Thursday, June 16, 2011

Guy Brown Wiser, artist and
World War I aviator

This illustration from "Ivanhoe" serves as the frontispiece of the 1927 textbook "Prose and Poetry for the Ninth Year." The artist was Guy Brown Wiser. On the copyright page, the book's publisher, The L.W. Singer Company1, gives him the following thanks:
"Grateful appreciation is extended to the artist, Guy Brown Wiser who has studied extensively in American and European Universities, for the colored frontispiece and the oil paintings illustrating the poems and stories."
Wiser had an eventful early life. Less than a decade before he was illustrating this scene from a Walter Scott novel, he was being held by the Germans as a prisoner of war. Here's a short rundown on Wiser's life:
  • He was born on February 10, 1895, in Marion, Indiana.2
  • He graduated from Cornell University in 1917. He then served in World War I as a pilot with the First United States Army.
  • This excerpt from "Knights of the Air," a 1980 book by Ezra Bowen, describes Wiser's capture by the Germans during the war:
    "On a September morning in 1918, Lieutenant Guy Brown Wiser of the United States 20th Aero Squadron took off from a French airfield in his DH.4 to bomb the rail yards at Dun-sur-Meuse. Within hours, Wiser and his observer had been forced down in a dogfight and were taken prisoner. But, perhaps because he was an aviator, and perhaps because his German captors sensed that the War was nearly over, Wiser's incarceration was more a confused lark than the nightmare experienced by many prisoners of war. ... In the two months before his release, Wiser was shuttled in custody from one place to another: private homes, a bug-infested hotel, formidable Karlsruhe prison and finally the stables of a 12th Century Bavarian castle."
    Wiser was even given a sketch-book by a German sergeant, so that he could make drawings of the time that he was a prisoner of war.
  • While Wiser's fate was still unknown, his capture was reported in the October 31, 1918, issue of the Cornell Alumni News:
    Second Lieutenant Guy Brown Wiser, Av. Sec., Signal B. C., son of Mr. and Mrs. A. B. Wiser, of South Bend, Ind., is reported missing in action. He had been flying over the German lines with his squadron, when his plane was seen to fall in enemy territory. Nothing is known as to his whereabouts.

    "Bud" Wiser is a graduate of the College of Architecture, class of 1917. He is a member of Delta Upsilon, Sphinx Head, Tau Beta Pi, the Savage Club, L Ogive, Gargoyl, and the Masque. He rowed on his college crew, in 1914-15. He was a member of the Widow board in his sophomore and junior years, and a member of the Annuals board in his junior year. As a senior, he was art editor of both the Widow and the Annuals.

    Before going to France, Wiser was stationed at Taliaferro Field, Fort Worth, Texas.
  • After his release from captivity, Wiser went home to South Bend and practiced architecture. According to "During 1924-26 he studied art in Paris with Despujols and with Charles Hawthorne at Cape Cod. He taught for nine years at Ohio State University before moving to Los Angeles in 1934 and then taught at Scripps College for two years. During the years 1925-57 he illustrated about 80 books."
  • Wiser married Grace Clark and had two children.
  • He died on March 30, 1983 -- six-and-a-half decades after being shot down in a dogfight -- in Canoga Park, California.

1. L.W. Singer was eventually swallowed up by Random House, according to this excerpt from the 2008 book "The Time of Their Lives: The Golden Age of Great American Book Publishers, Their Editors, and Authors" by Al Silverman:
"Finally, late in 1960, Random House went into the textbook business, buying the L.W. Singer Company of Syracuse, New York, founded in 1924. At that time the magic word among book publishers, who were gobbling up other publishers, was synergy. The word later spread throughout the business world and became one of the primary concepts behind any kind of merger/acquisition."
2. The main sources for much of the basic biographical information are and


  1. I'm the daughter-in-law of Guy Brown Wiser. He was a prolific artist in oils. Our home is enriched by fabulous paintings which he did during the depression when he paid folks a quarter to sit for him.

    His WWI sketchbook is ensconced in the Air Force Museum in Dayton, OH.

    1. I'm a curator at the National Museum of the USAF -- I'm looking for a copy of GBW's diary that went along with his POW sketches. Do you happen to know of a copy or the location of the original?

  2. My father-in-law was George Dustin Doremus, first cousin to Guy. We have a portrait that Guy did of Lois Doremus. Would like to send a photo of it to you and share genealogy info. Betty Doremus

  3. Old thread, I know, but I had to write this.
    Guy Brown Wiser illustrated a 1940 science book "How and Why Discoveries". I read and reread that book many times as a kid. Today 50 years later I still remember the illustrations.

    They made such an impression that I recently bought a used copy of that book. It was wonderful to look through it again and there wasn't an illustration that I didn't remember. They were the most illustrative illustrations that I have ever seen.

  4. Wow, thank you for your courageous service Mr Wiser. As a youngster my sister and I absolutely loved his illustrations for Timothy Turtle. By any chance does any of the artwork survive for this wonderful book?
    Thanks, Roger