Monte Kendrick Crews was born June 1, 1888 in Fayette, Missouri. His father, Judge Givens Crews, was born 1857 in Missouri. His mother, Ella Kendrick Knaus, was born 1857 in Missouri. She was a cousin of the German painter Ludwig Knaus (1829-1909). His parents married on March 4, 1886. He was their first-born of two children. His younger brother Marvin Louis Crews was born in 1890. They lived at 402 Watts Avenue. His father was a grocery merchant.
He attended public school in Fayette City and graduated high school in June of 1905.
In September of 1905 he attended the University of Missouri in Columbia, where he met Joy Clinton Shepherd, another young student with a similar passion for art. Before the end of the Spring 1906 semester Monte Crews left the university and moved to Chicago to study with George Bridgman (1865-1943) at the Art Institute of Chicago.
In 1908 he won a scholarship to study at the Art Students League in New York City. According to his NYC roommate, Homer Croy, "I live in the same house with Monte Crews, the greatest artist to ever come from Missouri University, so I am competent to talk about him. He is about half way between tall and medium, and has a thatch of black hair that leaves a forehead about the width of your finger. He isn't old enough to vote yet, but he can eat enough ice cream for a Sunday School excursion. He has three activities - drawing pictures, eating ice cream, and making noise. He can make more noise in any given time than a fraternity at the last course of a banquet. The people in the flat over ours began pounding on the floor one night. We thought they were taking exercise, but pretty soon the man came down and said that if we didn't quiet down that creature he would go for a cop. Monte Crews talks about only two subjects - art and his hobby. He has a hobby, as all well-regulated geniuses should. It is collecting magazines from book stalls and cutting out the illustrations. His greatest delight is to get some unsuspecting person to go shopping with him. Then he drags him out to some second-hand book store and makes him help nose through dusty old magazines the rest of the day. If he sees a crumpled up, discolored old magazine under a counter at a book stall he crawls down after it, pounds off some of the dust and runs through it. If the magazine is old enough and dirty enough he buys it and takes it to his room. His room looks like the shipping department of the Ladies Home Journal. When you first go in you don't see anybody, but pretty soon you hear somebody stir, and you find Crews drawing over by the window behind a pile of magazines. You are no sooner seated before he jumps up and shakes a dusty magazine in your face. 'Oh, look here,' he exclaims, 'I've found the peach of an old magazine.' Then you have to sit down and admire it and try to keep from coughing. I've often wondered how many millions of germs he brings into our flat with his second-hand magazines in the course of a week. Crews is a man of ideas. He carries a little notebook around with him and whenever an idea strikes him he promptly stops and jots it down. It makes no difference where he is or what he is doing. That idea must go down in that book. One day we were rushing to catch an elevated, which only stops every half-hour. On the stairway going up an idea struck him, so out came his notebook & pencil and away went the train. He had the idea and I had the wait."
After one year of study at the Art Students League he and another student, Stockton Mulford, won scholarships for Best Illustrations in an award ceremony on May 13, 1909.
In 1910 at the age of twenty-one he returned to Fayette City to work as a salesman at his father's grocery store. He stayed in touch with his New York connections and soon began to sell freelance illustrations to magazines, such as Baseball Magazine, Leslie's Weekly, Red Book, and The American Magazine.
On September 22, 1912 he married Armine Meyer, who was born 1890 in Fayette, MO.
In 1915, following the sensational nationwide response to D. W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation, Monte Crews opened Fayette's first motion picture theater, which he operated for the next five years.
On June 5, 1917 he reported to his local draft board for registration prior to the U.S. declaration of war. He was recorded at the time to be twenty-nine, tall, slender, with brown eyes and black hair. He did not serve in the military.
On December 2, 1918 his son Judge Givens Crews was born.
During the 1921 he created a syndicated newspaper comic strip, The Mysterious Family Next Door.
On October 15, 1922 he was in a car accident that left him hospitalized with a cut to his left eye that nearly blinded him. Recuperation forced him to stop drawing his popular comic strip.
On April 1, 1923 his second child Louis McFarland "Mac" Crews was born.
By 1926 he had moved to Kansas City, where he drew newspaper advertising. He lived with his wife and two sons at 5827 Tracy Avenue.
In 1927 he began to teach illustration at the Kansas City Art Institute. Several of his pupils went onto careers as illustrators, such as R.G. Harris, Emery Clarke, and John Falter.
While teaching in Kansas City he continued to sell illustrations to magazines, such as Boys' Life, Liberty, Colliers and The Saturday Evening Post. His work was also published in pulp magazines, such as Argosy and Blue Book Magazine, where he was a regular contributor for many years.
In July of 1933 he moved back to New York, where he was hired to teach illustration at the Phoenix Art Institute at 350 Madison Avenue. He lived in nearby New Rochelle, NY, which had a thriving artist community that included several of his former pupils.
In 1934 his wife and sons came East to join him, and the family settled in Titusville, New Jersey. His art studio was on the second floor of his home.
He became a Committeeman of Boy Scout Troop 76 of Titusville. His son "Mac" was a Life Scout in Troop 76. His other son Givens was a Troop Officer, while he attended Rutgers University in New Jersey.
On September 16, 1938 he was hired to teach illustration at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. Two of his fellow teachers were H. Winfield Scott and John Fleming Gould. Some of his pupils at Pratt were Gerald McCann, Howard Munce, and Bob Powell.
On April 27, 1942 he reported for draft registration during WWII. He was recorded at the time to be fifty three, 5-fooot-eleven, 179 pounds, with brown eyes, gray hair, sallow complexion, and "big toe of his left foot missing."
In 1944 he began to teach illustration at the Moore Institute of Philadelphia.
He enjoyed collecting stamps, which filled two large metal cabinets in his home. The main feature of his collection were envelopes signed by the world's most eminent illustrators.
Monte Crews died suddenly at the age of fifty-eight at his home in Titusville, NJ, on October 5, 1946.
© David Saunders 2011