Cardwell Higgins

1902-1983

Above: Cardwell Higgins at work in studio c. 1942 on All America's Clicking

One of the most prolific yet unheralded American pulp, advertising, and pin up illustrators of the 20th century, Cardwell Higgins is admired for his inventive and provocative spicy pulp covers for depression-era Spicy Pulp titles such as "Silk Stockings" and "Expose Detective".

Unlike Enoch Bolles, whose name has become synonymous only with his incandescent and often bizarre "Film Fun" magazine beauties, Cardwell Higgins created a wide ranging body of work, which spanned genres, styles, and generations of trends. Less is known about his life than some of his contemporaries, but his career speaks volumes about his genius.

Above: One of Higgins' iconic spicy pulp beauties

Born in East Orange, NJ in 1902, Higgins entered the prestigious National Academy of Design at 18. Admittance into the Academy was the highest mark of honor that could be bestowed upon a young illustrator, but in the early 20th century, many students were chafing under the institutions rigid approach to art. Higgins soon moved his studies to the more progressive Art Students League, where he was taught by giants of illustration like George Bridgeman, Harvey Dunn, and Dean Cornwell. Bridgeman, who revolutionized anatomical drawing, was most influential on Higgins, whose talents as a female figure illustrator were in constant demand.

An avid student of contemporary illustrators, such as Rockwell Kent and J.C. Leyendecker, the influence these groundbreaking artists had on the early work of Higgins is apparent in the two examples below.

Above: J.C. Leyendecker inspired illustration

Above: Early Rockwell Kent inspired Christmas card etching by the artist

Higgins utilized different styles and worked in many different mediums, creating art deco avant-garde masks in the vein of W.T. Benda.

Above: An art deco sculptural mask by Higgins

Upon graduation from the Art Students League, Higgins briefly took a post at New York's Walker Engraving company. In the late 1920s, he moved out to California, and worked alongside luminaries Alberto Vargas, Henry Clive, and Tony Sarg as an illustrator for Paramount Pictures. There his creations included stylized portraits of Florence Vidor and Gloria Swanson used in the film companies exhibitor books and poster advertising campaigns.

Above: An early Paramount Pictures illustration by the artist, for sale at Grapefruit Moon Gallery

Above: An early example of the artist's work, from Paramount Pictures

After honing his unique style at Paramount, Higgins returned home to the East Coast in the early 1930s, where he entered into the most productive period in his long career. From 1931-1942, Higgins created hundreds if not thousands of published illustrations. Scandalous nude pin-up covers for the spicy pulps, patriotic war imagery and advertising for the New York World's Fair of 1939.

Above: New York Worlds Fair illustration

Above: Higgins was as celebrated a graphic designer as pin-up artist

His industrial illustrations, though less remembered than his pin-up beauties, capture the streamlined machine age aesthetic of the 1930s perfectly. His trophy design patent photograph shown below in particular captures the allure of aerospace rocketeering in the industrial 1930s.

Above: A logo rendering for patented rocket

Foremost, Higgins' talents shone in his pulp covers. The leggy beauties could be seen month after month on newsstands across the US and they always evoked jazz age boldness and modernity. The women are sexually defiant and brazen in a way lacking in the damsel in distress artwork that predominated the pulps. In one of Higgins' finest illustrations, a red lipped vixen is seen brandishing a gleaming knife, turning the woman in peril theme on its head. The fun he had creating these counter cultural and scandalous scenes permeates the artworks themselves. Several of these important works are currently available for sale at Grapefruit Moon Gallery.

Above: Expose Detective spicy pulp cover, artwork available on Grapefruit Moon Gallery

Above: Lurid spicy pulp cover

Above: Stocking Parade pulp cover by Higgins

Above: In the 1940s Higgins created these surrealist inspired digest covers

Higgins' pin-ups could be as wholesome as they could be lurid. The advertising campaign he created for Coney Island's Palisades Park centered around a bathing beauty who created a new ideal for the generation of young, fresh faced moderns who came to New York City in the early 20th century. The photograph from the artist's collection which shows the billboard splashed high above Times Square captures the near universal appeal of Cardwell Higgins illustrations.

Above: Palisades Park Billboard in Times Square

Higgins' girls, in various states of undress and provocativeness, were the basis of advertising campaigns promoting everything from Zip Hair Remover, Adola Brassieres to No-Strip Tar and Asphalt.

Above: Boundary pushing pin up advertisement for Nostrip

Above: Adola Brassieres ad, similar artwork available for sale

As America entered World War II, Higgins turned his talent to the war effort. By this time a seasoned art instructor, he taught camouflage design for the army corps of engineers, created patriotic murals, and illustrated one of the most powerful home front images of the war with his USO sponsored "All America's Clicking, Knit a Sweater for a Soldier" poster.

Above: All America's Clicking USO WWII Billboard

After the war, Higgins settled into a quieter pace, turning most of his attention to teaching, and acting as an freelance art director. His imagery remained ubiquitous, as his work for Eastern Airlines creating their DC-3 logo, could be seen above the skies of the United States for decades.

Above: DC-3 logos for Eastern Airlines by Higgins

Like many other established artists, upon his semi-retirement in 1967, he continued to work as a private portraitist. Living in Hollywood Florida, he struck up a close friendship with noted art historian and collector Charles Martignette, who carefully kept an archive of Higgins career, and inherited the artist's personal portfolios (from which many of the details in this biography are culled). In 1979 the two collaborated to create a limited edition series of lithographs based upon some of Higgins' earliest work--pen & ink art deco illustrations, strongly reminiscent of Aubrey Beardsley, or Harry Clarke's works for Edgar Allan Poe novels. After Cardwell Higgins' death in 1983, Martignette organized a gallery retrospective of the artist's work, which showed in his adopted home of Hollywood Florida. We feel fortunate to have acquired many of Higgins' previously unseen original artworks through the estate of Charles Martignette, as well as to have the opportunity to provide this detailed look at the life of a man about which previously little was known.

Above: Cardwell Higgins funeral card

Above: Advertising for limited edition lithographs produced by Higgins and Charles Martignette
 

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