WALTER A. WEBER
Chicago must be very proud of
Walter A. Weber. He was born there, the son of Jacob and Antoinette
Kreml Weber, on May 23, 1906; received all his formal education
in the same city-, and worked there several years after college.
It is said that in the Chicago
of those days, when Walter Weber was about 10 years old, children
were allowed to go into neighborhood taverns to buy soda pop.
Walter was right in there with the other children, but he
didn't always have to buy his shots of strawberry, orange,
or grape-, he would sometimes pay for them with a drawing,
or sell a sketch of an animal or bird to a more affluent or
less sober patron of the bar. These were his first commissions,
ranging from 10 cents to 50 cents, and the money would buy not only
soda pop, but art supplies as well.
During his early years in school
there were three teachers in particular who recognized Walter
Weber's talent and encouraged him to study art - he still
remembers them with gratitude. One was Miss Miller, who taught
him in the fifth grade- another was Mrs. Jesse Thompson, his
seventh grade teacher; the third was Dr. Clarence Holzman
at Waller High School, who later introduced him to Dr. Wilfred
H. Osgood, then head of the Zoology Department at the Field
Museum where Mr. Weber was eventually to be a staff member.
Mr. Weber has always had an
insatiable curiosity about plant and animal life, and as a
child he had a prophetically varied collection of whatever
living things he could catch and keep: beetles, squirrels,
crows, ants, mice, raccoons, and turtles, for instance; together
with plants from their natural habitat.
Naturally he studied zoology
and botany when he went to the University of Chicago; he graduated
from there as a Phi Beta Kappa with a B.S. degree in 1927.
He received his art education at the Church School of Art,
the American Academy of Art, and the Chicago Art Institute.
Though only 22 years old, Mr.
Weber was now well trained as a scientific illustrator and
as such he joined the staff of the Chicago Field Museum (now
the Chicago Museum of Natural History) in 1928. His travels
for the museum led him to every continent except Antarctica:
he was artist and ornithologist for the Crane Expedition to
the South Pacific in 1928-29; made an expedition to Bermuda
in the winter of 1930 to paint fish for Mr. Cornelius Crane-,
in the summer of the same year he went to British Columbia
to study under the late Major Allan Brooks, the well known
bird artist who did many series for the National Geographic
magazine. The two men worked together for four months, much
of the time in the field; this was invaluable experience for
the young man who was then developing his own style.
From 1931 to 1933, Mr. Weber
was biologist and artist for the Century of Progress Exposition
in Chicago, and after that became a free-lance artist for
two years, specializing mainly in commercial illustration
and advertising art.
(Author's note: Advertising
art agencies, although deplored by purists, have been an important
influence on art in this country since the 1920's, by providing
a whole new area for the growth of artists. Many fine artists
of note today have matured their talents in Advertising illustration.)
Mr. Weber organized and painted
backgrounds for the biological exhibits at the Texas State
Memorial Museum in 1936, and after that work was done he went
to Washington as a wildlife technician with the National Park
Service. In 1941 he transferred to the staff of the U. S.
National Museum and in 1942 was sent to southern Mexico (Tabasco
and Vera Cruz) as ornithologist on a Smithsonian Institution-National
Geographic Society Expedition.
In March of 1943, Mr. Weber
began free-lancing again, and late in that year he did the
watercolor painting that was chosen for the 1944-45 duck stamp.
From 1943 to 1949, Mr. Weber
remained a free lance, but in a style quite different from
that of the boy in Chicago who sold 100 drawings for a bottle
of soda pop. In 1949 he accepted the position he now holds
as staff artist and naturalist for the National Geographic
Society. He spends many months each year in the field, doing
research, painting, and undoubtedly adding to the priceless
collection of over 2,000 bird specimens that he started years
He says his favorite subject
for painting is the animal, bird, or plant with which he has
had his most recent experience, and that the average length
of time for doing a painting, including research, is about
a month. This can vary somewhat, of course, depending upon
the complexity of the work.
Many people ask the National
Geographic Society how they may obtain Weber originals, and
the Society must answer that they are unavailable. However,
millions of people can enjoy his work in the pages of the
Society's books and magazine. The increasing perfection of
color photography does not relieve a scientific illustrator
at all, since however beautiful a color photograph may be,
it seldom can show every characteristic of a given subject
that might be desired.
On April 18, 1967, Mr. Weber
received the highest civilian honor the U. S. Department of
the Interior can bestow: the Conservation Service Award. Department's
Assistant Secretary Stanley A. Cain, Mr. Weber's friend of
many years, made the presentation.
Secretary Cain said, "As
staff artist for the National Geographic Society, you are
truly one of the outstanding wildlife and nature artists in
the nation today. You acquaint persons in all walks of life
with the conservation goals of this Department and inspire
them to a wider interest in our native wildlife.