Don Crowley: "Cooper gave me what I needed: he gave me work."

When Don and B.J. arrived in New York in 1953, Don's first job was in a studio near the New York Public Library. When we spoke on the phone about those days Don said, "I don't even remember the name of the place... but I used to go sit on the library steps at noon and think about jumping out into traffic." He chuckled at the memory of his youthful despair.


"I think I was there for a month and he never gave me a job at all. It was just horrible." Don had been hired for $75 a week because the studio owner liked his portfolio and was willing to give him a desk to sit at. "Unfortunately," says Don, "the place just wasn't all that busy. I did a couple of samples not really knowing what he wanted or what I was to do." 

"Time Pieces" by Don Crowley, 1953

Meanwhile, one of Don's friends from Art Center, Ben Wholberg, had secured a spot at the much renowned Charles E. Cooper studio...


Don said, "About that time Mr. Cooper came up with the idea of doing some still life samples to try and get some ads for grocery stores and things like that because illustration was slowing down."


Don had shown Cooper his portfolio when he first arrived in New York ("Cooper's was my first stop," he said)... but Chuck had not been interested at that time. Now he had Ben Wholberg call Don to say he'd like to see his book again.


"That was really fortunate," Don said. "So I went back and he did hire me - for $50 dollars a week."

"So I went to work right away... and worked diligently, night and day, and did whatever they asked me to."  When I asked about his willingness to take such a drastic pay cut Don said, "It didn't make any difference.  Not a bit.  Because Cooper gave me what I needed:  he gave me work."


Within a month or two, with his work selling well, Don was able to move up from the weekly studio artist starter's salary to the more lucrative freelancer's arrangement of spitting project commissions 50/50 with the studio. "They had six or seven salesmen and they kept me pretty busy," said Don. "They had a much larger range of contacts and places to go." 


"I worked at Cooper's for about seven years and things went really quite well most of those years."


Continued tomorrow...

* Most of today's images are from the Greenwich Workshop Press book, "Desert Dreams" by Don Hegpeth and Don Crowley © 2003

* Thanks to Piper Hobbs for the 1953 Cooper Exhibit brochure that appears in today's post.  The photos of Don Crowley and Ben Wohlberg are taken from that brochure.  ("Time Pieces", shown near the top of today's post, was Don's entry in the Cooper Studio Exhibit)

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