James Arnold Albert Ernst was born August 5, 1916 in New York City. His father, Arthur Ogden Ernst, was born in 1882 in Austria and came to America in 1890. His mother, Florence B. Rakas, was born in 1891 in New York City of German ancestry. His parents married in Manhattan Civil Court on January 22, 1913, which was his mother's twenty-first birthday. His older brother Robert Ernest was born March 1, 1914. The family lived at 508 West 139th Street in Harlem. His father was a lawyer.
By 1920 the family had moved to 88 Buena Vista Drive in Dobbs Ferry, NY, a suburban community in Westchester County, which is forty minutes north of Manhattan on the Metro North commuter train from Grand Central Station.
On August 16, 1929 he and his parents and older brother traveled on the famous luxury ocean liner the S.S. Aquitania to visit relatives in Germany.
On September 8, 1931 he again sailed as a passenger to Germany, where he studied abroad for one year.
In June of 1934 he graduated from Hastings High School in nearby Hastings-on-Hudson, NY. He was awarded a $150 Art Scholarship to attend Syracuse University College of Fine Arts.
That fall he began to attend the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, where he studied to become a professional illustrator. His teachers were Monte Crews, H. W. Scott, and Nicholas Riley (1900-1944). His classmates included Elmer Wexler, Bob Powell, Gerald McCann, Ed DeLavy, and Howard Munce. He completed his studies in 1937.
His yearbook photo is accompanied by the quotation, "I will never miss a line, though my stomach may fast, I think I have a future, although I have no past."
After graduation he moved to 55 East 73rd Street in the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Many other illustrators had studios in this neighborhood, such as Norman Saunders, Rafael DeSoto, Alex Redmond, Richard Lillis and George Gross.
His black and white pen-and-ink story illustrations appeared in pulp magazines, such as Mystery Tales, Star Detective, 10-Story Detective, and Blue Book.
He also drew illustrations for the innovative magazine PM.
On January 14, 1941 he was drafted for military service in the Army with the 39th Infantry 9th Division. This was eleven months before the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor which compelled the United States entry into WWII. He was recorded at the time to be single, five-nine, 143 pounds. On October 17, 1941 he was sent to Fort Bragg in North Carolina to study camouflage. On July 15, 1943 he was honorably discharged as a Lieutenant.
In 1943 he married Patricia MacCine Healy, a graduate of Hunter College.
He resumed his career as a freelance commercial artist. He drew story illustrations for Blue Book. Some of the other artists that also worked for this magazine are Monte Crews, George Avison, Hamilton Greene, Lea Gustavson, Pete Kuhlhoff, Raymond Sisley, and Herbert Morton Stoops.
He also produced watercolors, which he exhibited at NYC art galleries.
In 1952 he joined the faculty of the Extension School of General Studies of City College of New York (C.C.N.Y.).
In 1962 his book, "Drawing The Line - Fine and Commercial Art" was published by Reinhold.
In 1965 he lectured on art at the Donnell Library, one of Manhattan's premier public cultural institutions. He became the Assistant Supervisor of the New York Public Library's Art Education Project.
James A. Ernst died at the age of seventy-three on September 14, 1989 in Vero Beach, Indian River County, Florida.
© David Saunders 2013