Artist Harold Hancock

by Joanne Nesbit

Artist Harold Hancock was born in 1920 in a small coal-mining town near Harrisburg, Illinois. By his second year in elementary school Harold had a passion for art. Having had to drop out of the first grade because of a bout with Typhoid Fever, he returned to school with a vengeance. By the fourth grade, he had entered a poster contest and won first place. His taste for success and didn’t stop there. He kept drawing and painting all through grade school and continued with four years of high school art classes—two more years than the normal routine.

During his last years of high school Hancock rode around with his bike loaded with paints. He painted three restaurant windows, earning 35 cents a window. The pictures rendered were of the foods and plate lunches offered by the restaurants. All these ventures into art and entrepreneurship were supported by his parents.

Hancock turned down two college scholarships to open a studio. He was hired in his hometown to paint a mural on the wall of a nearby country club.

In the 1940s he researched and painted old English and Spanish ships but moved on to portraits. In the 1950s he began to concentrate on landscapes and seascapes. He painted one of the early ship pieces on primed burlap.

During World War II he painted outdoor illustrations and informative letterings for military installations from Marion, Illinois, to Fort Hood, Texas. After the War, he moved to Brown County and built a studio. He painted everything around him from the scenes of Nashville’s Van Buren Street to the wildlife around his studio, creeks and streams, barns and churches, covered bridges, deer, wild turkeys, raccoons and pheasants. “Winter in these hills is a breath-taking sight to behold!” Hancock once wrote. “From early morning light to the glow of sunset, when smoke curls from the chimneys as the lights come on to reflect the snow-covered ground. The near-by creek records the evening light. There will always be new inspirations for me in Brown County.”

From his studio Hancock produced posters, murals, and paintings for General Motors, Marriott, and various manufacturers and businesses who wanted to capture their product’s history or the essence of their business. A large oil company once sent one of Hancock’s renditions of a covered bridge to its customers as Christmas presents.

He was commissioned to do work for some local businesses including Brown County’s Abe Martin Lodge. His poster of the downtown area in the 1990s was distributed as a tourist souvenir. One of his murals can be seen at the local McDonald’s.

“There are two rewards in painting,” Hancock wrote. “First is the pleasure derived in painting the picture and second, the opportunity to please the collector. Years ago I remember painting an old barn on SR 46 east of Nashville. Sycamore trees stood beside it making an interesting subject. A few years later I drove by and was saddened to see it had collapsed, flat on the ground. The two Sycamores standing tall had lost a good friend” Late in his career, Hancock, whose full name was William Harold Hancock¸ used acrylics in his work rather than oils.

Harold Hancock died at 85 years of age in his Nashville home in 2006.