16 May 2017

George H. Wert, Pulp Artist

The rocky amber mountains in the distance and the sparse scrub grass underfoot place the scene in the western American desert. A spooked horse rears back almost vertically, while a cowboy in red shirt, leather vest, green bandanna, and tall yellow hat holds tightly to the reins with his left hand. In his right he steadies his revolver, and with steely-eyed determination squeezes off a shot. 


Can you picture the scene? Hillsborough artist George H. Wert painted this cover for the October 2, 1926 issue of Western Story Magazine while looking at an old horse ambling in the meadow outside the window of his Amwell Road cabin. And he was only getting started.



George H. Wert illustration for a 1921 calendar.

George Harrison Wert was born in Brook, Indiana in 1888, His father worked for the railroad, and then later as a guard at the Indiana State Prison. After he was done with his schooling Wert also worked for the railroad. He got married in 1912, and by 1917 he had two small children, which disqualified him from being drafted during the first world war. After a move to Joliet, Illinois, he started working as an artist for an advertising company.

By the early 1920s Wert was living in Memphis, Tennessee and contributing illustrations to Collier's and other magazines. Some time after their fourth child was born in 1924, the family moved to Yonkers, where Wert began illustrating for the big New York City "pulp" publishing houses.  Pulps - named for the cheap wood-pulp paper on which they were printed - were fiction magazines popular between the 1890s and 1950s. Wert contributed interior pen and ink illustrations as well as color cover paintings for such titles as Action Stories, Short Stories, Sea Stories, and The Popular Magazine


Wert drew this picture of his log cabin in 1928.
However, his specialty was western scenes. In July 1926 The Courier News reported that he had bought the old Hahr farm on Amwell Road near Neshanic. To set the mood for his work, Wert decided that the property needed a log cabin. One of his neighbors, Richard Stryker, helped him carry hand-hewn logs and stones down from the Sourland Mountain. John Amsler of Flagtown built the cabin.

This is how The Courier News described the cabin in 1928:

The interior is very beautiful, with its wide fireplace and artistic furnishings. Unusual objects such as cowboy bridles and six-shooters suggest the Western stories which Mr. Wert delights to illustrate.

Wert's years in Hillsborough were his most prolific. He painted covers for such pulp titles as Western Story, North West Stories, Lariat, Western Adventures, and Wild West Weekly, as well as contributing interior pen and ink illustrations to those magazines and many others. Pretty amazing for a man who had never been much further west than Memphis. Essentially he came East to go West!


Detail of a Wert painting that was used as the cover for the
August 14, 1926 Western Story Magazine

Unlike some famous artists who spent time in our area but never really became part of the community (such as George Bellows), Wert and family were fully invested in Hillsborough. When his log cabin became too much of a roadside attraction he built another house on the property. He was elected to the school board at least twice. When the family decided it was time to move again, they moved to the Roycefield area. His daughter Winona married prominent Hillsborough farmer Richard Doyle in 1938. He donated a sketch of the Neshanic Methodist Church that was used for their fundraising cookbook in 1941. All the while turning out incredible artwork - especially the many covers like the ones in the collage below.


A selection of pulp covers from George H. Wert's most creative period, 1924 to 1934.

George and his wife moved to Virginia in 1942 to live with their son John, but by 1947 he was back in New Jersey, living in Readington. In 1949 he told The Courier News - perhaps tongue-in-cheek - that his paintings were not proper for children and that he was going to switch to political cartoons!

He died on April 15, 1950 at the age of 61.





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