Charles Warde Traver was born October 10, 1870 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. His father was William Traver, a farmer born 1841 in Michigan. His mother was Martha Jennie Warde, born 1847 in Michigan. They were married in 1869. He was their only child. They lived at the house of his widowed paternal grandmother Catherine J. Traver at 166 South 5th Street.
He graduated high school in 1888 and then attended the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. While at school his father died at the age of forty-eight. By his junior year at college he had become interested in art. He contributed cartoons and decorations to the 1891 and 1892 yearbooks.
He graduated in June 1892 and afterwards attended the Detroit School of Art. In the fall he moved to Chicago to study at the Chicago Art Institute. 1893 was the year of the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, ran from May 1 until October 31. He worked in the studio of Frank Millet to create decorations for the event, as well as a souvenir book, The Illustrated World's Fair. When the exposition was over he was hired to work on the 1893 Mid-Winter Fair in San Francisco, California.
In 1894 he opened an art studio in Los Angeles, where an art patron offered to fund his study at the Royal Academy of Fine Art in Munich, Germany. His passport describes him as five-eleven, thin, gray eyes, brown hair, dimpled chin, and with "smooth face - no hair." He studied in Munich for three years, where he was influenced by the ornate romanticism of Aubrey Beardsley.
In 1898 he returned to America and settled in New York City, where he lived at 156 Fifth Avenue on 20th Street in Manhattan.
In 1901 he moved to a more impressive penthouse art studio at 15 West 67th Street near Central Park West. His widowed mother came to live with him. He was soon creating covers for national magazines, such as Good Housekeeping, Pictorial Review and McCall's Magazine.
He specialized in romantic portraits of stylish women. His paintings also appeared on promotional calendars for the Fairy Soap Company, which were produced by the N. K. Fairbanks Co. of Chicago.
In 1910 he wrote the first of many kooky letters to the editor of The New York Times advocating unconventional civic improvements, such as men's open-toed sandals, roof top gardens, and open-air double decker street cars. His letters also disparaged litter in city parks, stuffy ventilation in theaters, inhumane treatment of animals, and unsightly roof top water tanks "that smite every eye for beauty a deadly blow." This remarkable campaign lasted over twenty years.
On November 14, 1914 he married Elise Molineaux of Stamford, CT, who was born 1891. She graduated Hunter College in 1913, where she was popularly voted the most beautiful girl in school. They lived at his art studio along with his mother. The couple soon separated and their marriage ended in a divorce that was eventually granted by a court in Reno Nevada.
From 1915 onward he painted several covers and story illustrations for The Saturday Evening Post.
In 1917 he painted the Prudential Girl Calendar, of which five million copies were circulated. This calendar was so popular that the "Traver Girl" was widely regarded as the modern replacement of the once-famous "Gibson Girl" by Charles Dana Gibson.
In 1918 during the Great War he was forty-eight years old and did not serve in the military.
By 1920 he and his mother began to take monthly pleasure cruises to sunny climates, such as Cuba, Bermuda, Miami Beach, and Atlantic City. He maintained this posh lifestyle throughout the roaring twenties. His travel documents listed him as "single" and his date of birth was successively adjusted to preserve a perpetual age of "38."
On September 14, 1921 his mother died while they visited the resort town of Atlantic City. Her remains were sent for burial by train to Ann Arbor, MI.
In 1922 he began to advertise in The New York Times for a "Young Man, age 18 to 24 to read to well-known artist of constructive and instructive magazines. Must be able to take dictation on Corona. Good birth, educated, refined, neat, systematic, reliable. $12 weekly to start. Wonderful opportunity for growth and improvement."
In March of 1929 his work was exhibited at the Ainslie Galleries in New York City. Advertisements for the show featured his romantic painting of a semi-nude shepherd boy in loin cloth idly tending a flock of sheep in golden hills at sundown.
In 1929 he painted covers for Physical Culture Magazine, which was published by Bernarr Macfadden, who was widely considered an eccentric "health nut." He ran an innovative publishing empire that promoted liberal causes, scandalous news, sexual freedom, and nude photogravures of men and women.
In the 1930s the advertising and publishing industries were hard hit by the Great Depression. Unable to afford the rent for his lavish penthouse art studio he moved to a single room in a tenement building at 100 West 73rd Street, on Columbus Avenue, where he was listed as "unemployed."
In 1931 he revisited Germany to look for business opportunities among his art school connections. After failing to find any work he returned to NYC.
In 1932 he revisited California to also look for work in the Hollywood glamour and pin-up industry. After failing to find a job he again returned to NYC.
From 1936 to 1939 he painted covers for pulp magazines under the alias "Martha Traver." This pen name was derived from his mother's name, "Martha Jennie Ward Traver." This subterfuge allowed him to work for the low-paying pulp magazine industry without damaging the renown of his reputation. His paintings of glamorous women appeared on covers of Four Star Love, Love Book, and Romance Magazine. These pulps were all produced by Popular Publications, which generally paid only $60 for romance magazine covers.
During WWII he found work painting portraits of socialites, judges, politicians, and historic figures, such as Roosevelt, Hoover, Lindbergh, and Admiral Byrd.
On February 16, 1943 he posed for newspaper photographers during the unveiling of his portrait of the Governor in the State Senate Building of Lansing, Michigan.
C. Warde Traver died in New York City on August 3, 1945 at the age of seventy-four.
© David Saunders 2009