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Ernest Hamlin Baker
Birth Date: 
Birth Place: 
Essex, N.Y.
Death Date: 
Death Place: 
Norton, Mass.
Known for the 391 “journalistic portraits” he created for Time Magazine from 1939 to 1956 and the thirteen Fortune Magazine covers that led to his work for Time, Ernest Hamlin Baker was a self-taught painter and illustrator who created a new style of portraiture. He also known for the propaganda posters he designed during World Wars I and II. Baker was born in 1889 in rural Essex in upstate New York, but within a year his family moved to Poughkeepsie on the Hudson River in southern New York State, where he grew up. At Poughkeepsie High School he played football and ran track but also used his talent for drawing. After taking a $15 art correspondence course, at age 17 he sold political cartoons for $3 each to two local newspapers, the Duchess County Democrat and the People’s Plain Spokesman, inspired by the political cartoons of Thomas Nast (1840-1902). At Colgate University Baker published drawings in school newspapers, provided yearbook illustrations, and earned money by selling caricatures of faculty members. He was also captain of the track team. After graduation in 1912 and marriage to Ernestine Pendorf in 1913, Baker continued to live in Poughkeepsie and sold political cartoons to the Poughkeepsie Evening Enterprise, now for $7 each. He also provided art work for a 1914 booklet on typhoid fever published by the Enterprise. Baker successfully submitted a design for a cover for the New York Telephone Company’s in-house publication about the time that the Enterprise stopped buying his political cartoons. Emboldened by the success, the Bakers borrowed $500 and moved to New York City in 1914. He began taking classes at night at the Industrial Art School, but quit after a few weeks, saying “I was making a living doing things that were artistically ‘wrong’ and couldn’t afford the luxury of work-stopping doubts.” During World War I Baker designed several posters supporting the war effort, including the poster in the collection of the Fine Arts Museums. He won a competition to design Christmas Seals for the National Tuberculosis Association in 1919, designed posters for them as well, and continued to design Christmas Seals from time to time into the 1930s. In addition to work for New York Telephone, he created profile sketches for The New Yorker Magazine, and designed magazine covers and advertising art. At some point the Bakers moved to suburban Carmel, N.Y., in Putnam County some 60 miles north of New York City. During the late 1920s Baker created a heroic figure of a telephone serviceman and a dozen large paintings of different aspects of telephone service for the New York Telephone Company. Baker’s first Fortune cover was for the April 1931 issue and the last was for the April 1937 issue. Around 1936 Baker was commissioned to create a mural for the Wakefield, Rhode Island post office under the Treasury Section of Fine Arts, a New Deal program to acquire art for federally-owned buildings. Entitled “The Economic Activities of the Narragansett Planters,” it depicts the colony’s slave-based plantation economic system in pre-Revolutionary times. Completed in 1939, the mural now hangs in the South County History Center in Kingston, R. I. Also in 1939, Time Magazine editor Dana Tasker (1904-1975) asked Time’s publisher Ralph Ingersoll (1900-1985) for a suggestion of an artist who could do a portrait of the pianist Ignace Jan Paderewski (1860-1941) in two days. Ingersoll remembered Baker’s Fortune work and replied, “Send for Baker. He can do anything.” Baker met the deadline. He then wrote a letter to Time’s editor suggesting how Time’s portrait covers should be handled, leading to his second Time cover portraying of William Randolph Hearst (1863-1951). Baker also created four war maps for Time in 1940. His relationship with Time lasted until 1956. For most of that time he created a new cover every two weeks, and only worked for Time. His pattern was to continue working on a portrait until he had to rush to catch a train to Manhattan. An author quotes Baker as saying, “It should be my job to try to bring out the subject’s true character through a complete coverage of his facial forms …. If it works, I will then be telling Time readers not only what the man looks like but also what he is like—a really good reporting job.” (Rowe, p. 24) During World War II Baker created a dozen propaganda posters, all in collaboration with artist Frances O’Brien (1904-1990). He had several exhibitions in New York City and at Colgate during the 1940s. While on a trip to North Carolina in November 1951, the Bakers bought a cottage in Hendersonville, a few miles south of Asheville, N.C., and moved there soon thereafter. He continued his work for Time but demanded a reduced schedule of a portrait every three weeks. Baker retired from Time in 1956 to work on a portrait of his wife, Ernestine. He continued to live in Hendersonville for almost twenty years, and died in 1975 in Norton, Massachusetts, where he only daughter lived. (TNB 3/2018) Selected bibliography: **“Gems Hidden in Plain Sight,” American History, vol. 44, no. 5 (December 2009), p. 44. Rowe, Guy, “Ernest Hamlin Baker’s TIME Covers,” pp. 24-27 in Ernest William Watson, Forty Illustrators and How They Work. New York: Watson-Guptill Publications, Inc., 1946.