Sunday, February 24, 2013

My Interview With Jim Schaeffing



I had the privilege of doing a follow up interview for my blog with Jim Schaeffing. It was such a pleasure to hear first hand his journey in life and art. I found this 92 year old gentle soul ,charming, full of life and inspiring.
He shared with me his life story and I am honored to have the opportunity to put it in words.

Jim Schaeffing was born in 1920. From a young age he always had a fascination with art. As a child he would enter "draw me" contests in magazines. During high school Jim spoke of doing drawings on beer jackets for his classmates.

"Art was all I really knew.When I was in high school I drew and back then the popular thing was beer jackets. They were kind of a white canvas jacket you wore over a sweater or shirt. That was the time of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and the kids would want me to draw on their beer jackets."

After high school Jim went on to study at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh  Around the time when Jim was enrolled, America was in the boom of consumerism. Advertising was beginning to explode. The Art Institute was graduating students who would help design magazine ads and billboards that would entice buyers throughout the country.

While studying in Pittsburgh  Jim met his beloved wife, Becky. They would be married for 67 years.

In 1942, as was the case of most young men at this time, Jim enlisted in the Navy. He served at the Naval Air Station in Grosse lle Michigan. After three years he was shipped out to Saipan.  In Saipan, Jim sent home for paint and brushes. He made frames for canvas and did portraits for $150.00.  He recalls what happened to his profits one day, "I put the money in my locker and rushed to get chow. I left the locker open. When I returned, guess what...the money was gone."

He was discharged in 1945 and from there he went to Jepsons Art Institute in Los Angeles. He studied there for three years.

During this time, Jim remembers visiting his wife's uncle in San Fernando Valley. They went there on weekends.  "Her uncle had a large workshop and we built some of our furniture there. It was junky early American style."

At the end of his studies at Jepsons, he took his sample case and he and Becky headed for New York City. He got a job at a small studio, found a basement apartment in New Rochelle, NY and had their first child, Jim Junior.

Through a friend of his, Jim landed an interview with the prestigious Charles E. Cooper Studios. For more information on Cooper Studios visit http://www.atmanart.org/html/charles_e__cooper_studio.html.


When I asked him for details of the interview process he modestly said, "Nothing unusual about the interview. Showed my samples, talked a little. Went back to the other studio and quit." I imagine it wouldn't have been that easy for those with less talent.

I asked Jim about his time at Cooper. He recalled, "Each artist had their own room. The salesman would give you a job, you would pick a model, book your time and shoot your pictures."


Jim did commercial ads and illustrations while at Cooper Studios. He worked with artists Joe De Mers, Coby Whitmore, Jon Whitcomb and Joe Boeler, amoung others. He continued working at Cooper for a few years.

Cooper Studio Ads from Leif Peng
Magazine Article Illustrated By Jim Schaeffing

By this time Jim and Becky had three children, Jim Junior, Karen and Mark. Most of Becky's family was located in the Los Angeles area and they decided to move back west. Jim fondly recalls, "We purchased an old Chrysler Station Wagon, loaded up the three kids with a mattress in the back and set out west. We bought little toys and games for the children to give for each state we crossed. I remember Becky would wash our clothes in the hotel room sink and then hang them out the car window to dry."

Upon arriving in California they found a house in the San Fernando Valley and a studio in Beverly Hills. His landlord was none other than actress Janet Gaynor.

Jim kept busy doing freelance work, until one day he ran into a former art student who was in motion pictures. He told Jim about his job and intrigued, Jim joined the union. He soon landed a job with Disney Studios. The first movie he worked on at Disney was "Darby O Gill and The Little People" starring Janet Munro and Sean Connery.

Jim shares a story with me about meeting Walt Disney. "After working several weeks , my sketches were ready for Disney to approve or disapprove. He walked in the door and after good mornings, the producer said, "We have a new sketch artist." He introduced me and I shook his hand and said, "Nice meeting you Mr. Disney." He looked at me and said, "My name is Walt."

Jim spoke of how fun it was walking the empty back lots of the studios. "The Westerns made you feel you were a cowboy, the castles from Camelot made you feel like a knight".

While at Disney he did portraits as well. He did a portrait of  Haley Mills and Roy Disney Jr.'s three children, among others.

When things slowed down at Disney, Jim found work with other studios. With Warner Brothers he worked on Jerry Lewis' "Which Way To The Front" and "Three On A Couch". For Twentieth Century Fox he worked on "Mad Mad World".

One day he ran into actress Tippi Hedren from "The Birds" and he asked her if he could do her portrait. He had known her from his time in New York City, she was a model back then.

Magazine Article Tippi Hedren Illustrated By Jim Schaeffing

When things picked up, he was back at Disney and began working on "Son of Flubber" and "Mary Poppins". Jim spoke of how his job included doing scene studies. The artwork helped to visualize the sets for the films.




Scene Studies for Mary Poppins By Jim Schaeffing

One wonderful story he spoke of was for "Mary Poppins", "While working on Mary Poppins I did the chalk drawings on the sidewalk that Dick, Julie and the children jump into. I remember the workman brought each one of those large cement slabs (18"x 30") up to my studio to do in chalks. I was really excited thinking my work would be seen on screen. Lots of fun working in show business."

Sidewalk Chalk Scene with Jim Schaeffing's Art

On display at the Golden Horseshoe Saloon at Disneyland in California is one of Jim's paintings. He remembers in great detail his interaction with Walt.

"If you go into the Golden Horse Shoe at Disney Land in Anaheim, you will find this painting hung from behind the bar. While working for Disney Studio’s, I was asked to paint this by Walt Disney.
The funny story is that one morning I got a call from Walt’s secretary telling me that Walt wanted to see me. The first thing I thought was “oh hell what did I do now?” Approaching Walt’s office his secretary said to me “go right in”. So in I go and he’s sitting there with my painting.
Remember, the painting was supposed to be an old style nude from the old West around the 1800’s. He looks at me and smiles and says “Jim, this is a great painting but could you cover the top a little bit” and he points to the bare breasts!
I gave a sigh of relief, smiled and said sure and took the picture and walked out and that’s what you see hanging today…that is after I put more clothes on her!"

Jim Schaeffing with his painting at the Golden Horseshoe Saloon

Upon further research, I discovered this painting was used for the movie "Summer Magic" featuring Haley Mills, Dorothy McGuire and Burl Ives.


Movie scenes with Jim Schaeffing's painting
Photos from jansworld.net


After Disney, Jim worked for Los Angeles Water and Power. There he did slides and training films. He worked for them for 19 years.

He also did work for the US Air Force as a member of the Society of Illustrators Club in the fifties. Jim recalls how the Air Force would fly groups of artists to different bases around the world to paint. He was flown to Elgin Air Force Base in Florida. There he remembers receiving first class treatment and painting the workings of the base. In return he gave two paintings to the Air Force. To his knowledge, they are still hanging somewhere in the academy or in storage.

He spoke of his interest in Native American Culture and the many little trips he took to Pow Wows in Montana and Window Rock.

Warrior of the Fox Society By Jim Schaeffing

Jim sold some of his Native American works to Coca Cola and Willard Marriott. One of his pieces hangs in the Navajo Room at the Scottsdale Camelback Marriott.

As with most artists, Jim Schaeffing spoke of recognition of his latest works, rather than his past. In his years of painting he has developed superb skills. He has attended workshops with portrait artist Raymond Kinsler. His favorite subjects, most recently, are of water scenes and landscapes.




Most recent works by Jim Schaeffing


I was amazed at Jim's vitality and sharp wit. In his nineties, he continues to paint every other day. his favorite medium is oil, as he finds it easiest to work with and manipulate.

When I asked him which artists he admires, he replied, "Howard Terpning, Richard Schmid and Clark Hulings."

He lovingly spoke of his wife and how she was his biggest supporter. Becky's family were musicians and her mother gave Jim a few piano lessons. He spoke of how he plays on his little keyboard.

He tells me he has always been a pretty private person. He recalls his days while working at the film studios and how he and Becky would do sidewalk shows. He spoke of how he always had a hard time promoting himself. He said "I figure if they want to know something, they'll ask me."

When asked what he thought of the visual world now and the internet , he spoke candidly.
Jim just recently set up a Face Book page with encouragement from his step grandson Travis. You can check it out at this web address https://www.facebook.com/jim.schaeffing.
He mentions how curious he is to see what comments have been made about his paintings. But admits he is not keen on giving his comments on every topic, or spending much time on the computer. Jokingly, Jim says he is amazed at how everyone seems to have an opinion on everything in the Face Book world.

Sadly, he spoke of his wife's passing in 2010. They were married 67 years. I believe his extraordinary loving relationship with Becky came through in his artwork. His illustrations of couples have a warmth and intimacy that seem to jump right off the paper and touch the soul.






Artwork by Jim Schaeffing 


Jim Schaeffing now resides with his daughter and her husband in San Jose, California. It is here that he continues to paint, play piano, and golf. He enjoy's spending time with  his family. His three children Jim Jr., Mark and Karen. His grand children Tiffany, Ashley and Brett. And his great grandchild Evan. He mentions he has another great grand child on the way.

Most Recent Photo of Jim Schaeffing

I would like to thank Jim Schaeffing and his family for the help and support they have given me during this process.






Rachel Davies Google+ January 25th, 2013

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1 comments:

Bob McLeod said...

Thanks so much for this great interview. It's great to see Schaeffing's recent landscapes, and read about his great career.

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Author: Rachel Davies

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