Art Instruction Inc., once located just around the corner from the old Star Tribune building on the edge of downtown Minneapolis, offered drawing courses by mail for more than a century. Here the Minneapolis Tribune profiles the commercial art school that trained the likes of Charles M. Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Carlos de la Vega (who?).



Minneapolis Tribune Staff Writer

  Miss Draw Me 1938

Minneapolis is the home town of America’s most famous model – a pert girl who has invited more than a million letters in her 22 years.

Throughout the world her pretty profile has drawn a lot of interest – and interest in her invitation has drawn a lot of profiles.

She’s the “Draw Me” girl, the brainchild of Art Instruction, Inc., 500 S. Fourth street, the nation’s oldest and largest commercial art school and a pioneer in teaching art by mail. 

From newspapers, magazines, placards, match book covers and now television screens the comely miss has appeared in more than 100 disguises since 1932, saying nothing more than “Draw me.”

FOR THOUSANDS the acceptance of her invitation has been the start of a successful commercial art career.

E.S. Smith, a school vice president, started the famous model on her way in advertisements for the Federal Schools, Inc., former name of Art Instruction.

Since her creation Miss Draw Me has mirrored changes in fashion, culture and art style. She has been a siren and a student, a bathing beauty and a nurse, a housewife and a bride.

  Miss Draw Me 1941

She’s had a long bob, a pageboy, a pony tail and a poodle cut.

Trial and error has shown the school which drawings lure the most would-be artists in contests. A left-facing profile is a hands-down winner. Full-face and three-quarters views discourage beginners. Inquiries drop when hats and snooty looks are put on the model.

THE HOME of the Draw Me girl started teaching art by mail in 1913 when the Bureau of Engraving, a commercial printing affiliate of Art Instruction, was looking for a better way to train its commercial art apprentices.

Today the four-story school has an active, though absentee, enrollment equaling a good-sized college. It employs 25 full-time art instructors and draws on the services of 65 professional artists, illustrators and cartoonists in its courses. It takes 125 clerical employes to handle students’ lessons and correspondence.

The students – most of them are in their teens and early twenties – are offered courses in advertising layout and illustration, fashion design, book and magazine illustration and cartooning.

Textbooks include lessons by noted artists such as John Clymer, Perry Peterson and Bill Fleming, former students of the school. Completed lessons are mailed to the school for review and marking. Instructors criticize the work in individual letters and by overlay drawings.

EACH YEAR 60 to 70 amateurs who try their artistic skill with the young lady (she always has been 18) are given two-year scholarships at the correspondence school.

  Miss Draw Me 1946

Miss Draw Me is trickier to draw than many first think, according to Walter J. Wilwerding, the school’s educational director. Only about one out of every 50 entries shows any marked talent, he said.

Thousands who want to enroll in the art courses each year are screened by a talent test. Some 50 percent are turned down.

“We have found we can’t train successfully a person who has no native art talent before entering the school,” J.C. Buckbee, Jr., vice president, said.

The school’s “entrance exam” tests the prospective student on four counts:

HOW WELL does he proportion? How closely does he stick to the general character of the head? How does he handle contours” Does he finish the drawing carefully or with uncertain lines?

Some argue that anyone can be taught to draw. Lee Preston, the school’s secretary and editorial director, agrees, but with qualifications.

“Maybe you can teach them to draw – but for whom?” Preston said. “It’s one thing to draw well enough to satisfy yourself and another to produce work that will sell. We’re training people who can make a living in commercial art.”

Professional artists outside the school judge the monthly “Draw Me” contests.

  Miss Draw Me 1954

THOSE GRADED 97 or higher are eligible for a scholarship valued at $295. Between 70 and 90 calls for another test. The under-70s are discouraged from seeking a career in commercial art.

Wilwerding, nationally known painter and illustrator of African animals, estimates nearly 10 percent of the artists currently listed in Who’s Who in Art got their start with the Draw Me girl.

AMONG the school’s graduates are Carlos de la Vega, Mexico’s best-known poster artist; Hugh Hatton, political cartoonist for the Philadelphia (Pa.) Inquirer; Arnold Friberg, noted for his paintings of royal Canadian mounted police, and Charles M. Schulz, creator of the comic strip “Peanuts.”

Schulz, the school’s cartooning consultant, draws his comic strip in a studio at Art Instruction.

There’s no sign of Miss Draw Me losing her popularity, although recently the school has held contests using profiles of movie stars, such as Bob Hope.

Thomas Jefferson proved to be no serious competition to the Draw Me girl. In a television promotion, contestants have been asked to draw the former president’s head from a nickel. For some reason this excited artistic talent only in Chicago.