Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Michael Labonski (1907?-?)

Factory Worker, Artist
Born 1907? Pennsylvania?
Died ?

Michael Labonski is an artist about whom little is known, including his dates and places of birth and death. He may have been born in 1907 in Pennsylvania, but those facts might describe a different man. What is known is that Michael Labonski worked at General Electric in Syracuse, New York, before being drafted into the U.S. Army, presumably during World War II. He served in the medical corps for more than four years. By about 1947, he was back in Syracuse where he began taking lessons at the adult arts and crafts workshop at the Syracuse Museum of Fine Arts. His instructor was Lee Brown Coye (1907-1981), who taught him the technique of painting with egg tempera. Over the course of the next two years, Labonski painted hundreds of pictures. "All I do is paint during my spare time," he said. (1) At Coye's urging, he sent a surrealist painting to Weird Tales for consideration as a cover illustration. The magazine bought it for $50 and used it on the front of the September 1949 issue. Although Labonski executed another painting with the idea of submitting it to the magazine, the cover from September 1949 was his only appearance on or in Weird Tales. In 1950, Labonski's "Abstract Construction" was unanimously voted first prize at the inaugural exhibit of the Onondaga Art Guild. The artist went on to exhibit in other shows and at other venues, including at the Camillus Branch of the Syracuse National Bank in 1983. The titles of his paintings for that show--"Dead Tree," "White Shadow," "Ghostly Tree," "Abstract #1," "Spacescape"--indicate that he was still interested in abstract and fantastic subjects.

(1) From"Artist, With Leaning of Weird, Clicks With Pulp Horror Cover," Syracuse Post-Standard, January 6, 1949.

Michael Labonski's Cover for Weird Tales
Sept. 1949

An article from the Syracuse Post-Standard, January 6, 1949, showing artist Michael Labonski and a painting he planned to submit to Weird Tales. Labonski had already had one painting accepted by the magazine. Weird Tales used it on the cover of the September 1949 issue, below. If Labonski indeed submitted this second painting to Weird Tales, the image shown above, such as it is, may be the only extant image of an unpublished cover design for the magazine.

Michael Labonski's only illustration for Weird Tales, the cover of the September 1949 issue.

"Abstract Construction" by Michael Labonski, from the Syracuse Herald-American, September 5, 1950, p. 23. This image puts me in mind of the American artist Charles Sheeler (1883-1965) and the eighteenth century Italian artist Piranesi.

Thanks to Kara Greene, Local History/Genealogy, Onondaga Public Library, Syracuse, New York, for almost all of the information, including the newspaper articles, used in writing this article.
Text copyright 2016 Terence E. Hanley

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