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Carl W. Illig
Carl W. Illig (American, 1910-1987) Western New York artist primarily known for his regional landscape oil paintings, harbor & marine scenes of Gloucester & Rockport, MA, and still lifes. Carl was born on May 26, 1910 in Depew, NY and enjoyed drawing all his life, but health and family circumstances prevented his pursuit of a formal art education. However, in 1926 he took a correspondence course in commercial art where he learned much about composition and perspective.

Illig made an early career as a carpenter which carried him through the Depression and WWII, but work was hard to find during that time period and it made studying art impractical. He escaped the war draft and during the early-mid 1940’s, he criss-crossed the country, utilizing his carpentry skills to build houses, which he either rented or sold. He reached California but soon returned to the Western New York area where he worked in war-related industries at the Houdaille shock absorber factory in Buffalo and Richardson Boat in North Tonawanda, NY. In 1946, Carl moved back to northern California, and built a house in Capitola, near the Pacific coast. Two years later, he returned to New York after encountering labor union problems. He settled in East Aurora, NY, built two houses there, and also purchased land on nearby Prospect Avenue.

In 1950, at the age of forty, Carl began to paint in earnest. That same year, on his birthday, he married Virginia Root who was an elementary school teacher in East Aurora. Carl built two more houses on his purchased land in East Aurora, at 266 & 272 Prospect Ave., to live in one, while renting the other. Soon afterward in 1951, Carl began formal studies in oil painting with Arthur Kowalski (American, 1893-1958) in Buffalo, NY, as well as summer workshops in Riceville, NY. Kowalski also revered outdoor scenes and helped guide Carl into expressing his vision of Western New York landscapes. Carl learned rapidly and by 1953, he began exhibiting and competing, winning the Tricolor Award at the Erie County Fair three years in a row (1953-55), Hamburg, NY.

By 1955, the former carpenter and factory worker had phased out contract work and had become a full-time artist. He traveled to several cities including New York and Toronto, and studied art in many of the local museums. Around the same time, he built a studio onto the back of their family home at 266 Prospect Ave., where he worked and taught classes. In addition to selling his own works, he sold art materials to students, gave painting demonstrations and restored old paintings to supplement his income. In 1956, Carl was involved with the restoration of the large murals painted by the famous Roycroft artist Alexis Jean Fournier (American, 1865-1948), at the Roycroft Inn in East Aurora, NY. The murals occupy the Main Salon and New Foyer (former music room) of the Inn. That same year the couple had their first son, Carl R. Illig (1956-) and two years later they had their second son Peter J. (1958-). From the late 1950’s-60, Carl and the family spent the summers in Gloucester and Rockport, MA, where he learned the technique of painting boats and surf from Emile A. Gruppé (American, 1896-1978) with whom he became friends. Carl had previously used the same palette and technique as Gruppé, so he progressed quickly and made a substantial part of his living from painting sales.

During the 1960’s-70’s, Carl became well-known for his plein air paintings and frequently took students on painting excursions around the Western New York area. He scouted many areas in Erie, Wyoming and Cattaraugus Counties for subject matter and sometimes took his camera along. He became fascinated by old covered bridges, which were still in existence in some of the rural areas. He exhibited his artwork annually every summer in East Aurora, which became known as the “Lawn Shows”, because his paintings were displayed outdoors surrounding the family home, and they drew hundreds of visitors and buyers from all over the WNY area. At the same time, he began exhibiting in various art festivals in and around the Buffalo area, including; the Allentown Art Festival, Orchard Park Quaker Arts Festival, East Aurora Art Society, Williamsville, Hamburg, Lancaster, Kenmore, Gowanda, and others. He also exhibited in local group shows in Buffalo, including; The Carlton House, YMCA Art Gallery, Palmer Gallery, Sisti Gallery, Historical Society, and at local banks. In addition, Carl was hired by local art clubs in Hamburg, NY, Alden, NY, and Williamsville, NY, to demonstrate painting techniques for the members.

From 1977-81, he refurbished their adjacent rental house, which took time away from his painting. They sold the property at 272 Prospect Ave., which gave the family financial support and more importantly, allowed Carl to return to his painting. From 1983-1986, Carl and Virginia traveled to Florida for the winter months where he began to exhibit his artwork. By 1984, his health began to decline and his last paintings were executed that same year. But in 1985, Carl’s paintings won First and Third Prizes in the Professional Class, at the Pasco County Fair, Dade City, FL, and First Prize at the Zephyrhills Outdoor Show in Zephyrhills, FL, which led to a purchase prize of three paintings by the Sun Bank of Pasco County, FL.

Carl was a member of and exhibited with the Buffalo Society of Artists, Buffalo, NY, and was also a member of the Springville Art Club, Springville, NY. He received first prizes from Lancaster, NY, Orchard Park, NY, and East Aurora, NY Outdoor Art Shows, as well as the George Inness Award from the Fine Arts League in Buffalo. Carl passed away on October 20, 1987, East Aurora, NY. His two sons, Carl and Peter followed their father in their own artistic pursuits; Peter is an artist and a high school art teacher and Carl is a research chemist and a part-time artist.


Chronology:

1910- May 26, born, Depew, NY, second son of store salesman Henry Illig (American, Alsatian descent) and Frances Wakefield (née Hull, England) who worked at the Roycroft Campus in East Aurora, NY.

Circa 1910- The family moved to East Aurora, NY.

1926- After the death of his father, Carl left school and worked as an apprentice carpenter, along with his only sibling, his brother John. He subscribed to a correspondence course in commercial art, receiving instructional books in the mail.

Circa 1940-1945- Carl’s age kept him from being drafted into WWII. Carl made his first trip to California. He returned to WNY during the war and worked in war-related industries at the Houdaille shock absorber factory in Buffalo, NY and Richardson Boat in North Tonawanda, NY. His carpentry skills were needed for the war effort, setting up machinery.

1948- Carl returned to New York after encountering labor union problems. He built two houses in East Aurora, and later purchased land on nearby Prospect Avenue.

1950- May 26, on his birthday Carl married Virginia Root, an elementary school teacher in East Aurora, NY. Carl built two more houses, one at 266 and the other at 272 Prospect Ave. They eventually lived in one and rented the other.

1951- Illig began formal studies in oil painting with Arthur Kowalski (American, 1893-1958) in Buffalo, NY and he also did summer workshop studies with Kowalski in Riceville, NY.

1953-55- Carl won the First Prize Tri-Color Awards three years in a row at the Erie County Fair art exhibitions. He phased out carpentry contract work and became a full-time painter. He traveled to cities such as New York and Toronto, studying art in museums and built a studio onto the back of the family home at 266 Prospect Ave. and began to work and teach classes there. He also took in restoration work of old paintings, and developed an interest in floral still-life paintings. His wife Virginia left teaching in public schools.

1956- Their first child was born, Carl R. Illig, East Aurora, NY. Exhibited, group show, Roycroft Campus, East Aurora, NY. Carl was involved with the restoration of the large murals painted by the noted artist Alexis Jean Fournier (American, 1865-1948), located at the Roycroft Inn on the Roycroft Campus in East Aurora, NY, which occupy the Main Salon and New Foyer (former music room) of the Inn. Carl joined the Buffalo Society of Artists, and also taught adult educational art classes at various local schools in the evenings in East Aurora and also in Orchard Park, NY. Exhibited, group show, Buffalo Society of Artists, Buffalo, NY.

1957- Exhibited, group show, Buffalo Society of Artists, Buffalo, NY.

1958- Their second child was born, Peter J. Illig, East Aurora, NY. Exhibited, group show (Prize, George Inness Award for landscape painting), Fine Arts League, Buffalo Museum of Science, Buffalo, NY.

Circa 1958- The family traveled to areas in the northeastern U.S. for Carl to paint.

Circa the late 1950’s-1960- Illig and the family spent the summers in Gloucester and Rockport, MA, where he learned the technique of painting boats and surf from Emile A. Gruppé (American, 1896-1978) with whom he became friends.

1960’s- Summers, exhibited, annual solo shows, from his home in East Aurora, called the “Lawn Shows”. Exhibited in various art festivals in and around the Buffalo area, such as; the Allentown Art Festival, Orchard Park Quaker Arts Festival, East Aurora Art Society, Williamsville, Hamburg, Lancaster, Kenmore, Gowanda, and others. Carl also exhibited in local group shows in Buffalo, including; The Carlton House, YMCA Art Gallery, Palmer Gallery, Sisti Gallery, Historical Society, and at local banks. He was also hired by local art clubs in Hamburg, NY, Alden, NY, and Williamsville, NY, to demonstrate painting techniques for the members.

From 1968-1970’s- In addition to the annual family trips to Massachusetts, the family also traveled on camping trips to North Carolina, New Orleans, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, where his wife’s family lived. He painted in all those locations and later on he experimented extensively with palette knife painting.

1970’s- Carl continued to paint and teach art classes out of his studio in East Aurora, and also did painting demonstrations around the WNY area.

From 1983-1986, Carl and Virginia traveled to Florida for the winter months and he began to exhibit his artwork at local art shows there.

1984- Carl’s health began to decline, and he executed his last paintings that same year.

1985- Winter, exhibited, group show (First and Third Prizes in the Professional Class), Pasco County Fair, Dade City, FL. Winter, exhibited, group show (First Prize & Purchase Prize), Zephyrhills Outdoor Show in Zephyrhills, FL, which led to a purchase prize of three paintings by the Sun Bank of Pasco County, FL.

1987- October 20, died, East Aurora, NY.

1988- Summer, exhibited, retrospective show, by their son Peter Illig, which was attended by many of Carl’s old friends, colleagues, and former students. Some of Carl’s paintings were purchased by Meibohm Fine Arts, East Aurora, NY.

Circa 1990’s- Carl’s widow Virginia exhibited his artwork at Norberg’s Art Gallery, and also auctioned his works at the Mill Road Auction House, both in East Aurora, NY.

2003- Carl’s widow Virginia moves out of their Prospect Ave. home in East Aurora that she and Carl occupied for over 50 years.

2006- Buffalo art dealer Dean Brownrout agreed to represent and promote Illig’s artwork, and arranged a successful show in Buffalo, NY. October 26-November 16, exhibited, “A Painting Nature: Selected Works from the Estate of Carl W. Illig (1910-1987)”, Dana Tillou Fine Arts, 417 Franklin Street, Buffalo, NY, and Carl’s son Peter created a catalog of all extant work of his father Carl W. Illig, using a numbering system.

2007- September 27, exhibited, group show, 20th Century Finest (now Dean Brownrout Modern/Contemporary) and Michael Donnelly Interior Design, showroom, 1534 Hertel Ave., Buffalo, NY.

2008- May 23-June 30, exhibited, “Carl Illig: Newly Discovered Paintings”, a selection of never-before-seen works, Muleskinner Gallery, Williamsville, NY.

2009- The Burchfield-Penney Art Center in Buffalo, NY, received a donation of an Illig painting and began collecting information on him, recognizing Carl as an important regional artist. Exhibited, small solo shows, organized by son Peter J. Illig.

2013- April 5-12, exhibited, solo show, “The Landscape Paintings of Carl Illig”, Studio 12 Gallery, Denver, CO.

Exhibited Also At: Works of Art Gallery, Niagara Falls, NY (unknown date); Waligur-Doering Gallery, Hamburg, NY (unknown date); Martin-Zambito Fine Art Gallery, Seattle, WA (unknown date).

Memberships: The Buffalo Society of Artists, Buffalo, NY; Fine Arts League, Buffalo, NY; East Aurora Art Society, East Aurora, NY; Springville Art Club, Springville, NY.

Awards/Prizes: Tricolor Award (3 years in a row), 1953-55, Erie County Fair Prizes, Hamburg, NY; First Prizes from Lancaster, NY, Orchard Park, NY and East Aurora, NY Outdoor Shows (unknown dates); George Inness Award for landscape painting, Fine Arts League, Buffalo, NY 1958; First and Third Prizes in the Professional Class, Pasco County Fair, Dade City, FL, 1985; First Prize & Purchase Prize (of three paintings), Zephyrhills Outdoor Show, Zephyrhills, FL, purchase prize by the Sun Bank of Pasco County, FL; facebook.com, artist information, “Carl W. Illig-Artist”; facebook.com, exhibition information, Studio 12 Gallery, Denver, CO.

Collections: Burchfield-Penney Art Center, Buffalo, NY; Sun Bank, FL.

Publications: Western New York Heritage magazine, “Winter Scenes-the poetry of color and light in landscapes by Carl Illig”, Winter Issue, 2007.

For additional information on this artist or for other possible examples of his works, please visit the AskArt link

(Rewritten & compiled chronologically by Mark Strong of Meibohm Fine Arts, Inc., East Aurora, NY, 08/2013, from sources: Our internal records; facebook.com, biographical information from, “The Official Biography of Carl W. Illig, artist”, by son Peter Illig, February 29, 2012; Biographical information from, East Aurora’s Artists in History 1900-1999, by Dorothea E. Underwood and guest writers; Permission from AskArt.com, prior biographical information by Dean Brownrout Modern/Contemporary, deanbrownrout.com (formerly of 20th Century Finest), Buffalo, NY; Oxfordgallery.com, prior biographical information; amherstbee.com, exhibition information, News & Entertainment section, “Fri. 23, Carl Illig: Newly Discovered Paintings”; webcache.googleusercontent.com, from buffalorising.com, archives, “Sep 27th 2007”, by Cynnie Gaasch; artvoice.com, archives, Art Section, “Art in Autumn: by Geoff Kelly; October 26-November 16: A Painting Nature: Selected Works from the Estate of Carl W. Illig (1910-1987), Dana Tillou Fine Arts”, Artvoice Weekly Edition, Issue v5n37, 09-14-2006; pascocountyfair.com; Info and portrait photo from the Buffalo Courier-Express, Pg. 27, Sunday, January 21, 1968.)
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