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Making his family laugh

By Staff | Apr 13, 2009

“I don’t believe I was born with any special talent for drawing cartoons and I don’t recall any of my drawings taped to a refrigerator door to encourage my efforts…in fact, there was no refrigerator,” says Archie Baumann.

Baumann was born to draw. He says he thinks he learned how to swim before he could walk and he might have started drawing cartoons at about this same time.

Just as stories are written from true life experiences, so are many of the cartoons drawn by Baumann.

His background of losing his mother at age five and being raised on the Red Lake Indian Reservation near Bagley, provided some of the inspiration for his later works.

He says he basically spent the first 13 years of his life (1922-1935) on his grandfather’s 1900 Homestead located in Clearwater County. In fact, he says, the Red Lake Indian Trail passed through the corner of the 120-acre claim and about 50 feet in front of his grandfather’s log house.

It was in this setting his Aunt Maude Arney, who was also quite artistic, nurtured him and probably instilled in him a love for drawing.

What started for Baumann as doodling and doing sketches grew into cartooning.

“When I was a young man during the Depression, there were no jobs,” says Baumann. “So, in 1939 and 1940, I spent a month at Fort Snelling with a group formed in 1922 called Citizens Military Training. It was something like our National Guard is today. The thousands of unemployed young men like myself were issued World War I uniforms to wear and trained on machine guns from that war. I remember we were paid five cents a mile, so the 250 miles to Bagley was pretty good pay.”

Citizens Military Training was eventually phased out with the outbreak of World War II.

In 1940-1941, Baumann transferred to the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp at Effie.

“The CCC kept a lot of previously unemployed men busy doing forestry work and building the visitor centers at Lake Itaska,” he recalls.

“I was assigned to Effie because of my art skills and the fact I looked like a starved and scrawny kid,” he chuckles. “I remember painting by hand thousands of ‘prevent forest fire’ signs one entire winter.”

It was also at this time he had his first cartoons published in the CCC camp newspaper at Effie. Since then, he says he has always found it difficult to pass-up drawing on any blank space he finds whether it is a paper plate, cups, napkins, placemats, meeting programs, agendas or anything else with a free white space.

After working in the CCC camp, Baumann entered military service and was stationed in Okinawa when the atomic bomb was dropped.

“My age group has witnessed many historical events,” says Baumann. “We went through the Depression, several wars, the assassinations of the Kennedys and saw the advent of space travel and computers to name but a few significant events in our nation’s history.”

Upon returning to a civilian status, Baumann became very involved in politics.

In fact, in 1944 he says the Navy allowed servicemen to vote.

“I voted for FDR then and have been voting for him ever since,” says a matter-of-fact Baumann. Years later he even ran against Vin Weber for the 6th Congressional District seat, but was defeated. However, he remains very active in politics today. In fact, he recently spent one day at the Faribault County Courthouse recounting ballots in the contested Senate race between Norm Coleman and Al Franken.

After his stint in the service, Baumann became involved with the Minnesota Farmers Union whereby he did organizational work with them throughout the state. He also served as their state secretary/treasurer in St. Paul.

In 1952, he not only worked with the farmers organization, but he also supplied cartoons for their publications. Even after retiring, he still supplies the Minnesota Farmers Union as well as the Senior Citizen Federation out of St. Paul with cartoons.

“One of my jobs was working with the ‘Green Thumb’ program,” says Baumann. “It is a national program I assisted with in setting-up and organizing staff who then would hire senior citizens to man rest areas located by interstate highways.”

Because he says he had so many more important things he wanted to do first, his cartooning was put on a back burner.

“I always thought I could do the cartooning at a later date,” he says. “In fact, it has always been a sideline for me.”

This is evident when one learns he has been a board member for the Wells Food Shelf, received the ‘Outstanding Service Award’ from the Minnesota Farmers Union in 2007, is a county and district DFL contact as well as on the Region Nine Advisory Council on Aging.

Baumann has done a lot of gratis artwork and also has drawn for certain people, but he never got into syndication or to publish on a mass basis where one has to sell the same cartoon over and over again.

He has files of his work in his home office in Wells though. His cartoon series include “Generation Gap”, “Meanwhile Back on the Farm” and “Time Outs” (for kids) which Baumann says is the only publication about absolutely nothing.

He gets his ideas for cartoons from old family photographs, current social and political events and sometimes through articles in publications such as the ‘Readers Digest.’ Having five children provided him with plenty of inspiration as well.

“You’ve got to think happy if you’re going to be a cartoonist,” advises Baumann. In other words, you have to have a sense of humor.

There is no special equipment needed to be a cartoonist, says Baumann, who simply uses a felt-tip pen, white paper and imagination.

“Every cartoonist’s style is like handwriting,” says Baumann. “Some artists depict their characters with three fingers while others use four. It is like a signature.”

He explains how easy Governor Ventura was to draw and imagines President Obama will also make for good caricature drawing.

Baumann goes on to explain the signature style of cartoonists during the Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) era whereby simply a long cigarette holder was all that needed to be drawn in order for the public to recognize who the cartoonist was portraying.

Although he has dabbled in speaking engagements, joke telling and woodworking, his first love remains cartoon work.

He has conducted classwork sessions through community education and even taught at Grand Rapids Community College one summer.

“I looked at cartoon ‘how to’ instruction books, but it didn’t work for me,” says Baumann. “I always draw the nose first and go from there.”

The time varies for each cartoon Baumann draws, but one thing he is emphatic about is he will not do the more time-consuming strip cartoons.

“One shot,” he says is all he wants when getting his idea across to his readers.

“I want it to be clear and condensed in just ‘one shot.'”

From his childhood days to the present, Archie Baumann has expressed the world around him with his own unique style of art.