1927 - 2004
"There's no place like home"
Hunter "always drew" as a child, favoring such forms
as airplanes, which he drew and assembled as wood models. He was
brought up by his salesman father, grandmother and aunt from the
age of two. His mother had been banished from the family when
he was two, for the unspeakable crime of defying her husband's
wishes and swimming at a YWCA pool. Mel was harshly treated by
father and grandmother — who knew how to use a strap —
for his precociousness.
Mel entered college a year early (1944?). After college, he held
a variety of jobs, from pumping gas to writing copy for an insurance
firm and selling insurance on a Fair circuit. Eventually he traveled
to the West Coast in search of employment, landing a job as a
draftsman at Northrop Aircraft Corp. in California.
In 1950, Mel made up his mind to pursue a career in art and decided
to teach himself illustration skills, which he did after work,
on weekends and all other spare time, working at his kitchen table.
Following three years of steady effort, the self-taught artist
sold his first color cover idea to Galaxy Magazine. He
also talked himself into a job as technical illustrator at Northrop,
where he painted pictures for the Pentagon of advanced interceptors
and pilotless bombers in hypothetical combat situations. During
this time he was a member of a group of science fiction greats
such as Isaac Asimov, Sprague deCamp, Robert Heinlein, Fred Pohl,
Lin Carter, L. Ron Hubbard and John Campbell, Jr. among others.
A year later he resigned and moved to New York as a freelance
illustrator for magazines and books. He launched a career of scientific
illustration, doing such technically accurate subjects as 26 paintings
of celestial objects in 1964 for the Hayden Planetarium and later
recording such advanced technological developments as drawing
board jet bombers, missile launchings at Cape Kennedy and a revolutionary
lunar manned base. His scientific drawings and paintings appeared
in dozens of major publications. In the early 1960s Mel also wrote
the documentary text and shot photographs for two successful books
of photojournalism published by Doubleday: The Missilemen
and Strategic Air Command.
He flew with SAC crews, talked with the pilots, stood on alert
with them in Spain, flew a refueling mission about the Arctic
Circle, sat in a honeycombed blockhouse observing the countdown
on an Atlas SM-65, and traveled more than halfway around the world
to get the full story — in text and photograph — of
the men, the weapons and the strategy of Strategic Air Command.
(At some point in the late 60s, Mel owned and distributed the
Cessna/Wren seaplane. The North Star Airpark in Brooklyn was its
Mel spent 15 years traveling the world on assignments as a major
magazine and advertising illustrator specializing in the physical
sciences, astronomy and advanced space and weapons technology.
He produced over 900 drawings and paintings in those fields.
After 17 years of successful science illustration, Mel moved
from New York City to Chester, in southern Vermont during the
summer of 1967. He established his home and studio in a farmhouse
high on a forested hill where he began depicting the land, animals,
birds and changing seasons of his rural, semi-wild environment.
He told of having to wear gloves to eat dinner during that first
winter, since the wind blew hard through cracks in the walls.
The following year, Abercrombie & Fitch Galleries and the
Massachusetts Audubon Society commissioned Mel to do a series
of more than 130 watercolors of "Birds of the Northeast"
and in 1970, he signed a contract with World Publishing Co. for
the development of a series of 13 ecological books for children.
Titles dealt with the beginning of the earth, mankind, plants,
birds, mammals and insects. He produced an entire ecology calendar
for General Motors in 1974.
For the World project, Mel pioneered techniques for pre-separated
color drawings using DuPont Mylar as a drawing surface. This process
greatly reduced the cost of color illustrated books and furthered
his career by opening the way for his later fine art lithography
prints. However, over the next four years, he created 54 editions
using traditional stone lithography techniques.
Beginning in 1971, Mel received commissions for scores of multi-color
lithographic editions. Some of his publishers were Circle Gallery,
Roten Collection, Mill Pond Press, Franklin Mint, HMK Fine Arts,
Fine Arts 260 as well as his own Atelier North Star and Polaris
In 1975, Mel and his then wife, Nancy moved to Grafton, Vermont,
a foundation-funded, revitalized community where he founded Gallery
North Star and Atelier North Star inside a century-old New England
clapboard house that used to be known as “Uplands Gallery.”
This also became his home. Over the next eight years Gallery North
Star successfully featured prints from his then 82 limited editions
and selected work from other artists. Mel did his own printing
in the Atelier, at first using the traditional technique of drawing
on thick blocks of Belgium limestone. This meant hauling stones,
which often weighed 400 pounds, in the trunk of his car to stone
printing shops in New York. He made 20 editions in joint effort
with Bank Street Atelier, Shorewood Atelier and Geo, Miller and
Son of New York City.
In 1976, a long-experienced and reliable stone printer-craftsman
accidentally ruined an image by adding a few too many drops of
sulfuric acid to the preliminary etch on the stone. The subsequent
editions were coarsened and all had to be destroyed. It occurred
to Mel that his work on Mylar for the book project could be adapted
to the more complex and demanding images of his current lithographs.
He equipped his research workshop to perfect his use of the revolutionary
Mylar Method, using a Charles Brand hand-cranked press. In the
same year, his #55 edition "High Meadow, Low Meadow"
was his first full-color Mylar edition, produced at the American
Atelier of Circle Graphics in New York. Mel published a lengthy,
photo-illustrated article in American Artist Magazine,
entitled "Revolution in Hand-Drawn Lithography" which
caused the eruption of an intense dialogue in the lithograph world.
A joint public statement of affirmation from artists Jamie Wyeth,
Lowell Nesbitt and others who were using the new method as well
as supporting statements from two Ateliers in New York quelled
the debate. Today, artists the world over use the method.
In 1984, Mel's seminal hard-cover textbook The New Lithography
appeared and is now a collector's item.
In 1983, Mel moved his Atelier North Star to Burlington, Vermont,
where he produced well over 100 new editions using these advanced
methods. He acted as Master Printer in the production of more
than 200 editions for other artists and print publishers. Until
1989, Atelier North Star was operated as a high quality production
shop and as a teaching facility where a number of shop assistants
and work-study students from nearby University of Vermont art
classes were able to study how the Mylar techniques work in the
real world of production printing.
After closing the Atelier, Mel continued to act as Master Printer
for his own editions and those of other artists, using a prestigious
printing facility in Northern Vermont. Although diagnosed with
Parkinson's Disease in the 1990s, Mel continued working on new
editions of lithographs, acted as Master Printer for other artists,
and established a line of greeting cards reproduced from successful
editions. He founded Polaris Press, Inc. to function as a publisher/distributor
of Mezzographs, a special form of original lithographs, conceived
by Neil Harpe, and technically developed by Mel. He began publishing
Printthoughts, "a journal of commentary on the besetting
problems in the printed image field.” He also founded The
True Original Printmakers Association (TOPA) in 1996, dedicated
to the "artist as the focal point of true original graphic
printmaking," designing a step-by-step process for documenting
the creation of any true original graphic print edition.
Mel is survived by his wife, Susan Smith-Hunter, who still operates
Smith-Hunter Galleries in Ferrisburg, Vermont; and three children,
Lisa Pohlmeyer, Scott Hunter and Amy Hunter.