The Yellow Pages cover for 1968-69.
Growing up in Houston, Texas in the Fifties and Sixties was not exactly a hotbed of cultural enrichment. But there were some unique art influences which shaped my eye and my vision of my life. I have written about some of the others, like my private art teachers and my mother, an accomplished artist as well. But no doubt one major inspiration came from the... phone book.
That's right, and if you were from Houston in those days you know exactly what I am talking about. Every person in Houston was intimately familiar with one amazing artist's work. Every other year he released a new masterpiece, one more fantastic than the year before, and every year everyone gathered around the new Yellow Pages as if it were a precious relic, even if they had scoured over it before.
The Yellow Pages covers contrasted the infinity of a sprawling Texas city with quaint and comic urban melodrama. Often Pittens was the cause of much of it.
We little children stood around in an anxious circle and jockeyed for an advantageous angle to look over the shoulders of the bigger people who poured over every square inch of the Yellow Pages cover as if they were searching for valuable ancient secrets. They would find something and howl, and make everyone else see what they discovered. Days later us little kids might finally get to inspect the new Yellow Pages, and go through the whole process of discovery ourselves. No other artist ever had so many admirers and held them spellbound for so long. Yet most folks have no idea what his name was.
His name was Karl Hoefle. Hoefle was a Dallas commercial artist who, unlike most men in his trade, found a legacy in telephone book art. He would research and design complex, detailed views of various Texas cities which took hours for viewers to digest. Working on scratchboard, his trademark became Pittens, a mama cat who boldly led her kittens through the dangers of big city life. Hoefle subtly and expertly included hundreds of “creatures” and anomalies throughout his renderings, making every Yellow Pages cover a deluge of tiny discoveries. Each scratchboard took as many as six weeks to complete. Covers were replaced in Houston and Dallas every two years, giving him time to do covers for some smaller towns. A architectural illustrator of rare genius, his creativity in cartooning city life seemed endless.
The Houston Ship Channel was the subject of Hoefle's masterwork for Yellow Pages in 1971. Who else could have looked at that and found so much inspiration?
I'll never forget the first year the Yellow Pages was dropped on our doorstep without Hoefle's work on the cover. There seemed to have been a big mistake. This must be somebody else's Yellow Pages! They could not just STOP featuring his wonderful artwork. What in the world was the world coming to! It immediately made me wish I had saved the others... but I was just a kid and after all, it was just a phone book.
How could the people endure such a loss.. such a hole left in their tradition? What would kids look at from now on when they had been told to sit down and shut up? What would teen-aged girls stare at while they flirted with their boyfriends on the phone?
Some accused Hoefle of too much mayhem in his depictions of Houston or Dallas, and he would sometimes recoil with more conservative offerings... but to me this is one case where there was never too much of a good thing. Note the Comanches attacking the train in the upper right...
Karl Hoefle may be the most loved and most easily forgotten artist of all time. He was the vanguard of the instant gratification and inevitable obsolescence we have come to know and love. I thought you might enjoy seeing these magnificent works again. You are seeing some of the parts exploded several times over. Through the Internet, genius like this has one more shot at immortality, and Karl Hoefle's city-scapes certainly deserve it!