Edmond Jules DeLavy (pronounced "duh LAY vee") was born September 20, 1916 in the U. S. Navy Hospital at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine. His father, also named Edmond DeLavy, was a career naval officer serving as a Lieutenant on the steamship Southery, which was stationed at Portsmouth as a recruit training ship. His mother was Louise S. DeLavy. They were of Swiss and French ancestry. His father first enlisted at the age of sixteen to serve in the Spanish American War. They had two children. His sister Marion was two years older.
During the Great War the mother and two children moved to 8704 Dalrymple (107th) Avenue in Queens, New York, to live with their widowed paternal grandfather, Jules DeLavy, a carpenter that had emigrated from Switzerland in 1892.
At an early age he was inspired to become an artist by N. C. Wyeth's illustrations for Treasure Island.
In June of 1934 he graduated high school, and in September he began three years of study at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. He was taught illustration by H.W. Scott, a successful pulp artist whose splashy style of painting Westerns was obviously influential. He also met Richard Case, another Pratt art student who was also a disciple of H.W. Scott's sensational approach to painting.
On June 9, 1938 he received a graduate certificate in Pictorial Illustration from the Pratt Institute.
Thanks to H.W. Scott's benevolent introduction to the art editor at Street & Smith, he was soon drawing interior story illustrations for Western Story and Wild West Weekly. These jobs paid only six dollars a page, so it was a struggle to survive as a freelance illustrator. He lived rent-free at his grandfather's home, but he still had to contribute to the support of his mother and his unmarried sister. To supplement his income he worked with his grandfather on carpentry jobs. The market for new home building drew his grandfather's business towards Long Island. In 1940 the family moved to 8 Netcong Place in East Northport, NY.
On May 7, 1941 he enlisted in the Army, exactly seven months before the declaration of war. He was recorded at the time to be 5'-10" and to weigh 120 pounds. He was assigned to the 21st General Hospital Unit as a surgical technician.
Throughout his service he regularly contributed cartoons to his unit's newspaper, The 21st News Bulletin. On May 22, 1942 he won First Prize in an art contest at Fort Benning, Georgia. He proudly wrote home to his mother, "I put the $10 prize money in my wallet for future use." For five years his unit followed frontline causalities, while traveling to military hospitals in England, North Africa, Italy and France.
Remarkably, his father also served in WWII and retired at the age of 63 from the Navy in 1945 with special honors and the rank of Lieutenant Commander.
After the war he unwound by taking a free-wheeling cross-country sight-seeing tour in his own car. During this extended road trip he became enchanted by the beauty of New Mexico.
In September of 1947 he returned to New York City and resumed his career as a freelance magazine illustrator, while taking advantage of the G. I. Bill to also attend night classes at the NY Art Students League.
He was soon very busy drawing black and white interior story illustrations for many pulp magazines, such as Detective Novel, Exciting Western, Five-Novels, Giant Western, The Masked Rider Western, Popular Western, The Rio Kid Western, and Thrilling Western.
He painted a few covers for Giant Western, Leading Western, New Western, and Ranch Romances, but he was mostly known as a pulp Western pen & ink man, such as Nick Eggenhofer, Lorence Bjorklund, George Wert and Joe Farren.
By 1952 the fashionable taste in popular culture had changed and newsstand sales of pulp magazines were no longer adequate to support the industry. Most pulp artists had to find a new market for their creative talents.
On January 12, 1952 he moved out of his family home in Northport, and moved into a rented apartment in NYC at 809 Lexington Avenue. The building is just south of the Barbizon Hotel for Women near 63rd Street on Manhattan's Upper East Side.
Almost all illustrators were struggling with the same cultural transition at that time. He followed several other pulp artists who were making a living in Connecticut, such as Clarence Doore, Richard Case, and Joe Dreany.
While visiting Dreany's home in Stamford he designed and built some shelving and storage units for the art studio. Dreany's son Frederick recalled, "Ed DeLavy was a bachelor artist and raconteur who traveled around and stayed at friend's houses for up to two weeks at a time, while doing carpentry work and telling stories about his world travels. He brought a fragrant-smelling sagebrush from New Mexico, which Dad kept in a large vase on the shelves in his studio."
In 1959 he returned to New Mexico and filed a claim to homestead 2.5 acres adjacent to the Coronado Monument in Bernalillo, NM. This unusual decision actually has an interesting precedence in the life of Gerard Delano. For the next three years he gradually built an adobe art studio on his homestead land. During that time he lived fifteen miles south in Albuquerque, where he supported himself by painting portraits and doing carpentry jobs.
On May 6, 1961 his friend Joe Dreany suddenly died of a heart attack. He returned to Stamford, CT, and lived nearby at 65 Edgewood Avenue. According to Dreany's son Frederick, "Ed eventually became almost a second father to me. He brought me parts of his own childhood train set from his family home on Long Island, which he passed on to me when I was still a kid." Two years later on May 25th, 1963 he married Dreany's widow, Freda May Johnston Dreany, a talented pastel portrait artist. Six years later, after all three of his step-children had grown up and left home, the marriage ended in divorce. They had no children of their own.
In 1970 he returned to his homestead art studio in Bernalillo, New Mexico.
He illustrated several articles for New Mexico Magazine, and in 1982 he illustrated a coffee table book Cowboy Riding Country by John Sinclair.
His unmarried sister Marion and their widowed mother Louise retired to New Mexico to live near him.
During his last years he continued to explore the historic and picturesque beauty of New Mexico. He shared this passion with Eliot Porter, a friend whose famous photographs captured the region's many natural wonders. Porter took the photo of the artist that appears above.
He proudly bequeathed his property to the local Historical Society as an example of an old-fashioned authentic adobe homestead.
Ed DeLavy died at age seventy-two on September 4, 1989.
© David Saunders 2009