Howard Brodie, famed military and courtroom artist, former member of the Board of Directors and instructor at Academy of Art University, died Sept. 12 at his home in Monterey County, Calif. He was 94. A combat artist who was awarded the Bronze Star, Brodie was a much-admired teacher of figure drawing at the Academy.

Howard Brodie was called "the ultimate journalist" by Walter Cronkite, his longtime colleague at the CBS Evening News, which Brodie joined in 1964. As a courtroom artist for decades, he not only witnessed but depicted many the most significant trials of his era, at a time when photography was restricted. Before that, he became one of the most recognized combat artists in World War II in both the Pacific and European theaters. He is survived by his wife Isabel Brodie, son Bruce and daughter Wendy.

Brodie's teaching methods deeply influenced generations of young artists, according to his close friend, former Academy President and Chairman Emeritus Richard A. Stephens. Stephens became acquainted with Howard Brodie's work before World War II, when Brodie was at the San Francisco Chronicle. "He was largely a self-taught artist, and he was considered a 'boy wonder' at rendering the clothed figure," Stephens recalls. "When the war came, he became a famous combat artist, with his drawings appearing in Yank magazine and many national publications.

"One thing that happened during the Battle of the Bulge affected him deeply. Some German soldiers had put on American uniforms to confuse the Americans. The Germans were captured, and three of them were put in front of a firing squad and executed. Howard made a drawing of that. It changed his character, I think, and helped him become a more caring and spiritual person."

After the war, Stephens wanted to recruit Brodie to teach at the school. "I took a group of about 15 students to see him at the Chronicle, and I told them, 'Each of you think of a question for him, because I'm going to woo him to teach at the Academy.'

"It went well, and he was kind enough to come by my office. I asked him how much it would cost to hire him. He answered, and it was twice what we could afford to pay teachers in those days. He must have seen the disappointment in my eyes, because he stopped me and said, 'You can’t pay that much, can you?' I tried to object, but he said, 'Pay me what you can.' He insisted on it."

Recalling this moment, Stephens pauses, the emotion apparent in his voice. "I felt that day the way I do today, talking about Howard Brodie. When he accepted my offer, he said, 'I have only one thing to ask of you: Please be kind to your students, because drawing is hard.'

"Howard and I became fast friends, and he taught our students for many years. We had wonderful experiences. We used to play ping-pong with the students after class. We had Saturday classes for the community that we offered free of charge. [Editor’s note: The Academy continues this practice with Saturday and summer sessions to this day.] Howard would come to work with these students, and he was always vitally interested in what they did for a living. He would ask each one.

"Howard was an innovator and became very influential in the way he taught. He had a way of teaching through love, and he could accomplish things with his students that others could only approach through discipline. Howard had discipline, too—he expected excellence from his students—but he motivated through love."

Many who knew Brodie speak of his strength of character, gentle but forceful. Academy Executive Vice President Melissa Marshall, who studied figure drawing under Brodie when she attended the school in the '70s, says this impression came out of two separate "appreciations" Brodie practiced: one aesthetic, one interpersonal.

"His love of drawing was always apparent," Marshall says, "especially in his appreciation for the human body. I remember one day when he was showing us how to draw the hip - that part of the thighbone called the trochanter. He was just marveling at the anatomy, almost chanting, as if to himself, 'Love that trochanter!'

"As an artist, he allowed me to share his enthusiasm. He gave me a greater appreciation of the body and what could be captured in a drawing: not just something reproduced, but an interpretation of the person and the moment."

Marshall says Brodie's appreciation for people in a sense originated from the same deep understanding. "When you were with him, you never got the feeling he was distracted; when he spoke to you, you felt as if you were the sole person in the room. This is profound, because he had been to war and had seen the ultimate degradation. Somehow, in him this was expressed by a clarity of spirit and a great gentleness."

Marshall, who went on from the Academy to a successful career at Disney and elsewhere before returning to the university, says Brodie's art and persona both had a character she calls "translucent." He brought who he was "into the situation," she recalls, "rather than letting the situation dictate how he would function as an artist or as a person. He wasn’t naïve or inexperienced about life.

"I studied with Howard Brodie more than 30 years ago," Marshall says. "I spent only 45 hours with him in class, but the lessons I learned there I've carried with me all my life. He was remarkable."

It's doubly remarkable, then, that so many who recall Brodie describe their impressions in a strikingly similar way. Chuck Pyle, director of the School of Illustration, also studied under Brodie as a classmate with Marshall in the '70s. Like her, Pyle says the experience of seeing Brodie capture truth in a drawing was indelible.

"Howard Brodie was more of an inspirational mentor than just a drawing instructor," Pyle says. "What he said went in very deep - and I find his words coming out of my mouth decades later when I talk to my students."

Pyle muses that, in a way, he grew up with Howard Brodie, because his art was on the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite almost every night. "Here he was, in the midst of these important historical events like the Chicago Seven trial, the My Lai massacre, Patty Hearst, the Manson trial. When we studied with him, he became our connection to history and politics through his amazing courtroom art. And in his military art, from World War II through Vietnam and Desert Storm, you can feel the heartbeats of the soldiers he drew.

"He taught us what your heart and your head should be saying to each other when you make art."

Academy President Elisa Stephens says her family treasures its lifelong bond with the Brodies, and notes that Howard Brodie's legacy will live on at the school. "Howard had an open heart," she says. “If I could choose one word to describe him, it would be love. It was a word he used a lot. His work hangs in our school, and we feel so highly of him that we named a residential building for him. Now his work is part of history…and he will always be part of us."

Of his friend Howard Brodie, Richard Stephens observes, "We must be kind to Howard Brodie's memory, because he was the kind of person all of us would like to be."

To see more of Brodie's military art, go online to They Drew Fire, a companion website to the PBS documentary of the same title (the latter is also available on DVD). Brodie was the author of Drawing Fire: A Combat Artist at War - Pacific, Europe, Korea, Indochina, Vietnam (1996), with an introduction by Walter Cronkite. Brodie also illustrated Herb Caen's legendary book about San Francisco, Baghdad by the Bay (1949). Both are out of print, but obtainable. His art appears in numerous anthologies about war and war correspondents. Recommended: an illuminating article about Howard Brodie’s career from the San Francisco Chronicle by Carl Nolte here. An obituary also appeared in The New York Times.

Tags: People,  Faculty,  Illustration