Happy Birthday Jack Unruh

It’s Jack Unruh’s birthday!  Unruh is a Washington University graduate, who graduated in 1957 with a B.F.A. in Magazine Illustration.  He received the University’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 1988. Unruh was inducted into the Society’ of Illustrator’s Hall of Fame in 2006.


Self-portrait (and whale) featured in Aspen Sojourner, 2004

Unruh was born in Pretty Prarie, Kansas, but moved around throughout his childhood since his father was an Air Force Pilot.   The three activities he loved as a boy were fishing, hunting, and art.

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Untitled illustration, date unknown

In an interview with Bak Magazine, Unruh recalls how he thought he wanted to be a forest ranger or game warden when he grew up, because of his love for the outdoors.  His father reminded him that as a ranger or warden, he would be working while everyone else would be fishing or hunting.  Unruh took his father’s advice to become an artist instead.

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From Open Spaces, vol. 6, 2004.

As an artist, Unruh has still been able to convey his love for the outdoors through his artwork.  Nature, and human interactions with nature, are common themes in his artwork.  His work can often be found in fishing-related advertisements and articles, including Aspen Sojourner, Sports Afield, Sports Illustrated, and Open Spaces.  Unruh’s illustrations are frequently featured in Field & Stream magazine, including covers and Bill Heavey’s A Sportsman Life column.

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Illustration for Bill Heavey’s column, Field & Stream, August 2005.

Unruh’s illustrations are very finely detailed and textured.  He often includes hand-drawn letters in his art. He draws in pen and ink and then selectively colors portions with watercolor.

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Illustrations for An Alaska Journal, Sports Afield, Winter 1995.

He is known for his distinctive use of white space, which helps move the viewer’s eye to the focal points of the image. In his interview with Bak Magazine, Unruh stated, “White is a very important area that I do not draw. It makes what I do draw all that more important.”

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Advertisement appearing in In-Fisherman, March 3, 2003

In addition to his nature illustrations, Unruh is known for his quirky portraits of politicians and celebrities, which have appeared in magazines including New York Magazine and Entertainment Weekly. 

So happy birthday to Jack Unruh.  Here’s hoping it will be a birthday to remember…

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Illustration for memoir by Walter Edmonds, about getting his first fly rod on his 12th birthday, from Sports Illustrated, January 31 1983

To learn more about the Jack Unruh collection, check out our finding aid.


Hendrix, John. Interview with Jack Unruh. Drawing on Deadline, May 17, 2007.

Jack Unruh, illustrator. Bak Magazine, 2006.

Unruh, Jack. Texas Brushstrokes, Artist Catalog, undated.

About the author

Andrea Degener is the Visual Materials Processing Archivist in the department of Special Collections at Washington University Libraries.