When artist Jack Keenan received his draft notice in the early 1940’s, his initial impulse was to say, “Are they kidding?”

“I didn’t figure I’d make much of an infantryman,” Keenan, 90, said from his comfortable Bloomfield Hills studio.  “I weighed 118 pounds and couldn’t touch my toes.”
What he wound up touching was the hearts and minds of many of his fellow soldiers, primarily through the series of pencil and watercolor illustrations he produced while overseas.  Many of them are collected in his book,

The illustration on the back cover is his favorite.  It depicts a young, confident GI sitting on a log, one of Keenan’s fellow soldiers through some of the toughest campaigns in Europe:  “He was a big, good natured kid from the South; I saw him sitting there and wanted that moment captured, for reasons that even today, I’m not sure of.  Anyway, he posed, I painted the thing in a jiffy.  A week or so later he was killed in a freak sniper incident.”

Keenan’s portfolio of war illustrations, which has been exhibited prominently, was also his ticket to his career as a civilian.  He’d returned from service and was looking for work when a friend suggested he give the J. Walter Thompson ad agency a try.  Although he’d had a year of illustration studies at Meinzinger's Art School under his belt, he didn’t think any of the work he’d done before the war compared to what he’d accomplished as a soldier.  So that’s what he brought along to the interview.

“Fortunately, the guy that interviewed me was a strong supporter of the war effort.  I appealed to his sense of patriotism to offer a returning vet a job.”

It worked; the ad agency, then among the biggest in the world, hired him on the spot.  He went on to help produce some of his most memorable ads for the Ford Motor Company, and remains, at 90, a warehouse of stories of Detroit in her post-war heyday, the fifties and sixties.  He retired from ‘J. Walter’ as a vice president.

“It’s been an amazing life,” says Keenan.  “I wish my wife would have lived longer, but other than that, I can’t think of a single regret.”




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