Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Jim Donahue, mentor and great friend

The other day, Jim Bernardine sent me a photograph of Jim Donahue, a great man that I met early in my career, and it brought back a lot of memories. I began working at fifteen years old at the Brophy Engraving Company at 409 East Jefferson in Detroit. It was 1943 and World War II was raging. Brophy's artists were all drafted into the army and they hired me through my art teacher, Margaret Stein, at Denby High School. I had designed the high school yearbook and Brophy's did the engravings for it and were aware of my work. The art director at the company was Jim Donahue. Jim was a terrific guy and he helped me a great deal, it was quite a learning experience. After I graduated from High school I quit brophy's and my good friend, Herb Schiebold and I started an art studio and had an office in the Guardian Building in downtown Detroit. In 1947, our main client, Chrysler, was involved in a major worker strike and our work from them suddenly stopped and we had to close down our operation. A few weeks later I ran into Jim Donahue and he told me that he had just started his own commercial art studio, Allied Artists. When I told him I was looking for a job, he immediately hired me. I worked as a graphic designer at the beginning and later also did a lot of illustrations. Jim was a superb salesman he brought in tons of great work from Kaiser Fraser and other major clients. The studio was a very busy place. Jim also hired Cliff Roberts and Don Silverstein and we all became good friends through the years.

Jim Donahue
Here's good old Jim, always in a good mood. I'm not quite sure where Jim was from originally, I think Kansas. He took me on several trips, once to Mexico and we stopped in Oklahoma where he had friends. He even took me to New York where I met his friend, Bradbury Thompson, a famous graphic Designer.

I had some down time at the studio and did a painting of a desert scene with a little red Ford in it. Jim loved it and took it to the art director of Ford Times magazine and they bought it. They also said that they would buy every painting that I did with that little old red Ford in it. This was my first big break in the business and it led to a lot of advertising illustration work. Ford Times was seen by most of the art directors in Detroit and it was great publicity for me. I did work for Ford Times for many years.

I left Allied Artists in 1951 and worked for several other art studios before I began freelancing. Sometime in the late 1960's Jim contacted me again and we started doing a lot of projects together. Jim was now working at the Premier Corporation as the advertising manager for several companies that they owned. Above is an ad that I designed for ARA, I also did the painting used in the ad.

Tenna-Tech is a company in Tennessee that I designed this brochure for. Jim could easily visualise my quick roughs and approved the layout. The company's airplane flew Jim and I down to Tennessee where I took photos for the brochure.

Here is the cover of the brochure, I also designed the logo used of the cover.

More rough layouts of the interior pages.

A finished spread with some of the photos that I took.
I had a great time working with Jim. He even sent me to Japan on an assignment. Premier was starting to raise Black Angus cattle in Japan and I was sent there on the cargo plane that was full of cattle. I had to shoot photos of the unloading operation when we arrived. They even sent my wife along, but on a regular airliner. Needless to say, Jim Donahue was a great mentor as well as a wonderful client. I've had a lot of luck in this business, but Jim was the best of the best.


Tris Mast said...


Thanks for this post about my granddad! Yes, he was from Kansas and graduated from KU. I love the great photo (he was always chuckling). You told me some things I wasn't aware of. I didn't know about the Bradbury Thompson connection.

He sure thought the world of you!


Anonymous said...

Hi Harry,

I love how you post about people you met in your long and successful career.

I'm wondering if you have posted any reflections and advice to young people on being successful in their career. If you look back, what would you say are the most important things you learned?

You must have met artists who were as talented as yourself, perhaps even more, but did not achieve the same professional and financial success.


Harry Borgman said...

Hi Tris,
Your granddad was quite a guy, I own him a lot for all of his help when I was starting out as well as later.
I think that Brad Thompson was a school friend of his. Brad did some really great graphic design work for Westvaco magazine in the 1940's, did Jim happen to ever show you any of them ?

Harry Borgman said...

Hi Vince,
I've had a lot of luck through the years in this business, working with many, very talented and helpful artists and art reps. I learned to work hard and not to be afraid when I got an assignment that I wasn't ready for. Somehow I enjoyed jumping in and trying something new. I've had a very long career because through the years I was able to reinvent myself, working as an illustrator, art director, cartoonist, graphic designer, painter and sculptor. Of course, this has also had a negative effect sometimes as it would confuse art directors who like to classify artists. Location also helped, at the time Detroit was a great place for a young artist, the amount of work and opportunities that existed was just amazing. Detroit attracted talent from all over the country. I will post some advice to young artists on my blog soon.

Tris Mast said...


Your question made me look through the numerous art books and magazines that Grandpa had collected and among them were NY Art Directors' Annuals that include Bradbury Thompson's work, and a wonderful issue of Portfolio Magazine from 1950 that features Thompson's designs. Thanks for inspiring me to find them!