Sunday, February 25, 2018

Updating the Quaker Oats Man

The current issue of Illustration magazine recounts the story of how the iconic image of the Quaker Oats man was created. Illustrator Robert Bonfils recalls being hired in 1965 to paint an updated version of an earlier one by Haddon Sundblom (1899-1976):

"While I was freelancing in Chicago, one of my accounts asked me to make corrections to the work of several famous illustrations before they went back in production. In one particular instance, an agency wanted me to duplicate the Quaker Oats Man. The original art was deteriorating and they wanted a new image to use for future products....I worked only in gouache, casein, and acrylics on illustration board, so I did the whole painting in that medium. I did not touch up on the original by Haddon Sundblom. I am pleasantly surprised and honored to be his copyist."

The logo had other incarnations, both earlier and later than the one by Sundblom / Bonfils. 

According to Neatorama:
"The original 1877 Quaker Man was a full-length picture of a Quaker holding a scroll with the word 'pure' on it (just in case the integrity/honesty/purity point didn't get across). In 1946, graphic designer Jim Nash created a black and white head portrait of the smiling Quaker Man and in 1957, Haddon Sundblom made the full-color portrait. The last update to the logo was in 1972, when Saul Bass created the stylized graphic that still appears on Quaker Oats product packages today."

But in fact the simplified version done by Saul Bass was scrapped and the company went back to its earlier painted look, slimming him down with a modified version in 2012.
Illustration Magazine: Preview the current issue #59, which not only explores the logo, along with illustrators Harold McCauley, Jes Schlaikjer, Early 19th Century Illustrators on Expedition

Wikipedia: History of the Quaker Oats logo
Previously on GJ: Copying the Sundblom logo


Bob said...

Very interesting, James! Package illustrating reminds me of that wonderful painting under "Managing Details" in your book Imaginative Realism. What really amazes me is the photorealistic shine on the red truck's hood (lower right of painting). I guess you "find it in the paint!"

Your post also reminds me of a popular design for a crystal AM radio, which includes 35 turns of wire around a Quaker Oats box. For some reason the impetuous side of me had to cut out the oval around the man with a hobby knife and re-glue it in its place, upside down!

scottT said...

I think the Nash black and white is the best, but Sundblom captured it well in color. I think the Bonfils by comparison lacks the character of the others. I'm surprised to find that Saul Bass created a '70s stylized version. I don't remember that one at all.

DeadSpiderEye said...

There's a Quaker meeting hall in my town, you don't see may of 'em smiling like that. We have Plymouth Brethren here too, now they definitely don't do much smiling at all, they do like their porridge though.

James Gurney said...

DeadSpiderEye, Quaker Oats was the first cereal to be trademarked, and over its long history the Quakers or Society of Friends has had some issues with the use of the Quaker character in advertising campaigns, especially when it has used violence.

ScottT I wish I was able to find a better repro of the original Sundblom painting and the Nash painting. That Saul Bass stylized version reminds me of the one of Colonel Sanders, which ended up being used for KFC.

Bob, You reminded me of all the uses we had for a Quaker Oats box. Nice to have something like that made of cardboard.

scottT said...

Bob, I made a pinhole camera out of one. It works well for that.