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The Cute Greeting Card Artwork Of Louie Schmitt And Stan Spohn

The consummately cute Fifties-era Hallmark booklet below was drawn by Louie Schmitt (1908-1993) and painted by Stan Spohn (1915-2012), both of whom were Disney trained artists.

Schmitt had animated at Disney since the mid-1930s, but is best known for being Tex Avery’s layout man and character designer for a series of MGM shorts in the late-1940s such as Little ‘Tinker (below), The Cat That Hated People, Lucky Ducky, and Bad Luck Blackie. Spohn was an Art Center-educated Disney background painter who did some terrific development artwork on “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” sequence in Fantasia.

Around 1948, give or take a year, Schmitt and Spohn met J. C. Hall, the founder of Hallmark Cards. Hall offered them a lucrative deal to come and work at Hallmark’s headquarters in Kansas City. Schmitt and Spohn told their story to cartoonist Dean Norman, who recounted it in his fantastic self-published book Studio Cards: Funny Greeting Cards and People Who Created Them:

“When we first came [to Hallmark] they said they didn’t have space for us yet in the art department. They really just didn’t want us to corrupt the sweet young girls that worked there, because our language can get sort of salty. So they made us work in a tent on the roof. It was hotter than hell in the summer in Kansas City. After a couple of weeks of sweating it out in the tent we came down off the roof, found an empty office and moved our stuff in. The Old Man thought the girl artists would be jealous, because we got an office while they worked in booths. But they didn’t mind. We got along fine and didn’t corrupt any of them…We thought we would go nuts. A whole building full of twittering young girls, and the stuffy work rules! We hated it, but it was good money, and we did get to do complete art on our cards. Mr. Hall loved our art. So after we had been here a few months, we told him our wives missed California so much that they were going to leave us. We was awful sorry, but we had to quit. Well, the Old Man did what we figured he might do. He offered us contracts to mail in our art from California.”

Schmitt, who I believe did the drawings for the “How to Take Care of Baby” booklet, had a style that was pure syrupy cartoon formula – historian Michael Barrier dismissed Schmitt’s designs as “bargain-basement-Bambi flavor” – yet he also had terrific command of cartooning principles and knew how to inject personality into his characters.

It’s easy to understand why his work was so highly valued by Hall, especially when contrasted to the listless illustrative style that was predominant in the greeting card industry at the time:

It seems that Schmitt and Spohn worked as a team, and even had an art studio together after they moved back to Los Angeles. Schmitt died in 1993, but Stan Spohn is (I believe) still with us at the age of 97. [Editor’s note: Spohn died in 2012, a few months after this post was published.] There was an article about Spohn in the Monterey County Weekly a few years back where he was holding up one of his Hallmark paintings:

If anyone at Hallmark is reading this, please consider doing a book of Schmitt and Spohn’s artwork. I’d be happy to help–just drop me a line. Their work looks deceptively simple, but there’s a real art to creating such aggressively cute cartoon characters. I have more of their booklets and fold-outs that I will post here if there’s interest. Click on any of the booklet images in this post for a larger version.

  • Jeffers

    I agree with the comment about the deceptively simple artwork. That booklet should offend both men and women alike with those neanderthal gender stereotypes. Woman have natural abilities to care for children and men are clueless morons? Did Hallmark do any cards featuring stereotyped minorities?

    • James

      I strongly doubt anyone was offended by it in the day. It was just meant as a fun little baby shower gift–not something to be dissected for its potential political and social role for the betterment of the human race.

    • TheDirtyVicar

      Really? I mean – really?? On cue, someone actually managed to be offended by harmless, inoffensive cartoon gags about mommy and daddy bunnies!! We live in a modern world with hit TV shows featuring serial killer protagonists and movie franchises about cannibals and hitmen, but quaintly dated domestic humor with bunnies offends our delicate sensibilities? No wonder we can’t watch classic cartoons on television uncut anymore, or get uncensored Golden Age cartoons on DVD. Back to normalcy, this is a beautiful card for anyone with an ounce of a sense of humor and more than one layer of outer skin. Too bad no one in this enlightened age can paint like this anymore, but apparently that’s beside the point.

      • TheBandSnapsBack

        Unfortunately, such is the upside-down nature of our culture that innocent things are dissected for their sinister undertones, while things that are up front about their sordidness are praised, or at least accepted, for their supposed candor and honesty.

      • Chris Sobieniak

        This is what I hate about postmodernism. We see beyond the facade and think what we want to think in the end, and not accept it for what it was or what was the intent at the time these were made.

    • Mike

      Keep in mind this is from a generation that didn’t go out of their way to be offended by every little thing.

      • Chris Sobieniak

        I think we should learn a tip from those times.

        I mean the worst we get here is a father holding a leaky diaper into a waste basket, nothing else.

    • Jeffers

      My only issue with this card is that it blatantly states that men are lazy, insensitive, violent, dolts who would probably end up killing their child if left alone too long. It’s a stereotype still around these day and one that many seem to believe. Movies and sitcoms see a man trying to care for a child as such an abnormality that it’s rife with comedy gold. Woman and racial minorities and persons with physical and mental disabilities are taboo to make fun of in family entertainment but with men it’s just harmless fun. Show me a hallmark card that states girls shouldn’t be concerned with being educated because their only concern should be in finding a man to marry and keeping him happy. Hell, even Blondie got up and got a job!


      • Jeffers, I agree with you.
        While I’m not offended by the card, there is a huge double standard in the way men and women are mined for laughs.
        It’s probably most widespread in Greeting Cards (check out how many Mother’s Day cards carry the “thanks for putting up with a schmuck like me” theme), but it exists in sitcoms and movies as well. It not only continues today, but it’s worse. Any resemblances to Gracie Allen or Lucille Ball today?

      • TheDirtyVicar

        You must both be lots of fun to sit next to at parties.

  • Norco

    Looking at these too long will induce diabetes.

  • Ryoku

    If Hallmark could get an artist to draw cards like this I’d start buying birthday\get well\happy mothers day\x-mas cards again.

    At the moment, I make them myself.

  • dbenson

    Didn’t bother with the text — The gags and poses stand alone. It feels like an above-average MGM cartoon.

  • Mister Twister

    That drawing Spohn is holding is quite naughty.

  • right click-save picture as…

  • Jorge Garrido

    The technique on the fur is immaculate. Were that I could one day paint like that.

  • w

    I like cute stuff. His work is good! Post more!

  • ShouldBeWorkin’

    Always wondered who some of the artists who did these were. Thanks.

    It seems that animation and cartooning have many who live well into their 90s. Anyone else notice that?

    • Chris Sobieniak

      I have and it’s no secret many of ’em have had very illustrious lives in doing so.