The One That Didn't Get Away
Published in Texas Monthly, November 2016
When the world lost Jack Unruh, last May, Texas Monthly was particularly hard-hit. For nearly ten years, the Dallas illustrator had drawn the pictures that accompanied the popular back-page advice column written by David Courtney, a.k.a. the Texanist.
Unruh’s images were so integral to the Texanist’s persona that Courtney decided soon after Unruh’s passing to radically overhaul the column’s format — as demonstrated by this month’s “The Spirit of ’76”, a fine remembrance of Courtney’s father, the former mayor of Temple. Without Unruh’s art, the Texanist just couldn’t be the same.
Unruh had a storied career; his work appeared in numerous other major magazines, such as Time, Sports Illustrated, and National Geographic. And though we’ll see no more new work from him in any venue, there’s one last trove of his art for us to enjoy. This month, Ellinger-based Herring Press will publish Fish & Other Stories As My Pen Remembers Them, an illustrated journal of numerous hunting and fishing trips taken by Unruh. There are gorgeous likenesses of heron, frogs, moose, and numerous other denizens of the animal king-dom, as well as Unruh’s own writings. His journal for one day begins at 7 a.m. with these words: “Quite frosty out — the geese are honking — high thin clouds — but not windy yet. Everyone here is sleeping in.” Twelve hours, seventeen minutes, and many caught fish later, he concludes, “WHAT A DAY. You did good today, God. Thanks.”
FISH & OTHER STORIES, which was completed after Unruh’s death by Dallas designer Jack Summerford, will be available for $75 at herringpress .com and a few retail stores in Dallas. Proceeds will go to a scholarship fund that Unruh established at Washington University, in St. Louis, his alma mater.
Journal shows Jack Unruh’s unique use of color, whimsy
By Ray Sasser Published in The Dallas Morning News, November 2016
Readers might not recognize the name Jack Unruh, though they’ve surely seen his illustrations in dozens of magazines and multiple books. Unruh’s style was unique, unforgettable and instantly recognizable.
His work was published in publications as widely varied as Time, Sports Illustrated, Rolling Stone, National Geographic, Sports Afield, Field & Stream and Texas Monthly, where he illustrated a whimsical monthly column called “The Texanist.”
Unruh died at his Dallas home May 16. He was 80. Unruh was an unassuming man, though he’d won many art awards, including a listing in the Illustrators’ Hall of Fame alongside Norman Rockwell.
For many years, Unruh kept a hunting and fishing journal. During outdoors adventures from Chile to Alaska, he jotted notes and observations and drew scenes that caught his attention.
These scenes could be anything from a small frog in the middle of a leap to a 2,000pound bull moose crossing a river in the last light of day. The journal illustrations, many of them unpublished, have been melded into a book entitled FISH & Other Stories as My Pen Remembers Them — A Journal by Jack Unruh.
The book’s Dallas launch event is Wednesday from 5 to 7:30 p.m. at Tailwaters Fly Fishing Company, 1933 East Levee, Dallas.
The journal of more than 200 pages was assembled by a group called Friends of Unruh. The book costs $75.
“When Jack got a tough cancer diagnosis in the spring, several of us decided to make his longstanding dream of publishing selected excerpts of his hunting and fishing journals and related art, a reality,” said Schuyler Marshall, who was a close friend of Unruh’s for 30 years and a companion on many of his hunting and fishing trips.
All profits will fulfill another of Unruh’s dreams by funding a scholarship at Washington University in St. Louis.
Born in Kansas, Unruh, the son of an Air Force pilot, began drawing at an early age. Lying in front of a radio, he would drew story panels based on what he heard. Unlike most kids, he never stopped drawing. He graduated from Washington University, then began his illustration career in Dallas, where his oneof-a-kind style won numerous awards.
Bubba Wood, founder of the Dallas sporting art store Collectors Covey, said one of the things that great artists have in common is how many others try to copy their style.
“If you look at all the sporting magazines, almost all will have an illustration done by some young artist who wants to be the next Jack Unruh,” he said. “Nobody has yet come close to mastering Jack’s use of color. His sense of whimsy was out of this world. As great an artist as he was, he was an even better person.”
Marshall said Unruh was a skilled angler and hunter with a true conservation ethic. He refused to fish with anything but a fly and loved that he could release the fish sore-lipped but otherwise unharmed. When quail hunting, said Marshall, he imposed a personal bag limit that was lower than the legal limit.
“Jack saw the world differently than most people,” he said. “We all love a West Texas sunset, but Jack would marvel at something that to most of us appeared mundane — until he drew it. Only then could you recognize the beauty that he saw.”
The book is available from Tailwaters Fly Fishing Company (tailwatersflyfishing.com), Collectors Covey (collectorscovey.com) and from the publisher Herring Press (herringpress.com).
Jack Unruh in the Northern Rockies:
Excerpts from a journal
By Allen Morris Jones Published in Big Sky Journal, February 2017
Combining line drawings, color sketches, and handwritten observations about his trips, Jack Unruh’s book, "FISH & Other Stories as My Pen Remembers Them," offers a sophisticated, whimsical, heartfelt glimpse into the inner life of a sportsman and artist.
When artist Jack Unruh passed away in May of 2016 at the age of 80, he had been working on his coffee-table book, FISH & Other Stories as My Pen Remembers Them. His widow, Judy Whalen, said, “To the day before he died, he was editing this book, and helping the designer fit and place and make things work.” An avid outdoorsman, a fisherman, a bird hunter, it was Unruh’s habit to take a sketch journal along on his many sporting trips. It had largely been for his own benefit, but sometime in the last four or five years, according to the book’s publisher, Jerry Herring of Herring Press, “His friends talked him into publishing that journal.”
Unruh was an inveterate and highly regarded artist and illustrator. His magazine work is up there with the very best, and has appeared in — with no exaggeration — pretty much every major publication in America, including Time, National Geographic, Field and Stream, etc. etc. He illustrated a regular column for Texas Monthly, and was a member of the New York Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame. Recognizable at a glance, his pieces favored a heavier line and bright, contrasting colors; he liked to use large portions of white space and let them gradually give way to color. He had a knack for maneuvering the viewer’s eye, pushing and pulling it toward those places on the page where he wanted you to linger: a grin, a glower, a fish, a bird.
Unruh began keeping his journal during an early trip to Chile. And while he would bring his journals with him on assignments, bird hunting excursions, and personal vacations, when it came time to design and organize FISH & Other Stories, they decided to focus primarily on fishing. As Whalen said, “It starts out with Chile, but Alaska is represented as well, then there’s Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Montana.” In the Northern Rockies, Unruh and Whalen would go to, among other places, the Beaverhead, Rock Creek, and creeks and rivers within Yellowstone National Park. “Jack, from a little boy, just drew and drew and drew. We all start out drawing, but most of us stop. Some of us go further. Jack went further. And he became a storyteller from the get-go,” she said.
Publishing a four-color coffee table book of this type is an expensive proposition. In order to finance it, Herring and designer Jack Summerford, among others, put together a loose collaboration of like-minded supporters called the Friends of Unruh. These 50 individuals each agreed to buy a first edition for $1,250 per copy. This created the seed money. “Within two or three weeks, we were sold out of those 50 copies,” Herring said. Having been thus funded, the book’s subsequent proceeds all now go to a scholarship in Unruh’s name at his alma mater, Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. Herring and Summerford are both working pro bono.
“I spoke at his memorial in Dallas,” Herring said, “and there were 600 people in attendance. It was 104 degrees outside. I guarantee those people were there because Jack was just this incredible spirit and human being. Anybody that met him felt like they were lifelong friends.”
Like most all published journals, part of the appeal of FISH & Other Stories is the way it provides a glimpse behind the curtain, a glance at Unruh’s very personal preoccupations. And when the art is this good, when the man who made the art is so well respected … that glimpse feels like a privilege indeed. Unruh left behind a void when he passed, but he left something else behind as well: a lifetime’s worth of highly regarded work, and this final glance behind the curtain.