Alfred Charles Parker Biography

A founder of the modern glamour aesthetic, Alfred Charles Parker (1906-1985) defined the progressive look and feel of published imagery at a time of sweeping change, when Americans, emerging from the trials of economic depression and war, sought symbols of hope and redemption on the pages of our nation’s periodicals. His innovative, modernist artworks created for mass-appeal women’s magazines and their advertisers captivated upwardly mobile mid-twentieth century readers, reflecting and profoundly influencing the values and aspirations of American women and their families during the post-war era.

Leaping beyond the constraints of traditional narrative picturemaking, Al Parker emerged in the 1930s to establish a vibrant visual vocabulary for the new suburban life so desired in the aftermath of the Depression and World War II. More graphic and less detailed than the paintings of luminary Norman Rockwell, a contemporary and an inspiration to the artist, Parker’s stylish compositions were sought after by editors and art directors for their contemporary look and feel. “Art involves a constant metamorphosis…due both to the nature of the creative act and to the ineluctable march of time,” Parker said. Embraced by an eagerly romantic public who aspired to the ideals of beauty and lifestyle reflected in his art, Parker’s pictures revealed a penchant for reinvention, and his ongoing experiments with visual form kept him ahead of the curve for decades. Born on October 16, 1906 in St. Louis, Missouri, Al Parker began his creative journey early in life, encouraged by parents with an affinity for the arts. Though their furniture business paid the bills, Parker’s father was an aspiring painter and his mother a singer and pianist. The young artist’s precocious illustrations brought song lyrics to life on the rolls of his mother’s player piano, which were proudly displayed for admiring guests. Hours spent listening to jazz in the furniture store’s record department and regular trips to the movies and theater inspired a life-long love of music. At the age of fifteen, Parker took up the saxophone, and by the following summer, was proficient enough to lead his own Mississippi riverboat band. Musical excursions on the Golden Eagle, Cape Giradeau, and other venerable vessels continued for five summers, “vacations with pay” that offered Parker the chance to sketch admiring fans between sets and play with jazz greats like Louis Armstrong. His first year’s tuition at the St. Louis School of Fine Arts at Washington University was financed by riverboat captain Charles J. Bender, Parker’s grandfather, who hoped to dissuade him from making music a career.