Any Town USA

easton hse stevan dohanos paints red cross poster 1948 (1)

In this writer’s opinion, one of the greatest American illustrators of the 20th century was Stevan Dohanos, creator of over 125 Saturday Evening Post covers in the 1940’s and 50’s. Dohanos was born in Lorain, Ohio, but settled with his family in Westport after WWII.  Fairfield County locations were often used in Dohanos’ work. Easton was no exception, with the Congregational Church on the corner of Westport & Center Roads being used more than once. By his own account, his pictures told a story, featuring scenes out of “Anytown, USA”, with “Anytown” occasionally being our own Easton.

The 1948 American Red Cross commissioned poster shown in this article has more than once been slightly mischaracterized as being a composite of several Easton buildings including the church and an unidentified “general store.” That description is only partially correct. The church is indeed Easton’s Congregational Church, although those of us who are familiar with that structure will note Dohanos has exercised a bit of “artistic license” by adding a clock, a vent in the front façade and the elimination of some of the front windows.

Quoted below from a newspaper article from his hometown paper, The Lorain Journal dated February 6, 1948:

“The story of how he came to paint the poster was told by Dohanos himself, in an interview at his Connecticut home.

Dohanos began working on sketches for the poster early last fall (1947) in his studio in Westport, Conn. The suggestion had been to show a Red Cross worker extending help in time of disaster.

He had chosen a young woman worker from a neighboring Red Cross chapter, had photographs made of her against a background of destruction, sheltering a child in her arms and it was from these photographs that he was working.

But his artist’s mind kept searching for a simpler theme which would better represent the Red Cross as a basic part of American life.

In an old notebook filled with impressions of a sketching tour thru Pennsylvania several years before, he found one particular sketch which stood out in his memory.

On a street corner in the industrial town of Conshohocken near Philadelphia he had been struck by the symbolism of two flags, American and Red Cross, unfurled from the height of a lamp post.

This sketch was the starting point for a strong and simple poster chosen almost instantaneously from those submitted to the Red Cross.

At first Dohanos thought the lamp post and flags should stand alone against a plain background. But then he realized that “America” should be sketched in to give the touch of Main Street detail.

Thus the resulting poster gives a sum total of Americana, the gingerbread eaves and the quaint but homely cupola, the circling pigeons, the spire of the church and the squat water tower of a small industrial plant.

The hands of the clock on the church tower which point to seven after 11 suggest a mood and time of day and the flags suggest the whole way of life.”

The accompanying photograph in that article clearly shows the Easton, Connecticut church, with the caption below it describing the location as Aspetuc (sic) Corners, Conn.

easton hse stevan dohanos paints red cross poster 1948 (1)

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