A whimsical oil on canvas by long time Cream of Wheat illustrator Edward Vincent Brewer created for their 1918 advertising. In “Opening The Case” Brewer’s own children are seen cheerfully posed around the chef as he opens a new case of Cream of Wheat. This image is a timeless and rich piece of Americana from the archives of the Cream of Wheat advertising vaults, and has never been publicly offered for sale. By far one of the most idyllic and tender artworks in the collection. Recently cleaned, this new to the market artwork is in pristine archived and nicely framed condition.
Each original piece of artwork used in Cream of Wheat advertising was carefully stored and archived at the Cream of Wheat headquarters in northeast Minneapolis. The unusual care taken to protect this thorough, well-maintained archive is testament to the foresight of Emery Mapes, who presided over the Cream of Wheat advertising campaign. Most advertising illustration in the early 20th century was considered expendable, and was quickly destroyed, lost or thrown away. Mapes insisted upon treating the art as art, and employed the finest talents working as illustrators to help developed Cream of Wheat’s folksy nostalgic iconography. Counted among the artists Mapes recruited are N.C. Wyeth, Jessie Willcox Smith, Phillip Goodwin, J.C. Leyendecker, James Montgomery Flagg and Edward V. Brewer. With the help of this stable of talent, the Cream of Wheat advertising campaign came to define some of the most enduring visions of American hearth and home.
The advertising also created one of the most recognizable, storied, and controversial fictional personalities in American history; Rastus the Chef. Based upon a photograph of African American chef Frank White, Rastus presided over Cream of Wheat boxes and appeared in the company’s color advertising campaign from much of the 20th century. His face was often presented as a photo element within the artwork so as to brand a single image of the iconic character. This photo element would be applied to the canvas and painted over and colored as needed by the artist. After the urging of the NAACP Cream of Wheat abandoned the name Rastus (one of many derogatory names used as racial slurs in the late 19th/early 20th century), but the chef remained an integral part of the brand. Always shown smiling, benevolent, and offering comfort, the chef presents an idyllic view of traditional America. This America holds a pre-industrial sense of the bounty of the heartland and also many of the racial tensions inherent to this agrarian image of America. The tension between the sometimes uncomfortable depictions of the Chef and the incredibly poignant nostalgic visions of a timeless America only adds to the historic significance of this uniquely American art.