Jon Gnagy, known to many as America’s first television artist, was self-taught and garnered much attention for his talent at an early age. A Kansas native, he accepted a position as Art Director for a public relations firm in Oklahoma at just 17 years old where he wrote and illustrated advertising material for aircraft companies. During the height of the Depression, Jon secured a contract that resulted in a full page ad in the Saturday Evening Post and Fortune Magazine. He served as Art Director for the War Service Committee during WWII and afterwards became high in demand on the lecture circuit providing demonstrations at colleges and universities.
The advent of television provided Jon with yet another opportunity to share his talent. On May 14, 1946, he was featured as the first segment in the first commercial television show ever to broadcast. Transmitted from atop the Empire State Building in New York, his audience initially reached about 200 viewers within an 80 mile radius but his trademark plaid shirt, trim Vandyke beard and warm smile would eventually captivate millions. Jon’s simple approach broke down barriers and assured viewers that anyone could draw.
“Ball…cube… cylinder…cone. By using these four shapes,
I can draw any picture I want. And so can you!”
Syndication brought Jon’s lessons to more homes across the U.S. and his popularity continued to rise. Visual Art Industries designed and distributed sets that featured Jon’s instruction and after its purchase in the 1960’s by the F.Weber Company, more products emerged including video demonstrations. Jon continued to educate the public thru his appearances in the U.S. and abroad at art trade and consumer shows which he passionately pursued until his death in 1981. Jon’s legacy lives on through the instruction he shared with the world. His sets continue to enlighten and entertain new generations and many renowned artists today pay homage to him for his inspiration.