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Alfred E. Landis Postcards

Alfred Landis was a great postcard artist, now beloved of Catskills postcard collectors. His beautiful colors make us remember the vitality of the typically smaller hotels that he covered. Landis set up an easel in front of the hotel or bungalow colony, sketched out a pseudo-aerial view, and went back to his Wurtsboro studio to finish the job. Owners could buy a large water color painting to hang in their lobby, which mirrored the content of the postcard. Very few of those remain in existence; the Sullivan County Historical Society in Hurleyville has several. More than any other card maker, Landis conveyed the sense of the daily life of the small hotels. He had an incredible amount of detail. He also was playful, writing on top of buildings their names, like "casino" or "day camp." He also sometimes put in buildings that were not there, probably because the owner said "We're going to put up another building this coming year, so add it to the new cards." The Half-Moon Postcard Club in Wurtsboro has issued two editions of their Landis catalog. Landis’ grandson, Jim Landis, spoke at the 13th Annual History of the Catskills Conference August 24-26, 2007, and wrote an essay on Alfred Landis that is included in our website.

by Jim Landis

[Written for the revised edition of the Half Moon Postcard Club’s catalog of Alfred Landis cards]

Discovering a family history can be a rewarding experience. When I began researching my family history, I had no idea how rewarding this would be. Not only have I discovered just how famous Alfred Landis’ art work is, I have discovered how beloved he was as a person. Grandfathers are special. People that are lucky enough to know or have known their grandfathers realize this. Those people that are lucky enough to be a grandfather are aware of how special they are every time the grandchildren visit. My grandfather was Alfred Landis.

The publishers of this book have been looking for me (and any other Landis family members) for many years. It is a strange coincidence. People were looking for me and I was looking for them. It took a long time for us to find each other but it was worth the wait. While researching my grandfather, I crossed paths with numerous people who have been extremely gracious. I refer to my family research as a “magical adventure”. You will see why as I tell this story.

Once I began my research, I found numerous people that were willing to volunteer their time and share information with me. It is a strange phenomenon to find people that know more about your family than you do. Uncomfortable? Maybe. Satisfying? Yes! Thanks to the internet, I began my adventure with great zeal. And of course, the best place to start – online auctions!!

My first breakthrough began with an inquisitive email from Dr. Phil Brown of the Catskills Institute (I had outbid him on a Landis card up for auction). Phil was the catalyst for my research and he pointed me in the right direction to save me a lot of time. From Phil’s initial contact, I was able to find numerous people that were able to shed a lot of light on the life of my grandfather. These were true collectors. They had a special appreciation for his art and the period of time that he was able to preserve. In one of Phil’s correspondences with me he wrote, “The Catskills are magical and full of these sorts of connections – you will certainly see this in my book Catskill Culture…Magic and irony go hand in hand”. Indeed, he was foreshadowing what I would find as I began my adventure. As this magical adventure progressed, I found that these Landis postcards were helping other people preserve their family history. They collect these cards to preserve the memories of not only the buildings but, more importantly, the special period of time. My family history has been discovered as a result. The stars were perfectly aligned.

In addition to the preservation of history, another common thread among these special people is generosity. Without question, Joel Levine has been the most generous person that I have crossed paths with during my magical adventure. Joel’s family owned The Glory Hotel and my grandfather painted a postcard of it. Joel has that postcard to preserve the precious family memories. And that has inspired him to collect more and more postcards of the Borscht Belt and therefore more Landis postcards. He has a true appreciation for the historical and artistic work of Alfred Landis. He is generous with his knowledge and is a tremendous source of information about the period of time that is captured in this art – it is magical.

Dr. Phil Brown used one of my grandfather’s cards to help him discover his family hotel history, Brown’s Hotel Royal. He has generously devoted an enormous amount of time to successfully preserve the Catskill history by publishing several books that document the culture. This was a culture that Alfred magically preserved in his art. Because of Joel and Phil, I was able to contact Joan Dunn and Dee Dee Backus [of the Half Moon Postcard Club in Wurtsboro]. These two wonderful ladies have generously devoted an incredible amount of time into documenting Landis postcards. This publication is evidence of their tireless efforts. Joan went to church with Alfred for several years and she has a very good recollection of him. Dee Dee shares the passion that we all have for Landis postcards. And of course, all postcard collectors appreciate Agnes Cavalari for generously sharing her collection with so many others. Apparently, there are other people that share a similar passion. Based on the prices that we see on internet auctions and at postcard shows, there is a lot of passion to possess these cards.

Alfred Landis had the artistic vision and the business savvy to successfully print and sell thousands of postcards. The irony is that these postcards are much more popular after his death. I often wonder if he ever imagined the impact that these cards would have on postcard collectors. And the prices at which they are selling!

Three of my living family members have accompanied Alfred on his painting expeditions. Alfred’s only living child is my Aunt Vi, I have a sister (Barbara) and a cousin (Gary) that all have vivid memories of being with him as he visited various hotels and resorts to paint. He almost always did this from the famous “bird’s eye view”. Rumors are that he was never in an airplane. My family can confirm that as fact. In order to get his unusual and interesting perspective he would venture to hillsides and rooftops and even carried a ladder with him for an extra few feet. These different perspectives and an excellent imagination were the perfect combination to produce the “bird’s eye view” that is his trademark. My sister recalls him painting directly onto a canvas held by an easel while he was at the site of the subject.

My cousin Gary remembers him taking photographs. Alfred would take countless photos from all sorts of angles and positions to get the full perspective for his art work. The photos were then pieced together like a puzzle to form the basis for the painting. Needless to say, most of the paintings were not scaled. It would have been impossible to get the entire subject into a painting if the scale was accurate. Ball fields, playgrounds, casinos, additional rooms, buildings in progress and even buildings not yet built were “squeezed in” so that the potential guest would be able to see all that the resort had to offer. Beach access, water access and views from the road were all labeled for the purpose of tourism. No need for a prospective traveler to guess about things – here is what is offered all in one neat postcard. The resort owners loved this. Usually the original painting was displayed in the hotel. That was part of the package that Alfred sold. Alfred sold the framed painting along with the postcards to the owners. The owners would proudly display the painting and that lead to selling more postcards. The business was like a child to the owners. Who could pass up purchasing a portrait of their child? Not only did he paint hotels and resorts, he had numerous paintings of other businesses and industries in New York and New Jersey.

Some of his cards are published by Landis & Alsop. This Alsop person is still a mystery. According to my Aunt Vi, Alfred had an apprentice. The apprentice was a New York State Trooper. Alfred had the intention of eventually letting the apprentice take over the postcard business. However, that never happened and nobody knows why. Was the apprentice Alsop? Nobody knows, but it is possible. Aunt Vi was born in 1918, but her memory is excellent. However, she does not recall this Alsop person.

When Alfred left New York, he retired to Florida. He still continued his painting and used several subjects in Florida. He lived with Aunt Vi in Florida for several years and passed away in August of 1960, less than eight months after his wife Florence passed away. Both of them are buried in the “Landis section” of Rosedale Cemetery in Orange, NJ. Our family purchased a large section of that cemetery in 1842. It is still being used by Landis family members even in recent years.

The Landis postcards are magical to many, many people because these cards are used to document and preserve a special time and a special place. Collectors of postcards are special people. When Landis cards and collectors collide it is magical. My life has changed because of this magic that I never knew existed. Hopefully, this book will bring a little magic into your life.

May 2007