Art Town: Artists’ sons describe their famous dads

Sons of two local artists are looking back on what it was like to grow up with their famous fathers.

Growing up with commercial artist Bernie Burroughs, by Miggs Burroughs

My brother Trace and I grew up in a house that included our father’s studio where he created men’s fashion illustrations for national advertisements.

Kids with commuting dads envied us, but our father’s tireless commitment to earning a living kept him behind closed doors for most of the day, coming out only for dinner or for an occasional visitor, so we didn’t see that much of him, until the summer, when he would take a few months off to drive us cross country or to go camping at Lake George. He enjoyed retracing the route he took as a young man driving to California from Boston in a Model A Ford to work on “Snow White” for Walt Disney.

We didn’t appreciate it at the time, but as president of the Westport Artists Club in the 1950s some of the worlds greatest illustrators and cartoonists — like Hardy Gramatky, Stevan Dohanos, Tracy Sugarman, Dik Browne and Howard Munce — visited often and sat on our furniture and breathed our air.

I don’t think either of us received one art lesson from him because his remarkable work ethic often kept him busy 24/7, but I think it’s fair to say that instead of lessons, he passed on his work ethic and the belief that the only thing you truly own is your reputation.

Growing up with cartoonist Dik Browne, by Chance Browne

My dad, Dik Browne worked in the cellar of our house in Wilton, turning out his comic strips “Hi and Lois” and “Hagar the Horrible.” It was a space he shared with a washer, a dryer and sometimes a clothesline.

Dad produced thousands of comics trips down there, and he worked day and night. It became a running joke in our family to warn visitors that there was a “strange man drawing pictures in the basement.” But what he really was doing was creating magic.

I was always mesmerized to watch him draw. He knew what he wanted on the page and the lines seemed to fall out of his pen. Things appeared on the paper so beautifully realized that it boggled the mind (it did mine, anyway). And Dad worked fast! He had 14 deadlines a week, so he had to maintain a laser-beam focus on the drawing board. That was no easy task: our house was a social hub, the drop-in spot for many people of various ages, and there was a lot of distraction.

Dad was able to stay beamed in to the work with an extraordinary amount of discipline because he loved what he did every second that he did it. I truly think that even he was amazed by his talent.

Who could not be? It was pure magic.

Miggs Burroughs is a lifelong Westport resident and full-time graphic artist since 1972. He is co-founder of The Artists Collective of Westport and a member of the Westport Arts Advisory Committee, among other accomplishments.

Ann Chernow has been a Westport resident since 1968. Her artwork has been exhibited locally and worldwide. Chernow is an honorary member of the Artists Collective of Westport, member of the Westport Museum Committee and other arts organizations.