Joseph Walther Franke was born October 16, 1893 in Manhattan, New York City. His father, Joseph C. Franke, was born in 1867 in NYC of German ancestry. His mother, Anna L. Franke, was born in 1869 in NYC of Irish ancestry. His parents married in 1885 and had three children. His older sisters Mabel and Anna were born in 1888 and 1890. The family lived at 22 Spencer Street in Brooklyn. His father was business manager of a Brooklyn piano company.
In June of 1911 he graduated from Brooklyn Commercial High School.
After high school he studied art at the National Academy of Design at 1083 Fifth Avenue and 89th Street on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
In 1912 he began a five-year period of study with Thomas Fogarty at the Art Students League of NY at 215 West 57th Street.
By 1915 he was working as a free-lance commercial artist. He illustrated books and advertisements for newspapers and magazines. He also illustrated several elementary school text books.
On July 2, 1917 during The Great War he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served as Seaman First Class. After a year-and-a-half at sea he was honorably discharged on November 11, 1918.
On June 26, 1920 he married Kathleen V. Allen in Manhattan Civil Court. She was born in NYC in 1895 of Irish ancestry. The newlyweds moved to 289 Sterling Street in Brooklyn. They had seven children, Mary (b.1923), Catherine (b.1925), Margaret (b.1926), Joseph (b.1927), Natalie (b.1929), Richard (b.1931), and Anna (b.1932).
In September of 1920 he enrolled in the three-year full-time art training program at the Pratt Institute of Brooklyn, School of Art. His most influential art teacher was Max Hermann, (1879-1929), who also taught Walter Baumhofer, H. Winfield Scott, and Frederick Blakeslee among others.
In June of 1923 he graduated from the Pratt Institute of Brooklyn School of Art. At that time the school was not a college, so he did not earn a diploma, but instead received a certificate of course completion.
In 1924 he taught art classes as Director of the Art Department at St. Augustine's Academy in Flushing Queens. These evening school classes were organized by the Knights of Columbus for ex-servicemen and women.
During the 1920s his illustrations appeared in nationwide magazines, such as Red Book, Woman's World, Boy's Life and The American Boy.
Although he was of German ancestry, which was not popular with Post-War American readers, he often signed his name with the acute accent over the final "e" to connote a French ancestry. No instance of this spelling has been found in his family history, so the artist may have chosen this spelling to disguise his German ancestry.
His illustrations also appeared in pulp magazines, such as Blue Book and How 7, which was a short-lived magazine of inspiration essays and testimonials from successful personalities. How 7 was edited by Robert Collier (1885-1950), a visionary author and advocate of Positive Thinking with a background in advertising and long association with Joseph Franke, who illustrated several pamphlets and brochures that promoted Robert Collier's various publications.
In 1929 Robert Collier and Joseph Franke won a $1000 nationwide competition to design a poster to promote church attendance. The contest was organized by the Church Advertising Group of the International Advertising Association. Their winning design "Why Go To Church?" reflected the power of united effort in a common cause from the ancient parable of the combined strength of a bundle of sticks. "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them. (Matthew, xviii 19-20).
Joseph Franke died of pneumonia at the age of forty in Brooklyn on December 20, 1933. He was survived by his mother and father, his wife and seven children.
© David Saunders 2013