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Frank and Loretta Soltesz

Frank and Loretta Soltesz

Not just cutaway drawings, but king of practically all other areas of commercial illustration through the 1930s-1960s, it seems.

Soltesz’ life is told in detail by his son, Ken Soltesz (Frank Soltesz:  Biography of a Commercial Illustrator).  If you can somehow define the “look” of commercial illustration during that great mid-century period in the United States, that look was defined by Frank Soltesz.  He infused “mere” commercial illustration with grace, precision, mood, and authentic artistic talent.

Ken Soltesz tells many great anecdotes about his father, including this one that I found particularly touching.

I remember as a boy going out through the backyard to visit daddy in his studio. He would let me sit quietly and watch him, and he would sometimes try to explain to me the types of paints and brushes he used. On a few occasions, he would sit me on his lap, load the brush with paint, and let me paint a few small strokes on the job he was working on. Then when the picture appeared in a magazine a few months later, he would show it to me and say “Look what we did”.

Frank Soltesz: From Penna. to Mad Avenue

As Ken Soltesz recounts, Frank Soltesz was born on June 14, 1912 in Derry, Pennsylvania, one of eight children born to Jacon and Susana Soltesz.  Even as a young child, Soltesz demonstrated the promise of artistic talent.  After clearing blackboards at school, he would draw festive pictures in colored chalk.  He won a number of Pittsburgh-area art contests as a young boy, too.

Soltesz’ first big push into becoming a professional artist came around 1933 when he enrolled in the Art Institute of Pittsburgh.  After two years at AIP, he got a job at the Pittsburgh Press and then later at advertising agency Rayart Studios.

In 1945, Soltesz got another big push.  Jack Frye, President of TWA, saw Soltesz’ work and offered him a job doing TWA’s magazine ads.

Later on, another valuable connection was established. William Gale, the art director at big Mad Avenue advertising firm Batten, Barton, Durstine and Osborn, Inc. (BBD&O) gave Soltesz a job.

TWA Airplane Cutaway - Frank Soltesz

The Armstrong Cork Cutaways

The famed Armstrong Cork advertisements, renowned for their attention to style as well as substance, came about from this BBD&O connection.  As Ken Soltesz recalls:

One of the first accounts that Bill Gale gave to Frank was that of the Armstrong Cork Co. To illustrate how Armstrong products were used in everyday life, they had Frank paint factories or buildings with parts of their walls removed to show the operations inside. Between 1947 and 1951, he drew 29 of these. They appeared in the Saturday Evening Post and later were reprinted in some encyclopedias. They attracted much attention to Frank’s artistic ability, and greatly furthered his career.

ESSO Map - Frank SolteszIt would be a mistake to think that Soltesz’ talents ended with the Armstrong Cork Saturday Evening Post series.  A partial list of accounts and publications associated with Soltesz includes:

  • Allegheny Ludlum Corporation
  • Avco Manufacturing
  • Caltex Petroleum, Ethel Corporation
  • General Electric
  • General Motors
  • Goodyear Aviation
  • Goodyear Tire and Rubber
  • Merritt-Chapman & Scott
  • Orangeburg Pipe
  • Philadelphia Electric Co.

Not only that, but Soltesz’ work appeared in all the major periodicals of the day:  Life, Colliers, Saturday Evening Post, Esquire, Sports Illustrated, Forbes, Fortune, Time, Business Week, U.S. News and World Report.

In this age of TV, cable, satellite, and Internet, it is hard for those too young to know–and even for those old enough to remember–that incredible importance of these publications to the American public.

Department Store Cutaway

Click to Enlarge Image

Yet another mind-blowing cutaway from master illustrator Frank Soltesz.

Few people realize that half of a department store is devoted to areas they never see.  Behind the familiar counter and displays are large areas used for stockrooms and other services that supply the selling floors out front.  there is a fur vault, complete bake shop, huge kitchen, and a variety of workrooms.  Each one is a little business in itself, and many of them need a lot of heat and cold in order to operate.  To control all this heat and cold, they use insulations, the kind of insulations made and installed by the Armstrong Cork Company.

This illustration comes from a Saturday Evening Post from the 1950s, and has a key so that readers can find out what each room does:

That’s why you’ll find such a large machine room (1) down in the basement.  Here boilers make steam, and compressors cool a refrigerant.  Both the steam and the refrigerant are sent to the rooftop penthouse (2) to heat or cool air which is then blown all through the store in a network of ducts.

Everything about Soltesz cutaways is pitch-perfect.  Mood, shadows, people: all the things that many illustrators leave out Soltesz does in force.  Note the side action with the traffic cop and the steam pipes coming out off the cutaway ground:

Department Store Cutaway Detail

Office Building Ventilation Cutaway

One of the great things about the old Fortune magazine was how it often treated extremely mundane subjects with great wonder and awe.  Not only would they profile the high-level anticts of John D. Rockefeller, William Randolph Hearst, and Henry Ford, but they would take things down to the opposite end of the spectrum and highlight things like the inner workings of an oil well in one of Rockefeller’s fields or the daily routine of one of Hearst’s low-level stringers.

This office building cutaway actually calls itself an “X-ray” of an air conditioning system, and I am not completely certain of its original source in Fortune.  I’d guess that it came with some kind of profile of a giant, national air conditioning company, perhaps Carrier.

Not at all the loving detail of the American Standard advertisement I blogged about previously, but interesting nonetheless.


This great cutaway originally comes from a July 5, 1947 Saturday Evening Post ad for Armstrong’s Industrial Insulation.  For an extra-sized view, click here and then click a second time on the magnifying glass.

The ad says, in part:

When you look behind the scenes, a modern hotel is an astounding place.  Few guests appreciate that their comfort demands such a complex and highly mechanized institution.  The men (1) who ordered ice probably don’t know that there’s a complete ice-making plant (12) hidden away in the basement.  The dancers in the ballroom (5) don’t stop to think what it takes to provide air conditioning (11).  Touch a spigot (2) and ice water spurts out.  Turn a valve (4) and heat is waiting.  Heat and cold flow through the hotel like lifeblood in its veins.  Insulation on the pipes makes it economically possible to put heat and cold where they are needed.

Cutaways don’t get any better than this one.  I’m trying to be an upright and honest Web citizen, but I cannot find the attribution for this photo.  Here is the original source.