George Charles Diestel, Jr. (American, 1898-1951), nationally recognized Western New York artist known for his cartoons, watercolors, newspaper photographs & illustrations, portraits, book illustrations and cartoon covers for various publications as well as pinups. Diestel was born March 13, 1898 in Buffalo, NY to roofer, steeplejack and sheet-metal worker, George Charles Diestel, Sr. (1861-1943) and Sophia H.M. (née Small) Diestel (1864-1926) who were married on April 7, 1885 in Angola, NY. Diestel’s early education included grade school at Buffalo School No. 39, the Landon School of Illustration and Cartooning in Cleveland, OH, mail-order drawing correspondence courses and the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy of the Albright Art Gallery.
At the age of 16, Diestel’s first job was working as an editorial cartoonist for the Buffalo Times newspaper in Buffalo, NY, His accomplishments were quickly recognized by Editor & Publisher magazine who hailed him as the youngest editorial cartoonist in the nation. In 1916, during WWI, Diestel won First Prize ($20) for his poster design for “A Friend of the War Relief Committee of the Buffalo Branch of the Red Cross Society”, which was offered through the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy.
In 1917, George Diestel married Mildred Mae (née Shipman) Diestel (1899-1961) and they had two children to include, Doris Mae Sophia Diestal-Roberts (1919-1987) and George Charles Diestel, III (1921-1979)—though he most often was referred to as George C. Diestel, Jr.
During WWI, Diestel worked as a commercial artist for the Electric City Engraving Co. in Buffalo and had registered for the draft on September 12, 1918, but never served due to the Armistice ending the war in November of that year. By 1920, he had been working for a lithographing company in Buffalo and eventually made his career as a newspaper artist, cartoonist and photographer. Diestel became known both locally and nationally in the newspaper, photography, art and publicity circles, and was employed by nearly every newspaper in Buffalo, NY to include; The Buffalo Times, The Buffalo Commercial and the Buffalo Evening Star newspapers. For more than 20 years, Diestel operated the Press Studios, which specialized in photographic coverage of Western New York events for well-known news sites such as the Associated Press, the International News Service, Central News and the Newspaper Enterprise Association. Locally, he was also known for doing publicity stills of the iconic Shea’s and Lafayette Theaters, as well as the Erie County Republican committee. He also made a name for himself photographing many of Hollywood’s famous movie stars and singers such as Bing Crosby, Rudy Vallee, Joan Crawford, Jack Benny, Ben Turpin, Mabel Normand and many others, but his “loveliest and most gracious” of the Hollywood actresses he had the fortune of photographing was Mary Brian.
During the 1920s and 30s, Diestel contributed illustrations to help with the Buffalo Evening News’ Christmas charity drive called the “Fifty Neediest Fund”, whose proceeds were devoted entirely to aiding the most destitute families in Western New York. For five years, Diestel created two recuring cartoon panels titled, ‘The World of Food’ and ‘This Business World’ which were distributed by the World Cartoon Syndicate to 450 newspapers across the nation. Additionally, he was recognized for his illustrations of the Life of Father Baker (Rt. Rev. Msgr. Nelson H. Baker) which was a continuous biographical strip that ran for over four years in the Victorian magazine of Father Baker’s Homes of Charity.
From 1936-1942, Diestel was employed as chief artist for commercial printer, H. William Pollack Poster Print, Inc. (1917-1955) in Buffalo, NY. The company later merged with the printer, Besig & Co. (1942-1955) in 1955 to become Pollack Poster Print, Inc./Pollack Printing Corporation (1955-1997) with a Besig Lithograph Division. After his time at Pollock Poster print, Diestel went to work for the Bell Aircraft Corporation in 1943 where he created the WWII cartoon character “Plane Pete”, who gave maintenance tips to aircraft mechanics in a witty and engaging manner. His ‘incentive’ cartoons appeared in Bell’s service manuals which were distributed across the world and were of use especially during the war. One of Diestel’s proudest possessions was a letter that he received from a pilot during the war who credited his character “Plane Pete” for saving his life when his plane was in a dangerous spin. During his time at Bell, Diestel was also able to paint portraits of nearly all of Bell’s test pilots and he also sold sketches to promote the sale of war bonds during the war.
Diestel was a member of and exhibited with the Buffalo Society of Artists (BSA) for over 25 years and exhibited in many of their annual shows (Exhibited 1930, 1933-1934, 1935 Honorable Mention, 1936, 1938-1940, 1942 Bronze Medal, 1943-1945) as well as served on the BSA hanging committee, council and as a juror for selection. In addition, he was also an exhibiting member of the Buffalo chapters of “The Society for Sanity in Art” (1939) and “The Rationalists” (1939, 1941) movements who rejected modernist and contemporary movements of the time in favor of the traditional disciplines of the Old Masters, The Buffalo Professional Artists Guild (1932, 1936) as well as a member of the Masonic Levant Lodge 967 F&AM. He also had solo and other group exhibitions in various venues in and around Buffalo, winning several awards over the course of his career.
In late March of 1948, Diestel went into a partnership with Thomas J. Brinkworth to form Colorgraph Publishers who, within a few months, had published Niagara Falls Pin-ups, a series of glamorous and beautiful brides on their honeymoons, but their new business venture was short-lived. By January of 1951, Diestel had brain surgery which left him in poor health in the following months before his passing on August 21, 1951 at his home at 26 Richlawn Avenue, Buffalo, NY. Services were held at Dengler’s Funeral home and he was buried in Acacia Park Cemetery, North Tonawanda, NY.
(Written & compiled by Mark Strong of Meibohm Fine Arts, Inc., meibohmfinearts.com.)