Elmer Stanley Hader Biography

Elmer Hader was an important figure in two distinct artistic traditions: California Impressionism and children’s books illustrations.

He was a leading member of the California Impressionist school- receptive to the teachings of the Impressionists and their successors, the Post-Impressionists evident in his bold, imaginative use of color. He collaborated with his wife, Berta Hoerner, to write and illustrate more than one hundred children’s books. Their book, The Big Snow, won the Caldecott prize in 1949. This annual award is given to “the most distinguished picture book for children” from that year.

Elmer Hader was a native Californian, born in Pajaro in 1889. He grew up in San Francisco, survived the earthquake and fire of 1906, and began his art studies there at the San Francisco Institute of Art from 1907-1909. He was awarded the Julian Award which allowed him to study at Academie Julian in Paris from 1912-14 where he absorbed the techniques of the Impressionists.

After his studies abroad, he settled in San Francisco establishing a studio on Telegraph Hill and devoted the next years to easel painting. Active in the local art scene, he had several one-man shows in San Francisco and Oakland becoming a recognized artist in the California Impressionism style. He was the first artist showcased in a one-man one-themed show at the Palace of Fine Arts.

He was drafted into the army during WWI. After his discharge in 1919, he wed artist Berta Hoerner who had studied at the California School of Design, worked as a newspaper fashion illustrator, and was also a gifted writer. They settled into a unique home in Grand View-on-Hudson, New York.

Between 1920 and 1923 he painted images of the Northeastern states in his vibrant Impressionist style.

Between 1923-42 Hader did not paint but collaborated with his wife on the production of more than 100 children’s books. They began their collaboration by creating colorful inserts for a number of popular magazines, including Century, Good Housekeeping, McCall’s, Christian Science Monitor, and other national magazines.

They soon gained a contract with MacMillan for a series of children’s books. The two did illustrations for The Ugly Duckling, Hansel & Gretel, The Little Red Hen and a series of other children’s classics. Their illustrations represented a fusion of the two artists’ distinct styles. Hoerner’s disciplined drawing abilities melded well with Hader’s skills as a colorist. During this period they also began writing the stories for some of the books and were so in demand that they stayed busy for the rest of their lives before retiring in 1964.

In addition to working as a children’s book illustrator, Hader illustrated book jackets. Most famously, the book jackets for four of John Steinbeck’s works, including: The Grapes of Wrath, The Long Valley, East of Eden, and The Winter of Our Discontent. Steinbeck said that Hader was the only artist who could capture the “authentic feeling of the California landscape.”

From 1942-1959, Berta and Elmer travelled extensively in Mexico, Jamaica, and the far Northeast of the United States, some of which made its way into their work. These journeys inspired Hader to paint landscape scenes of Haiti, the Maine coast and of the Catskills.

Elmer Hader died on his 84th birthday at his home in Grand-View-on-Hudson in 1973. Berta died in 1976.

Hader’s successes as a writer and illustrator should not obscure his achievements as a painter. Elmer Hader’s vibrant, Impressionistic landscapes represent distinctive examples of California Impressionism. Unlike many of his counterparts, he used a lively, nearly-fantastical palette to create indelible and intriguing images.

1914 - Annual Exhibition by the Societe des Artists
San Francisco Art Association Annual Juried Exhibition
San Francisco Art Association Non-Juried California Artists
1915 - First Expo of Paintings & Sculpture by California Artists - Golden Gate Park Memorial Museum
1916 - Exhibition of California Artists by San Francisco Art Association
1916 Oakland Municipal Gallery, Oakland, California
1917 - Palace of Fine Art
The Bohemian Club Exhibition, San Francisco Palace of Fine Arts
1918 - San Francisco Art Association Annual
1922 Octavia W. Chase Gallery, NY
1989 - Bergen Museum of Art & Science, retrospective show

San Francisco Art Association
Bohemian Club

Monterey Peninsula Museum of Art
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Golden Gate Park Museum
J.C. Penney Corp. Collection
Numerous other private and corporate collections

Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
American Art Annual 1915-19; Who's Who in American Art 1936-70; Social Security Death Index (1940-2002); Wikipedia.