Mathias Kauten was born on June 13, 1911 in St. Louis, Missouri. His father, also named Mathias Kauten, was born in 1884 in Hungary. His mother, Anna Kauten, was born in 1891 in Hungary. His parents were both German speaking Hungarians, who came to America in 1902 to escape poverty. In 1907 his father enlisted in the U.S. Army and one year later suffered a serious casualty and was honorably discharged as a disabled veteran at the rank of Private. In 1911 his parents married. They lived at 5339 West Avenue. They owned the house, which was valued at $2,000. His father was a locksmith and a machinist at a clay company located at 4600 South Kings Highway in St. Louis.
In 1920 his younger sister, Antoinette, was born.
He attended public schools in St. Louis and in June of 1929 graduated from Grover Cleveland High School. Afterwards he attended Washington University Art School in St. Louis.
On March 18, 1932 his father died at home at the age of forty-eight. Afterwards his widowed mother received monthly disability benefit payments.
In the summer of 1932 he visited Germany. On the return trip he sailed on the Steam Ship Deutschland from Hamburg.
In the Spring of 1934 he entered a nationwide contest to design the cover for The Sears & Roebuck Catalog. His idea was selected for a $50 Prize, but did not appear in print.
In 1937 he was listed as an "artist" residing at 534 Washington Avenue in Cape Girardeau, Missouri.
In 1939 he left Missouri and moved to New York to seek his fortune as a commercial artist.
In 1940 he was listed as a commercial artist at room 310 at 481 Main Street in New Rochelle, NY. This was a fashionable location for professional illustrators. Several artists had earlier left Missouri and moved to New Rochelle, such as R. G. Harris, who shared a studio at 560 Main Street with John Falter, Emery Clarke, and Richard Lyon. Charles LaSalle, J. W. Scott, and Graves Gladney were also neighbors.
The compulsory draft for able-bodied men began in 1940. This national effort to mobilize in preparation for war began to thin the ranks of the top-level illustrators who were called to serve their country. The pulp magazine industry responded to this crisis by suddenly accepting many entry-level illustrators, who were exempt from military service, such as Ernest Chiriacka, Sam Cherry and Gloria Stoll.
By 1941 Mat Kauten began to sell illustrations to pulp magazines. He sold freelance pulp covers to All Football Stories, Best Western, Blue Ribbon Western, Complete Western Book, Detective Short Stories, Short Stories, Sports Leaders, Western Novel & Short Stories, and Western Short Stories.
During WWII he failed to report for induction into the Army and was arrested for violation of the draft law. He claimed to be a conscientious objector, but he was also an outspoken atheist, so it was legally difficult to object to service on religious grounds. Instead he opposed military service on the grounds that he was a Secular Humanist. His trial eventually reached the Supreme Court and his lawyer was a counsel from the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union). The court finally agreed with him on appeal, which made him the first U.S. citizen granted Conscientious Objector status on secular philosophical grounds. For decades after his trail, future claimants to this same special status had to pass a legal gauntlet known as the "Kauten Test."
After the war he continued to spend much of his time as a pacifist and an anti-war activist, working with groups such as The Peacemakers, The Fellowship of Reconciliation, and The War Resisters League. During the Korean War he was repeatedly arrested at anti-war demonstrations.
In 1949 he married his wife Marie. In 1949 they lived at 20 Jane Street in Manhattan's Greenwich Village.
He painted illustrations for Liberty Magazine and The Saturday Evening Post. He also illustrated, as a photographer, several magazine articles in Esquire Magazine.
In 1949 he filed a patent for a book design with stereoptical illustrations.
He studied for one year with Frank Lloyd Wright, and wrote an article about him for The Progressive Architect Magazine. In the 1960s he worked as an architect for open-minded clients who were interested in his ultra modern home designs, such as a geodesic globe supported on a steel tripod. He designed another modernistic home in Sag Harbor on Long Island, NY, for Natalie Emma Rossin Davies.
In 1964 he and his wife moved to New Hope, Pennsylvania, a quaint artistic town on the Delaware River, famous for its many antique shops.
Mathias Kauten died at the age of sixty-five in Pennsylvania on May 1, 1977.
© David Saunders 2009