Longtime Journal illustrator Joe McFadden passes away
Until Joe McFadden shared his artistic talent with The Florida Bar Journal, its pages looked drab and gray.
All that changed in 1990, when McFadden began illustrating Journal articles. He’d read lead manuscripts, sketch out a few ideas, spread them out on a big table at the Bar, brainstorm with editors, scribble some changes, and return to deliver custom paintings in watercolor, oil, or acrylic for each month’s deadline.
Through McFadden’s genius and wry sense of humor, the pages of the Journal were energized in living color. Esoteric legal articles were punched up with visual treats worthy of framing:
* The Three Little Pigs embroiled in construction-defect litigation.
* Clarence Darrow’s mouth taped shut.
* A judicial bench atop a house of cards to illustrate ethical issues facing lawyers.
* A lawyer altering Justice’s hem in an article about the initiative review process.
* A pregnant pig riding comfortably in first class on a bullet train, for an article about constitutional amendments.
McFadden’s colorful relationship with the Journal ended all too soon, when this 64-year-old Renaissance man — fine art painter, watercolor and oils teacher, chess master, Black Belt in Tang Soo Do, Irish tenor singer — died of lymphoma on September 23 in Tallahassee.
“Joe’s intelligence, wit, and remarkable talent are very dear to my staff and me. His art became the face of The Florida Bar Journal for over 20 years,” said Journal & News Editor Cheryle Dodd, who was among several speakers at a celebration of life memorial at Waterworks in Tallahassee on September 28.
Hundreds of friends gathered at the service — an eclectic array of lawyers and judges mingling with artists, musicians, and writers — and listened with fascination as Dodd explained how McFadden first came to the Journal as a potential advertiser, and soon struck a deal with then Journal & News Editor Judson Orrick.
McFadden, who had a master’s in fine arts from Florida State University, was working as an illustrator for a traffic accident reconstruction firm, and wanted to find more trial lawyers to hire him.
“We traded him ad space for an illustration, then asked him to try to come up with an idea to illustrate another article,” Orrick wrote in a Journal profile of McFadden in 1997.
McFadden’s “fertile imagination and remarkable talent” took off, transforming the look of the Journal.
As McFadden explained his artistic process: “I refer to fairy tales and folklore because the story is largely told. The challenge then is to tie it into the article. There is always the danger of the illustrations looking like editorial cartoons. I try to overcome that by introducing an element of whimsy and an unexpected interpretation.”
B ecause he was humble, not everyone realized that he sold his Rembrandt-influenced “Pencil-Necked Saints” paintings for as much as $30,000 in ritzy galleries in San Francisco, Santa Fe, NM, and Highlands, NC.
Tallahassee Democrat columnist Mark Hinson, a close friend of McFadden’s, once told him that his whimsical “Saints” paintings “looked like a Flemish Master had landed a job at Mad Magazine, ” and the artist laughed and liked that description.
McFadden was not only humble, he was honest.
As Orrick, now in private practice in Tallahassee, tells it:
“I represented Joe in a dispute with a gallery owner who wasn’t paying him. Joe came by my office, which is festooned with examples from my abstract expressionist period. Big canvasses. Lots of bright squiggles and whathaveyou’s. Everyone who comes in compliments my rare talent. Joe said nothing. I said: ‘Everyone compliments my artwork, Joe, but yours is the single opinion that matters to me. Honestly, what do you think?’
“‘It’s dreadful,’ he said. ‘Truly horrible. A waste of paint and canvas. I know orangutans working with dung who have shown more promise. Seriously, it is bad.. . . You should stop.’
“Then he turned up his palms, cocked his head, smiled, and shrugged. ‘You asked.’
“I really, really liked that guy,” Orrick said.
When McFadden brought his art to the Journal & News offices, where the walls are decorated with his framed Journal illustrations, he lingered to entertain as a true raconteur.
He was a Peace Corps volunteer in South Korea, who dazzled dinner guests by ordering at a Korean restaurant in fluent Korean.
In Seattle, he once was a journeyman sign painter, the ultimate in still life painting, he joked.
When he and his wife, Lori, made their annual trip to New Orleans, McFadden looked forward to finding the old guys playing chess in a park, and challenging them to a game. Every Saturday afternoon at the Black Dog Café on Lake Ella in Tallahassee, McFadden would teach chess to any kid who walked into the coffee shop and seemed interested in learning.
Born in Stratford, CT, on October 15, 1949, to Michael and Dorothy McFadden, Joseph Thomas McFadden is survived by his wife of 28 years, Lori Aeschbach McFadden, nieces and nephews, and his sister Dorothy McFadden Knoedler, who described him as the youngest “quiet” child who went on to become the quietly confident brother.
Because McFadden loved animals, especially cats, his family suggests a good way to honor his memory would be a donation to TREATS, Inc., at www.treatsinc.org.