Pittsburgh artist and illustrator Nat Youngblood (1916–2009) would have been 100 years old today. Forty years ago, Youngblood was a local household name and he was recognized by the Arts and Crafts Center of Pittsburgh (now Pittsburgh Center for the Arts) as the 1976 Artist of the Year. During his 35-year tenure at The Pittsburgh Press, he was art director of the Sunday Roto and Family Magazine sections. He produced artwork for an estimated 400 magazine covers.
The Fort Pitt Museum houses a permanent collection of more than 15 paintings by Youngblood, many of which are displayed year ‘round on the museum’s first floor. Additionally, one of his paintings is part of the History Center’s new exhibition, The Gift of Art: 100 Years of Art from the Pittsburgh Public Schools’ Collection.
In early 2017, Fort Pitt Museum visitors will be able to see an expanded display of Nat Youngblood’s artwork and learn more about his accomplishments and artistic work in the region.
Subjects Youngblood revisited throughout his art career include Western Pennsylvania landscapes, city scenes, historical narratives, portraits of local leaders, and much more. He primarily produced watercolor paintings but also pen and ink drawings for his work at The Pittsburgh Press. As his art appeared almost weekly in the Sunday paper, locals were familiar with his distinct style. Press readers were even known to collect the magazine covers that featured his work.
Readers wrote to Youngblood and his editor, too, often congratulating but sometimes criticizing the artist’s work. Take, for instance, a Family Magazine illustration printed on Feb. 26, 1961. In the middle ground of the winter scene, a small, hardly noticeable, dead bird appears in the snow. People wrote in, questioning the artist’s motives: “Why did you put it in the picture at all?” read one comment. “Were you trying to hide something?” said another. “Do you have something against birds?” In response, he voiced his artistic defense: “I was trying to express the hopelessness of all the snow and cold weather we’d been having in the winter… even the birds had died.”
Despite this instance in which Youngblood’s work portrayed hopelessness and death, more often, his winter scenes romanticized the city and its history with imagery of bygone eras. For a 1962 cover titled “Christmas That Was, In Pittsburgh,” the artist imagined a seasonal view of the Point, as it may have looked in 1817. In the foreground, a family outside of their log cabin gives a neighborly wave to passersby in a horse-drawn sleigh. The activity takes place on the brink of a hillside overlooking the historic Point. Blue rivers and sky contrast the white snow that blankets the landscape.
Again in 1979, one year before Youngblood retired from The Press, he painted a scene on the theme of nostalgia. His work for The Press’ Roto Magazine cover “Our Christmas Card To You” depicts glass company operator Robert C. Schmertz’s mansion as it once stood in Oakland in 1875. The artist again worked a horse-drawn sleigh into the festive holiday picture.
Today, on his 100th birthday, the legacy of artist and illustrator Nat Youngblood lives on in the memories of many Pittsburghers. The Fort Pitt Museum, still home to many of his paintings, looks forward to featuring even more of his work in 2017. Happy Birthday, Nat.
Jaclyn Sternick is the events coordinator at the Fort Pitt Museum.