MotorCities National Heritage Area
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By: Robert Tate, Automotive Historian/Researcher 
Images: Courtesy of The National Automotive History Collection
Posted: 06.17.2015

Some of Cadillac’s most popular and most admired automotive advertising illustrations of1928, were created by the late Thomas Cleland of Brooklyn, New York (1880-1964). Mr. Cleland was an American book designer, painter, illustrator, and type designer. His great works of art are admired by people from all over the world. Mr. Cleland was born in New York City. At the age of 15, he became one of the most gifted and talented artist in the country. His first success as a graphic artist and illustrator came when he submitted a series of drawings to a trade journal, the “American Bookmaker”. Later, he sold an illustrated sample of his work to a sports magazine for five dollars.

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Cleland studied at the Artisan Institute before working as a book designer. However, at the age of 16, he left school and later taught himself the art of typesetting and printing which helped launch his illustrative and graphic professional career. Later, he started his own printing shop from a room he constructed in his father’s basement. As he would continue with his career, Mr. Cleland became a book designer for the Cornhill Press in Boston. Other titles included an art director for McClure's magazine and illustrations and typography artist for Westvaco Paper Corporation's in house magazine.

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By 1925, Cleland was also working for Fortune magazine as an illustrator. As the first art director, Cleland designed for Fortune magazine and illustrated its first cover design. Cleland was one of the first art directors in the country. He was also a perfectionist and expected others to meet his own standards. He is known for “Della Robbia”, a piece designed in 1903 yet still very popular today. In 1928, Mr. Cleland created and designed beautiful illustrations for the prestigous Cadillac color brochures. The 1928 Cadillac illustrations which are included in this story are a masterpiece of composition, color, and shadows that greatly displays Cadillac tradition and heritage. It was Cleland’s hallmark to use his keen eye with color and his sharp attention to detail which most people had admired. His great advertisements and sales material for Cadillac and Locomobile automobiles was are all equally great works of art.

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On a historical note, the 1928 Cadillac models were introduced to the public in September 1927 and they were innovative, stylish models designed under the direction of Mr. Harley J. Earl at General Motors. Earl had already designed the new LaSalle model, which was also appealing to the eye. The President & General Manager of Cadillac at the time was the late Mr. Lawrence P. Fisher. 1928 was a great year for prosperity. The stock market was doing very well and demand for luxury vehicles was reaching new highs within the automotive industry. Model year production was at 20001 units. Cadillac Motor Car Company stated this about the 1928 Cadillac model designs, “The fact that this car is the largest, most powerful, most luxurious, most distinctive car Cadillac has ever built is significant. But that impressive fact is only part of the story”.

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In 1964, Mr. Thomas Maitland Cleland died. Fourteen years later, he was elected to the Art Directors Club “Hall Of Fame”. In conclusion, Thomas Cleland had received many great honors for is art work which includes the American Institute of Graphic Arts, The Art Directors Club, and the Harvard Business School. Many other artists throughout the world have recognized his work as a superb illustrator that will always be remembered by many generations to come.

A special thanks to Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher, for donating the story to the MotorCities Story of the Week program. Photographs are courtesy of the National Automotive History Collection. (Bibliography: Mc Call M. P. Walter. “80 Years of Cadillac La Salle”. Crestline Publishing 1988. Hendry D. Maurice. “Cadillac Standard of the World”. Automobile Quarterly 1979. 1928 -Cadillac Motor Car Company original sales material.)

For further information on photos please visit http://www.detroitpubliclibrary.org/ or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Please do not republish the story and/or photographs without permission of MotorCities National Heritage Area.

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