By Rachel Neverdal
A father’s dream of becoming an artist which he gave up to provide for his family, was fulfilled in the life of his son, Morgan Weistling, an accomplished western artist and resident of Santa Clarita.
“How is a successful artist born? What are the circumstances that surround their creative development and growth? What does it take to become a successful artist in today’s world?”
Weistling answers all those questions and more in a compelling interview involving Nazi’s, a POW camp and a little western comic-strip.
Weistling’s journey to success begins with his father, Howard Weistling.
Weistling’s father grew up in the 1930’s loving comic-strips from the newspaper. “There were all these serial comics-trips that would continue everyday, and the story would be continued throughout the newspaper every Sunday. They were TV of the day,” said Weistling. His father always wanted to be a comic-strip artist, but his parents were against it. His father was in the process of teaching himself when Pearl Harbor was bombed. Then came World War II. He enlisted immediately and he was deployed overseas. On his first bombing mission his plane was shot down over Germany. As he was parachuting from the plane bullets flew past him.
Fortunately, he survived the crashed but was caught by the Germans three days later and was put in a prison camp.
Upon arrival, he was approached by one of the POW’s to see if he had any intelligence that was valuable to the war effort, and if he had they could get him out. The POW’s had dug an escape tunnel but because it was such a high-risk operation it was only for prisoners who had valuable intelligence about the war. He did not have any information and remained in the camp until the end of the war.
While in the prison camp his father began a daily comic-strip that told tales of the Wild West, of Indians and cowboys. He would draw them on the back of cigarette packages because there was no paper in the camp. The comic-strip was the highlight of the POW’s day and was passed around the camp. It kept up their morale because everyone wanted to know what happened next. When he completed it, he made a small booklet out of pounded tin and a nail. He used the nail to etch his name into the tin and bind it all together.
When the war ended they were liberated by the Russians, and in the midst of all the excitement and chaos, the booklet was lost.
Upon returning home Weistling, enrolled in Woodbury University in Los Angeles where he met his wife. They both fell in love and were soon married. They both loved art, but Weistling’s father was unable to fulfill his dreams of artistry due to his ever-growing family. He became a humble gardener, but his love of art did not dwindle, and he always wondered what became of the booklet.
The younger Weistling always wished he could have seen his father’s work that inspired him so much as a child studying art, and finally four years ago he got his wish.
Sixty-five years after his father was released from the POW camp, about seven years after his father passed away, Weistling received an email. It was from a Jewish businessman in New York saying that he believed he had some drawings that might belong to him. One of the partners in their company had embezzled money to buy a truckload of Nazi artifacts. In the truck was everything from Hitler’s watercolors and dinnerware to Dr. Joseph Megala’s suit, the infamous doctor who was responsible for the most horrific human experiments of WWII.
In the email to Weistling, the man said, “ It was revolting. We are Jewish. This was horrible what he did so we donated all the items to the Holocaust Museum’s all over the world, but I kept one thing. I kept it for myself, and I always thought it was something that was so interesting. It was this little book of drawings that I knew had been done by a POW in some camp. I used to always show it to my children, and I have had it for twenty years. I am moving now and research the name. On your website you speak of your father spending time in POW camp so I believe they belong to you.”
To this day, Weistling has no idea how that his father’s drawings ended up with Hitler’s watercolors. The tin casing preserved it for 65 years. The title of the book was, “A Western” by H. Weistling.
Weistling was only 19 months old when his father began teaching him drawing skills. His father would draw something and he would copy it. That is how he began to develop his creative ability.
His father saved all the books he used at the university, and Morgan studied them, as he grew older. When he was older he met a retired illustrator by the name of Fred Fixler. He studied at Fixler’s school, then called the Brandes Art Institute. He went on to become an illustrator in Hollywood working with all the big studios making movie posters. He worked on his first movie poster at age 19. While he was an illustrator he also did book covers and artwork for pinball machines.
After working in the movie industry for 14 years he felt that he needed a break, a change of direction. He then painted his “Two Children” painting and it was sold immediately for around $2,500.00, which might seem like a lot but “that barely paid for the brushes,” laughed Weistling. “Today, more then ever, it is very difficult to become an artist. Graphics artist have it made!”
His first one-man show of 26 paintings was all sold opening night. He said that it took 10 years of being a well-known artist before he could even pay his bills.
“I was making enough on just one movie poster to buy a car!” said Weistling. “Even though I had made a name for myself in Hollywood, no one in the fine-art world knew who I was.”
He, like his father, met his wife, Joanne, while studying art, and she too is an artist. They have been together since 1990 and have two daughters who both model for their paintings.
Weistling likes to depict his Christian faith and has done so in many of his paintings. They are all featured in a book titled, “The Image of Christ.”
He is currently working on a large project for the Gene Autry Museum in Los Angeles. It is known for featuring Western Heritage pieces of early pioneer life, which is Weistling’s specialty. He gets a lot of inspiration for his pieces from the Santa Clarita area, due to its rich history in the Western culture.
You can buy his artwork online at www.morganweistling.com Morgan’s success is an inspiration and attests to the power of a parent’s sacrifice.