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Personal Bio of William Teason

"The Man Who Loved to Draw" William Ira Teason (1922 - 2003)

Bill Teason was born at home in Kansas City, Missouri on March 15, 1922. His parents, Adam Teason and Lillian Riley, had married two years previously in that same home at 3046 Walnut Street. They had met at the boarding house that Lillian's mother ran in Kansas City. Adam, a boarder there and a World War I veteran, was already thirty-four years old while Lillian was only twenty-two. Married for thirty-three years, they had a loving relationship that produced three sons.

Those years were not without hardship though. Bill's father had trouble finding work, variously employed as an electrician, a fireman, and an Electrolux vacuum salesman before he found a steady job as a linotype operator for the Kansas City Star. There were times when the boys were sent to live with relatives in St. Louis and Texas because their father was unemployed. The family moved frequently to different apartments in Kansas City because they were unable to pay the rent. On one occasion they had to go on relief. In later years, Bill's father developed emphysema and occasionally would go to the VA hospital for treatment. Finally he had to retire from the newspaper because of his health. Lillian worked as a sales clerk for many years at Harzfeld's Department Store to help support the family.

As a boy Bill Teason did not consider his family poor. Indeed, in those Depression years, they lived no differently than many people. Bill and his brothers, Jim and Ken, sold Liberty Magazine for five cents door to door, but they also went to the World in Motion Theater where they watched movies for five cents. The family never owned a car and Bill never had a bike, but the boys made race cars from crates and skate wheels. Their mother was a good cook and they particularly enjoyed her chicken and dumplings, though Bill recalled eating a lot of beans. Later he said, "I like beans." And, when Bill began drawing as a boy, he received encouragement from his parents and other family members.

All of his life Bill's favorite activities were drawing, reading and listening to classical music. He would go to the public library where he looked at the cartoons in newspapers and began trying to copy them. At that time the sports pages had drawings of the athletes rather than photographs and Bill would try to copy those also. Some parents would have disapproved of such artistic endeavors, but Bill's father brought home newsprint and big black pencils from work for him to draw with. Adam Teason was an amateur inventor, though he never applied for a patent for his inventions because he did not have the money to do so. However perhaps he recognized some creative spark in his son, as Bill always felt supported in his artistic activity by his family. Indeed, quite remarkably, all three boys had talent in art and went on to careers in the field. Jim, the oldest, worked all his life as an illustrator. Ken, the youngest brother, went into advertising; later in life he painted portraits.

Bill attended Northeast High School in Kansas City where Miss Mabel Newitt, the art teacher, encouraged him to work at and develop his natural ability. His gratitude to her was such that, years later, whenever he went back to Kansas City to visit family he would stop by to see Miss Newitt. Bill first wanted to be a cartoonist for Walt Disney. He even sent some samples of his work - action pictures of Donald Duck - to the Disney studio.

The responses he received indicated that he had talent and should go to art school. So while he was a good student and was on the swim team, he focused on his art. He was in the Art Club and worked on the yearbook along with a friend Bob Bonfils, who went on to a career in illustration. Mort Walker another friend from Northeast High School became a nationally known cartoonist for his Beetle Bailey cartoon series.

As president of the Art Club one year, Bill became acquainted with the Art Club secretary, Erma Coleman. Though he was a terribly shy young man, he managed to find the courage to ask Erma if he could sketch her. He would visit her at her home and do drawings, pastels, and even an oil painting of her. Her father must have liked him because he made Bill his very first easel. Sometimes Bill would take Erma to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art to look at the paintings. At that time, Bill said, they were just friends.

Bill graduated from high school in 1939. He received a scholarship from Scholastic Magazine to the Kansas City Art Institute and started there in the fall. There were only 23 winners from across the country. Two of them, Bill Teason and Bob Bonfils, were students of Miss Newitt at Northeast High School. One might have thought that Bill was all set to get the preparation he needed for a career in art. After three or four months though, he quit art school for a number of reasons. Those few months at the Art Institute were the only formal training Bill ever received. He got a job at an engraving company in Kansas City and did a series of stamps of famous places in Missouri such as the Ozarks and Hannibal. Less than a year later, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps where he served for four and a half years.

Bill had seen an article in The Saturday Evening Post about aerial photography and had decided that might be something he'd like to do. Only after enlisting did he discover that job required courses in science and probably some college. He was given the choice of going to school to learn to be a pilot, a navigator or a bombardier. He chose pilot and went to school to learn to fly; eventually he soloed but soon washed out of flight school. As he said, "It probably saved my life!" Bill went to gunnery school next, passed the course, and spent most of his army years in Kingman, Arizona.

Because of his background in art, he was assigned to Special Services and spent most of his time making posters and working in the library. He and a friend Phil Joy, who had worked for Walt Disney, painted a mural on the library walls of Bugs Bunny dressed up as an Army Air Corps soldier performing all the appropriate activities such as flying a plane. In his free time, Bill continued to draw cartoons that he sent out. Sometimes he would hike out into the desert and do some sketching or watercolors. In June of 1945, The National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. put on a show of "Soldier Art" from the "National Army Arts Contest." An oil painting of Bill's, "Refugees," was in that show and was included in a book by the same name. The painting was also hung in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Bill also kept up a correspondence with Erma Coleman, courting her with lengthy letters. They were married on March 4, 1944 in Kansas City on a furlough and went back to Kingman to live.

Bill's luck continued to hold when he was ordered to go to an air base in British Guiana (now Guyana) six months later. There were too many Special Service men in Kingman and many of them were sent overseas to fight and were killed. But a major at the base had some pull and had changed Bill's designation to Entertainment Director. It happened that they needed an Entertainment Director at the Air Transport Command Base in British Guiana. So Bill's wife went back to Kansas City and Bill flew to South America for the rest of his stay in the Army Air Corps. When Bill arrived in British Guiana he discovered that they wanted him to put on a show; unfortunately he knew nothing about entertainment. Bill said that he tried to think up "some gags and stage business but it was a disaster." Once more fate intervened. Bill developed an abscessed tooth and spent a month in the hospital, while an entertainment savvy soldier from New York City put on a show for the troops. When Bill got out of the hospital "they just ignored me," he said. He played tennis, went out canoeing into the jungle, sketched and painted watercolor and oil paintings.

After being discharged in 1945, he went back to Kansas City, said his goodbyes to family and headed to New York City with his wife. "I wanted to be an illustrator," he said, "and I knew that New York was the place to be for publishing, advertising and magazine illustration." Bill and Erma shared a bungalow in Sea Bright, New Jersey with Bill and Sylvia Griffin for that first summer. "The Two Bills" as Erma and Sylvia called them, had met in the service in Kingman. Bill Griffin was an aspiring costume designer who later had a career in the field. Bill Teason was an aspiring illustrator who took his sample case around to advertising agencies in NYC and before too long found a job at Sudler and Hennessey, an agency that had big accounts with pharmaceutical companies. He worked for $60 a week painting advertisements for drug companies such as Lederle Laboratories that were published in trade magazines for doctors.

After a brief stay in a studio apartment over a garage in Red Bank, New Jersey and the birth of a daughter, Bill and Erma moved to the Bronx. The two hour commute each way into the city was getting to be too much, so Bill found affordable housing in a development of Quonset huts built for veterans. Bill liked the work he was doing at Sudler and Hennessey and stayed there from 1945 to 1951. He made some life-long friends there; Jack Kunz who later went on to be an art editor at Graphis Magazine in Switzerland, Joe Rossi and Joe Lombardero. Though his formal art education had not lasted long, Bill learned a great deal at the agency from the other illustrators and from the art directors, Art Singer and Herb Lubalin. Bill said that Herb taught him to make "comps," the rough sketches of ideas for illustrations that are shown to clients.

After a number of years, Bill began to entertain thoughts of freelancing. A few of his friends had acquired agents and had gone off on their own. Bill and Erma were then living in Bergenfield, New Jersey. A friend who lived next door had carpentry skills and helped Bill fix up the attic, creating a studio, a bathroom/darkroom and a bedroom. Bill took the plunge in 1951, beginning his career as a freelance illustrator. By now he had two children and a wife to support but managed to find work, "I wanted to, so I took a chance and started freelancing," he said. "I don't regret it a bit and every time I have a paintbrush in my hand I feel very fortunate to have a career I love."

William I. Teason Timeline

(Written by William Teason - April 25th, 1983)

• Born, March 15, 1922, Kansas City, Missouri

• Scholarship to Kansas City Art Institute

• Served four and one quarter years in the U.S. Air Force

• Came to New York in 1976 - Started work at Sudler & Hennessey Art Studio

• Started freelancing in 1951-3 Advertising

• Started Agatha Christie covers for Dell Publications in 1956 which continued until 1990

• From 1956 to 1993 had done covers for other publication firms

• 1970 - won the "Raven" Award from the Mystery Writers Association of America for the cover to "Picture Miss Seeton"

• 1974 - Society of illustrators showed over 100 of the Agatha Christie covers

• 1975 - Taught "Life Drawing" at the Art Center of New Jersey

• Exhibited At the National Academy Annual show in 1972, 1973, 1974, 1977, 1978

• 1978 - Accepted in Silvermine Guild 29th Annual

• 1979 - Invited to Show a Painting (The Apprentice) at National Academy

• 1979 - "Young Juggler" Shown at Mater Eagle Gallery

• 1979 - "Young Juggler" won the "Hamilton King" Award for Best Painting done by a member of the Society of Illustrators

• 1981 - "The Clowns" was exhibited at the New York Historical Society's 20 Years of Award Winners

• 1981 - Group Show at Bergen County Museum

Member of the American Watercolor Society where he exhibited: 1971 - (2 Paintings)

1) "Elizabeth" Received the "Highwinds Award"

2) "Pears"

1972 - "Pears" 4 Bought by Miss Linda Danielson of San Francisco

1973 - "Bird People"

1974 - "The Juggler"

1975 - "Maria" 4 Won the "Mario Cooper" Award

1977 - "The Clowns"

1978 - "Young Juggler" won the "Lily Saportes" Award

1982 - "Tommy"

Entire website content and images copyright ©1956-2016 The William Teason Estate.