By Rena Tobey
Stevan Dohanos (1907-1994) used Connecticut’s people and places as models for his fine art and, perhaps most famously, for his cover illustrations for the Saturday Evening Post. He leveraged lessons learned from his productive art career to help found the Famous Artists School (FAS), a commercial art correspondence course managed out of Westport. Inspired by the local scene, Dohanos captured a middle-America experience with his realist approach and gentle wit.
Dohanos grew up as the third of nine children born to Hungarian immigrant parents. Though factory work enticed them to America, both came from poor, farm-based families.
Starting in his teens, Dohanos worked his way through jobs as a newsboy, floral delivery driver, and steel mill worker to help support his family. When he transferred to a desk job at the mill, he began copying calendar art and Norman Rockwell covers, selling them for $1 to $3 to other employees. He took courses through the International Correspondence School, then night classes at the Cleveland School of Art. A befitting reward for his own hard work, Dohanos later befriended Rockwell and joined him and 10 other “Founding Artists” to form FAS. He made his home and kept his studio in Westport.
Dohanos noticed the details of his Connecticut surroundings. Impressed by the stone walls that line the roads and fields, the artist created the heroic lithograph “Connecticut Yankee.” In it, he celebrated the laborious effort required to clear the land for farming and build the stone walls. It is a work perhaps inspired by Dohanos’s own roots in the farming community.
Stevan Dohanos Puts His Stamp on Popular Culture
For 15 years in the 1940s and ‘50s, Dohanos created 125 covers for the popular weekly magazine the Saturday Evening Post. In the style of his friend and inspiration Norman Rockwell, Dohanos told stories in pictures, featuring scenes out of what he called “Anytown U.S.A.” He portrayed children from his home in Westport as models for “Star Pitcher,” and combined them with an image of the house where he was born in Lorain, Ohio. Typical of Dohanos’s style, the scene captures a specific moment, a snapshot of the boys waiting for their friend to finish mowing the lawn. Showing that boy in his baseball uniform amplifies the urgency.
Everyday life inspired Dohanos, and he relished elevating the mundane. He captured the vibrancy of the season in “Rural Post Office at Christmas” based on the red brick post office in Georgetown, Connecticut—located on North Main Street until it relocated in the 1950s. In this work, Dohanos depicted a farmer parking his truck in front of the post office, leaving a cow (blanketed against the cold) standing in the back. In seeming haste, the farmer has left the cab door open, guarded by his dog. He totters with an armful of presents near a sign that reads, “Don’t Delay, Mail Today.”
In addition to his more famous works, Dohanos oversaw the design of more than 300 commemorative postage stamps, including a 1959 stamp honoring the tenth anniversary of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). He then went on to serve as the design coordinator of the Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee from 1966 to 1978. Designing stamps became yet another manner in which Dohanos wove his legacy into the American lexicon. “To me, by working in this miniature dimension,” the artist once claimed, “I am helping with the unfolding of the history of America—its past, present, and future.”
Rena Tobey is an American art historian and lecturer. She is also the creator of the Artventures! Game—a party game based on adventures in art and art history.