WALTER E. BOHL
Walter E. Bohl's beginning in
art proves the saying about clouds and silver linings. In
1930 he was working for the Illinois Bell Telephone Company
in Chicago when he became seriously ill and had to leave his
work. During a long convalescence he began making pen-and-ink
drawings to pass the time. His natural subjects were birds,
animals, and outdoor scenes because ever since his boyhood
in Columbus, Wisconsin (where he was born on September 10,
1907) he had loved to hunt and fish, with drawing as a secondary
Some of these first pen-and-ink
drawings were sold to friends and others were taken to Marshall
Field's in Chicago. The manager of the Picture Gallery there
was impressed, but because there was no demand for pen-and-ink
work then, suggested etchings. For Mr. Bohl, this meant borrowing
books on etching from the Chicago Public Library, making a
press from a discarded clothes wringer, improvising a graver
that was a darning needle set into a fiber handle, and getting
his copper from a hardware store and polishing it by hand.
His first plate was a small drypoint
of a sailboat. Others followed, and later in the same year
(1935) his work was reproduced for the first time in American
Field to illustrate a story by William C. Hazelton. The next
year Mr. Bohl illustrated a book by the same author called
Supreme Duck Shooting Stories.
In 1934 Mr. Bohl made ten small
etchings of interesting scenes at Chicago's Century of Progress.
That July he was displaying his etchings at an outdoor show
with about 300 other artists, when Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt
stopped to see the show and bought the work of two artists
of whom one was Mr. Bohl.
In October of that year Mr. Bohl
and the former Ann Larson of Lake Owen in northern Wisconsin
were married and set out in a secondhand Ford coupe packed
with camping gear for Stuttgart, Arkansas, a great rice-growing
area. They were looking for material for duck etchings and
they found thousands of ducks, all willing to model.
The following summer the young
couple was back in Chicago and again Mr. Bohl had his etchings
in an outdoor art show, this time featuring ducks and hunting
dogs. One day two men, both strangers to Mr. Bohl, stopped
to examine his work and then asked him to bring samples of
his work to their office. Not until the next day, when he
went to the address the men had given him, did Mr. Bohl realize
that this was Esquire magazine that was so interested in his
The result of that call was a
double-page spread in the November 1935 issue of the magazine.
They had used some of his pencil drawings in the previous
issue, but this was the first national presentation of his
etchings. Esquire proclaimed him as one of its proudest discoveries.
Already, in a scant five years
and with no formal art training, Mr. Bohl had a firmly established
reputation as an etcher. His work appeared in several magazines,
and Esquire featured it regularly from 1934 to 1943. In 1941
he began doing watercolors and they, too were immediately
successful. Esquire published one each month during 1942,
in addition to his etchings, and there were newspaper articles
about him in various part of the country.
Mr. Bohl's paintings and etchings
have been shown in many nationally prominent exhibitions and
he has had one-man shows in six large galleries. Examples
of his work are in many private collections in this country,
Mexico, Canada, and Europe. It can be seen in the Bertha Jaques
Memorial at the National Gallery in Washington, D. C.; at
the Department of Library and Archives, State Capitol, Phoenix,
Arizona; in the building housing the Department of Wildlife
Ecology, University of Wisconsin; and in many other places.