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Interview with Robert LeRoy, November 13, 2007 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Robert LeRoy, November 13, 2007
November 13, 2007
Bob LeRoy discusses his background and professional career in the visual arts, including his freelance work and the commerical arts. He also discusses an artist's academic training and his own aesthetic and preferred methods.
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Interviewee:  LeRoy, Robert Interviewer:  Jones, Carroll Date of Interview:  11/13/2007 Series:  Arts Length  120 minutes


Jones: Today is November 13, 2007. I'm Carroll Jones with Ashley Shivar of the Randall Library Oral History Project and today we're visiting with artist Bob Leroy in his home studio. We're just about at the inland waterway, aren't we?

LeRoy: Yes but this is Howl Creek, we sort of on Howl Creek here.

Jones: Howl Creek in New Hanover County just outside of the city of Wilmington. Bob started to tell us all about himself, but my research shows that he is a water colorist, which so many of the people I've talked to say that it is a very difficult medium to work in, a teacher and a commercial artist and is reputed to have a great sense of humor. Good morning, Bob.

LeRoy: Good morning.

Jones: Am I right so far?

LeRoy: Yes.

Jones: Okay...good. (laugh), could you tell us about your background history, where you're from, growing up memories and interest in art?

LeRoy: Well I was born up around in the Pittsburgh area. Most of my family, well what's left of them still reside in Pittsburgh area, Butler, Pennsylvania and so forth. Then I lived out at Library, which is now, anybody who knows Pittsburgh knows how much it's expanded and everything, so it's been pretty small but at that time it was sort of farm country.

Jones: Library is a town?

LeRoy: Oh yeah right. It's between, it's on Route 88 South of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania and it's a little town there that's stayed pretty much the same. However the other town, Bethel became Bethel Park...

Jones: That I've heard of.

LeRoy: Yeah, everybody knows where Bethel Park is. Nobody knows where Library is. But there in of it, left there whenever I was about 12. I was born in 1926, so I was about three years old when the depression came along and so things changed quite a bit there. And my dad was a boss in the coal mines.

Jones: That's the area for it.

LeRoy: ... yeah, right near Pittsburgh. And whenever I was a small child I remembered things pretty well going into Pittsburgh and the air was so dirty in there when they had the steel mills and so forth that people today would never believe what it was really like around Pittsburgh.

Jones: That's a classic case of urban fixing it.

LeRoy: Oh yes. Well that's what happens when things get real bad then they fix it up really good. So that's what happened to Pittsburgh. But whenever I was a child during the depression, I don't think that I ever suffered anything from the depression because little children, you know, and it was such a nice area to grow up in. There was a big farm nearby and all of that. So then whenever I was 12 years old, we moved to Morgantown, West Virginia. My dad got a job up there in Morgantown.

Jones: Also in the mines?

LeRoy: Yes, yeah in fact everybody in my family had been, everybody on his side of the family had been involved with the mines in one way or the other except me and I did work at the mines whenever I was 15, 16, 17 during the summer. Back then you could just go out, if you were big enough they would hire you, you know, in the mines.

Jones: Did you work underground in the mines?

LeRoy: No, I worked on the tipple. And the tipple is where when the coal comes out of the mine it's processed and then it's put into the, you know, usually railroad cars. Now when I was a real little kid, I must have been probably five or six years old, my dad used to take me into the mines at night, because he was what they called the fire boss and he would go into the mines and check for gas and water at night. And in the one Montour number 10, which was the mine which was there, it was ten miles from the entrance back to where they mined coal, so he would put me on the motor. There wouldn't be anybody else in the mine except he and I and we'd drive through the mine. So then at night he would, I mean well this would, it wouldn't make any difference whether it was day or night, it happened to be at night yeah. And so then he would leave me sometimes at a pump station to sleep, you know, on a coat or something like that and pick me up later. So, you know, of course he felt very, people today would think wow, you know, that seems kind of scary because there was a lot of rats and everything like that in the mines. (laugh). But the incident that I personally remember, whenever they cut coal they call it the facing. And that is sort of, it could be sheared off quite and it can run along for quite awhile and is just a big black ball in the way and it was there. It was about 10 feet high, the Pittsburg seeing there, I forget what it was called. Anyhow I drew pictures on it with chalk of Indians and cowboys and everything. So the next day when the miners came in they got a big kick out of seeing that some kid had been in the mine, you know, drawing pictures on the coal and everything, and they wouldn't let them mine that part until everybody had come in and seen it. (laugh).

Jones: Your first exhibit?

LeRoy: Yes. And then after that we moved on to Morgantown, West Virginia and I was well, I guess I was about 12 when I went up there. And then when I got to be a senior in high school, I joined the Navy, so I was 17 at that time and that was in 1944.

Jones: So that was during World War II.

LeRoy: Yes. So and that was kind of a high point for me. I think that before I went in the Navy I really thought I was pretty dumb, you know because I didn't do very well in school, never studied or anything, but in the Navy I did really well. I had high aptitude tests and everything, so I got sent to diesel school and basic engineering. So then later on, and sent to submarine school where I couldn't see well enough to be a submariner. Why I don't know, because in submarines, you know, you can't see any more that 10 to 15 feet on one. But then I went and picked up a ship in Jacksonville, Florida and then I went down through the Canal and up the west coast out the Attu and the Aleutian Islands. So then I spent my time out there on what they call sea-air rescue type of stuff. So then I came back. When I got discharged, I went back to high school...

Jones: When were you discharged?

LeRoy: In 1946.

Jones: You were in the Navy two years?

LeRoy: Yeah.

Jones: You went a lot of different places in two years.

LeRoy: Oh yeah, yeah, well I saw a lot of ocean that's for sure. And then I was still eligible to play football after I'd been in the navy, so I came back and played football the one year. And then I went to West Virginia University and graduated from up there. And I did have, I switched my minor to art and I had a one man show whenever I was a senior there in watercolor. They said it was the first time that anyone had ever had a one man show there.

Jones: When did you realize that you had talent and were interested in art?

LeRoy: Well whenever I was in grade school, I was kind of the class artist, but then I never took art in high school.

Jones: You didn't?

LeRoy: No, so I wasn't really interested in it at all and...

Jones: You weren't interested in art in high school?

LeRoy: No. I was only interested in football and running around I guess. So then, but then whenever I was at the West Virginia University and since I had the GI Bill, I sort of always kind of wanted to try painting or drawing or something. So on the GI Bill I found out that I could get all these art supplies free, because you know they would be charged to the GI Bill thing. So I registered for some classes and got the paint and then I just couldn't quit. I mean I just loved paining and I would stay up half the night painting on something or other and I just really, really liked that a lot. So then from then on...

Jones: Was this water color that you did?

LeRoy: Yeah, right, and the show that I had at West Virginia, they were all watercolors. And, you know, when I think back to those times it's hard to even remember. But anyhow, you know, I got a thing in the school paper and all that stuff.

Jones: Why types of things did you paint there, from memory?

LeRoy: Oh no, everything was outside some place. So, I'd go around and paint some of the streets in Morgantown and notice around, different people had them, you know. And then I would go out to a farm out there and I remember I painted out there a good bit. Most everything I just painted. You know, there was an alley right behind the school, I remember painting that and the teacher making some comment on that.

Jones: Did you care? Was it a good comment?

LeRoy: Oh yeah, well he said that I was the only one who would go out there and paint the alley way behind the school, you know, and find it interesting.

Jones: I can't fit Morgantown, West Virginia with art in any form. (laugh).

LeRoy: Well, it's probably kind of hard to, one small art department that they had there at that time. And then when I left there, I worked with my step-dad doing cabinet making work while I was going to West Virginia University. But I had gotten, of course football had been my real focus when I was going to school. But I had gotten injured pretty bad, a dislocated shoulder and so forth, so that kind of ended my football aspirations. But I started painting and drawing quite a lot then. And then during that summer after I graduated, I went to Philadelphia and I enrolled in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts there.

Jones: That's a good one.

LeRoy: Yeah, I was only able to go there a year because I ran out of money. (laugh).

Jones: Was this after you graduated?

LeRoy: Right, from West Virginia. But it's a marvelous school. I mean I wish I could have stayed there longer because they concentrated on drawing and from an academic approach, you know, and painting and sculpting. It's, you know, such a long established school and they stuck to those...

Jones: There's another artist who lived here in Wilmington who went up there to take classes in the summer.

LeRoy: Oh really?

Jones: Yeah.

LeRoy: They have a place, I forget where it is, someplace out around Chatsworth or somewhere. And I know that Francis Bates was one of my teachers. He was also represented in the North Carolina Museum up there. He was a North Carolina artist. And although there was another one, there were two other ones actually from North Carolina, Hobson Pittman. But anyhow, I really liked it there and I got kind of a double promotion into life class and everything like that, so I was doing well there. But then I had to leave there and I went to Connecticut and I worked in the, very hard to get a job then because it was sort of a recession. So when I got to Connecticut I was working in the, oh what is the name of it. Anyhow it's on the side of the map, so that gives you a clue. But isn't that funny that, Dr. Burlingame was the main person up there. But it was a very high class mental institution. So I worked there as a psychiatric aid.

Jones: Using art as therapy?

LeRoy: No, just as an aid.

Jones: Just as an aid?

LeRoy: Yeah and what you did you kind of walked a lot of the patients around, you know and kept them company.

Jones: What was your title?

LeRoy: Psychiatric Aid.

Jones: Psychiatric aid.

LeRoy: Yeah, since I was a college graduate probably that was the reason I was hired to do that. Then whenever I was there for awhile, I also was kind of interesting, I got a job in the stores part where we gave out, you know, materials and food and all that type of stuff in the institution. And one of the people that I worked with there is Charles Nelson Riley, remember the actor?

Jones: Yes.

LeRoy: Well it was about 17 at that time.

Jones: He worked there as well?

LeRoy: Yeah in the same, he and I and another fellow who had been a, John Burns, who had been a very famous actor on Broadway and so forth like that. He did a lot of character parts and he was a, tell you what he looked like a little bit, he was an understudy to Boris Karloff in Arsenic and Old Lace.

Jones: Really?

LeRoy: Yes so he had been in many different things. But that was kind of the highlight I think in Harford, Connecticut. Besides I went to the Harford Art School some there, and there was a wonderful teacher there, Paul Zimmerman and he taught me quite a lot of stuff. Even after I wasn't going to school there, everything was always kind of a financial struggle. I got a job at the...

Jones: Were you a typical struggling artist?

LeRoy: (laugh), but I was painting all the time. While I was doing this, I was still painting all the time. So then I got a job at the Wallace, the propeller factory, there in Hartford and then they moved out of town up to a place called Windsor Locks. And then I would work the night shift and then I would paint every day.

Jones: You were dedicated.

LeRoy: Oh yeah, I was very, very dedicated and I would draw a lot and of course any class, any art class I would get into.

Jones: Did you put your work in galleries at this time.

LeRoy: Yeah, I would enter some shows and I won a couple of prizes and I would usually always get in the shows and they were actually pretty good shows up there. You know at the time I just..

Jones: Were they juried shows?

LeRoy: Yeah, and there was one at the Wadsworth Anthony Inn. I remember I had a painting in that. And so but I would paint on the spot, you know, locally around there. I had an old Willy station wagon and I would sit in the back seat of that and paint. So the winter scenes, I painted a lot of winter scenes. But after one day almost freezing to death, a friend of mine gave me a kerosene stove. So I would put that in the...

Jones: In the car?

LeRoy: Right. I would open the windows a little bit so I didn't asphyxiate myself.

Jones: I hope you opened the windows a bit.

LeRoy: Yeah and then I painted oh a lot of scenes, quite a lot of those sold, you know. And I sent a lot to my sister who lived up in Butler, Pennsylvania and her husband was a surgeon. And so she sold a lot of things to the doctors up around there.

Jones: She was your broker?

LeRoy: Right. And whenever I would go up there like to a wedding or something, a lot of people it was really strange, would come up to me and say, you know, I have one of your paintings.

Jones: That was nice.

LeRoy: Yeah that was very nice. I was pretty well represented up around Butler, Pennsylvania. And then well after I left Harford, I went to Boston and got a job. I got my first art job designing greeting cards and gift wrap. So I did that for about a year and learned that part of the business. And then I quit in a huff one day, which I was very sorry, because actually I went down in the park and sat there and cried because I didn't think I'd ever get another art job. And then I started to freelance and in that time I was making about four times more freelancing greeting cards and gift wrap than I was whenever I was working. And these were, you know, Dennison Papers and High Seal, which they did a very high quality kind of stuff.

Jones: This was freelancing for greeting cards and wrapping paper?

LeRoy: Right, so I did designs for that. In fact I probably even have a few things around here I could have drug out for you, but I don't know where they are now. But that was wonderful because the people were very good to work for and they always paid and they paid me very well and then I went from there to New York. What I really wanted to be was an illustrator. And at that time, you know, the magazines, Saturday Evening Post and all these magazines were really running very high.

Jones: They came out weekly.

LeRoy: Oh yeah and the artists, many of them, were really celebrities. And so...

Jones: You could recognize the style of some of them. I remember, as a kid, knowing immediately who the artist was. Even in commercials, chewing gum...soda...

LeRoy: Oh yeah. They were paid very well. Most of them lived up on the Connecticut shore, up around, you know, Westport and places like that. So that was a nice thing to want to be, so I worked pretty hard at that.

Jones: Would you call that commercial art?

LeRoy: Yes, it's commercial art. They're illustrators which is sort of kind of the higher end of commercial art. But of course any type of designing or anything, I shouldn't say that because a lot of designing is very beautifully done and very important, you know. And of course today, designing is probably the main aspect or the main residue of the commercial art field because, you know, nobody does illustrations any more. Well they do do some. They do do some, but nothing like it was at one time.

Jones: Did you find your engineering in the navy was a help?

LeRoy: I was always kind of mechanically inclined. I think that's the reason why I got those jobs in the navy, because I was a diesel engineer and I really liked working on engines and stuff like that. But I never carried through with it after I left the navy. Once I got interested in art, I just kept going. Working with my step-dad gave me a lot of experience in building stuff and using tools and so forth. That helped me a lot in building this house. Yeah, working with him, because he would give me a lot, to hang windows, put up doors and so I did a lot of stuff like that for him. So when it came to doing it here...

Jones: Was he a builder?

LeRoy: Well what he was, he had like a little factory there that made kitchens and wooden products and Formica. Formica was pretty big them. So we made a lot of kitchen and so forth. But a lot of times when we'd go into a house, this was out in West Virginia up in the country, sometimes the rooms were very crooked and we'd have to do quite a lot of work in the rooms. And sometimes they'd want a door put in, a window taken out or, you know, so I would end up getting all those jobs.

Jones: How old were you at this point? How old were you by the time you were doing commercial art work? You went from 12 years old sleeping in a mine.

LeRoy: No that was when I was about six, and then I worked in the mines whenever I was 15, 16 and 17 during the summers.

Jones: You were doing kitchens before you went to New York?

LeRoy: Right. When I was going to college is when I worked with him, usually pretty much every day on the weekends and so forth. That's how I got extra money and so forth, and then doing the summers, then I'd really work for him all summer. So that was, you know, I enjoyed doing that. I've always enjoyed working with my hands and doing stuff like that.

Jones: Your commercial art, you were in Boston?

LeRoy: Um hmm.

Jones: How long did you stay there doing that?

LeRoy: Well I was in Boston a couple of years. Actually I had gone from Connecticut with a girlfriend, which is always kind of a disaster (laugh). So that lasted a while up there and then, one thing I discovered up there was folk dancing and I absolutely loved folk dancing.

Jones: I heard you are quite a dancer.

LeRoy: Well I was then. I mean I'm hardly a mover now. Back then I really enjoyed it and Boston had a very good folk dancing scene.

Jones: Why don't I associate Boston with folk dancing?

LeRoy: Oh it was very big.

Jones: I associate Iowa, even Michigan or Kansas.

LeRoy: Yeah.

Jones: But Boston?

LeRoy: Well those Harvardites and the MIT people, those squares, once you peeled a little bit off of them you had dancers underneath. They were really into it. Many of them were very good. In fact there was a person from India that I got to be friends with, and he would come to these dances and just go crazy. He would ask everybody to dance and he couldn't hardly dance very good and everything. Then one day I was giving him a ride someplace and he worked with a Nobel Prize person. He was brilliant and he worked on adhesives and he only worked at night. So his students had to work with him at night. He was one of these you know, kind of bazaar people. But he said that he like the dancing because it helped him relax. He says, I know I act crazy when I go to dances and everybody thinks I'm a nut, but he says it's my way of relaxing. And he was telling me all about adhesives at the time and this was what he was working and he had graduate students that worked with him. One day he wouldn't come and then I'd see him and I'd ask him where he was. He said, oh well I was in England last week working with such and such a person, but this was kind of typical up there. There was one fellow that I knew for a long time. He was a terrific dancer. And then he and I were riding up to Cape Anne one day and I said, Hugh Thurston was his name, and I said Hugh what are you doing for a living? He said, oh I teach mathematics at Harvard. So he was a doctor and he was only maybe about 25 years old. So this is the type that seemed to go in for folk dancing and things like that.

Jones: Is square dancing somewhat the same as folk dancing?

LeRoy: Yes, right.

Jones: Those are very intricate. You work exactly what you're called. After a while you know what lines are being called. They have quite a few names.

LeRoy: Well, right. And if you're in a really good square, you know, it can be a lot of fun. But that was it. The dancers up there, they would have callers there and so they would usually do a couple of square dances or contra-dances, which are the line dances and then they would do three or four of the folk dances. So they never had it where it was just folk dancing. It was always a mix of everything.

Jones: Did you have special clothes you wore?

LeRoy: Some of the women would have sort of yeah kind of a Bavarian looking thing and then at certain times they would do different things. We had a weekend where we would go to New York and do, this was before I had gone to New York, and did what they called the caller weekend, which was Yugoslavian dances and so they had a Yugoslavian band there. But it was wonderful, because I never really went to bars or anything like that. So it gave me a really nice social scene, the people that I admired and everything. Oh some of them were just, it was just terrific.

Jones: You met your wife because you were a dancer?

LeRoy: Yes, well I met her quite a long time later in New Jersey at a dance there. But yes, I did.

Jones: So you finally went to New York right?

LeRoy: Yes and then after being in Boston for awhile, I always kind of wanted to go to New York, because that was pretty much the center of the art thing. So then I went there. I worked a couple of years in studios and agencies to kind of learn the whole...

Jones: Was this commercial type art?

LeRoy: Yes. Well they had advertising work primarily and sometimes, well they'll do almost any type of work. And at that time I was married to a doctor from Peru that I had met in Boston and I have two children from her. One still lives in Boston. He's an attorney up there. And the other one, actually she's a doctor too. She lives in Scarsdale, New York, up in Westchester County if you're familiar with New York. And then we had gone to New York together and we lived in Brooklyn part of the time while she was doing some residency.

Jones: People laugh when they say Brooklyn but that's an old historical city.

LeRoy: Yeah. Well it was great for me because growing up in West Virginia, you know, you're really kind of a hay seed there. So when you get to the big city, it's a whole new experience. So I really liked that. I liked Boston a lot, but New York it just kind of boggles your mind, you know, it's so vast.

Jones: You could try anything there?

LeRoy: Oh yeah. Then I lived at a place called Seagate, which only New Yorkers would probably know what it is. It's at the tip of Coney Island and it goes out, extends, you know, you were there. Okay it extends out into the narrows there. And around at the end of it, there's this real fancy community that no one would ever suspect if they go to Coney Island because it's pretty seedy down around Coney Island. And so we had an apartment there and it was just fantastic because in this kitchen you had this great big picture window. So we would watch like the Queen, you know, Elizabeth and everything would come down the narrows and then it would make a left hand turn and go right along where the channel obviously went. (laugh). And at nights the lights of the Normandy, and oh the United States, it was a fabulous scene.

Jones: This was an area called Seagate?

LeRoy: Yes. And then we moved from there up into a placed called Barron Park, which kind of the, Tree Grows in Brooklyn type of place. I mean you're right in the heart of Brooklyn. So we were there for a couple of years and that was interesting, you know riding the subways all the time. And of course from Coney Island I also rode the subways all the time. I read mostly Shakespeare type on the subways (laugh). In the beginning you get sort of sick trying to read on the subway, but after awhile you get kind of used to it and you could plow through an awful lot of books if you have a long ride, which I did. And then we moved from there. Then I worked at these two places in New York. One was right off of Times Square and 43rd Street, which is really nice because...

Jones: That's the theater district?

LeRoy: Yes, right. So and City Center is right there and that was the first time I'd seen Andre Segovia play the guitar.

Jones: Interesting.

LeRoy: Yeah and every once in awhile I would see something really special, you know, at the City Center. And then, that was right over next to 6th Avenue, which was pretty nice, but I just love New York. I love just walking around in it, you know, it's really so exciting. And so then we moved out to, with the two children, moved out to Rockland County and you probably know where that is. It's across the Tappan Zee Bridge. And of course that back then there were a lot of cows and everything over there, but now it is just like Brooklyn. I mean you just couldn't believe it. We went there not too long ago and I actually got lost in Nyack, and at one time I had a studio over there when we moved up that way. Rather than going into New York every day, I'd get a local place and do that. So then I did freelance work for about 13 or 14 years and I had a lot of interesting work to do.

Jones: And this was all in New York area?

LeRoy: Yeah, right and then I'd commute. The good thing about it was the fact that I could go in maybe only once or twice a week. I'd go in and see an art director and pick up, you know, some work or a job or something and then I'd take it home.

Jones: Tell me about your work in the illustration and commercial art? Were you commissioned to do specific things or did you do certain things and present them to the art director? Did you know ahead of time or have in your mind or were you told this was for an illustration or an ad or whatever and what medium did you work in?

LeRoy: Well usually when you're doing a job you usually work from a layout, which can be very rough. You know, when they put a job together they'll say, say an advertiser wants to advertise a watch or something and he wants a picture of somebody, you know, with the watches on. So what they'll do then, you know the person who has that account will talk with them and decide, come up with a campaign with what they want to do and then they'll start to rough up some ideas and the layout man usually does that. And then it will go to somebody who will be like I was in the studio doing comprehenses. So I would do the illustration only much tighter, so that the people could actually see what the thing is going to look like, because a lot of them can't look at a layout and visualize what the final product is going to be. So then I would do that and then I would do a lot of finished illustrations too for them. I mean I remember doing stuff for the Holland American Lines and for some watches and liquor display ads, you know, they'd set up in the place. Oh they'd just come up with all kinds of stuff, so whatever it was. I remember once for Knickerbocker Beer, I built a 12 foot hand was one of the jobs that I did. You know, it was "Knock, knock for Knickerbocker." They probably don't even have Knickerbocker anymore. But at that time, they were having something or other and they wanted this hand, which would just keep knocking, so anyhow I did the hand. And then for American Harvester I did a quarter, 25 cent piece, which was about eight feet in diameter to set up behind the podium for their big meeting and stuff like that.

Jones: Did you have a studio where you did this?

LeRoy: Most stuff I did there and then at home I would paint a lot. At that time, when I was working for the agencies and studios, I did some freelance work around for other people and I did that at home. But any painting I did was usually watercolors or something like that. And then whenever I started doing, well I was doing greeting cards though also at that time and of course these I would make up. Occasionally they would give me an idea, but generally speaking I would make all of these up. And I did a lot of religious cards, because I did figures well. So I did a lot of Joseph and Marys, you know, and Madonnas and stuff like that.

Jones: Did they put the inscriptions inside?

LeRoy: Oh yeah. And then...

Jones: What came first, the picture or the inscription?

LeRoy: Oh I never even read the inscriptions.

Jones: You didn't take a look and decide?

LeRoy: No, they usually didn't have anything to do with it. No they were just, well what I would do, in fact I remember going to Puerto Rico and taking a little briefcase with me and I sat out on the balcony and I sketched up greeting cards out there.

Jones: For Christmas?

LeRoy: Yeah and whenever I come back I had so many of them sketched up, I hadn't painted them in, but I had thought of the ideas and sketched them up and everything. But I pretty much paid for the trip just sitting out on the balcony you know sketching these things up. Then if I was driving someplace, I'd always have a pad of paper next to me and I'd be thinking, wouldn't it be a good idea to Santa Clause doing this or that. I would write that down, especially for different papers.

Jones: Were your children young during this period?

LeRoy: Well they were growing up to, my son was about 12 when we got a divorce. So my daughter was probably about 13 or 14. So then...

Jones: Did you use them as models?

LeRoy: I did a lot in the toy illustrations.

Jones: Did they have to sit or pose?

LeRoy: I just photographed them.

Jones: You would work from the photographs?

LeRoy: Yeah and whenever I was doing those jobs, they would usually, whenever I was doing the toy illustrations they would have the toys mocked up. It's funny the way this whole thing is done, because it's not done at all like in season or anything. They would have their idea of something for a toy. I remember one was called "Green Ghost." And it had a lot of plastic parts that you set up and you were supposed to do it in the dark is the way the thing was. So then I would get the, they would call me in and tell me what the whole thing was about and the size, you know, the illustration and everything and then they would give me the whole toy. And then they would have a rough layout of how they wanted the cover to sort of look. And then I would go over to one of their photographers over on 32nd street and he would photograph anything that I wanted photographed. So then I would have these photographs that I could work from and also the original thing and then I also did a lot of photography myself. I would have to because I couldn't wait for commercial photographers to, you know, have it for a week, so I had to get a projector and do all this stuff. So if I wanted a certain thing, I remember one was "Desert Rat." Remember they had something on television a few years ago?

Jones: It was a movie.

LeRoy: Yeah.

Jones: A story about Rommel I think.

LeRoy: Right, the "Desert Rat," that's right. Well this was a different, I think these were called the "Desert Rats" or something, but it was a TV, regular show. It continued on, yeah, like "Gunsmoke." I did something for them for "Gunsmoke" and for "Phantom." And this particular one it had some jeeps in it and some airplanes and stuff, so I'd get the model airplanes and the jeeps and put them together and then photograph them and be able to project those into the size into the illustration and that's how I would generally work these types of things. It was the quickest and it was the most accurate way of working. So and then you'd render them all up and then these would be used for the toy box tops and for the game boards inside. I would usually do those.

Jones: Did you enjoy that?

LeRoy: Oh yeah, I did.

Jones: In doing something like that that was prescribed for you, were you ever allowed to let your imagination work as well with the product?

LeRoy: Well generally, yeah, I think almost every job that I did like that, by the time they called me they were getting to the end of the process. They knew what they wanted.

Jones: You were the final judge.

LeRoy: Right. Now in the papers, you know in different paper and stuff like that, they had to have all these things sort of mocked up to present, to give to salesmen. And so there was quite a lot of money in just making four or five copies of one thing and they would pay me the same rate.

Jones: Each piece?

LeRoy: Yeah.

Jones: They were originals? Did you make copies or were they originals?

LeRoy: I made originals.

Jones: They had to be originals?

LeRoy: Right.

Jones: They bought original artwork actually.

LeRoy: That's right just for the salesmen. It didn't have to be as perfect as the first one, but it had to look good enough so that the customers would want to buy it. But the main thing I liked about that is the fact that I was my own boss. So I had to work pretty hard in a way. But I had a friend who, I also did some movie, you know, the big posters that go out in front of movies?

Jones: Yes.

LeRoy: I started doing those along with my friend. I did probably about ten of those.

Jones: Did they pay well?

LeRoy: No, because these people are all, the big companies like if you're doing something for Metro Goldwyn Mayer or something like that, you would probably be paid well. Now he went on and stuck with that. And I didn't like it because you had to chase them for your money all the time. What they were, they were people who would go to Europe and get some movie, buy the rights to it, bring it back here, sell it, make an advertising campaign of which he became part of.

Jones: They're trying to sell the movie.

LeRoy: Right, so then you had to do all of this and then they may have money to pay you or they keep putting you off for two or three weeks you know. So I didn't like that too much, but anyhow it was kind of fun to do those. And a lot of times they were foreign movies. And then, but anyhow he and I since he worked freelance also, we would go up to the Met, you know, the museum and once a week and we'd have dinner up there, you know, spend the afternoons. So I really liked working for myself.

Jones: Most people do.

LeRoy: Oh yeah.

Jones: At your own time.

LeRoy: I'd come in at seven in the morning, sometimes come in on the weekends and work you know. And then I would just take the time off. And then I also had an airplane, when I was living up in Rockland County, so I could go and fly it you know, whenever I had my, moved my studio up to Rockland County. I was on 57th Street right across the Carnegie Hall.

Jones: I know where that is.

LeRoy: Yes.

Jones: You were on the west side then?

LeRoy: No, no. That's right that is west side sure. You know, Broadway cuts across everything going the whole way up. So we right near Columbus circle, you know where 57th Street is. They have a lot of galleries and stuff on there. So that was nice. That was probably the nicest time in New York, the most fun I had was when I had a studio up there. And then when I moved out of New York, then you know, I couldn't pal around and do some of the things that I was doing, go to the museums and stuff.

Jones: Why did you move, work?

LeRoy: Yeah, well we moved to a house up there and rather commute in and out every day, I decided just to move my studio up there since I didn't have to see art directors every day and so that was really nice. And then photography started to come in a lot and television was making real inroads into everything.

Jones: What time frame is this?

LeRoy: Well.

Jones: You have done a lot of things by now.

LeRoy: I am thinking around 1970, '75, something like that, probably before 1980 and probably in the '70s.

Jones: My mother was a professional photographer and did all kinds of things and she did a lot of advertising.

LeRoy: Oh yeah.

Jones: And that was mainly in the '50s and '60s.

LeRoy: Well advertising started to come in a lot. When you look at the old magazines, especially in the '30s, it's amazing. Almost everything in there was illustration, you know cars and everything.

Jones: I've got some old ones and the library has some.

LeRoy: Oh yeah. I have a bunch of magazines from 1930.

Jones: They used the same models for children in all of those things that they used in the "Dick and Jane" book series. (laugh).

LeRoy: Well they had a way of thinking. You know glamorous women looked a certain way and they looked more like women rather than girls back then.

Jones: They did.

LeRoy: Yeah and even the movies when you go back and look at those, a lot of them had the Joan Crawford kind of look.

Jones: A lot of lipstick and a lot of makeup.

LeRoy: And really beautiful women, very beautiful women were the mainstay of the movie industry and of course the models and illustrations were the same way. You might remember John Whitcomb.

Jones: He was one of the most famous illustrators.

LeRoy: Yes he was. He created the look, young women, beautiful, you know, college kind of look.

Jones: He used to illustrate wonderful short stories.

LeRoy: Oh really?

Jones: Saturday Evening Post, Colliers, all those magazines.

LeRoy: Oh yeah, that's right sure.

Jones: Because I remember as a teenager...

LeRoy: Well all of those...

Jones: I would be waiting for the next week's magazine to come.

LeRoy: He used to write a serial of some kind.

Jones: They were all the same type method. But when you are like anywhere from 13, 14 years old, you know, you are just hanging on every word. They have to be good.

LeRoy: I did some magazine stuff for the magazine "Young America" and I did about three or four covers for them and a lot of inside illustrations. So that was good. And then other little jobs would come along for like, "Women's Day" I did a bunch of cookies.

Jones: Did they give you the cookies?

LeRoy: Well I guess they must have. I don't remember. I remember the cookies and then I remember seeing them in the magazines, seeing the way the cookies were used with recipes and stuff.

Jones: If you were shooting those as a photograph, they would glaze everything and put glaze coatings on things to make them stand out.

LeRoy: And then sometimes they just wanted artwork. You know, it was kind of different.

Jones: So we are now in the mid '70s?

LeRoy: Yeah, I guess so.

Jones: From the time you started, which was right after World War II...

LeRoy: Yeah.

Jones: ... so we're talking now...

LeRoy: From about 1950 when I graduated from West Virginia, from then on I was in the art.

Jones: For 24 or 25 years you were really supporting yourself through art.

LeRoy: Oh yeah.

Jones: You were probably one of the few who could do that.

LeRoy: Well maybe so, because I remember running into a guy in Boston and he asked me what I did and I said well I was an artist. And he said, well but what do you do for a living? And I said well I'm an artist. I do stuff. He said, yes but like for money. (laugh).

Jones: I guess the starving artist?

LeRoy: Yeah, there's a lot of them today also.

Jones: I'm sure.

LeRoy: To make a living in fine arts I think you have to be more businessman today than artist or certainly as good a businessman as an artist. If you're just artist, it's going to be a real uphill battle.

Jones: Well being in art you had access to so many wonderful museums.

LeRoy: Oh yeah.

Jones: Did you ever study anything when you were there or were you so busy supporting yourself you didn't have time or did you go with the Metropolitan or other places?

LeRoy: Well I learned a lot from working with artists. Even whenever I was in Boston at the greeting card place, they had one guy in there who was very, very good and he had done a lot of illustrations and he did a lot of religious stuff, so there was a lot of figures. I think it was called the Messingil Service or something, but they put out the, remember when they used to do religious calendars?

Jones: Yeah.

LeRoy: They probably still do, the scenes of all, biblical scenes.

Jones: Only churches put them out now.

LeRoy: Yeah, well he would do these. But he taught me a lot about figure drawing whenever I was there. And then I would do, I would sharpen his pencils and run down and get him coffee and all these things.

Jones: And he allowed you to watch him?

LeRoy: No, no he would show me.

Jones: He would show you.

LeRoy: Yeah, and then I would go to night classes oh two or three times a week over at MIT and every place in Boston and then he would put an overlay over them and draw over my drawing and show me some different things and he would do that every time after the classes.

Jones: You were lucky.

LeRoy: Yes. And whenever I started working there, they had been looking for someone to do his working drawings and stuff. By the time I left there, I was doing all of his stuff. I could imitate his style of drawing like perfectly. In fact the other people there used to joke around as to whether he did it or whether I did it.

Jones: That brings to mind a cartoonist, who had people that they train...

LeRoy: Oh yes.

Jones: ... so that if they are ill or they pass away or something happens to them so the strip can continue.

LeRoy: That's right. They usually draw. They start out by drawing a lot of the background scenery and then they start to do the characters. And like Shu, whenever he died they didn't miss a beat. It looked like Shu was still drawing the things.

Jones: Right and "Peanuts" lives forever.

LeRoy: That's right. That's right. Some of those things are deceptively hard to draw, to imitate someone else's style, but then on the other hand you know.

Jones: Well there must be an urge, even though you learn to, as you did, imitate or work this particular style, to let yourself come out and want to do something a little bit different, you know, put your own brand on it.

LeRoy: Yes and you can do that in fine arts and you can do it in illustration too once you establish a style and this is when you get paid the big bucks back then, you know. So they would want a certain person for a certain thing and of course the art directors would call upon the same artist because they were dependable and they knew they would get a first class job and didn't reach, you know, deadline and not have the art work and stuff like that.

Jones: Were you ever sought after or did you think about going to one of these art schools that teach methods for reproductions of fine art to make money? I visited one in Italy. There was a room with maybe 20 artists in there all doing the same style of a particular artist and they were doing it in oils or other things and they would be trained and put into art stores all over the country. It kind of annoyed me, but I thought my gosh, I wonder if this is going on everywhere.

LeRoy: Yeah, I ran into a guy in New York who used to come to our studio to sell art supplies, and he said that one of his best customers was a guy that did 12 paintings at a time. He would put them all up and then he would paint in all the skies and then he would start painting, you know, the rest of them. He says he did very well. He had a really nice studio in New York.

Jones: What do you think of people who do that?

LeRoy: Well it's a very low end of the art business. I mean I would have probably too much pride to do that, because I would find it boring and I would just think that, you know, if this is what I'm going to do I'd rather fly an airplane or, you know, do something else. However, I will say, it probably requires a lot of skill and even a certain amount of figurative study and background to be able to do this. But there's a lot of artists who can't make a living. So, you know, like if it comes to feeding your family, I guess you'd go out and do it. At that time, I'm sure I would have done it.

Jones: I was in a museum in Washington one time and noticed that there were a couple of people sitting on a bench and they were doing a painting, which was in the old Dutch motif, which was a little bit dark. And I went over and sat down and said is it all right if I sit here. He says no. I said well I'm just curious. I said are you in a school? He said no, not any more. He said what are you doing this for? I said, I'm just curious as to how do you do this? Why do you do this? Are you on commission and that kind of thing. Anyway the conversation didn't last too long, but one of the things he told me was the hardest part about copying an old master or whatever is the paint, getting the colors.

LeRoy: Well and also the colors have changed quite a lot, like a Rembrandt. So if you were started copying a Rembrandt you wouldn't be painting the same as Rembrandt did. He'd be painting it with this golden glow that probably came from varnishes you know.

Jones: That's interesting.

LeRoy: Yeah after a time so, of course there's a lot of paintings, which would be very much like it. Nut some paintings, say like Van Gogh, you would think it would be easy to copy Van Gogh's work. It's very deceptive. Yeah, well the colors aren't so hard because, you know, you can pretty much, he painted a lot of colors right out of the tube. But even so, they're sort of signature that they, that all artists have, kind of signature.

Jones: Right. This has never interested you. I guess you didn't starve to death long enough.

LeRoy: No I wouldn't be interested in doing that. A lot of these people who went to museums and copied things, of course years ago it would make sense because they didn't have reproductions.

Jones: Learn the style?

LeRoy: Yeah, this is a way of studying, particularly if you were a portrait artist, I could see where you might copy English portraits, where you would learn a great deal or a Sergeants or someplace like that. I don't think you would learn very much copying artists who have such a personal style like it's distorted say like Van Gogh. So, I don't think you would gain very much from there. You could gain a lot from observing his work, of the color and the use of that and also the great amount of energy that he manages to put into his work, which is very apparent, you know, and things like that. But there are the artists who are very much into the academic training and style, you know, whose work is going to look a certain way.

Jones: Let's pick this up in a minute. I have to change the tape and may you want to get up and stretch.

LeRoy: Okay.

(tape change)

Jones: We're now on tape two with Bob LeRoy and having a very interesting conversation. Bob, we left off, we were talking about the academic training I think and then having to do with illustrations and various methods and you were just talking off camera about the true artist has a lonely life. Maybe we can pick up there, anywhere you want.

LeRoy: Yeah, well, you're generally working by yourself, and so people who like to work by themselves, which I do, you know, being by myself never ever has bothered me, and I mean I can spend all day by myself and so having that kind of temperament probably helps a lot, you know, where I don't have to seek other people and so forth.

Jones: When you work by yourself and I don't know we'll get to this, you can tell us how you begin a piece. Does your mind ever wander or are you just absolutely trained on what you're doing?

LeRoy: Well, I'd say I get probably very focused on what I'm doing, particularly watercolors, because watercolors, it's more like almost a performance, you know.

Jones: Please talk about that, because so often I've heard people say no, I will not do watercolors, they're the hardest medium.

LeRoy: Yeah. Well, watercolors, I think if you want to be successful with watercolors, you have to paint a lot in watercolor, and then you get to be very, you know, what's the word, anyhow you feel very comfortable with it, and you can't hesitate a lot, you have to be very aggressive when you paint. So you can paint a sky in watercolor in maybe 30 seconds or four or five minutes, you know, whatever, so you have to be very aggressive in painting and I think that that aggressiveness only comes out of painting a lot. So even if I don't paint for awhile, I'll probably just do like a kind of a practice painting. I'll get my paints out and I'll just start to paint, maybe start doing a tree and different things like that. Because after you paint for a certain length of time, you're never even conscious of holding the brush.

Jones: Really?

LeRoy: Mm-hmm. You just watch what's happening. So it's almost an extension of your...

Jones: So it's taking form and life.

LeRoy: Yeah, (inaudible) you're painting, you're sort of painting, you know, just like this and you're watching what's happening and then you might get some water and then it just keeps going.

Jones: When you paint like this, do you set out to do a specific form or picture or does it take you?

LeRoy: Well, with the watercolor, first off you have to draw in what you're painting if you're painting subject matter, you know, if you're painting abstract or whatever comes up you can approach it differently. But what I do, I have the drawing quite set because I don't want to have any surprises later on like that happens in oil all the time. In fact, this painting up here is one which you can't do an add on picture, and that's what that sort of became, kind of an add on. So in watercolor, you have to know where you're going when you start. And this is where a lot of people have trouble, artists who are trying to paint, because they start and they don't know where they're really trying to go with it. And so you have to have quite a good idea. Sometimes it helps to make a little rough color sketch. I've done it sometimes or if I have a sky. If there's a lot of water in it, I might do a quick sketch just to, you know, to get the feel because once you ruin a sky there's not too much you can do about it. And then just paint aggressively. And then of course if you do that, you're really focused on what you're doing, I will put on music a lot of times.

Jones: I was going to ask.

LeRoy: Yeah, and the music will play three and four times and I've hardly even heard it.

Jones: Oh really?

LeRoy: Yeah. So and it'll be things that I like, you know every once in awhile it will be. I play a lot of classical music but I like almost every kind of music. And so that's, you know, that's true and other than swearing at the picture a few times as you paint or sometimes taking it over to the sink and scrubbing out a whole area of it, you know, and then blotting it and trying to get it dry and then come back into it again. But this is pretty standard. I almost expect to do that in a painting is to run into some big problem where I have to scrub something out, so it's sort of, like I said, it's kind of a performance almost, you know, and then, you know, you're working when it's wet and sometimes making some changes but not too much.

Jones: I can see then why some people really say nuh uh.

LeRoy: Yeah, if they don't paint a lot I would say that it would be hard to do. For someone who didn't paint a lot, I would tell them they'd probably like painting in oil better or even pastel. Pastel's nice because you're typically going to end up with bright colors, so it, you know, muddiness should've be a problem with that as long as you don't keep rubbing your finger in it. But let's see, you can't go back over things much in watercolor, so once you've painting something, it's best to kind of leave it alone and then you usually find out later on that it's maybe one of the best parts, something that you weren't too happy with at the time and then later on as you evaluate the whole painting, it's good.

Jones: When you're painting to sell a piece of work, are you painting for yourself or are you painting for an audience?

LeRoy: No, I paint for myself.

Jones: So that's the mark of a good painter? If you don't like it, too bad.

LeRoy: Right, I always do that and I always do the best that I can do, so I've never painting like a painting which I thought was beneath being tried to sell it, like I wouldn't sell one. So, you know, with watercolors, sometimes it may not be a great painting but usually there's a couple of parts of it, you know, which are good, but I kind of look at watercolor like that, I mean that sometimes you might look at it and say "Well, you know, this is so and so and that's so and so but this really part here is absolutely beautiful, then to me it would be a pretty successful painting if there's something in it which is really outstanding. Because in watercolor, you know, it's kind of going to be like that. Every little piece of it is not likely to be, you know, great, even good.

Jones: We started talking about and I can't remember exactly how we came to it now, but I have the word academic down here and I think you were talking about coming at art through an academic type of thought process or study and did you do that at all?

LeRoy: Well, I didn't really, it seems like, you know, I have an MA from New York University, which I got there and then in West Virginia, but I would say that I learned very little.

Jones: New York University where?

LeRoy: NYU. And so but I think most of what you learn, you kind of learn yourself. I think with art, you know, what you learn is sort of self-taught, and I think you need maybe some help in the beginning, certainly in say figure drawing, someone who really can draw figures who could help you, but they would have to be a lot better than what you are, you know what I mean, to learn things from them. And then you'd have to have something that you're focusing on, whether you want to do very realistic drawing, you know, or whether like some of the German expressionist and so for where it's quite distorted and so forth, it's still wonderful drawing, but it's different, it's very highly stylized and things like that. If you're interested in real realistic art, it doesn't have much of a market today, you know, but a lot of people have managed to make it into one. But then I would study old masters and I would study, you know, depending. If I wanted to be a portrait artist, like I said I would study the English portrait artists and Velazquez and Franz Hals and Sargent and some of the really great, you know, portrait artists.

Jones: I learned one time in an art theory class that in this country at least or in Great Britain, that artists would travel, they didn't have geographers, and they would do the forums and they might do something even of background except a dog they would wait and then go and fill in with the person's face or head or that sort of thing, particularly if they were working with a family. Does that sound reasonable?

LeRoy: Oh sure. Sargent painted a lot of the street scenes like that and then put the figure in later, you know, I mean you can tell that when you look at the paintings and so forth. And he was one of the best people for painting on the spot, and I'm sure most all of the painters like Monet and people like that, you know, they would take it back to the studio and fiddle around with it for quite a long time being kind of perfectionists. I think Van Gogh is probably one of the few who finished a lot of his paintings right there on the spot.

Jones: On the spot?

LeRoy: Yeah. And then there's a lot, sometimes you can tell when the painting is very small, a lot of times it was painted on the spot, but you know, on rainy days Van Gogh would paint inside, so I think his point of view was much different, you know, than most artists. That's the reason why he's so interesting to study.

Jones: I've heard you speak of various painters, artists, most of whom are masters. I haven't heard you speak yet of a name that would conjure up what we'd consider modern art, cubism, all of these different periods or styles that have no figures, I mean no people, no buildings, shapes, and there may be a name that covers all of this, I don't know?

LeRoy: Well, in different types like the post impressionism people like that, Bonnard is one of my real favorite of all the artists. His work, of course, has quite a lot of distortion in it, and even his figures are not, well they don't have much finish on them, I suppose, you know, you could do it sometimes are painted very incidentally along the borders and in the backgrounds and so forth like that. He is one of my favorite artists. I never really kind of got, even when I went to NYU, was almost all the New York school, the action painters, you know, and stuff like that, and I'd go to museums and have to cover shows of their work and write up papers, of which I got really good grades because I would usually take a copy, you know, recorder, record my own feelings about the paintings and so forth, which it usually came out to be good grades. And now there are certain artists that I like and admire quite a lot who are like, you know, Max Ernst, some of the people who are, particularly the surrealists, many of those artists I admire a great deal.

Jones: You do?

LeRoy: Yeah. And the figures are part of the idea. The figures usually aren't the idea in surrealism.

Jones: Explain for those of us and the people who will be watching this about surrealism and there's other names too, and if this comes from inside, obviously, it comes from the brain of the artist who sees things that the rest of us don't. Is that the whole picture, is that the idea, I should say that?

LeRoy: Well, in surrealism, it's pretty much taking one real thing and another real thing that normally aren't put into the same relationship. So it could be a six foot pear in a room with somebody sitting looking out the window, you know, so there's nothing unusual about a pear or somebody looking out the window, but it's the approximation of the two and how these two things relate towards each other. But, you know, of course that is, maybe Magritte, how do you say his name, it's a French name?

Jones: I don't know.

LeRoy: Yeah anyhow, his work would be very much like that, and he was one of the most favorite of those people. But somebody like Salvador Dali who used to get literally hauled over the coals, I consider him an absolutely brilliant artist.

Jones: Do you really?

LeRoy: Oh yes.

Jones: He was a very haughty man.

LeRoy: Oh well he was smart. What he would do.

Jones: He knew how to market himself.

LeRoy: That was the whole thing. He made himself into, you know, a topic sort of like.

Jones: He was. I met him once when I was a child.

LeRoy: Oh really?

Jones: Yes. My mother went to a salon, that's a women's group that meet in the afternoon and they would have whatever, and he spoke at one, and he had been asked to bring some samples of his work, and he brought a very small one because he said they didn't deserve to have all of Dali.

LeRoy: Yeah.

Jones: But I met him and the thing I remember was his mustache.

LeRoy: Mustache, yeah.

Jones: And he was a fearful type of person for a child, but he loved to put people down, you know, and they loved it, they loved it.

LeRoy: Well, you remember the painting The Persistence of Memory with the sort of the clocks and so forth, you know, once you see that painting, you never forget it. And it's probably one of the most well known paintings in the world.

Jones: Yeah, well he was in the right, he lived in Los Angeles for many years and he had quite an audience there. That was perfect for him.

LeRoy: Yeah. Well, there would be a lot of times pictures of him with showgirls, stuff like that, but I thought, you know, an interesting thing, one time he was on one of these shows on television and they had a big piece of plate glass, and this made more of an impression of me to his brilliance than anything else, even his many paintings, he had this big piece of plate glass hanging there, and the person who was the, oh that did all the talking, you know.

Jones: Master of ceremonies or something?

LeRoy: Right, yeah. He was sort of making him into like a clown, that they were going to have Salvador Dali paint on this big piece of glass so that the audience could see it. And you know, these audiences that they get, you know, are kind of raucous groups of people that came around, that they're there for various reasons. But anyhow, he was going to make a painting with an egg on this piece of glass. Well, the further it went, the more everybody laughed and everything, just like he was sort of a clown. Well he came out, and he had a brush, and he took an egg and he threw it at the glass, and everybody, you know, just cracked up. And then he started to draw with the egg on there and he started to explain what he was doing, and I wish I had a recording of it because it was one of the most lucid explanations of art that I'd ever heard. And by the time he was done, the audience was absolutely, you could've heard a pin drop.

Jones: One egg?

LeRoy: Just an egg. He threw it at this big piece of glass that was being hung so that the audience could see it, and then he took his brush and he started painting, and while he was painting it he was talking and explaining what he was doing. And he had that audience right in the palm of his hand.

Jones: Well that is an art.

LeRoy: That is an art, yeah, right, to actually be able to explain something.

Jones: To talk and capture an audience.

LeRoy: Yeah. To that mixed bag that he had out there to the point where they were absolutely stunned.

Jones: Do you ever try or have you ever tried to work sort of as an impressionist or in the surrealism type of thing?

LeRoy: Well now, really I feel that you kind of have to be true to yourself, and I know kind of like how I think and what my point of view is, and so that is where I am like most comfortable. So, you know, they are who they are and I am who I am and that's just kind of the way it is. So there are certain things that I like, and I think you do get conditioned by art that you first see, sort of like the chicken coming out of the egg, you know, thinks that the duck his mother or something, and I think that whenever I first was exposed to art, many of the paintings that I saw tended to, you know, kind of captivate my aspirations in a way. And so I've kind of always liked the realism, I admire painting style and ability to paint, and Sargent is one of my favorite artists, and I like Monet an awful lot for color (inaudible).

Jones: I love Monet. Have you been at the museum?

LeRoy: I saw both shows. I saw the first show that they had up there, which was absolutely a first rate show, which I didn't expect. I'd been so used to seeing museums in New York where they would have retrospective and stuff.

Jones: Well, there's the museum at Jevronet [ph?] on the impressionist type, one some of his things there, which I have heard is fantastic.

LeRoy: Yeah. Well he certainly did a lot of work.

Jones: I think there are a few ladies from here who do plein art and they went over there to do that in that area and also visit the museum.

LeRoy: Yeah. Well most of the artists, you know, probably started pretty much with the Fontainebleau, what is the name of that forest in the, ends with, the forest that is there?

Jones: In which country, France?

LeRoy: France, yeah. Outside of Paris.

Jones: Oh, well there's (inaudible) but then also well Fontainebleau, is that right, Fontainebleau.

LeRoy: Yeah that's it, the forest there. And these people were pretty much the ones who were very dedicated to plein air painting, but I think it's kind of gotten, it's not a strange thing here with plein air groups painting.

Jones: There are a lot of groups here in the Wilmington area, you know, southeastern North Carolina.

LeRoy: Yeah, but they've been doing this for, you know, a long time. I mean, you know, you go back to the California artists and all these people that painted out there, I mean they all painted on the spot and so forth, so it's like something that they've just discovered.

Jones: So you don't do that by yourself maybe?

LeRoy: Well, I've done it, like I say in Connecticut all the paintings that I did there and upstate New York for a long, long time I painted everything out of door on the spot. And then as I started to get involved and do more figures, like I painted the yacht club in Wrightsville Beach a lot here, so a lot of those I'd take photographs because the activity is so I couldn't possibly paint. I mean I could paint the clubhouse and the water but everything moves around so fast that it's almost like doing an illustration, you have to get the material and so forth.

Jones: Bob, what brought you to Wilmington, to southeastern North Carolina? Did you always live here?

LeRoy: No, no. When I left New York up there, I sold my house up there and then I went to West Virginia for a couple of years where I owned a little house there, and then we were just looking for someplace to be, so we looked over on the eastern shore of Maryland and we looked at a lot of the cities around here and then we came to Wilmington and we liked it here and everything, and then we couldn't decide on anywhere. And then we came down one day, I said, "Well, let's just go for a couple of weeks and we'll go down to Wilmington and just go on the beach and mess around down there." So we came down here and then we bought this lot.

Jones: Just bought the lot?

LeRoy: Yeah, we just found it, we had no idea where we were too much, and luckily, you know, for just buying it we didn't realize that the person said, "Well, you know, the ground is high here, so that's good." Well I figured okay, now I'm really glad that we're up on high land here.

Jones: Now when was this?

LeRoy: About 21 years ago, 20 years ago.

Jones: So that was 1980 something?

LeRoy: Mm-hmm. And then I got busy and started on this house, and I just love it here. I mean it's different, you know, so you have to be able to, you know, what's that song, you know, I'm not with the girl, I love the girl I'm with, like that, that's the way it is with places where you live, you know, I love New York but I also love it here. And those two places can be quite different.

Jones: They're opposite. So you didn't know anybody when you came here, is that it?

LeRoy: No, uh-huh.

Jones: You just came, you went to the beach, you found the lot, you bought it and said, "This is it."

LeRoy: Yeah, and then I spent a couple of years building the house.

Jones: You were doing no painting at that time?

LeRoy: Well, not when I was building the house, I wasn't.

Jones: You must've rented something somewhere to build this house?

LeRoy: Well, you know, some people, now up in West Virginia a lot of people build their own houses, and it's a smart thing to do because these people, you know, with these great big mortgages, see I never had a mortgage on this house, I never owed a nickel on it, so just think of all the money that I've saved in interest, you know, by building your own house. So if I didn't have this house and if I were younger, I would build my house all over again. That's the way to do it in my book. It, you know, you can get a couple of manuals out of the library that tells you, you know, some construction type of things and get busy.

Jones: Well, you've got to have instructions all along the way.

LeRoy: Yes, and I had no trouble ever with inspections. In fact, the inspector would always come and tell me what a beautiful job I was doing.

Jones: How long did it take you?

LeRoy: A couple of years, but when we moved in it wasn't finished either, so I worked on it a lot after we were in here.

Jones: Where were you living while you were building the house?

LeRoy: Just up the road about a mile.

Jones: Okay, and how about art, did it suffer at that time?

LeRoy: Oh yeah, it did, I didn't do any art during that period because building is sort of like having a tiger by the tail, you know, once you start you have to finish it. So that's kind of what I did, but I like the house and from the back deck out there I just couldn't find a place that I like better. We'll go out there in the evening and sit out there when the stars start to come out and just sit out there until the stars all come out at night.

Jones: And you don't have neighbors bothering you?

LeRoy: That's right, and even the few neighbors that we have never bothered us anyhow, you know, and it's actually kind of unique and it just turned out to be pure luck.

Jones: So you've not regretted moving here?

LeRoy: Oh no, uh-huh. And then at the end of the street here, Howl's Creek comes in and we have a little marina there, so everybody here has a boat dock, so and that was just a gimme that I never thought would be, and yet today you know what a boat dock costs, it costs thousands of dollars.

Jones: I know, it's just unreal.

LeRoy: It's unbelievable.

Jones: You can't play Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn anymore.

LeRoy: No.

Jones: How did you get involved with the art community here? While you were building the house and getting to know Wilmington, did you spend any time downtown?

LeRoy: No. I just ran into some of the members, Anne Curry and a couple of the people who aren't here anymore down at, they were having a little show down there at Chandler's Wharf, so I got to talking with them and everything, and so I joined the art club and then I've been in it ever since.

Jones: You're a member of the art association?

LeRoy: Yes.

Jones: Okay, fine. How often do they have? I went to a show at St. James was it a few months back it was.

LeRoy: Here in town?

Jones: Yeah. Maybe it was not St. James. Was it St. James or was it First Pres owns what used to be the Catherine Kennedy Center? There was a show and Yvonne Jones had invited us to come and it was for two days where various artists were showing their pieces.

LeRoy: Oh, mm-hmm.

Jones: And they all seemed to know each other and I thought it was the arts council or arts league or arts something or other.

LeRoy: Yeah. Well, I used to belong to different galleries. Gallery C up in Raleigh, they represented me for awhile, and then there's one up on Marblehead up in Massachusetts that sold some of my paintings up there. And then I was over with (inaudible) over there for awhile and probably once I get the bathroom done upstairs, which has been this never ending job, but once I get it done, then I have kind of a little bit of a new direction also that I'm interested in.

Jones: Are you measuring any young students that come along or young artists, do you do anything like that?

LeRoy: No, but I certainly would. I mean I've always told all the members of the art association if there's any time that you want me to look at your work or help you in any way, I'm just happy to do it.

Jones: How would you account for the huge influx to the Wilmington area of artists? They're not all good, you know, we all know that, they're all trying something, but it seems that there's just a tremendous number of young people who come here trying out their ideas and showing things. Every time they have a festival downtown, you see them.

LeRoy: Yeah. Well, I don't think Wilmington is that good a destination for an artist. I think a lot of them like Wilmington and just like a lot of the students I think who come here because of the ocean and all the stuff like that, I think that it certainly would've been a draw for me to go to the university here rather than up in Raleigh or someplace, you know, the ocean and I think the town is very pretty and it's interesting. But the problem with Wilmington, it doesn't have a central art area say like Charleston does within, you know, a few block area there's a lot of galleries. Everything is kind of spread out around here.

Jones: Or on King Street Gallery.

LeRoy: Right, and it goes clear around to the, you know, to Mayfaire, to the Sofo or you know, right, it's just sprinkled the whole way around here. I don't think that that's good for Wilmington, and there's no suburbia much to Wilmington. You know, you take like you've got New York City, well, if you took the suburbs away from New York City, you really wouldn't have, you know, it's kind of a display case, and where all these people in the suburbs are the ones who make up the 17 or 18 million people there, so and we don't have any suburbs.

Jones: Yeah, I'm wondering, I've talked to a number of young people and I'll ask them why are you here, what brought you here, and so many have said, "Well, there are other artists here, it's the light." I've heard several say it's the light here. I've heard several say, "Well, there's opportunities in many ways because the film studios are here," and all different reasons. And one established artist said, "In two or three years they'll be gone, they're not going to be making any money, they're not making any money, they're really living out a fantasy, it's a wannabe." And I thought well that's kind of interesting. And I asked this question of each artist I speak to and they've all got different ideas, but they all say about ten percent of us are making a living.

LeRoy: Yeah, well I would imagine it's probably pretty hard. For one thing is a lot of the people who come here are retired people and a lot of them, you know, they don't spend a lot of money on art and sometimes the businesses that they were in where they made enough money to come here was not at all associated with the arts, so they're not really tuned in to it, and I think a lot of people come from the New York area and the Washington area, they come from a bigger area with a lot of arts to a smaller area and they don't expect to find too much here. And a lot of times selling stuff down at the gallery, and I was probably one of the better sellers over the years there, if not the best seller from selling stuff down there, but the prices that you had to charge here were very suppressed. I mean, you know, it's hard to sell much stuff over $1,000.00 here, and I'd say a lot of the median prices, well I've sold quite a few things for around $1,500.00 but basically the area here is around $500.00 to $600.00 up to maybe $1,100.00 to $1,200.00. Now there are people who put $3,000.00 on their paintings but I bet you, you know, it's very hard to sell them. So these same paintings in say a large city like Washington DC or where there's a lot of apartments and there's a lot of people there who make good money would probably expect that it would be at least double that. And I've had people, a lot of people from DC buy my work down here I think thinking, you know, wow.

Jones: Do you work on commission at all?

LeRoy: Well, I don't like to.

Jones: I've heard this a lot.

LeRoy: Yeah. For one thing is if you're working in the $500.00 to $1,000.00 market, if you're working through a gallery and they take half, and you framed it, well there's hardly any point in doing it. You could end up with $300.00 or $350.00, so what would be the, you know, the point there?

Jones: I heard there's a market for let's say with all the building we've had going on here of commercial building and so forth, there's banks or whatever, that they're always in the market to decorate their lobbies or various expensive lawyers' suites and whatever with good artwork and I had heard that some people make their living doing that.

LeRoy: Yeah, but you know what happens is that they usually get an interior decorator who very often comes in and puts in prints of Capri and you know, places like that.

Jones: You mean hotel art?

LeRoy: Yeah, and sometimes they're very nice prints and they're very nicely framed like in the lobby of the Wilmington Health Association where I go over there to get a tune-up every once in awhile, and they are, you know, and this is what. It's non-local art, they didn't buy it. Now a good example from my viewpoint, the Surf Club down there, what they used to do is have each year you could put in a certain amount of paintings. They invited about seven or eight of us to do this. So I put in paintings down there and they almost always, almost all of them would sell, and people in California, here, there and everything else. So it was a nice little thing, you know, maybe to sell seven or eight paintings at that one venue. Then they decided to spruce it up a little bit down there and they got an interior decorator who'd come in and put prints up. Now Jody Rippe [ph?], who's a member of that down there, she bought three of my paintings, she talked to them down there and wanted some original art, so she brought three of my paintings to put up down there, so presumably they're there since I don't go there to dine, I don't know whether they're there or not. But that's what happens an awful lot of times, you know, instead of going locally and trying to find some stuff which would have an interest in it, they're really just out buying wallpaper to decorate places, and you know, it makes it another problem for local artists. I mean, I see some, I think my standards are pretty good, but I see some art which I like, I see some pretty good things around, you know, which could be, I would think people would like it, and I would think that doctor's offices and dentists and people like that would like local art.

Jones: I've seen in various doctor's offices.

LeRoy: Some local art.

Jones: Some local art or else one doctor I know collects Bob Timberlake things and that's fine. And then there's another doctor who has made a habit of buying from various shows he's gone to, various artists, he doesn't concentrate on anyone, and I said, "How do you choose?" He said, "If I like it."

LeRoy: Well, that's a good reason to buy it.

Jones: And that's a good reason, yeah. So Bob, are you working on that or is that just something right now that you have to get back to?

LeRoy: Well, I had been working on it but when I did I had it almost finished and then I've just come back with the brush because it was sort of like this part. This part here was kind of part of the finished part, and then I'd just come back in it and just kind of blurred the whole thing out to make kind of a new start. I have a whole lot of paintings like that that I kind of abandon after awhile. Like this would be one, sort of a pastel, see and this is a figure here and these were going to be moths on the window.

Jones: And you've abandoned it?

LeRoy: Yeah, pretty much. I don't think that I'll come back to it. (inaudible) kind of use my energy.

Jones: So what do you do with your abandoned art?

LeRoy: Oh, I look at it and it hangs around reminding me of themselves for a long time and then I just. Sometimes I go back and work on it or new inspiration. I saw a few things the other day, some heads that I'd done and now I'm going to just practice on them.

Jones: I was told also that you were a teacher, an art teacher, or you taught.

LeRoy: Yeah.

Jones: Where do you do this?

LeRoy: Well, I taught in public schools up in New York for awhile and then I taught at the Famous Artists School.

Jones: Oh, that is a famous place.

LeRoy: Yeah, right, in Connecticut over there, and that was a great experience. I really enjoyed that. I met a lot of the artists, and in fact this is where the illustration had kind of gone, so a lot of these people were older people and they just had sort of retirement jobs but they were terrific artists.

Jones: Well, I guess they either sold to or contracted with a lot of commercial places, didn't they?

LeRoy: What, the Famous Artists School?

Jones: Yeah.

LeRoy: No, what they did, they taught a commercial course, a fine arts course and then sort of a children's course, and when I was there they had about 90 instructors I think there, but it was a great place to work. I mean it was so much fun there, because you'd get to go out for lunch pretty often, and all the artists were really very bad dressers, and ones in the writing school were always, you know, the bow ties and all that kind of stuff, so if there was somebody like Donald Kingman [ph?] or somebody who was visiting the school, he was on the faculty of the painting school, then somebody would pop their head in the door and say, "Well, Don Kingman's here and we're all going out for lunch. Do you want to go?" And this was great because you didn't have to work for two hours and you'd go someplace and they always went to terrific restaurants. There was a lot of them in Westport. So we'd go there and, you know, have the drinks and have a really a good time. We would have to borrow somebody's tie, borrow somebody's coat. Sometimes the sleeves would be kind of short but that was just so much fun there. And then I started to teach. After I got my Master's degree, I thought commercial art was really caving in to television, and if I had it to do all over again, I don't know whether I would've done it or not, but I got a job teaching in a high school, and they did, oh, they treated me really nicely, gave me up to step 12 and all that kind of stuff. So I did that for quite awhile and then whenever I left there was when we come down here. I decided just to quit there and just go back to painting fine art.

Jones: Is there anything that you haven't done that you would really want to do in the world of art?

LeRoy: Well, I keep kidding my wife all the time, you know, for a long time I told her that I wanted to go to Venice and Venice this, Venice that, you know, I was mooning around for a couple years, so then finally one day she said, "Well, I'm going to get the tickets and we're gonna go." So she got the tickets and we went, so we were there for awhile and I just loved it there.

Jones: That's wonderful.

LeRoy: And then of course I study maps and everything so I knew where everything was there and all the places were.

Jones: It's easy to get around.

LeRoy: Oh yes, on the vaporettos or whatever they call it. So that was really great. That was one of the high points, and I'd always thought it would be nice to go there and paint for a couple of months, you know, just to get a place there and paint, you know, on the scene and stuff.

Jones: Now you've done that, so there's nothing.

LeRoy: Well, I wasn't painting when I was there though.

Jones: Oh, so the deal now is you want to go back and paint?

LeRoy: Yeah. But so I don't know. She keeps saying, "Well, if you want to do it, well, you know, you can do it" and so forth, but I don't think I'll ever do that.

Jones: Is there anything else that you can share with us before we close? This has been very interesting. You had a varied career and you're the only one I've talked to that has had such a varied and continuous career in art. From the coal miner's son.

LeRoy: Yeah, that's right.

Jones: Are you doing anything special here in Wilmington now or are you just going to finish up your bathroom?

LeRoy: Yeah, I'm going to finish up the bathroom and then I'm going to, because I've always painted, I mean there would hardly ever be a month go by that I hadn't painted, and a lot of times I would just always paint continually, I'd just done that well even whenever I was here, but then with the bathroom up there, I've had to promise my wife I'd finish that, and boy it's been a job.

Jones: I'll bet.

LeRoy: My wife said to be sure to get about four or five copies of this so that anybody who are insomniacs, we could give them.

Jones: You can have as many copies as you want. Bob, I'm going to close now. It's been very interesting, it's been a lot of fun talking to you, and you obviously enjoy what you do and we've learned a lot. And hopefully whoever reads this and sees this is going to learn a lot too.

LeRoy: Well, I'm sure, you know, there's a lot of rambling going on it and so forth, but you know.

Jones: No, no, you've been yourself and that's what counts, and that's what we're after.

LeRoy: Okay.

Jones: Thanks a lot.

LeRoy: Well, I enjoyed it. Thank you.

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