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Subject: Jack Potter, 74, Illustrator Who Turned to Teaching

New York
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Date Posted: September 23, 2002 3:15:08 EDT

Jack Potter, an innovative illustrator of the 1950's who suddenly dropped out of the field and achieved his widest influence as a teacher of drawing and conceptual thinking at the School of Visual Arts, died at his home in New York on Sept. 14. He was 74.

The cause was a heart attack, said John Ruggeri, a former student.

For 45 years, until his death, he taught "Drawing and Thinking," a class created to break artists of the habit of seeing, as he would say, "with a middle-of-the-road eye."

He engendered such excitement in both beginners and advanced students, said Silas H. Rhodes, chairman of the board of the School of Visual Arts, "that he changed their way of thinking and, consequently, their way of drawing."

Mr. Ruggeri recalls Mr. Potter's dictum that the lines his students made should not be "sorta, kinda, maybe," but "straight! curved! fluid!" Mr. Potter demanded that drawing be physically rigorous, Mr. Ruggeri said, and the class "was our gym."

A typical exercise was intended to break students' natural tendency to see what was literally before them. He demanded that students not draw what they saw but rather interpret what they saw, allowing their emotions to guide their art.

In his first career in the 1950's, when the Norman Rockwell method of painterly realism was popular for magazines and advertising, Mr. Potter helped introduce a novel impressionistic style that owed a debt to Vuillard and Toulouse Lautrec. His elegant and expressive line gave commonplace scenes a sense of majesty. While he preferred to work in black and white, and his favorite media were black crayon and charcoal, he was an exquisite colorist.

He further insisted that illustrators draw not from photographs, which was then the accepted method, but straight from life. He charged, according to Walt Reed in "Illustrators in America," "that drawing from photographs is criminal."

Born in Bellflower, Calif., on Nov. 27, 1927, Mr. Potter attended the Art Center School of Design in Pasadena, where, after studying with the figurative artist Rico Lebrun, he developed a taste for classical drawing. He came to New York in 1950 and immediately received coveted commissions from Ladies' Home Journal, Jardin de Modes, The New York Times Magazine and Cosmopolitan.

Soon afterward, he left for California to accept a teaching post in the illustration department at the Art Center, only to return a few months later to New York, then the center of commercial art. His clients included North East Airlines, United States Ship Lines, RKO Pictures, Lee Carpets, Helena Rubenstein, Ponds and Coca-Cola.

In 1957, at the height of his commercial success, he joined the faculty of the School of Visual Arts and quit the illustration field to devote himself exclusively to teaching. The reason, he told a friend, was that clients "want me to do the same thing every time."

He left no immediate survivors.

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