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Joyce Ballantyne (American, 1918-2006)
Best known as the artist behind the Coppertone Girl, Joyce Ballantyne (April 4, 1918) was a commercial and pinup artist throughout most of the twentieth century. Her work, initially inspired by Haddon Sundblom, grew to encompass celebrity portraits, as well as titans of the business and academic worlds.
Joyce Ballantyne was born in Norfolk, Nebraska. She grew up in and around Omaha, studying at the University of Nebraska for two years before finishing her commercial art degree at the Art Institute of Chicago. Fresh out of College, Ballantyne was hired by Kling Studios to paint Rand McNally maps. During this time she met other pinup luminaries like Gil Elvbren, Al Moore, and the famed Haddon Sundblom.
In 1945 Ballantyne, finally convinced of their viability by her peers in the ad-world, began painting pinups for famed publisher Brown & Bigelow. While she began by designing the direct mail pin-up brochures, Ballantyne’s work soon found her enjoying similar fame and success as that of her male coworkers. Her 1955 calendar was so popular that it went through several reprints. Ballantyne would often use herself as a model, and her oil paintings are imbued with impish humor and a sense of movement that makes her subjects feel alive.
Off the strength of this work, Ballantyne was hired to do the most iconic portrait of her career, the Coppertone Girl. Based on Ballantyne’s three-year-old daughter, Cheri, the instantly recognizable image of a girl whose bathing suit is being tugged by a small dog became a household image and brought Ballantyne fame as a commercial artist. This fame rested uneasily with the artist, who had a conflicted relationship with the image. “Big deal, it’s only baby art,” Said Ballantyne in an interview. “... It was a piece I was commissioned to do and nothing more.”
Even so, the work allowed Ballantyne the freedom to explore other avenues for her artistic sensibilities, even as she continued to design ads for Schlitz and other national companies. Ballantyne’s abilities as a portrait artist were in high demand. Her subjects from this time included Robert Smalley, CEO of Hertz and Major General John Leonard Hines.
In 1974 she moved from New York to Florida where she would continue to produce art until her death in 2006. Ballantyne was a luminary in the world of pinup and commercial art, with trademark wit and a devilish sense of humor in her work that distinguished her from the rest of her peers. While never properly celebrated in life, the timelessness of Ballantyne's art assures that she’ll continue to be revered and celebrated by pop art aficionados for years to come.
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