William Heaslip

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William Heaslip
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Toronto, Ontario
Died1970(1970-00-00) (aged 71–72)
CitizenshipUnited States Of America
Alma materNational Academy of Design in New York City

William Heaslip (1898-1970) was born in Toronto, Ontario to Irish immigrants. He began his training as an artist at the London Industrial and Art School (Ontario). There, he was mentored by one of the teachers, David Wilkie, a practicing artist and landscape painter from England who passed on his classical British training to students.

In response to the hostilities of WWI, William Heaslip traveled to Toronto and enlisted in the Royal Flying Corps in the fall of 1917. He served just one year and 99 days, a short period of time but one which left an indelible mark. Back in London City, Heaslip reestablished contact with David Wilkie who made the financial and administrative arrangements for his former student to study at the National Academy of Design in New York City. There, he studied under Russian-born Ivan Olinsky, a sought-after painter of portraits, landscapes, and murals. Heaslip excelled at his work and was soon recognized for his abilities with the coveted Suydam Medal (Silver) for Drawing from Life.[1]

Heaslip left the Academy after a year and signed up for a course in Life and Pictorial Composition taught by John Sloan (1871-1951) at the Art Students League. He also took a course on Illustration and Composition taught by Wallace Morgan,[2] an alumnus of the National Academy, former newspaper artist at the New York Herald, and official artist of the American Expeditionary Forces during WWI. In 1921, Heaslip began his professional career and opened up his own business at the Holbein Studio Building in midtown Manhattan.

His early illustrations were for American Legion Monthly but he would continue with other publications such as the Saturday Evening Post, Boys’ Life, and American Boy magazines. The subject matter was almost always aviation-related. William Heaslip’s reputation among his peers was established in 1929 with the publication of his series of highly innovative and colorful ads done for the Berry Brothers varnish company of Detroit, Michigan. Featuring popular aircraft of the day painted in bird plumage color patterns, the ads were published in America’s prestigious aviation magazines.

In 1931, William Heaslip became consulting art editor of Sportsman Pilot, a magazine appealing to high-society men and women pilots or aviation aficionados who still had money to support their expensive hobby. During his seven-year stewardship, Heaslip applied his prodigious talents to making Sportsman Pilot one of the finest magazines serving aviation. In the mid-1930s, he found time to do a series of illustrations for Heinz, in a promotion targeting air minded youth. Trading cards of famous airplanes meticulously rendered by the artist were designed to be collected from boxes of Heinz Rice Flakes and Breakfast Wheat and assembled in a Modern Aviation album.

William Heaslip also became a prolific printmaker after studying intaglio printing with Frank Nankivell. He contributed a number of prints to Associated American Artists (AAA) which marketed prints at affordable prices to the average American collector. He also entered five prints into the International Aeronautical Art Exhibition[3] and won the J.W. Robinson trophy. In 1939, his print Airport was selected by Thomas Craven for inclusion in A Treasury of American Prints: A Selection of One Hundred Etchings and Lithographs by the Foremost Living American Artists. William Heaslip was a member of the Society of American Etchers under the leadership of renowned printmaker John Taylor Arms who asked Heaslip to demonstrate the process of etching and aquatint at the New York World’s Fair of 1939-40.[4]

Within weeks of the beginning of World War II in 1939, William Heaslip was illustrating recent major events for the New York Times Sunday Rotogravure Magazine. This relationship continued until several months after America’s entry into the war as Heaslip began a four-year relationship with Coca-Cola in what became their most effective promotion of the war. For that campaign, Snyder & Black, an advertising agency that specialized in the creation of point-of-sale display material, was responsible for producing a series of cardboard airplane cards with string hangers, featuring American’s arsenal of military and naval aircraft. Heaslip was responsible for Hanger Card Sets 2 – 4 which were distributed to military bases, retail establishments, and even hospitals all over the country. Heaslip continued to do illustrations promoting manpower and mobilization including a series of “Give Us More…” posters for every major military aircraft in the U.S. Army Air Forces inventory.

Illustrative opportunities dwindled after war’s end but Heaslip adapted quickly by teaching art classes, refurbishing a community church in honor of his wife, and going off on jaunts with his close artist friends to paint whatever caught their eye. In 1969, he was diagnosed with a terminal illness which inspired him to visit his many friends on a round-the-world trip accompanied by his daughter, Judy, a registered nurse. William John Heaslip passed away in 1970.

Heaslip’s works can be found in the following public collections: Albright-Knox Art Gallery (Buffalo, NY); Franklin Institute (Philadelphia, PA); National Gallery of Art (Washington, DC); National Museum of the Marine Corps (Triangle, VA); Norman Rockwell Museum (Stockbridge, MA); Portland Art Museum (Portland, OR); Smithsonian American Art Museum (Washington, DC); Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Washington, DC; and The United States Air Force Art Collection.


Champions of Flight: Clayton Knight and William Heaslip: Artists Who Chronicled Aviation from the Great War to Victory in WWII by Sheryl Fiegel and Theodore Hamady (Havertown, PA: Casemate Publishers, 2019)

“Constructing the Image of Flight: The Wright Brothers, Photography and their Visual Heritage” by Roger Crum in History of Photography (vol. 28, no. 1, Spring 2004), pp. 15-17.

  1. National Academy of Design, Registration Card (William J. Heaslip), September 22, 1919
  2. The Art Students League of New York archives, New York
  3. International Aeronautical Art Exhibition Los Angeles Museum (February 5-19, 1937)'
  4. Letter from John Taylor Arms, President of the Society of American Etchers, to William Heaslip, December 23, 1939. In William Heaslip family archive

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