Obituary: Caricature artist William Morgan loved making people smile

  • Article by: MARY LYNN SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 8, 2013 - 9:46 PM

William Morgan

William R. Morgan Sr. was an artist who needed to make a buck to raise a family. So he took to drawing exaggerated noses, big ears and wide grins for the thousands of people who paid for his caricatures.

For 30 years, he drew countless faces of fairgoers at the Minnesota State Fair as well as at fairs around the country and in Canada. He also accommodated the out-of-the-ordinary caricature request of a pet dog, cat and even a few horses.

“It [was] the joy of being able to do something for someone and bring a smile to their face or make them laugh. He loved that part,” said his son, William Jr., who also became a caricature artist at the Minnesota State Fair.

His father, a longtime resident of north Minneapolis, died of pneumonia on March 31. He was 87.

After growing up in Sioux Falls, S.D., Morgan studied fine art at Bradley University in Peoria, Ill. His passion was fine art painting and drawing, said his son, who lives in Big Lake. But when he moved to Minneapolis, his artistic skills landed him jobs lettering downtown store windows, drawing cartoons for magazines and producing work for a Munsingwear catalog.

He also spent 15 years working for H.A. Holden, drawing machine parts for the company catalog. The jobs paid the bills for the father of 10.

“I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase ‘starving artist,’ ” Morgan’s son said. “That’s what a lot of artists go through. They paint, they draw and they can’t find a market for their art.”

In the early ’70s, Morgan gave up drawing machine parts and made caricature art his bread and butter. He began drawing faces at craft fairs and eventually got a booth in 1976 at the Minnesota State Fair.

“From there, he built his circuit. He found another gig at the Illinois State Fair and then in Winnepeg,” said Morgan Jr. From late spring to fall, he drew caricatures at fairs.

Being away from his wife and family was hard, his son said. But it also brought him closer to many of them. He often “brought a grandchild or one of his kids as an assistant,” his son said. “It was an opportunity to get to know one another.”

Growing up, Morgan Jr. had no desire to work the fair alongside his dad. “I didn’t want it to be part of my life. I always loved drawing but never understood the appeal of doing caricatures.”

Then in 1998, he filled in for his father, who had injured a shoulder. “I fell in love with it,” he said.

Morgan Jr. also follows his father’s philosophy that people don’t want to sit in a chair and pose for 15 to 20 minutes. The Morgans finish in 6 minutes.

His father, who retired in 2007, zeroed in on a facial feature and over-exaggerated it. “He believed it would make the experience more entertaining for people, as long as they had a sense of humor about it,” his son said. “He had fun with them.”

Morgan often returned to his fine art painting and drawing of landscapes, still life and people.

“We have numerous paintings of his hanging in our homes,” his son said. “All he ever wanted to do was art.”

He is also survived by daughters, Suzanne Lee of Anoka, Cheryl Edwards of Blaine, Valerie Knode of Ramsey, Maureen Daugherty of Brooklyn Park and Colleen Eastman of St. Francis; sons, David of New Hope, Timothy of St. Bonifacius, Christopher of New Hope and Brian of Ramsey; a brother, Jim of Paynesville, Minn., sisters, Peggy Fleming of Omaha, Patty Morgan of California and Carol Elliott of Reno, Nev.; 26 grandchildren and 29 great-grandchildren.

Services have been held.

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