Early 20th-century take on Wedgwood’s slave medallion
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    Auction Finds

    A 1987 pencil drawing of a slave auction

    When I saw the pencil drawing hanging on a wall at the auction house, I wasn’t sure what was going on. As I looked closer, I saw a man tied to a ball and chain with a woman and child alongside him. Not far away was an overseer with a wide-brimmed hat on his head and a whip in his hand – a common image from a slave plantation.

    In the background, a man with a top hat was conducting a slave auction.

    The artist had signed his name Banfield with a year that looked to be 1987. So I started searching Google and found Elliott Banfield, a New York graphic artist and illustrator, but I could find little else about him.

    I learned that he had done illustrations for the New York Times Book Review, the American Spectator, American Heritage and Claremont Review of Books. He has also done editorial cartoons for the New York Sun, and he has illustrated books.

    An up-close view of the pencil drawing of a slave auction by Elliott Banfield.

    An up-close view of the pencil drawing of a slave auction by Elliott Banfield.

    Banfield is the art director for the Claremont Review of Books, the quarterly journal of the decidedly conservative Claremont Institute based in California. Both “seek to reinvigorate the public mind by returning to first principles of distinctly American conservative,” according to the organization’s website.

    I was curious about Banfield not so much for his conservative views but in the pencil drawing I picked up auction – something I’ve done for other artists who were unfamiliar to me, such as James Drake Iams. You can see more of Banfield’s illustrations here.

    I contacted Banfield, and he obligingly answered some questions. Unfortunately, he didn’t remember when he created the slave-auction illustration. Here are his answers to my questions about the drawing and more:

    A full view of the pencil drawing of a slave auction by Elliott Banfield.

    A full view of the pencil drawing of a slave auction by Elliott Banfield.

    Answer:

    I share your interest in old things that one finds in out of the way places.

    Well, I’m sure that I made that drawing, but I don’t remember anything about it. I do recall that back around 1983, I made similar drawings for the WGBH TV station in Boston; they were doing shows on American fiction. I made drawings on Huckleberry Finn, and another on Little Women. Perhaps one on Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

    Back in that time I was published in the NY Times Book Review, and that’s how WGBH took an interest in me.

    WGBH might not have used the art that I created; I don’t recall seeing anything in print. I went to the WGBH website yesterday, but I couldn’t find any information there. So many years have gone by.

    The picture you have appears to be a pencil sketch; my final work for WGBH would have been in pen and ink, a very different medium. What you have seems to be very preliminary.

    Unfortunately, I’ve lost all the art from that period. I don’t have any to show you.

    Incidentally, I had a show of my work in ’84 (at the now-closed Gotham Book Mart, here in NY City); the drawing you have might have come from the show. That’s all I can tell you.

    Elliott Banfield illustrations of writer James Baldwin and political commentator George Will.

    Elliott Banfield illustrations of writer James Baldwin (circa 1983) and political commentator George Will. From elliottbanfield.smugmug.com.

    Question:
    How did you lose your artwork from that period? 

    Answer:
    I simply had no storage space so I trashed lots of stuff.

    Question:
    How did you get into illustrations? When did you get started professionally?

    Answer:
    Someone from the NY Times saw prints of mine in a gallery, and he invited me to make illustrations for the paper.

    Question:
    I saw that you’d done illustrations of George will, James Baldwin and others. Were those for magazines? Did you meet either of them to do the illustrations?

    Answer:
    I made the Baldwin for the NY Times Book Review. Will was made as an ad for the Claremont Review. I work from photos, which are now easy to find on Google.

    “Fractured Republic,” an Elliott Banfield illustration in the Claremont Review of Books, 2016. From elliottbanfield.smugmug.com.

    Question:
    I also saw in one bio that you worked for Cartier. What exactly did you do for the company?

    Answer:
    I was never on the staff of the company. They bought my greeting card designs.

    Question:
    One bio stated that you had worked as a graphic designer since the 1980s for such companies as American Spectator, NY Times Book Review and the Wall Street Journal.

    Answer:
    Those were clients at one time or another. I made illustrations for them. They don’t call on me anymore. The Claremont Review is the only magazine that I’ve designed.

    Question:
    Another bio said this: his “masterful line work is reminiscent of fine engravings from another time.” Can you talk a little about your technique and what it derived from?

    Answer:
    This is a big subject. I’m planning to do a YouTube video on this topic next year. I’ll inform you when it happens.

    Question:
    What was your proudest illustration? Your not-so-proud?

    Answer:
    It changes from one day to the next.

    Question:
    From what I read about your father, he was a conservative and you’re at an institution built on conservatism, so I assume you’re conservative, too. Do your illustrations reflect your beliefs? (His father was Edward C. Banfield, whose obituary in the New York Times in 1999 described him as a “critic of almost every mainstream liberal idea in domestic policy, especially the use of federal aid to help relieve urban poverty.”

    Answer:
    You’re right. I am conservative; it’s in the genes. I’m pretty old fashioned in politics and in art.

    Question:
    Can I ask your age, and whether you’re still living in NYC.

    Answer:
    I still live on the Lower East Side. I’m 72 years old.

    "Condi Rice Crossing the Ice" cartoon for the the New York Sun, 2005. This was drawn during Condoleezza Rice's Senate confirmation hearing for secretary of state.

    “Condi Rice Crossing the Ice” cartoon for the the New York Sun, 2005. This was drawn during Condoleezza Rice’s Senate confirmation hearing for secretary of state. From elliottbanfield.smugmug.com.

    condi

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