Willi Baum

Willi Baum

Adventures with pen and brush and camera, and traveling the world, would describe my life.

Born in Switzerland, my school years in Dresden, surviving the city’s destruction in WW2, I was fortunate to spend a 4-year apprenticeship in Graphics in Switzerland after the war. At age 20, I won the national competition for the design of a poster for the Swiss National Philatelic Exhibition, also chosen among the best Swiss posters of 1951. It is now in the MOMA collection of N.Y.

After 4 years, adventure called, so I accepted a job as Art Director at South African Advertising in Cape Town. My earnings there allowed me to discover S.Africa and eventually roam East Africa on a motor scooter, with a stint at East African Advertising in Nairobi. On safari with my Lambretta. I developed my love of wild life photography. Life was as interesting as the magic images on the stamps of my boyhood collection. Many exciting adventures alone in the bush living in a pup tent, got me as close as possible to amazingly tolerant wildlife.

Before returning to Europe, I earned my seaman`s papers on a Panamanian tramp steamer in the Indian Ocean.

1956. Back in Europe and in need of income, I joined Unilever as Art Director in Hamburg and London.

1958. Left for the U.S., touring the country in a used Ford. Ended up in Denver, finding plenty of work in design free-lancing, and most rewardingly designing and illustrating national ads for “Martin- Denver” Space program. After a short-lived marriage, took off for a 10-month trip to Japan, S.E. Asia and from there, overland to Europe, recording with sketchbook and camera.

1961. Return to U.S., freelancing for advertising in San Francisco. Discover kayaking on the beautiful bay. In 1962 start many fruitful VW trips to Mexico, drawing and water-coloring.

A long sojourn in San Miguel Allende offered a chance to study mural fresco painting, and a chance at learning horse jumping.

When the savings ran out, I returned to S.F. and on to N.Y.C. where good freelance work was to be found. From there a passage on a large ore-tanker to Rotterdam, drawing and painting on board.

1964. Again in S.F., design and illustration shifting to illustrating for the emerging creative national schoolbook market, launched by the most prominent publishers.

1969. Move my studio from Pier 39 to a house in Mill Valley. Work lead to illustrating children’s books and eventually writing around a dozen of my own picture books mostly for European publishers. Many story ideas originated on travels. Observing dance drama in Bali lead to a visual translation in the form of a large portfolio of 32 hand printed and hand colored linoleum cuts, the “Bali Ramayana”, still looking for a book publisher for the collection.

Having my own letterpress, allowed for an output of private linoleum cuts over the years. A home dark room allowed for printing my own b/w travel photos.

A very creative relationship with a book publisher in S.F. allowed for steady work in book dust-jacket design which allowed for continued travel, now with my shutter-bug wife Kimiko, who shares my love for Africa and it’s wild animals. The backyard of our home in Mill Valley is a favorite hangout for the local wild life.

 Willi Baum


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