Harry Richard Black, the artist who created the Mr. Clean character, passed away Sunday at his home in Ohio after a brief illness. He was 92.
“Dick” Black, a Philadelphia native, grew up during the Great Depression in a home with five other children. His mother passed away when he was 12. He later went on to attend the University of Syracuse and other schools on art scholarships and worked as an assistant art director and graphic sketch artist.
In 1950, Black opened his own studio, freelancing for magazines and painting illustrations for companies like Shell Oil and Frigidaire.
In 1956, several of Black’s paintings appeared in The Saturday Evening Post, after which he was commissioned by the Department of Interior to paint Smokey Bear, a mascot created to help raise public awareness of the dangers of wildfires. Black painted the iconic figure for twenty years.
Then in 1957, Black submitted a painting to Proctor & Gamble of a muscular, bald man who “gets rid of dirt and grime and grease in just a minute.” Out of 20 submissions, Black’s was chosen and the image we know of Mr. Clean was born.
Ernie Sheeler, friend of Mr. Black, told the Dayton Daily News, “He was just a very, very kind gentle man. He would just mesmerise you and hypnotize you with the stories he got to live through his 92 years of life.”
Black met several notable people in his lifetime including painter Norman Rockwell and airplane co-creator Orville Wright. He taught art classes at the University of Dayton, Sinclair Community College, and Rosewood Arts Centre, where he continued to teach a few times a week until he became ill at the beginning of this year.
“Art was his love, but I would say that teaching was his passion,” said Anne Holaday, coordinator of Sinclair College’s lifelong learning program. “He was such a powerful and engaging instructor. Class wasn’t a class. He and his students were more like a family. He was a part of their lives and they were a part of his life.”
Black was married to his high school sweetheart 60 years until she passed away in 2003.
Fairmont Presbyterian Church in Kettering, Ohio says services are planned Saturday for the local, but well-known, artist.
Image via Wikimedia Commons