Dubbed one of the original “Mad Men,” Mac Conner made illustrations during the advertising boom of 1950’s.
That work is on display, along with artwork he produced for magazine editorials and woman’s fiction stories, in the new exhibition “Mac Conner: A New York Life,” at the Museum of the City of New York.
Born in Newport, N.J., Conner was drafted into the Navy and deployed to New York City in 1943, where he illustrated training materials.
After the war, Conner remained in the city, where he found illustration work. There was ample opportunity in advertising during the boom of the 1950s, when the city was flooded with over 600 ad agencies.
His work appeared frequently in The Saturday Evening Post as well as with women’s interest magazines including Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan, Collier’s and McCall’s.
Along with over 70 original artworks, visitors to the Museum of the City of New York can view advertisements Conner made for clients such as United Airlines and General Motors.
Conner worked in the classic idealistic-realist style associated with the advertising of the time. He notes Norman Rockwell as an influence.
The museum’s chief curator, Sarah Henry, says the images in the exhibition are an example of the way in which the media “shaped how America thought about itself,” at a rapidly changing time in the country’s history.
The inner workings of advertising are revealed through correspondences between the illustrator and art directors. Early drafts of Conner’s various advertising projects are also on display.
A fascinating component of the exhibition looks at the effect dark events such as the Cold War and the “delinquency crisis” of the ’50s had on the culture of the time.
The menacing noir-esque work produced by Conner during this period emerged alongside films such as Hitchcock’s “Dial M for Murder.”
In the late ’60s and early ’70s, as magazine illustration gave way to photography and advertising veered toward the television medium, Conner moved on to drawing covers for paperback fiction novels.
At the age of 100, he is still drawing today.