Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Poultry art

Jersey Giants, A.O. Schilling 1948
Back in the 1920s, the Poultry Tribune’s publisher decided to commission oil paintings of important poultry breeds. He selected the three best poultry artists and honored the paintings with gold frames. Today, those 72 paintings, produced between 1928 and 1952, are carefully preserved by the now global publishing company. They include 57 of chickens, two of geese, five of turkeys, six of ducks and two of chicks and ducklings. They’re seldom seen, though.
Bourbon Red Turkeys, L.A. Stahmer
Only four are on display, at Watt Global Media’s corporate headquarters in Rockford, Illinois: Rhode Island Reds and Lamonas, both painted by A. O. Schilling in 1941; Old English Games by Schilling in 1946; and S.C. Black Leghorns, by F. L. Sewell in 1946. The rest, some painted by L.A. Stahmer, are carefully packed away. They are safe and secure and locked up.

The complete collection has never been on display, although 18 were exhibited in 2011 at the Rockford Art Museum. Watt associate editor Andrea Gantz arranged that exhibit through connections she had made when she worked at the museum while she was in college. Her major in English and writing and her interest in chickens served her well as a copywriter for Farm & Fleet for four years before joining Watt in 2010. Current CEO Greg Watt, great-grandson of founder J.W. Watt, approached her to organize the exhibit, Hatching History.

“I chose the prettiest ones,” she said. “I picked my favorite breeds.” She chose:

Old English Game
A.O. Schilling (1946)

S.C. Brown Leghorn
F.L. Sewell (1947)

Buff Laced Polish
A.O. Schilling (1928)

White Leghorn
A.O. Schilling (1942)

Barred Plymouth Rock
A.O. Schilling (1930)

New Hampshire Barred Rock Cross
A.O. Schilling (1942)

Buff Orpington
A.O. Schilling (1931)

A.O. Schilling (1941)

Golden Sebright
L. Stahmer  (1929)

Light Sussex
L. Stahmer  (1931)

Silver Campine
L. Stahmer  (1930)

Golden Laced Wyandotte
L. Stahmer  (1929)

Golden Spangled Hamberg
L. Stahmer  (1926)

White Jersey Giant
L. Stahmer  (1931)

R.C. Rhode Island Red
L. Stahmer  (1928)

White Holland
A.O. Schilling (1950)

Dark Cornish
F.L. Sewell (1945)

S.C. Ancona
A.O. Schilling (1947)

The museum promoted the exhibit with a “Guess the Breed” contest, posting individual paintings with clues to invite people to guess. Backyard Poultry readers will easily know which breed is the official state bird of the 13th state! Exhibiting works by all three artists together allows the viewer to appreciate the differences among the artists as well as the beauty of the birds.

From a printing company to global media

The company got its start when 18-year-old J.W. Watt, a Scot from the Orkney Islands, came to America to seek his fortune. He arrived in Chicago in 1907 and learned the print trade. As he became more expert, he went to work for the Kable Brothers, becoming foreman of the composing room in their Mount Morris, Illinois printing plant, south of Chicago. The Poultry Tribune was printed at Kable Printing, which was how J.W. learned that it was struggling to survive. Convinced he could make a success of it, J.W. and a partner bought it. They hired editors who knew about poultry to handle the content and sales people who knew how to reach their audience.

The magazine prospered, even through the Great Depression of the 1930s, selling mainly on newsstands. It reached 100,000 in circulation, dominating the poultry sector. Watt’s employees became experts in the poultry business. The company operated its own research farm until the mid-1940s. Executives were required to work on the farm.

“They had to sex chicks and do all kinds of work,” said Greg. “They got their hands dirty.”

During those years, J.W. commissioned these oil paintings. He converted the paintings to breed pictures and used one each month in the pages of Poultry Tribune, the Chicken of Tomorrow.

“They were like pinups,” said Charles Olentine, former publisher for Watt Global Media’s poultry publications from 1987-2004. “J.W. had a commitment to the poultry industry.”

During the first half of the 20th century, poultry production was a small flock enterprise, with many breeds popular with farmers and consumers. Many poultry magazines competed for their interest. The Poultry Item, American Poultry Advocate, Commercial Poultry, were all filled with advertisements for breeding stock of a myriad of breeds.

“Back then, business meant going out to the farm level,” said Olentine.

As the poultry industry changed, Watt Global Media moved beyond the Poultry Tribune. Its publications now focus on business-to-business interests: Poultry USA, Poultry International, Egg Industry Technology, Watt Executive Guide to World Poultry, and Spanish and Chinese editions. The poultry and the publishing worlds have changed since J.W. learned the printing business.

“We have outlasted virtually all the publishers who have tried to make a go of it in the poultry industry,” said James Watt, grandson of J.W. and retired company executive. “We do have a worldwide footprint.”

2017 will mark the 100th anniversary of the company, still owned by the Watt family members. Few family businesses succeed into the fourth generation. The artworks will be part of commemorating that achievement. CEO Greg Watt is putting plans together.

“We will have a big celebration,” he said. “We have a very rich history.”

The paintings reflect the history of both the poultry breeds and the art. Jim and Greg Watt are determined to keep the collection together, despite occasional offers to purchase one or more of the paintings. A few have been shown at poultry shows, such as the Ohio National in 1998. The portrait of the Single Comb Blue Andalusian will grace the cover of the Poultry Science Association’s Journal of Applied Poultry Research in 2014. For these paintings to be available to the public to enjoy, they need a museum or gallery to be on permanent display.

“They are all wrapped up in paper in an office at Watt,” said Ms. Gantz. “It’s a shame to keep them tucked away.”

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