Richard Welling (1926-2009) was a noted Connecticut artist. He was born in Hartford and lived in the Hartford area most of his life. After graduating from Hall High School in West Hartford in 1944, he attended the Yale School of Fine Art. He interrupted his studies to enlist in the Army in November of that year. After discharge from service in World War II in 1946, he entered Parsons School of Design, graduating in 1949.
Returning to Connecticut, Welling worked for seven years in advertising design at the Charles Brunelle Company in Hartford. Desiring to be in charge of the design process, he went into business for himself in 1957. As a commercial artist, he designed brochures and promotional materials for many clients, including insurance companies and major technical industries producing civilian and military equipment. His clients included Connecticut General Insurance (now part of CIGNA), Aetna Fire Insurance, United Aircraft Company (now United Technologies Corporation), Scovill Manufacturing Company, and Grey Manufacturing Company, among others. For United Aircraft he created brochures about liquid hydrogen rocket engines and solid fuel rocket cases.
Submitting his work to design competitions, Welling received certificates for creative use of paper from Art Direction magazine for the United Aircraft brochures. In his diaries he expressed his intention to create modern and visually arresting designs. He enjoyed the challenge of working with complex concepts and making them visually understandable. Over time, he was able to choose clients who responded to his design sensibility and high standards.
With photographer Edward Saxe, Welling designed a cover for Art Direction magazine, the foremost advertising design magazine of that period. The design was a complex photographic concept, including a quote on the human mind. The cover was accepted and printed by Art Direction in the fall of 1962.
Possibly due to his own colorblindness, Welling had a life-long interest in the science of vision, perception of color, and effects such as optical illusions. Early in his career he created an exhibit on color and optical illusions for display in the lobby of the Hartford National Bank.
During the 1960s, Welling began filling sketchbooks with a myriad of drawings while continuing to work in commercial art. He was especially attracted to drawing buildings, street scenes and construction sites. In 1966 he designed the annual report for the Greater Hartford Chamber of Commerce, titled Greater Hartford . . . new perspectives, and included a 16-page insert printed on multi-colored stock of his Hartford sketches. The report won a silver award at a local art directors show.
Welling decided to send a copy of the report to American Artist magazine. The editor, Norman Kent, replied with great interest and eventually wrote a long article for the February 1967 issue. He described Welling’s drawing techniques and love of mechanical things. He also described how the artist created a new drawing technique while preparing for a two-man show with Edward Saxe at the Austin Art Center at Trinity College. In Kent’s opinion, preparing for that show had triggered Welling’s transition from client-driven assignments to independent drawing.
Career in Drawing
Welling developed what he called a “reverse marker” technique that achieved a more tonal look. He drew with colored markers on absorbent paper; with the aid of a thinning medium the drawing bled through the paper to create a soft and impressionistic image on the other side. The reverse side became the “right” side of the drawing. This style in addition to his purely black and white line style gave him versatility in rendering subjects.
Welling loved the immediacy of working on-site, usually drawing directly without sketching. His equipment included felt pens, a large sketchpad, binoculars, a folding seat, a cardboard viewfinder to visually isolate his subject and a hardhat when drawing on construction sites. In an early self-promotion piece, he wrote “I have become more and more involved in drawing the world I love — cityscapes of Hartford and New York, machines, highway projects and buildings under construction . . ..” In another brochure, he wrote “My art philosophy can be stated in four words: I love to draw.”
One of his first commissions was a series of 50 drawings of the new Hartford National Bank Building. He received other commissions for drawings from Hartford Federal Savings Bank, Connecticut Bank and Trust, and 105 drawings of a new building for the Travelers Insurance Company. He made on-site drawings of the Hartford Civic Center under construction and drawings for the Hartford Sheraton Hotel to reproduce and display in their 400 guest rooms.
New construction often meant existing buildings had to come down. Welling lovingly drew the old buildings and bemoaned their loss, creating a record of what had come before—how Hartford had looked. He often sketched the demolition process underway. He had to move his own downtown art studio four times because of demolition.
In a 1991 article in the Hartford Courant, Welling stated that he made a skyline drawing of Hartford every year beginning in 1976. There was a building boom on, and it provided him with subjects. When he didn’t have a commission to work on, he was always creating his own drawing projects and producing limited edition reproductions. For several years he also traveled throughout Connecticut, photographing and drawing elaborate Victorian-era houses, a style of architecture he loved. He also had many commissions to draw private homes for homeowners or for gifts to retiring company executives.
Teaching and Writing
As his reputation and visibility in the Hartford art community grew, he was asked to give talks to students. He was not comfortable with public speaking, he admitted, but he stated, “I felt I had something to say about being an artist, and to reach out to young minds was an ideal situation.” In 1968 he visited six public schools in the West Hartford area. For his presentation he combined a slide show with a drawing demonstration. Even with a lot of preparation and rehearsal, his projector jammed on the first visit. Having a good sense of humor, he decided to make an intentional mistake from then on to lighten the event and show that he was human.
Welling was also asked by art organizations to teach drawing classes. He taught adult drawing at the West Hartford Art League in 1968 and teen classes there on weekends through 1972. He taught adult classes and eventually a children’s class at the Wadsworth Atheneum for several years. From 1974 to 1975 he also taught at the adult education program in Farmington. In later years he especially enjoyed hearing from promising students who had gone into creative fields.
The attention created by the American Artist article resulted in an invitation from Watson-Guptill Publications to write art instruction books about drawing. The first book, published in 1971, was titled The Technique of Drawing Buildings. It contained 132 pen and felt marker drawings, including step-by-step instructions.
Asked to comment on the publication of The Technique of Drawing Buildings, noted illustrator and friend Peter Helck wrote:
In Dick Welling we have an artist for whom the towering altitudes of New York’s monumental structures are inspirational. In Welling we have an artist holding firm convictions that drawing on the site—seeing and feeling the subject in the real—is the one true means of capturing its essence.
His choice of location in a city teeming with traffic, with hordes of inquisitive spectators, and frequently beset with personal risk when his chosen site is within the restricted confines of some enormous construction project like the twin-towered Trade Center, all such frustrations are overcome or by-passed by Welling’s determination to draw the great city as he sees and feels it.
I marvel at his direct approach, his facility with the felt pen in both line and tone and his ability to GET the subject of his selection, all obstacles notwithstanding.
Norman Kent also commented on the book’s publication:
When I discovered the drawings of Dick Welling several years ago, I knew from the evidence that he had a deep reservoir of talent and a dedication that would carry him to an even richer maturity. The contents of this book—both the drawings and the text—support my prophetic opinion, contained in my early article published by American Artist, during my tenure as editor.
The second book, published in 1974, titled Drawing with Markers, featured 171 drawings with step-by-step instruction. In this book’s promotion, the publisher noted that markers were an exciting and new drawing medium. The book went into five printings and sold over 19,000 copies. Welling also self-published collections of his drawings of Hartford’s notable buildings and historic houses in the Hartford area.
World Trade Center Drawings
Welling loved New York City and traveled there many times to draw its buildings, street scenes and panoramic views from high floors within skyscrapers. One important, long-term project was his own idea—to draw the construction of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. He received permission from the New York Port Authority to go on-site and, donning a hardhat, he made numerous drawings of the massive engineering and construction project. While photographs of the construction exist, he may have been one of the few artists or the only artist to draw all the stages of construction.
In 2002 Welling wrote about this experience. He said he took a train to Manhattan on a monthly basis to draw the two towers “as they climbed skyward.” He noted that his first sketch was dated June 30, 1967. The project was in its earliest stage, and he drew buildings in the middle of the site that were yet to be demolished. To add continuity to the drawings he located three spots he could return to often: Pier 13, the Hudson Terminal building, and the upper floors of a law firm at 140 Broadway. His last sketch was dated February 19, 1971, with the North Tower at 110 stories and the South Tower at 75 stories.
After the tragedy of September 11, 2001, Welling donated fourteen of the drawings to the New-York Historical Society. They were on view at a special ceremony and exhibit at the Society on September 11, 2002, the first anniversary of the tragedy. One of the drawings, a large triptych, was also included in the Society’s 2008 publication, Drawn by New York: Six Centuries of Watercolors and Drawings at the New York Historical Society. It was on view in an exhibit of the same name from September 2008 through January 2009 at the Society’s headquarters.
Twenty drawings of the Twin Towers were also displayed on the website of the Museum of the City of New York in the spring of 2002. The drawings were located in “Building the World Trade Center,” part of the topic “History of the World Trade Center.”
Major On-Site Construction Drawing Projects
Hartford National Bank building -- 50 drawings
Hartford Insurance Group -- 40 drawings
Travelers Plaza building -- 105 drawings
Hartford Coliseum Space Frame -- 65 drawings
Rebuilding Hartford Coliseum Roof -- 25 drawings
Hartford YMCA -- 12 drawings
1 State Street -- 12 drawings
CityPlace -- 15 drawings
World Trade Center Towers -- 75 drawings
In the early 1990s Welling began experimenting with linoleum block printing. The building boom in Hartford was slowing and he was spending less time outdoors sketching. He continued to work in black and white, reworking earlier images, converting them from his line style to one dealing more with mass and volume. He sometimes chose colored inks if they complemented the image. He bought a press and learned to print his work and eventually hired a professional printer.
Welling loved to draw, and he loved trains almost equally. As a young boy he accompanied his father and older brother to watch steam locomotives and became a life-long fan. Years later he rode steam trains in Connecticut and Pennsylvania where fans could still take rides. He collected railroad books, recordings of sounds as trains traveled their routes, and amassed a large collection of models. He eventually built a metal workshop in his apartment to assemble train models and make his own parts. He sketched trains often and published a collection of railroad drawings titled Amtrak AFT-1 Turbo old 97 CONRAIL H-36.34 and other friends.
In 1957 he published a print of a fanciful, imaginary steam locomotive he created called the “Unus.” The story accompanying the print described it as a coal-burning passenger engine that had only two wheels in the center, which required careful balancing. The crewmembers had to weigh the same or the engine would not remain level as it traveled. Corresponding with the noted industrial designer Otto Kuhler, who modernized American railroad design, Welling collaborated on another imaginary locomotive, the “Simone K.” This locomotive, as the tall tale went, was the outcome of a competition between cotton plantation owners in Louisiana to get to market first and even involved Mark Twain.
Over the years, Welling was interviewed for many articles about his drawings in the Hartford Courant, the New York Times and other newspapers. His drawings were reproduced in the Courant on numerous occasions, including the Sunday supplement. The paper featured his drawings after the collapse of the Hartford Civic Center roof in January of 1978 and during the rebuilding of the structure.
In a November 21, 1985 interview for the Courant, reporter Bill Ryan stated that Welling had “gained a measure of fame as what could be regarded as the city’s resident artist-historian, drawing buildings that go down and the ones that go up.” He also observed that “downtown interiors would look naked without some Welling drawings.”
In a later interview for the New York Times (November 1, 1992), Bill Ryan noted, ”In one respect he is the darling of the business establishment. A great many of his intricate line drawings are commissioned works that hang in the boardrooms and lawyers’ offices throughout downtown.”
Advertising Club of Greater Hartford, awards committee board, 1963
Connecticut Art Directors Club, 1980s
Connecticut Academy of Fine Arts, 1970s–1980s. Council member for several years.
Corporator, Hartford History Center of the Hartford Public Library, Hartford, CT
Salmagundi Club, New York, NY
Basch, David. “Noticing Hartford’s Buildings.” Hartford Courant. Nov 16, 1969: L34. Print.
Condon, Tom. “Artist rates best, worst in city skyline.” Hartford Courant. Feb 17, 1987: B1. Print.
Dunne, Susan. "Changing Cityscape Focus of Exhibits." Hartford Courant. Oct 2, 2014: B1. Print.
Hanson, Bernard. “Three artists’ works on homes make fine show.” Hartford Courant. Feb 15, 1987: G6. Print.
Kashmann, Jyll. “Hartford’s ‘Slightly’ Famous Signature Artist.” Hartford News. Oct 7–14, 1992: 12. Print.
Lacey, John. “An Artist’s Secret.” Hartford Courant. Mar 2, 1979: 15. Print.
McSherry, Elizabeth A. “The City-Beautiful.” Hartford Courant. July 17, 1966: F15. Print.
Rapping, Anacleto. “Skyline Sketcher Gets Bird’s-Eye View.” Hartford Courant. Sept 13, 1985: B3. (Photographs with caption) Print.
Ryan, Bill. “Artist’s Fame Develops With City’s Downtown.” Hartford Courant. Nov 21, 1985: A1. Print.
Seremet, Pat. “Welling, Still A Hot Sketch, Gets Visit From WTC Man Of Steel.” Hartford Courant. Aug 15, 2002: D2. Print.
Seremet, Pat. “The Skyline Had Welling’s Byline As His Drawings Tell Many Stories.” Hartford Courant. Sept 20, 2001: D2. Print.
Seremet, Patricia. “Drawn Downtown: Urban Pen-And-Ink Pair With Contrasting Flair.” Hartford Courant. Aug 25, 1998: D1. Print.
Shipke, Eloise. “How To Approach Your Subject.” Hartford Courant. Nov 7, 1971: F13. Print.
Tracey, Joseph. “color blind artist finds craft working in black and white.” Sunday, the Hartford Courant Magazine. Nov 20, 1977: 2. Print.
Welling, Richard. “a brief chronology of Hartford’s chronometers.” Hartford Courant. June 15, 1969: H18. Print.
Welling, Richard. “A lament for downtown Hartford.” Hartford Courant. July, 1993. Print.
Welling, Richard. “Artist Draws Civic Center . . . For a Second Time.” Hartford Courant. Mar 2, 1980: H4. Print.
Welling, Richard. “Artist Rediscovers the City: Young Sketchers are Urged to Tap Metropolitan World.” Hartford Courant. Feb 25, 1968: F4. Print.
Welling, Richard. “building is booming in downtown Boston.” Hartford Courant. Feb 28, 1971: K14. Print.
Welling, Richard. “Industrial Architecture.” Hartford Courant. Mar 29, 1970: K10. Print.
Welling, Richard. “Tracking Union Station’s Past . . . and Future.” Hartford Courant. Apr 3, 1983: B3. Print.
Welling, Richard. “Richard Welling’s Lost Hartford.” Hartford Courant Magazine. Nov 30, 1980: 8. Print.
Welling, Richard. “What Will State Street Look Like After the Wrecker Leaves?” Hartford Courant. Jan 4, 1984: B11. Print.
An illustrated series by Richard Welling about Main Streets in central Connecticut appeared in the Hartford Courant in 1969 and 1970. Some of the Main Streets featured included those in Hartford, East Hartford, Avon, Canton, Farmington, and Mystic.
Awards and Honors
First prize in contest for ad design for Boyan and Weatherly, New York art studio, 1954
Certificates for creative use of paper from Art Direction magazine for brochures for United Aircraft, circa 1960
Gold award, Advertising Club of Greater Hartford, for design of the annual report for the Greater Hartford Chamber of Commerce, titled Greater Hartford . . . new perspectives, and for Connecticut General Life Insurance Company personnel booklets, 1966
Silver award, Advertising Club of Greater Hartford, company publication division, 1967
Connecticut Academy of Fine Arts, 68th Exhibition at the Wadsworth Atheneum, Richard Welling prize given to Mal Luber of Hamden for Unemployment Line
Governor Jody Rell honored Welling’s 80th birthday by officially making August 21, 2006 “Richard Welling Day” in Connecticut
Laura Knott-Twine Award for Outstanding Contributions to Historic Preservation Education awarded by the Hartford Preservation Alliance to Connecticut Historical Society for the exhibition "(Re)Building Hartford: A City Captured by Artist Richard Welling" and related programs, May 2015
Art talks and demonstrations in dozens of public schools during the 1960s and 1970s
Drawing classes for adults and children at the Wadsworth Atheneum in the 1960s and 1970s
Artist in Residence for one week at Bingham School in Bristol, CT for Project Create, 1968. His theme for the students was “Think with you eyes.”
Art classes for adults and teenagers at the West Hartford Art League, 1969–1972. Member of
the West Hartford Art League faculty.
Evening lecture and demonstration at the Manchester Fine Art Association, Manchester, CT, 1969
Drawing class in an adult education program, Farmington, CT, 1974–75
30-minute segment for Connecticut Public Television, 1969. Demonstrated a reverse marker technique drawing of the Old State House.
4-1/2 minute segment for Station WFSB PM Magazine titled “Hartford’s Skyline Artist Richard Welling,” August 23, 1984