By Debbra Palmer and Alaggio Laurino
World War II was ending and supplies were scarce. A soldier cut canvas from used Army cots. It was Sam Katz, 35 years old and a little small in stature for the big job of carrying a large mortar gun. He had suffered frostbite on his hands and feet in the Battle of the Bulge, yet he continued to paint and sketch on the canvas he harvested from the cots. His sketches — scenes of war and military personnel — also were published in the newspaper, Stars & Stripes. Today, a number of Katz’s paintings and drawings are part of a new collection donated by Katz’s children, Jerry and Connie Katz, to Boise State University.
Born in Russia in 1909, Katz immigrated to the United States at age 3 with his parents. As the son of a New York meat shop owner, he started painting in junior high and soon was noticed for his talent in high school, which he left to attend the Metropolitan School of Art in New York. He also studied at the National Academy of Design, Écoles des Beaux-Arts, and Paris-Sorbonne University.
As a young man during the golden period of illustration (1930-1970), Sam Katz became a well-known artist as a member of the Society of American Illustrators who worked for major publications such as Holiday, Look and Playboy. He taught art as an adjunct at the Metropolitan and continued teaching students of the arts throughout his life.
Jerry and Connie Katz remember their father as “just having it.” He was a natural, they recall. His work came easily and Katz was passionate about art. Connie describes the art just flowing from his mind and hands. He also was a very kind and gentle man — a great father.
Jerry and Connie Katz helped deliver the valuable collection to Boise State. As the crates were moved on site, only they knew the contents, which included a margarita girl prototype for commercial art that was extremely popular in the 1960s and 1970s, and made Jose Cuervo a household name.
Of course in a college environment it’s not at all about promoting art that in turn promotes the consumption of alcohol. The Katz family was inspired by Sam Katz’s love of education. That’s why they decided to donate their father’s art. Sam Katz’ portfolio contains many beautiful portraits as well as landscapes and other commercial designs for fashion and other products.
“The margarita girls were iconic in terms of commercial art,” said Lee Ann Turner, art professor and chair of the Department of Art at Boise State. “It’s exciting to have this collection at Boise State because the illustration students in the art department will make use of the collection. It also may open up doors to other art collectors looking for a place to donate all or part of their collection.”
A student of art who questions the possibility of making a living in art and doing what they love need only look as far as Sam Katz. The family hopes that students will learn to open their minds to creativity and diversity as well as a perspective on how to work as an artist.
Katz’s work also appears in the Museum of Man in San Diego and the Gerald Ford and John F. Kennedy libraries. He earned a Purple Heart for his service in the U.S. Army. He died in 1999 and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
The Boise State art department is working to store and catalog the collection, which includes sketch books, drawings, paintings, print proofs and archival materials, as well as all of the handmade birthday and anniversary cards Katz made for his wife.
Look for Katz’s work on campus in the Ben Victor Gallery and Student Union Gallery.
The University Arts Collection Committee reviews all proposed art donations to Boise State.
How can you help elevate fine arts at Boise State? Support the new Fine Arts Building.