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WWII veteran Black, instrumental in 'Mr. Clean' and 'Smokey' campaigns, dies

DAYTON, Ohio — A Kettering man instrumental to two of the nation’s most iconic advertisement figures died Sunday after a brief illness.

Noted local artist and educator Harry Richard “Dick” Black was pronounced dead at his home.

Best known as the creator of Procter & Gamble’s Mr. Clean and his contributions to the U.S. Forest Service’s Smokey Bear campaign, Black was 92.

Funeral arrangement are pending at the Fairmont Presbyterian Church in Kettering.

“We need more artists and nice guys, he was both of them,” Dick Hook, Black’s longtime friend and fellow church member said. “He was a tremendous artist and first class all-around guy.”

After Black’s paintings appeared in the Saturday Evening Post in 1956, he was commissioned by the Department of Interior to paint Smokey Bear, the U.S. Forest Service’s iconic wildfire prevention mascot created by Albert Staehle in 1944. Black painted the bear for 20 years.

His 1956 creation “Mr. Clean” — a muscular, bald man who “gets rid of dirt and grime and grease in just a minute” — was selected by Procter & Gamble from 20 submissions in 1957.

The company launched the first Mr. Clean products in 1958. Six months after the release, Mr. Clean was America’s top selling household cleaner, according to a Procter & Gamble website.

One of six children born to a Philadelphia family and bred during the Great Depression, Black lost his mother at age 12.

He later attended the University of Syracuse and several Philadelphia art schools on scholarship.

Black worked as an assistant art director and graphic sketch artist in Philadelphia before joining United States Army Air Corps, the predecessor to the U.S. Air Force, during World War II.

Friend Ernie Sheeler of Dayton’s Wright-Dunbar neighborhood said Black was a pilot and worked at Wright Field where he painted pictures of airplanes and their maneuvers presented to U.S. Congress for funding purposes.

Sheeler said Black met everyone from painter Norman Rockwell, airplane co-creator Orville Wright and helicopter creator Igor Sikorsky during his lifetime.

“He was just a very, very kind gentle man,” said Sheeler, who owns Wright family portrays by Black. “He would just mesmerise you and hypnotize you with the stories he got to live through his 92 years of life.”

Black received an honorable discharge in 1947 and worked for a studio, before opening his own studio in 1950. He freelanced for several magazines and painted illustrations for a list of national companies that included Shell Oil, BankAmericard, NCR and Frigidaire.

Black was also a notable arts educator.

He taught at University of Dayton from 1967 to 1982 and began working at Sinclair Community College in 1975.

Black has taught the Sinclair lifelong learning classes art classes at Rosewood Arts Centre for at least a decade, said Shayna McConville, Cultural Arts Manager at City of Kettering.

He taught several times a week until becoming ill a few months ago.

“He certainly is very well respected in the community,” McConville said.”He had a number of followers who took his class.”

Anne Holaday, coordinator of Sinclair’s life long learning program, said students took Black’s classes “because of him.”

“Art was his love, but I would say that teaching was his passion,” Holaday said. “He was such a powerful and engaging instructor. Class wasn’t a class. He and his students were more like a family. He was a part of their lives and they were a part of his life.”

The member of the Dayton Society of Painters, National Portrait Society, Sculptors National Portrait Society, Western Ohio Watercolor Society and Mississippi Watercolor Society, Black sold his diverse catalog of art work online at richardblackartist.com.

Fairmont Presbyterian Associate Pastor Denise Weaver said some of Black’s most impressive works depict his wife, Virginia, and sons, Richard Robin, Christopher Andrew and Timothy Michael Black.

Weavere was particularly impressed by a tender painting of Black and his wife on their wedding day.

The high school sweethearts were married 60 years before Virginia “Ginnie” Black’s death in 2003.

“Some people married that long are just existing (together),” Weaver said. “There was one where he was still very much in loved with her.”

Black told the Dayton Daily News in 2004 that he was adrift after his wife’s death until his youngest son, in an effort to keep him engaged, commissioned a painting of The Last Supper.

Black said he felt an invisible presence guiding his quill as he created the work.

His 9-by-15-foot interpretation of Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘The Last Supper’ was displayed at several local churches before being sent to the home of Black’s son in Dallas.

arobinson@DaytonDailyNews.com
 

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