George F. Kerr was born March 13, 1870 in Brooklyn, NY. His father, John D. Kerr, was born in 1841 in NY. His mother, Mary E. Schilling, was born in 1848 in New Jersey. His parents married in NY in 1868. They had three children. His younger brothers, Albert F. Kerr and Charles A. Kerr, were born in 1873 and 1875. The family lived in Brooklyn at 104 South Third Street, which was the home of his maternal grandparents. His father was a book binder.
By 1880 the family had moved to 435 Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn.
In June of 1883 at the age of thirteen he completed the eighth grade and joined the work force. This was common practice for most American children at the time. He worked in a printing shop and became interested in commercial illustration.
He studied art at Cooper Union on Astor Place on Manhattan's Lower East Side.
On March 17, 1885 his father died at the age of forty-three. His mother worked as a dressmaker to support the family.
By 1890 he was a staff artist at The New York Herald. Two years later he was the first artist hired by William Randolph Hearst (1863-1951) to illustrate feature articles for The New York American.
On June 1, 1893 he married Louise Marie Steutlle. She was born September 1, 1873 in NY. They moved to 743 Ocean Avenue in Brooklyn. They had two sons. Jerome Kerr was born on May 1, 1896, and Eric Kerr was born in 1898.
According to The New York Times, "On May 20, 1907, George F. Kerr, a resident of Brooklyn, met a woman identified only as a person not his wife, at Grand central Station. Together with her luggage they entered a cab and were driven to the Hotel Navarre, where they registered as 'George Knight and wife of New Haven.' Detectives saw them step into the elevator and go to room 440." On the basis of this evidence his wife aleged he had committed adultery, so she sued him for divorce. Accounts of the subsequent trail became a nationwide media sensation. The unidentified woman was Virginia E. Mayo, an artist's model. The trial set a legal precedent, because there was no conclusive proof of adultery beyond the fact that the accused had registered at the hotel as "man and wife." On January 20, 1909 the divorce was decreed. His wife received custody of their two sons and $9120 in annual alimony. On October 10, 1909 he lost the final appeal.
On August 20, 1911 he married the "unidentified woman" in the case, Virginia E. Mayo. She was born in 1884 in Pennsylvania. They returned to her hometown for the marriage ceremony.
On September 20, 1911 they sailed on a honeymoon trip to Havana, Cuba.
They moved to 11 Pryer's Lane in Mamaroneck, NY, which is part of the popular artist community of New Rochelle, NY. He bacame an active member of the New Rochelle Art Association.
He illustrated many children's books, but was most renowned for illustrating Peter Rabbit, Old Mother Westwind, and Frank Baum's American Fairytales. He also illustrated several of his own children books, such as The Golden Goblin and Bobby in Bugaboo Land.
He illustrated The American Weekly, a national Sunday magazine supplement of the Hearst syndicate. He also drew editorial cartoons for The New York American.
On July 17, 1926 he and his wife sailed to Havana, Cuba on the Steam Ship Orizaba.
By 1928 he was a celebrated and prosperous artist. He lived at The Hotel Gramatan, which had three-hundred elegant guest rooms towering over Lawrence Park golf course in afluent Bronxville. He was a top-ranked golfer in the Artists & Writers Club, along with Saul Tepper (1899-1987), Fontaine Fox (1884-1964), and Edgar Franklin Wittmack.
In October 1929 the stock market collpased and everything changed. During the Great Depression newspapers suffered hard times when the advertising industry was devastated by the financial crisis. George Kerr's style of drawing had gone out of fashion, and after many years of straining over a drawing board his eyesight had weakened considerably. As with all Americans in the 1930s it was a struggle to make ends meet. He and his wife moved to a more affordable apartment building at One Bronxville Road in Yonkers, NY.
According to his wife, he beagn to draw unsigned Raggedy Ann comic books for Dell Publishing Company around 1940.
By 1946 his eyesight had seriously declined and by 1950 he was blind.
George F. Kerr died at home in Yonkers, NY, at the age of eighty-four on October 21, 1953.
© David Saunders 2013