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Flora, James

Bellefontaine

Born: January 25, 1914

Ohio connection: Birth

Mixing the pathos of surrealism with the impishness of cartoons, James Flora was the master of hand drawn album cover art before 1956. Characterized as frolicsome, mischievous and even hallucinogenic, Flora’s artistic style was perfectly matched to his humorous, larger than life wit. Born in Bellafontaine on January 25, 1914, Flora attended Urbana College between 1931-1933. Working on a railroad to pay his tuition fees, Flora graduated from the Art Academy of Cincinnati in 1939. A jazz lover, he was ecstatic when the Columbia Record Company began re-issuing jazz music. Concerned at their lack of promotion, Flora sent some of his marketing ideas to Columbia, which aroused the interest of Alex Steinweis. Accepting a position as a commercial artist in Columbia's A & R department, Flora and his wife Jenny moved to Westport. For $55.00 a week, Flora designed the albums for the label’s jazz covers, becoming art director in 1947. Though he used only three colors, his morphing, kaleidoscopic designs reflected a whimsical energy. His first album cover, Kid Ory and his Creole Dance Band (1947), depicted a brass player whose instrument was tortuously bent into outlandish shapes. For the 1955 Mambo for Cats, Flora drew a cover that presented three uninhibited musical felines caught in the rapturous throes of a Latin beat. With his staff, Flora designed Coda, a successful monthly promotional booklet that featured his sketches. Though promoted to advertising manager, and later to sales promotion manager, Flora was unhappy in positions that did not require artistic expression. Resigning from Columbia in June of 1950, he moved his wife and their two young children to Mexico City. Producing pictures, drawings, and greeting card woodcuts, Flora remained in Mexico from June of 1950 to September of 1951. Then accepting the position of art director for Park East magazine, he returned to Westport. After doing a series of freelance covers for Bob Jones, a close friend and art director for RCA Victor, Flora was confounded by the industry's switch to photographic covers in 1956. Faced with exile from an industry in which he had worked for fourteen years, Flora turned to writing and illustrating children's books for Harcourt-Brace. Encouraged by Margaret McElderry, the children's book editor, Flora wrote The Fabulous Firework Family, based on a family he knew in Mexico in which each generation manufactured and sold fireworks. Writing an estimated three books for each of the eighteen that were published, Flora utilized the royalties to provide for his growing family and to take them pleasure boating. In 1976, the Great Green Turkey Creek Monster appeared on bookshelves across the nation. The tale depicted a town overrun by a vicious vine that could only be controlled by a clever boy. In 1978, a collection of ghost stories was presented to young readers with the title Grandpa's Ghost Stories, followed in 1980 by a fantasy entitled Wanda and the Bumbly Wizard. The story chronicled the exciting events that transpired when a young girl and a wizard met the world's meanest giant.  Jamse Flora died on Wednesday July 9, 1998 at his home in Rowayton, Connecticut. He was 84.