F.R. Gruger was born in 1871 in Pennsylvania. He spent most of his childhood in and around Lancaster, Pennsylvania where his father had a partnership in a marble yard. By all accounts he had an idyllic childhood surrounded by uncles, aunts and cousins.
The story goes: as a young man he admired the internationally acclaimed painter and illustrator Edwin Austin Abbey and spent most of his time copying Abbey’s work from books and periodicals. When an art gallery announced an exhibit for Abbey’s illustrations, Gruger took what he felt were his best efforts and travelled to Philadelphia to compare his with the original. When the proprietor saw the young man with an “Abbey” drawing in his hands he assumed it was being stolen. Once Gruger explained the drawing was his, the man was impressed with how accurately Gruger had copied Abbey. The proprietor then suggested Gruger to further his studies at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Which Gruger did.
Gruger got his first job working with the old Century magazine. However, it was with the Philadelphia Ledger where he developed a method of drawing. The drawing was made with Wolf pencil, rubbed with a stump or eraser, often times over an underlying wash, which produced a full range of values, particularly a rich velvety black. The board was an inexpensive cardboard used by newspapers for mounting silver prints. This board has since become known as “Gruger Board”.
In 1882, the editor of the Saturday Evening Post commissioned Gruger to illustrate a mystery story with 4 drawings and thus began a 45 years association with the Post. Gruger was always in great demand from other periodicals so much so that he had the luxury to make the rules with the editors. He would only accept manuscripts free of editorial suggestions and would not submit “roughs” and he had the right to choose the passage to be depicted. Aside from editors he was also sought after by some of the best writers of the times for him to illustrate their manuscripts, such as Somerset Maugham, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Agatha Christie, and Edna Ferber, to name a few.
A famous author once quoted Gruger saying: “You have said in your drawings what I tried to say in 100,00 words”.
F.R. Gruger died in 1953 at the age of 82