Irv Koons

20,000 Leagues back cover

Coincidence. The gentlemen [at left], reading from left to right, are Irv Koons and David Dodge. Although Koons had illustrated three of Dodge’s books (How Lost Was My Weekend, How Green Was My Father, The Crazy Glasspecker) he and Dodge had never met. One day last summer in Fontainebleau, France, a small black Citroën pulled up near Koons. Someone asked directions of him in broken French with a strange accent. Koons, surveying the asker, the car, its occupants and contents, said, ‘Say, could your name possibly be David Dodge?’ It turned out, of course, to be more than a possibility—it was a fact. Thus author and illustrator, both Americans, shook hands for the first time on the continent of Europe. Perhaps the oddest coincidence of all is that Koons’ sketches of the Dodge family, whom he had never seen in the flesh or in pictures, do bear remarkable resemblances to their real-life counterparts.”

(Back cover of dust jacket, 20,000 Leagues Behind the 8-Ball)

    Six of David Dodge’s travel books are illustrated by Irv Koons.

    Irvin Louis Koons was born March 1, 1922 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. His father owned a printing shop and, as a teenager, he began assisting in the family business by designing items for their clients. After graduating from high school in Reading, Pennsylvania, where the family had moved earlier, he attended Pratt Institute in New York City. In 1942, at the age of twenty, he enlisted in the U.S. Army where he held positions designing sets for Broadway performances heading overseas to entertain troops and as a designer/illustrator for the Army Information and Education Program.

    After World War II ended, he began working as an illustrator for Simon and Schuster, where one of his first assignments was to illustrate How Green Was My Father (1947). He soon also began working for Random House, where he illustrated How Lost Was My Weekend (1948), The Crazy Glasspecker (1949), 20,000 Leagues Behind the 8-Ball (1951), The Poor Man’s Guide to Europe (1953), and Time Out For Turkey (1955). During this time, he began turning more towards design than illustration and founded his own design firm, Irv Koons Associates, in 1949.

    Koons has worked on projects for many companies and organizations designing packaging, advertisements and logos, leaflets, brochures, and booklets. Among his best-known clients are the American Cancer Society, Bristol Laboratories, Bloomingdale’s, Metropolitan Life, Mobil, and Seagram’s. In addition to Simon and Schuster and Random House books, he has provided illustrations for a variety of periodicals, such as Fortune, Family Circle, Seventeen, Ladies Home Journal, Good Housekeeping, and Sports Illustrated. He has also designed items for various Jewish organizations, including advertisements and publications for the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies in New York, the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, the American Jewish Tercentenary, the American Jewish Heritage Commission, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, and several synagogues and community centers. Koons has also created Jewish art pieces, including Torah ornaments and stained glass windows.

    Irv Koons has won numerous awards for marketing, packaging, and advertising. In 1982, he was named the Packaging Person of the Year by the Packaging Designers Council International. His products have won Clio awards several times, including three gold Clios, and his work is included in collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum, the Jewish Museum, the Hagley Museum, and Yeshiva University Museum. In 2001, Koons was included in 2000 Outstanding Artists and Designers of the 20th Century, published by the International Biographical Centre in Cambridge, England.

The Poor Man's Guide to Europe, Koons illustration
The Poor Man's Guide to Europe, Koons illustration

Two of Irv Koons’ illustrations for The Poor Man’s Guide to Europe (1953)

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Randal Brandt, November 2009

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