Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site


From 1917 to 1940, nearly every issue of The Christian Science Monitor carried a drawing by Dwight Sturges. He began his career in 1895 as a sketch artist for the Boston Globe, accompanying reporters on assignment and illustrating their stories. His real strength, however, lay in portraiture, where his bold lines probed the character of such subjects as Calvin Coolidge (who sat for him in 1925), Abraham Lincoln, and Henry David Thoreau. His etchings also won him nationwide acclaim. But he was equally adept at the smaller designs so necessary in daily journalism -- one of which, his sundial sketch, marked a familiar daily feature for a number of years. Nowadays, as newspapers emphasize photography and reserve drawing either for cartoons or for explanatory diagrams, we thought readers might like to be reminded of the power and grace once conveyed in strong portrait drawing. ``I lose interest in people below the neck.''

Dwight Sturges told me that during one of our frequent discussions on illustration and life drawing.

About these ads

He was the person of his art: His work was simply an effortless extension of his being, so everything he did had the quality of goodness and respect, and there was never anything unpleasant. He gave enormous disregard to abstract or ``modern'' art -- without actually condemning it. The connection between his thinking and his pencil was electric. He often said he wished he could draw as well as he could think. And just as often he would discard an almost completed drawing and start over rather than constrict himself with meticulous corrections.

He was a big man. As big as he was good. When he walked through the Monitor news room it created a sort of tidal wave. The Monitor's first editorial cartoons, which appeared at infrequent intervals, were from Dwight Sturges's pen. They were not strong political comment, because politics and Sturges were worlds apart. Politics, to him, was composed of rogues and scalawags. His absorbing interest in drawing any political figure was in the character of their faces: One might say that a politician was inevitably transformed into a statesman through the craft of Dwight Sturges.

He never drove a car, but using my Ford roadster, we often ate lunch at Durgin-Park or the Union Oyster House, which were then, as now, popular places to eat in Boston. His favorite food was a casserole of scalloped oysters. When the waitress brought them he would glance up at her from under shaggy brows and say laconically, ``I want an order of scalloped oysters.'' In confusion, she would say, ``These are scalloped oysters.'' To which he would then sweetly reply, ``My dear, you didn't understand what I said -- or is this the last batch you've got in the kitchen?'' Thus another order would appear just as he finished the first one.

Sturges disliked using a new penpoint -- a necessity that for him came all too often. When forced to take on a new point, he would spear it into the drawing board mercilessly half a dozen times before he felt it met the test of serving his vigorous talent. He was also an etcher of some reputation, and he did a lot of work at home, where he had plates, a press, and above all an understanding wife.

Many misunderstood these long hours of work as a compulsive burden. It was actually a joy and a release. Going to bed around 9 o'clock (there was no television), he would sleep until some time after midnight, then get up, cook himself an oyster stew, and work on an etching, lithograph, or pen drawing until nearly dawn. Then he would nap awhile before coming to work in a taxi at first light. When this pattern of working and sleeping demanded a short nap at his desk, he would pull his perpetual green eyeshade low on his brow, take pencil in hand, and sit posed over his drawing board -- in the belief that those entering his office would think he was deep in thought. All the office workers, however, knew this habit and respected it: After all, it lasted only about 10 minutes.

Everyone who knew Dwight Sturges was richer for knowing him. He literally had no enemies. He's always close in my memory because he taught me so much about drawing. But he taught me even more about the brotherhood of man.

Guernsey LePelley was the Monitor's editorial cartoonist from 1961 to 1981. 30{et

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.