If you'd ask anyone in Whiting who is our most well-known artist, the answer would be the late Al Odlivak, whose works are exhibited all over town.
But Al did this as an avocation, not his job.
Recently, a "new" Whiting artist has been discovered. His name is Francis Kirn.
The late Kirn (1902-74) was an illustrator and commercial artist whose comic book work was international. His work graced the covers of Collier’s and St. Nicholas Children’s Magazine, among other publications.
About four months ago, David Dabertin and Brian Lowry "discovered" Kirn and have been busy researching his life and gathering examples of his work. Kirn lived on LaPorte Avenue and evidently when there was an estate sale, art collectors across the country came here to buy his drawings.
With that kind of national renown, it is a puzzlement that nobody here seems to have known the man. He graduated from Whiting High School. His aunt owned a beauty shop, and his uncle was the chief of police for the refinery in the 1930s, so it's not like his family wasn't prominent in our community.
When I brought up his name at a recent historical society meeting, there wasn't a person there who had heard of him.
But all that is about to change as Dabertin and Lowry will give a presentation on Kirn today at our Whiting-Robertsdale Historical Society meeting at noon at the Whiting Public Library, 1735 Oliver St. The public is invited.
And if you can't make today's meeting, then you're also invited to the opening reception of a show dedicated to Kirn's work at Studio 659, 1413 119th St.,which begins at 6:59 p.m. Friday.
As a working artist, Kirn turned to juvenile literature, inking the artwork for “Dick Donnelly, Paratrooper” and drafting images for the "Rip Raider" comic book during World War II.
After the war, he published volumes of nursery rhymes and bedtime stories and wrote and illustrated several series for kids. The popular Golden Books are similar to his style oin a series of earlier children's books called "Brownie Books."
Kirn created a series of Depression-era stories about a character named “Uncle Wiggily” into a nationally-syndicated comic strip. Uncle Wiggily was so popular worldwide that it was translated into French, Portuguese and Spanish.
His works are still sought today. You can find them on Amazon and on Ebay. I went on Ebay to see just examples of his work. Naturally I found a book of nursery rhymes that I had bought for my daughters at a garage sale. It was going for $100.
Sadly, three months ago I donated it in a box of goodies to AmVets which only goes to prove once more that one should never get rid of anything!
Brian told me that at the exhibit there will even been an original Kirn sketch with the finished project on display and that the more research they do, the more they find the scope of Kirn's work astounding.
Come scope it out yourself Friday evening and enjoy rediscovering Whiting's "newest" artist.