In 1907, illustrator Philip Goodwin created a painting for the Cream of Wheat Company advertising their breakfast cereal. A Bear Chance depicts a large ravenous brown bear seated in a snowy clearing of a pine forest devouring a crate full of the healthy Cream of Wheat cereal. In the foreground of the painting, the artist depicts the bear tracks in the snow reflecting the bear’s intentional pursuit of the cereal crate. The marketing message insinuates that Cream of Wheat is so delicious that the hibernating bear was lured from peaceful sleep to enjoy this breakfast cereal.
Cream of Wheat cereal was the invention of miller Tom Amidon from Grand Forks, ND. In a desperate attempt to keep his four mills operating during the economic crisis of 1893, he developed the idea of producing a wheat-based hot breakfast cereal for his family. The breakfast cereal was created from the highest grade source of flour; hence Amidon called the cereal “cream of wheat,” meaning the best of the crop. He approached three other flour mill owners with the idea and they began crating boxes of the porridge to be sent to brokers in New York. The cereal was an instant success. In order to meet the rapidly growing consumer demand, in 1897 the millers moved the production facility from North Dakota to the thriving city of Minneapolis.*
In the early 1900’s the Cream of Wheat Company embarked on a bold advertising campaign to promote their product. Many notable American illustrators including N. C. Wyeth and Edward V. Brewer were commissioned by the Cream of Wheat Company to produce paintings advertising their hot cereal. The advertising illustrations were reproduced in a variety of popular journals, such as Ladies Home Journal, Saturday Evening Post, Collier’s Weekly, and McClure’s.**
Philip Goodwin was known for his illustrations focused on wildlife. In addition to the Cream of Wheat Company, he created advertisements for Horton Steel fishing rods as well as Winchester arms and Marlin firearms.*** The artist himself was an avid outdoorsman, so it is no surprise that he chose a bear to promote the Cream of Wheat cereal product. Goodwin creates a tranquil setting in the wilderness by placing the massive bear in the center of the composition creating a triangular shape against the vertical snow covered pine trees of the forest. There is no evidence of any other human or animal activity in the vicinity, so the image is focused on the tranquil, harmonious relationship between the bear and nature. The product name is clearly marked on the wooden crate and it conveys the underlying message to the viewer that anyone who eats this nutritious breakfast cereal will be as strong as a bear.
Juxtaposed next to the bear and the wooden crate the artist painted a snow capped tree stump. Many other cut tree stumps are noticeable further back in the composition. The implication is that while civilization encroaches upon the bear’s habitat, at least there is this product to ease the creature’s hunger. In today’s marketplace this sort of message might be viewed with a negative connotation; a hundred years ago not many would have seen it as a statement from the artist indicating that the growth of consumerism and industrialization in America are endangering wildlife habitats.
Phillip Goodwin possessed natural artistic talent at a young age. He sold his first illustration to Collier’s magazine at age eleven. His parents supported his artistic development and encouraged him to further himself through art school. Goodwin studied at Rhode Island School of Design as well as with Howard Pyle in his Wilmington, Delaware School of Art.**** Goodwin’s pictures appeared in advertisements, magazines and sporting calendars. In addition, he also illustrated The Call of the Wild by Jack London and African Game Trails for Theodore Roosevelt.
** Walt Reed, The Illustrator in America1860-2000 (New York: The Society of Illustrators, Inc, 2001): 93.
*** Ibid 102.
**** Richard Wayne Lykes, “Howard Pyle Teacher of Illustration,” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, vol 80, no.3 (July 1956): 352; Reed: 102. The name ‘The Brandywine School of Art’ was devised by the illustrator and illustration historian, Henry C. Pitz. Pyle’s illustration school was called the Howard Pyle School of Art.
April 15, 2010
By Colleen Boyle, independent researcher, for the Rockwell Center for American Visual Studies
Norman Rockwell Museum