James Colvin, battlefront artist and advertising executive

  • Article by: TOM MEERSMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 19, 2011 - 9:40 PM

Colvin's creative spirit showed in his personal and professional life, dating back to sketches he drew on the battlefront during World War II.

James Colvin Jr. was a Minneapolis artist, businessman and World War II veteran who had a knack for drawing. His work ranged from children's books for his two daughters to illustrations for advertising, and sketches of daily soldier life at the Battle of the Bulge.

"He had the ability to take anything and be creative with it," said his daughter Lucy, of San Francisco. "Sketching was his favorite thing in the world."

Colvin died April 6. He was 87.

 James ColvinColvin was a lifelong Minneapolis resident who attended Blake Academy and Southwest High School before joining the Army. He fought at the Battle of the Bulge, the largest American battle in the war, during the winter of 1944-45.

While on the battlefront, Colvin sketched a series called "Life at the Front" that he sent home regularly to his parents via V-mail. They included scenes of soldiers recovering in a hospital ward, cooking over an open fire, standing in a chow line, determining their position with binoculars and maps, and jumping over fences and running with rifles as they advanced through Europe.

Others were submitted and printed in the Army's newspaper during the war. He left the front lines after suffering severe frostbite in his feet.

After the war, Colvin attended the University of Minnesota, where he met his future wife, Barbara Ann Bliss. "He was always the life of the party," she said, and his infectious laugh and easy manner attracted many friends. The couple were married in 1946.

Looking for a way to make a living with his art, Colvin majored in journalism and worked as an advertising illustrator. He drew shoes and other products sold by Young Quinlan, a downtown Minneapolis department store.

He spent much of his career at Our Own Hardware, becoming its vice president of marketing. Colvin also worked as an advertising executive for Valspar Paints. He retired in 1988.

Between the two jobs he lived briefly in Welch, Minn., where he and Barbara bought and ran a general store and displayed works of local artists.

Lucy Colvin recalled her father's artistic spirit not only in sketches, but in his appreciation of poetry, philosophy and general approach to life. "Every year for Christmas he'd have a children's story to be read aloud that he had written and illustrated," she said.

Colvin rarely talked about the war, and pursued his art in retirement, Barbara Colvin said. He took watercolor classes and painted with oils. At age 77 he had an exhibit and art show at a local gallery in 2001.

He also was active with artists in the Grand Marais area. The North Shore and other travel fueled his interest in painting landscapes and portraits late in life, his daughter said.

"He really encouraged me to explore what I want and what I can contribute to the world," Lucy Colvin said. "He was very humanitarian in his thinking."

Other survivors include daughter Shelley and granddaughter Madeleine, of Raleigh, N.C. Services have been held.

Tom Meersman • 612-673-7388

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