Oren Ross "Wag" Waggener was born June 23, 1894 in Martin, Tennessee. His father, George E. Waggener, was born 1859 in TN. His mother, Ada Lenore Brooks, was born 1870 in TN. His parents married on January 22, 1892. They had five children but only three survived infancy. He was the oldest. His younger brothers Roy and Edwin were born in 1896 and 1905. The family lived at 91 Elm Street in Martin, TN, and attended Baptist Church. His father was a salesman.
In 1902 he was awarded a prize for the best delivered speech, while attending third grade at Minida Normal School in Martin, TN.
By 1910 the family had moved to Caruthersville, Missouri, where his father worked as a manager of a dry goods store. They lived at 335 Ward Avenue.
In 1912 he graduated high school, where a teacher had encouraged him to seek professional art training.
In 1914 his family moved to a farm on Jacksonville Road in Henderson, Texas, where his father worked a farm with the help of his three sons.
During the Great War from May 6, 1918 to February 15, 1919 Oren Waggener served as a private with the 335th Field Artillery - 37th Division. They were stationed in France.
After the war he moved to Chicago to study at the Art Institute of Chicago. He worked as an artist in Chicago's busy advertising industry. He became friendly with an Illinois entrepreneur and inventor, James Lewis Kraft (1874-1953), whose company later became Kraft Foods Inc. He also became friendly with another young art student, Vernon Grant (1902-1990), who went on to design the trio of iconic cereal mascots Snap, Crackle & Pop for the Kellogg's Co.
In 1922 Oren Waggener moved to New York City and lived in a boarding house while he studied at the Art Students League with Frank Vincent Dumond (1865-1951).
In 1923 he married Lillian Oltmanns, who was born March 21, 1899 in Brooklyn, New York. At first they lived at the home of the bride's family at 25 Madison Street in Brooklyn. He struggled to find work drawing for newspaper advertising, while Lillian worked as a stenographer. Her mother, Alvina E. Bechler, was a seamstress. Lillian's younger brother Ernest attended public school.
After two years when his mother-in-law became a saleslady at Dugan Brother's Bakery of Brooklyn, they moved to apartment #3E at 435 Grand Avenue in Brooklyn. Their daughter Janice was born on August 29, 1929.
In 1929 he bought property in Fort Montgomery, NY, between West Point and Bear Mountain, where he built a summer home for the family with his own hands. Each summer the Waggener Family left the crowded streets of Brooklyn for their pastoral summer home.
During the Great Depression it was difficult for most families to make ends meet, but he was able to find steady work as a freelance illustrator for the low-paying pulp magazines and local newspapers. He also drew editorial cartoons for a magazine published by the Brooklyn Central Y.M.C.A., where he also worked as manager of the Bowling Alley.
In 1937 he worked with an advertising agency on an promotional campaign for Wallace Sterling Company to exhibit his work at nationwide jewelry stores. Each event introduced a new design pattern and was unveiled as a spectacular media event at a different department store. One such event was staged at Loeser's Department Store on Fulton Street in Brooklyn's busiest shopping district.
On November 22, 1937 The Bismarck Tribune reported that "a painting from the brush of the famous artist Oren R. Waggener of the Wedding of Napoleon III and Eugenia was on display in the store window of Bonham Bros. Jewelers, Bismarck, South Dakota."
On May 20, 1937 The Genesee Country Express informed the public to "See the remarkable reproduction of Oren Ross Waggener's oil painting, "Stradivari," together with the beautiful silverware created by Wallace and inspired by Stradivari in the store windows of Alonzo Jenks Jeweler of Dansville, New York."
Throughout the 1930s and 1940s he was one of the top cover artists for the pulp adventure magazine Short Stories. He also drew hundreds of pen and ink story illustrations for Ace-High Western, Dime Detective, and Five Novels Monthly.
He did not serve in the military during WWII because he was a forty-eight-year-old veteran of WWI.
After the war the Waggener family, including his widowed mother-in-law, left Brooklyn and moved to 352 Princeton Road in the suburban town of Rockville Center, on New York's Long Island.
On January 27, 1951 his mother died at the age of eighty in Waco, Texas.
When pulp magazines were no longer popular he continued to draw editorial cartoons for Hearst syndicated newspapers, but by 1958 he completely retired from professional illustration.
On September 21, 1964 his wife Lillian died at the age of sixty-five.
He left Rockville Center and moved to live with his daughter's family at 465 East Union Street in Lockport, N.Y., just north of Buffalo. Although he had retired from his hectic career in freelance illustration he remained active by teaching art classes in his private home studio. His approach to art instruction stressed the fundamental importance of academic drawing, color study and perspective.
For the cold winter months of each year he moved to Penney Farms, Florida, where he also taught painting classes. He continued this semi-annual routine for over twenty years.
According to the artist's daughter, "He was a humorous punster. Always funny. A great storyteller. Unpretentious with a genuine affection for humanity."
Oren Waggener died at the age of eighty-eight in Penney Farms, Florida, on March 7, 1983.
© David Saunders 2012