This archived article was written by: Ashley Stilson
Feathers, frills and frisky dancing are trademarks of the 1920s, and no one could portray that aura more than magazine illustrator John Held Jr. Now in 2013, Noel Carmack is armed with research and reminiscences to convey to the public the history of the famed Roaring 20s illustrator.
The Salt Lake City Library came across an article published by Carmack called “Before the Flapper: the Utah Beginnings of John Held Jr.” Intrigued, they contacted him to present his research at an event on November 16 at the SLC Library.
“We are thrilled that you have agreed to come share your knowledge of John Held Jr. with the library community as part of our Big Read project showcasing The Great Gatsby,” Cherie Willis, librarian of the SLC Library said in an email to Carmack.
Using slideshows, photographs and Held’s cover art, Carmack will again present Held’s whimsical work. He has presented his research on Held before, but now he will gear his work towards families and library patrons. “It’s work,” he said when speaking of his research. “You have to dig for the facts.”
The life of John Held Jr. started in Utah. He was born in Utah in the early 1900s and lived there until he moved to New York a decade later. Searching for better work and education as an artist, Held connected with the right people and started doing cover art for popular magazines such as Life and Judge. His illustrations portray the important icons of the Roaring 20s, including works on the flapper girl.
Carmack has always had an interest in Utahan artists. When he found out about John Held Jr., he was immediately drawn to him. Carmack began his research while he was working in special collections in Logan. He ordered microfilms of Held’s reminiscences from the Held Collection at the Smithsonian archives.
“I was very interested in the fact that he was significant in visualizing the Jazz Age,” Carmack said. “He’s associated with big names in literary and social history of the United States.” Held’s characters are upbeat and fanciful, bringing a bright and merry mood to the 1920s age.
Held varied his mediums from watercolors to oil to woodblock prints. Though Carmack doesn’t have one favorite piece of art, he enjoys Held’s technique with woodblocks. “They’re black and white and I’m drawn more to those,” he said.
Even after the stock market crash, Held continued to create art. He began to lose his fame in the 40s, but the loss didn’t affect his painting. He even began to get into sculpting and exploring new methods.
Despite the fact that many people no longer remember Held’s name, Carmack insists Held was a celebrity in his time. “His impact on our visual culture in the 20s and how we visualize the young people of that age is significant,” Carmack said. “More than anyone I think John Held Jr. impressed the visual part of that age.”
“I enjoyed doing it,” Carmack remarked. “It was a pastime, something I enjoyed doing, researching artists and the visual culture of Utah.”