Frederick William Witton, Jr, was born January 4, 1897 in Boston, Massachusetts. His father, also named Frederick William Witton, was born February 24, 1873 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, and came to America in 1893 and settled in Boston. His mother, Rebecca Burns, was born December 3, 1875 in Ireland and came to America in 1895. His parents married on July 18, 1896 in Providence, Rhode Island. He was their only child. They lived at 103 West Springfield Street. His father worked as an Assistant to the Head Waiter at the Hotel Oxford on Huntington Avenue.
His parents had marital problems and separated before his tenth birthday. His father contributed child support, but his mother supported herself by operating a boarding house in Boston.
On March 16, 1915 at the age of eighteen he enlisted in the U.S. Army. He was recorded to be five-foot-eleven with gray eyes. On September 7, 1917 he was sent to France to fight in the Great War. While in the service he began to make drawings of his experiences, and became interested in a career as a professional artist.
On April 28, 1919 he was honorably discharged as a Private. During his absence, his parents had become reconciled and lived together at 19 Garrison Street in Boston, where he joined them after his return from the war.
In June 1919 he began to study art at The New School, which was located at 248 Boylston Street, Garden Studios, Boston. Students of this school received training in design, illustration, and painting. He studied with the director of the school, Douglas John Connah (1871-1941). His closest friend at the school was the Massachusetts artist Aiden Lassell Ripley (1896-1969).
In April of 1920 he married Mia Elizabeth Rosenthal. She was born January 20, 1894 in Sweden. She was also an art student at The New School in Boston. After their wedding he and his wife sailed to France On May 5, 1920. He studied painting in Paris for one year at the Julian Academie.
In June of 1921 they returned to Boston and moved to 70 Summer Street in the Hyde Park area of Boston. He continued to study art in Boston, but as their living expenses became difficult to meet he also struggled to earn more income.
In September of 1921 an eccentric political activist, Urbain LeDoux (1874-1941), caused a media sensation on behalf of jobless veterans by staging a public auction of slaves in a Boston park. The grand stand was packed with a curious public as LeDoux paraded a line of shackled slaves to the auction block. He explained that his chattel were ex-servicemen he had mercifully saved from utter starvation. According to nationwide newspaper accounts, one of the slaves was "Frederick Witton of 70 Summer Street, Hyde Park," who was sold for two weeks of manual labor in exchange for room and board. In response to reporters' questions about the auctioneer's origins, affiliations, and place of residence, LeDoux said he lived "on the plane of the Carpenter from Nazareth in the fourth dimension."
This amusing publicity stunt had roots in a rather serious political grievance over the cancellation of a government program that had paid a special bonus to soldiers who served during war time. That policy had been a tradition since 1776, and the amount was calculated to replace the difference between service pay and forfeited income. The American Legion had first formed as a political movement to demand restoration of this cancelled program. Public support eventually led Congress to pass the World War Adjusted Compensation Act, which awarded veterans an interest-bearing certificate, but it could only be redeemed after twenty years maturity for the flat sum of sixty dollars. Simmering resentment over the new bonus system later led to the Bonus March on Washington, DC, during the Great Depression, when 17,000 war veterans, with an additional 26,000 supporters, camped out in a tent city at the Nation's Capitol and refused to leave until their demands were met for immediate cash redemption of their war bonus certificates. Eventually the protesters were forcibly dispersed by U.S. Army troops, cavalry charges, and six armored tanks. This brutal fiasco led to four deaths, over one thousand injuries, and horrified all concerned citizens in our deeply polarized Nation.
It may be interesting to consider the small part the artist Frederick Witton played in this historic struggle, which has shaped the American political landscape, but in September of 1921 all he really cared about was he was broke and his wife was expecting a baby.
In 1922 his only child, Winifred Witton, was born. For the next five years he struggled to earn a living as a commercial artist in Boston. His marriage grew incompatible and they finally divorced. His wife and daughter moved to Laguna Beach, California, where they lived on Laguna Canyon with his mother-in-law, Johanna E. Rosenthal, born in 1869 in Sweden. His ex-wife supported herself and raised her daughter by painting novelty items.
He sailed to Paris to celebrate his newfound independence, but after four months returned on the steam ship De Grasse to New York City on May 28, 1927, where he began to work as a commercial illustrator.
From 1929 to 1935 he painted covers for pulp magazines. His work appeared on the covers of Short Stories, Air Trails, Wide World Adventures, West, and Star Magazine. He also drew black and white story illustrations for pulp western and adventure magazines.
In 1935 he visited his daughter and ex-wife in California. To finance the trip he arranged to spend a week at a department store in Oakland, California, where he drew quick-sketch portraits of customers. Each finished portrait came in a frame and cost one dollar.
One year later in 1936 he arranged a similar deal with a department store in Los Angeles, CA.
Newspaper accounts document a similar trip in 1938 to San Antonio, Texas, where he again traveled to perform a quick-sketch novelty service at a department store. He drove to these locations with a mobile home trailer hitched to his car.
According to a 1938 newspaper account, "Frederick Witton, New York artist, began his sketching in a serious way while a soldier during the World War. He has traveled through every state in the Union, painting more than 90,000 portraits, using the wax crayon sketch as a medium."
"It is his belief that wax crayon sketch is the closest approach to the oil painting that is possible in sketching. He works with colors and masses, in addition to lines, and feels he can save as much in 15 minutes through this medium as he can in an oil painting."
"Witton travels in a trailer and alternates commercial appearances with creative work of his own. Among those who have provided studies for his sketching are the Pueblo Indians of the Southwest. In addition to painting Witton has done some work in sculpturing and is keenly interested in trying wood carving as his next medium."
"During his stay at Joske's Department Store Witton will be located on the street floor adjoining the transfer desk."
In June of 1940 his daughter Winifred Witton graduated from Santa Ana Junior College in California, where she had been on the swim team. She went on to become an accomplished artist.
During WWII he was too old to serve in the military, but he volunteered to give art lessons to soldiers stationed at Fort Meade in Maryland, where he met another instructor who soon became his wife, Lillian S. Witton. She was born October 9, 1906. She worked as a educational instructor for the National Security Agency in Fort Meade
In 1944 she began to work for the the Veteran's Administration, and was sent to Columbia, South Carolina, where they lived at 2300 Gadsden Street.
In 1945 they moved to Asheville, North Carolina, where she taught courses at Fort Gordon, and they lived at 5 Howland Road. He gave private art lessons in his private art studio at 15 1/2 Rankin Avenue, where he operated the Asheville Sketch Club.
In 1959 he placed an advertisement in American Artist Magazine offering art students a chance to "Paint in Mexico with Frederick Witton."
In 1962 he was still giving art lessons in Asheville, NC.
On October 30, 1966 his first wife, Mia Elizabeth Witton, died at the age of seventy-two in Newport Beach, California.
In 1969 He and Lillian moved to Appling, Georgia.
In 1980 they moved in West Columbia in South Carolina.
Frederick Witton died at the age of eighty-eight on March 13, 1985 in Harlem, Georgia.
© David Saunders 2013