yes, her name was Joan Radden (believe it or not!). Yes again on the divorce. She died sometime around the early 1960s—tragically, in an accident involving her being in a tub, and an electric heater.

JKP: Paul married a second time in New York City in 1942. I believe that was your mother, Edith. What was Edith’s maiden name? And what was their relationship like over the years?

ER: Edith Radley. They had a wonderful 48-year-long marriage.

Paul Rader was also a skilled portraitist. Some examples of his work surround him in this photograph. Asked to identify the individual subjects here, Elaine Rader writes: “The one directly above him is me at 5 years old. The one to his right, the man with his arms folded, is his father, Samuel. The one to his left, is my mother and me, stylized a bit. The African-American woman, above and on the left, [was done during] a trip he made to Georgia in the ’20s. The one above and on the right is a vision of Adam and Eve, which I have. I also have the portrait of me.”

JKP: What was the age difference between your mother and father? And is your mother still with us?

ER: My mother passed away in 2005 at age 82. She was 18 years younger than my dad, and they passed away almost to the month, 18 years apart.

JKP: Your mother eventually worked as an administrative secretary at St. Luke’s Hospital in New York City. But had she held other jobs before that one?

ER: Nothing full-time before that, [though] she did take on dictating jobs and typing jobs for writers so she could stay home with me. After they moved to [the town of Monroe, in] upstate New York, she went on to be administrative assistant to the principal of a high school … until she retired in the ’80s.

JKP: Your mother has been quoted as saying that, in addition to doing his artwork for advertising agencies and book publishes, your father was “a mechanical genius.” In what ways was that “genius” manifested?

(Left) Edith Rader, her husband’s preferred artistic muse.

ER: He could make or figure out anything. He built our first TV set, from the tubes all the way to the outside housing. He built our entire sound system (as you would call it today), building not only the turntable, amp and speakers, but also all the cabinetry they went into. (Wish I still had all of that today.) He worked with me on endless school projects if they involved making something (I remember papier-mâché masks we made that were wonderful), and when I showed an interest in jewelry-making (my present, 20-year career), he and I worked together learning that process when I was quite young. He built all the frames for his paintings, made the architectural drafts/plans for his studio in upstate New York. … He could do anything.

JKP: In what year were you born, and where?

ER: 1954, New York City, New York (Manhattan).

JKP: At what point in your young life did you become aware that your father was a career artist?

ER: He was 48 when I was born, so I never knew him as anything else but an artist. His studio was in our home, so I always knew that that’s what he did for a living.

JKP: Did you watch him work, or did he prefer to paint in solitude?

ER: If he wanted solitude he never mentioned it to me, I often spent hours [looking] over his shoulder, watching him paint. So did our parrot, [which] was always either on top of his head or hanging onto his eyeglass chord! He always had classical music playing and always had an air of calm concentration. He probably was in his zone and didn’t really notice me there most of the time (in a good way!).

JKP: Did your father paint in more than one medium, or did he particularly favor, say, oil paint over watercolors? And did he work on large canvases or small ones?

ER: He painted exclusively in oil until he started his illustration, which he did in colored inks and in gouache on boards. He switched over to acrylic for his fine art in the later years to try and get away from the oil fumes. Very rarely did he use watercolors, except in some very early plein air painting he did as a student in Europe.

JKP: Your father must have had a number of models posing for him. Did he have favorite models?

ER: He did have models later on in his career, but his favorite
was my mother.

JKP: And do you know whether your mother was ever a bit jealous of the other women he had posing for him?

ER: I have no idea. My mother and I never discussed things like that.

JKP: Did your father encourage you toward artistic pursuits?

ER: Absolutely, they both tried to get me to enroll in one of several professional art schools after high school, but I was eager to move out on my own. So instead of following a path of further education in the arts, I became a banker for 20 years, then gradually found my calling in the arts. I am a jeweler and metalsmith now [and have been] for 22 years. Self taught and very happy. You can see some of my work and read my story at my Web site.

JKP: Did your father talk about his work painting paperback book covers? Was he pleased with his accomplishments, or did he really want to be doing something different?

ER: All I know of this is what my mother has told me. He really only did that type of work to make a living. She said she felt it was beneath his ability and talent. I never had the conversation with my father, so I really don’t know how he felt. I do know he much preferred the fine arts, but that being highly competitive, [he] found it hard to make a living unless it was portrait-painting, at which he was amazing. Portraits were the mainstay of his income before he started in the illustration field, and that type of painting fell way to photography over the years.

JKP: What was your home life like when you were growing up?

ER: I had an amazing upbringing in New York City. We lived on the Upper West Side near Columbia University on 108th Street, just off Riverside Drive. I went to public inner-city schools and I was [later] enrolled in the School of American Ballet, which is the [associate] school of the New York City Ballet company. I performed with the NYC Ballet as a student for many years, in many different ballets, [including some] performed at the New York City Center and at the New York State Theater [now the David H. Koch Theater] at Lincoln Center, which is (and was) the home of the New York City Ballet company. I also attended the Juilliard School of Music in New York, in their dance program for two years. My mother’s employment made it possible for me to enjoy my dancing schools and for [my parents] to purchase a weekend home in upstate New York, where they eventually retired to. So I guess our home life was pretty darn good!

JKP: Although I am familiar with, and admiring of your father’s artistry, his work has not always been as well remembered as it should have been. Why do you suppose that is? Could it have been because his creations were quite racy at times?

ER: I think it has just recently (over the last 20 years) become popular, admired, and appreciated as an art form. Times are very different, and those illustrations are mild these days by comparison. Unfortunately for him, he never enjoyed the limelight that he seems to have posthumously acquired. I think he may have been a bit astounded, and hopefully proud of something he really was not thrilled about doing—except I’m sure he enjoyed the good pay.

JKP: Your father was remarkably prolific, so it would be hard to identify just a few top picks from among his book covers. But can you share some of your personal favorites?

ER: My all-time favorite is Sin on Wheels; my mom posed for that. But my other favorites are any of those I can recognize my mother posing for: Million-Dollar Mistress, Open Season (which I own the original of), 69 Barrow Street, Sea Nymph, This Is Elaine (no relation to me AT ALL), Unnatural, The Soft Way, and Pajama Party. She has been referred to as “The Rader Girl,” her face is seen repeated so many times. Two others are Pattern for Panic, by Richard S. Prather [Berkley, 1958], which does not show my mom, but I think it’s a really good work (and that’s our Hans Wegner chair that I still own that she’s sitting in); and the [November 1962] cover for Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, that’s a really great one, too. Both of those show so much emotion and movement, and the backgrounds are amazing (something that can make or break a painting).

Eight Rader covers featuring his blond wife, Edith (from the top-left): Million-Dollar Mistress, by “Clyde Allison,” aka William Henley Knoles (Midwood, 1960); Open Season, by Bernard Thielen (Ace, 1960); 69 Barrow Street, by “Sheldon Lord,” aka Lawrence Block (Midwood, 1959); Sea Nymph, by “Peggy Swenson,” aka Richard E. Geis (Midwood, 1963); This Is Elaine, by “Jason Hytes,” aka John Plunkett (Midwood, 1963); Unnatural, by “Sloan Britton,” aka Elaine Williams (Midwood, 1960); The Soft Way, by “March Hastings,” aka Sally Singer (Midwood, 1963); and Pajama Party, by Peggy Swenson (Midwood, 1963).

JKP: How do you think your father distinguished himself as an artist? What special talents, techniques, or viewpoints did he possess?

ER: He could paint a person's character. He could paint skin in amazing reality, but without making it look like a photograph. His paintings were powerful, emotional, and captured the essence of the person he painted. He was not a huge fan of modern art, fake manipulations, or contrived images. He was a purist.

JKP: Paul Rader retired in 1970, a few years after undergoing surgery for what I’ve heard was a stomach tumor. He would’ve been in his early 60s. Was he simply tired of painting for commercial purposes? I understand he taught adult education art classes and did portrait work after retiring. What was his artwork like in those last years?

ER: He had colon cancer, nonmetastatic, not a stomach tumor. He was on the mend for the better part of a year, and [by then] the publishing companies were turning towards photography for their covers, so it basically put him out of a job for that genre of work. So as life often does, that shift afforded him the opportunity to slow down his pace (people in their 60s, years ago, were not what they are in their 60s today!). Yes, he did teach some adult ed classes at a high school, where he found a renewed interest in sculptural realism. Again, he was amazing at that; I have several of his small statues in clay. He did do many portraits again, but his style changed considerably, from the Old Masters style of his very early portraits of the 1920s and ’30s, to a more commercial look, probably due to the many years of his illustration work, and because that’s what people wanted. I was much fonder of his early works in fine art; he was following his own voice rather than the wants and desires of the public or someone else. I have learned that in my own business: once I started only making things I liked or that I would want to own myself, my business took off. Your work becomes the “genuine you.” I don’t know if he could, or ever wanted to go back to that style after all those years away from it. And it could have been he was ready for a change. All I know is, if he were alive today, he’d be killing it in the art world.

JKP: Is it correct that following your mother’s retirement in the early 1980s, your parents relocated to Ocala, Florida, where you were living? Was your father still painting then?

ER: Yes, my mother did retire then and they relocated to Ocala, but I did not live there. I was living in Miami at the time. My father did a few more portraits of himself and my mother, but he only lived about 1½ years after moving to Ocala and had not been feeling well enough to continue painting much.

JKP: By the way, how did you happen to wind up in Florida?

ER: I married and moved with my [now] ex-husband to Miami in 1979. I left there in 1994. I live in the north Georgia mountains now.

JKP: Do you have any of your father’s artwork in your home?

ER: Yes, I do have many of his older works, which I cherish. I did happen to purchase one illustration at auction (the one I mentioned above) a couple of years ago.

JKP: Is it true that your father’s papers and much of his artwork was destroyed after his death? If so, how and why did that happen?

ER: “Destroyed” is such a violent term. I would rather say that of the few originals he had bought back from the publishers, those were given to one family member who appreciated them. The numerous other book-cover proofs and original sketches and photographs that no one wanted (including myself—I was asked by my mother beforehand) were thrown out. I was not appreciative of that work at the time; as I said, I had always been told it was beneath him, so I looked down on it, I guess.

JKP: Finally, how would you like your father and his artistic accomplishments to be remembered?

ER: Just as he has been in the last 20 years, by the adoring fans of his illustrations. But I would really love to have his fine art showcased, his older portraits shown, but they are so scattered and spread all over the country it would be hard to compile such a show. I have been contacted by so many wonderful people over the years who own his older works, mainly portraits, that I feel he is being remembered in the best way possible—in two different artistic worlds by many, many people.

* As Elaine Rader tells me, her father was one of three children in his family. His sister, Bertha, was born in 1897 and passed away in 1987. His brother, Phillip, came along in 1910; he died in 1999.

READ MORE:Rader Love: Face of Fantasy,” by J. Kingston Pierce (Killer Covers).