Mr. Crump

I just found out my old Jr. High School art teacher passed away… five years ago. I’m not sure what made me google his name this evening, but I was sad to read this biography:

Autobiography of Fred Crump, Jr. Fred Crump, Jr was born in Houston, Texas on June 7, 1931. He received a Master’s Degree in Art from Sam Houston College, in 1961. He moved to Palm Springs, California and taught art at a junior high school for 32 years. After retiring from his teaching career,he began a career as an author and illustrator of Children’s books. In addition to teaching, writing, and illustrating, Mr Crump also wrote for magazines such as “Humpty Dumpty, Playmate, and Turtle.” Mr. Crump brought the fairy tales of childhood to African-American children in a way with which they can personally identify. Mr. Crump died, October 29, 2005, at the age of 72. Crump, whose final book, Three Kings and a Star, was released a month before he death. He devoted the final chapter in his life to retelling popular children’s stories for African-American audiences. Mr. Crump had more than 40 titles.

Mr. Crump was a GIANT impact/influence on me to want to become a professional cartoonist. I was going into my 7th grade year and my family had just moved to Southern California from Pennsylvania after the Volkswagen plant where my Dad worked had closed down and moved to Mexico. I remember it being a scary time in our family not really sure where my Dad would be working, there was no real job security for him anywhere at the time. I remember HATING the idea of wanting to go to school… that was until I stepped into Mr. Crump’s art room at Raymond Cree middle school in Palm Springs, CA.

When you walked into his art classroom, it was as if you had just walked into a life sized comic strip. Giant full color paper machete statues of Calvin and Hobbes, Opus, Bill the Cat, Broom Hilda, Snoopy, Charlie Brown lined the classroom, almost like statues of greek gods. It was quite an environment! It was here I was first introduced to Berke Breathed’s work, Bloom County was  Mr. Crump’s favorite comic strip.  He introduced us to TONS of art in that class. From studying classic painters like Monet and Rembrandt to learning paper machete and molding clay sculptures. All in 7th grade!!! Another project I remember him teaching us which has served me well over the years was how to enlarge small photos or comics into bigger murals by using the grid technique. A also made a wicked paper machete lifesize batman bust.

Mr. Crump how I remember him

Mr. Crump talked in a southern Texas accent. He always wore a brown apron that seemed to be like one of those Dungeons & Dragons bottomless bags where he could make any tool appear from. Instead of a desk he had a podium he would sit behind and work on his illustrations while he taught class. He was mildly eccentric, I remember him being in love with Madonna as well, he had a button on his apron that said “I Love Madonna” – He totally had the hots for her. This was at the height of her popularity in 1989 or so….

I have one big memory of Mr. Crump that I never really understood until years later. I think I was goofing off in his class and working on something else that wasn’t project related and he pulled me out of the classroom for a hallway talk. I remember him asking me if art was something I really wanted to pursue. And he grilled me with all these rapid fire questions that I didn’t really have answers for. But he told me that he could see that I was different than the other kids in his class and if I wanted to, I could be a successful cartoonist. He pulled out a #2 pencil that was perfectly sharp and asked if I had a pencil on me, I didn’t… “If you’re going to be a cartoonist, you always need to have your tools on you. You always need to be ready.”

“Always keep a sharp pencil. Do you understand?” He was quite intense with this statement- I didn’t really understand at all, but I replied-  “yeah, sure… sharp pencil, I get it…”

He was also working as a Children’s book illustrator at the time of teaching. He would use his sample pages to teach us what went into good illustration and all of the details. He specialized in making fairy tale books for African American children, retelling African Folklore and also retelling classic fairy tales with African American children in the roles of the main characters, because he believed it was silly for all the old fairy tales and princesses to only be white children. He thought it sent the wrong message to minority children to see that only white people had a prince charming or happy ending. I recall his statements on that stuff really striking me, as I had never really thought about race before… let alone all the characters being white! He really encouraged us to make sure we learned to draw people who “were not like us. ”

“You must learn to draw every man before you can really draw any man.”

He had a love for the arts that was all encompassing. He would often take special evening field trips to the opera house for plays, and give away tickets as prizes in his classroom. I remember winning tickets to “Madame Butterfly” and I vaguely remember going and not paying any attention, but him telling us to look for all of the art and design that was put into the stagecraft and lighting. I appreciate that much more now, but back then I was probably bored to tears!

That was the last year he had taught Jr. High art. He was retiring. I remember the sadness of his art room being deconstructed. The paper machete statues being given away to prized and past students. I remember him giving a small goodbye speech to our class and he got choked up. He wished me luck and repeated to me… “Always keep a sharp pencil.” — Which I still thought was a little weird at the time.

In High School my art classes were much different. I was met by the evil intrepid Ms. Wolfe of Palm Springs high school who once said that cartoons were not “REAL ART”- She also told my parents I had “cartoon tunnel vision” -  Looking back now I think it was such a stark contrast between the magic and wonder and the “anything is possible” feeling of Mr. Crump’s art class and the rigid asshole vibe of Ms. Wolfe’s classroom. I left art classes for print shop and graphic design and I was better for it! But I never forgot that wonderful “I’m in a comic strip!” feeling of Mr. Crump’s class. I never forgot the “always keep your tools handy” type thing either… to which I blame Mr. Crump for my “fanny pack” stage where I had the bike bag filled with art supplies my 8th grade year. What a dork I was!!!

Years later, I think around 1999 or 2000, when I was working on the Gravity daily comic strip and my work had been in the papers and a few newspaper articles were written about me where I happen to mention him as a teacher who inspired me, I wanted to get in touch and send him a copy of my work and the newspaper clipping. Mr. Crump was a very private man in his retirement and not easy to locate. As far as I knew, he didn’t have any family out west either, but somehow I stumbled across his mailing address and wrote him a thank you letter along with samples of my work and clipping from the article. I wasn’t even sure if he’d remember me! I left my phone number and contact info.

A couple weeks later my phone rang… it was Mr. Crump! He sounded exactly the same and told me how wonderful it was to hear from me and he praised my cartooning work up and down. I told him I wasn’t sure if he’d remember me, and he said of course! He even remembered the odd conversation in the hallway. He told me that when you teach art for 32 years, it’s pretty easy to see the kids who have “the spark” and a lot of times the spark will go out if someone doesn’t push them in the right direction. Mr. Crump said that your pencil is just an extension of your mind… always keep it sharp. Another profound thing he told me which really matches up to where I am mentally today was the idea that you create anything in your mind FIRST. You’ve already drawn it in your mind before the pencil touches the paper.

It’s a little ironic now that I don’t even draw with a pencil anymore, I draw with light! (Cintiq!) But I do keep my mind very sharp.

I hadn’t really thought about Mr. Crump until today. I decided to google his name and look up his artwork… only to find out he passed away in 2005. What a wonderful life he had, and he dedicated the last chapter of his life to retelling popular children’s stories for African-American audiences. Mr. Crump had more than 40 titles.

It might sound amazingly nerdy… but thinking back on it now,  Mr. Crump was kinda like my Obi-Wan Kenobi. I’m imagining him as a force ghost appearing in my office to tell me the student has become the master. Also another part of me wishes there were more art classrooms like he had.

So long Mr. Crump, and THANK YOU!

26 Comments

  1. I had the good fortune of discovering Fred Crump’s books quite a few years ago. My curiousity led me to search him out and we had several conversations. He told me how he was initially inspired to create the books when two African American girls came to him and told him there were no books for them at the school bookfair other than books on Michael Jackson and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He then went home and began to create the series of books.

    We talked about health issues he faced, that could have impacted his ability to produce art, but he persevered. We also talked about some disappointments with business.

    Your posting has provided the most information I’ve been able to find. While saddened to learn of Mr. Crump’s death, I am thankful that you posted such valuable and moving information. I will miss him greatly.

    Katherine Beecham

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    • I am looking to speak with anyone who knew Mr. Crump. I am not much of a computer person however if you would be interested in actual communication please leave a message and phone number on my E Mail which I rarely Read and I will call you back at my expense. Thank you looking forward to speaking to you. samdav@att.net

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  2. Fred Crump was an outstanding human being who truly cared about everyone around him. He was kindly and mild manner and completely serious about art. He was a marvelous teacher who was able to give a spark to everyone of his students and help them find an area that was of interest to her or him whether it be a vocation of an acvocation! His inspiration taught strudents how to succeed in any endeavor that they attempted. He was a friend to every student and many, many people. Palm Springs and the world was blessed to have him. He improved the quality of life in this world as he taught and entertained with his work. I am grateful to have know him.

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  3. Hi , I am in love with Mr. Crump’s artwork, most of all I actually love the way the food looks. The way he drew all of the books were cool, really pretty! I like the fact that when he wanted to encourage all children. At the age of 9 I always have love to draw since my mom could remember. Going on 10 , I plan to be and artist and a fashion designer. You are so lucky to have been in his class. Take care

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  4. I agree but of course this isnt true… another question: what would you do if I won 2 million usd?

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  5. In 1974, and at the age of 8, I checked out the book, Jumping Julius by Garry and Vesta Smith and the illustrations by Fred Grump. I can remember the first time I open this book and how the illustrations brought the book alive – it was magical. This book turned out to be my favorite book in my elementary years and one that showed me how reading can be fun. How I missed this book.

    In 2004, I searched for this book and found it online. I ordered the book and I can remember the day it arrived and I once again open this book with its illustrations… I felt like a 8 year old again.

    Today, I read this book, along with others by the three, to my son and he too enjoys the story and the illustrations.

    Garry and Vesta Smith and Fred Grump – thanks for some wonderful books.

    Joel B
    San Bernardino, CA

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  6. Should be Fred Crump… not Grump. My mistake

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  7. I too had Mr. Crump for art at Raymond Cree. He was an amazing teacher. He inspired all students, even those of us with limited artisitic ability.
    I remember his lectures and wisdom, although we didn’t understand at the time, the life lessons he was speaking of.
    When I was in his class he played Madonna music and told us how much he liked her. He also mentioned that he didn’t own a television. He would rather read, listen to the radio and work on his art.

    I too just googled his name. Don’t know why. It just popped into my head. Very sorry to hear he passed away several years ago.

    Thank you for this wonderful writing of an inspiration person.

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  8. Dear D.J. Coffman,

    Just this morning I decided to research Fred Cump and found your website.

    I have a wonderful color illustration of exuberant kids making a mess of an art class, by Fred Crump, Jr. I was the editor of Arts & Activities magazine ( a national art education magazine) in the 1970′s and bought the artwork from him to publish in our magazine. We ran a “caption contest” for it. I still have the piece, which I had framed.

    Thanks for your bio of Crump. I never knew much about his background, but have cherished the artwork for all these years.

    I like your artwork, too. I think I see some of Crump’s influence in it.

    Thanks and warm regards,
    Marjorie

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  9. It’s so great that so many people are finding Fred Crump, Jr here on my site. He truly was a great cartoonist and appears to have created much more than his art, but also sparks of inspiration around the globe. Glad to honor him!

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  10. Hi, Mr. Coffman,

    My brother just found your website while we were talking about “Uncle Fred’s” illustrations for the children’s books written by our Aunt Vesta and Uncle Garry (Garry V. Smith and Vesta Smith) and published by Steck-Vaughn in the 1960s. Mr. Crump wasn’t our uncle, but our cousins (Vesta and Garry’s daughters) always knew him as “Uncle Fred.” Fred and Uncle Garry were army buddies. That friendship, a love of stories and art led to their collaboration on the books. I grew up reading “Uncle Garry, Aunt Vesta, and Uncle Fred’s books” assuming that every child had books written and illustrated by their relatives. I grew up identifying with so many of the characters in the books. Who among us has not felt ugly and insignificant like Creepy Caterpillar or had a difficult time finding a place of our own like Jumping Julius? When I was grown and dreading job interviews, I kept thinking of Flagon, that 2-toned pink dragon who had a lot of trouble job-hunting and keeping jobs until he found THE job that fit him perfectly. Two of my cousins were the inspiration for the illustrations Fred did for Mitzi and Florabelle. “Florabelle” sent Uncle Fred flowers every year on his birthday until he passed away. Fred is sorely missed as a person, a teacher, and a creator of colorful, magical landscapes in which I always wanted to live, populated with creatures that are as real to me as any of my relatives and friends. My two sons have enjoyed the books as well and have a great appreciation for illustration and cartooning as genuine art forms. I was sorry to read in your post that your high school art teacher was so ignorant and refused to acknowledge cartooning as art. How joyless her life must have been, that she would have robbed her students of the sense of adventure and wonder that everyone should have when pursuing art. Any artist who cannot appreciate and acknowledge illustration and cartooning as genuine art forms is living in a two-dimensional world that is dry and devoid of aroma and flavor. I’m so glad that you had the opportunity to learn from Fred Crump and talk with him after he’d read your letter and seen your work samples. I’m sure he was very proud of you and pleased to see that you’d “kept your pencil sharp.” Thanks for writing that post. I am emailing a copy to my cousins and printing it to send to Aunt Vesta and Uncle Garry as they don’t use email or the Internet.

    Very best regards,

    Trish Scott

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    • Thank you so much for clearing up a years-old mystery! I had Mr. Crump for my art teacher at Raymond Cree Junior High in the early 70s. For years I’ve been fruitlessly looking for “Mitzi the Mermaid” (as I remembered it) and all this time I though Mr. Crump was the author. Now I know it was Garry and Vesta Smith and it’s on Amazon, along with “Flaggon the Dragon” (which I’d forgotten about).

      I adored Mr. Crump. Thirteen-year-old me thought he was so cute and sweet, and I loved the style of his art. He was a great teacher and I’m saddened to hear of his passing.

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  11. I was at Raymond Cree in the early 70′s but never had Mr Crump as a teacher. I did enjoy any interaction I had with him. He definitely was a character. I even had Mrs Wolfe in High School.
    I really enjoyed your article. Thanks!

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  12. I had art with Mr Crump the first year Raymond Cree was open. Back the it was Raymond Cree Junior High School. He actually started his children’s book illustration long before retiring from teaching. I still have, and treasure and an original page from his Flagon the Dragon, which he gave to me. He also signed my yearbook with more than just an “X.”
    I used to take plates of homemade Christmas cookies to my teachers. They were painstakingly decorated, ‘cakedecks’ places with tweezers! Each one took about 20 minutes. Years after I had left RC, Mr Crump came through my Mother’s line at the grocery store and asked her to ask me if I would bring some of my cookies to him. He missed them. I took them by his home and we had a lovely visit. I still miss him.

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  13. I had Mr Crump in 1976. He was a great man that inspired me as well. That year I remember there being a Anti Smoking/Drinking contest that he wanted me to enter (must have had faith in me.. lol). So that year I finished a print of a picture of Sylvester the cat. (Warner Bro Character) with 6 or 7 cigarettes hanging out of his mouth and a bottle of hard liquor in both hands… titled “Sure, they can kill, but I have NINE lives!” Won city, state and national .. which then inspired me to make Sylvester into a paper mache. It came out great! He was a GREAT AND INSPIRING man!

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  14. i had mr crump in middle school and he was my favorite teacher it is so nice that someone wrote this about him and seeing how many kids he touched and finding out more about him too

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  15. In 1978 I had Mr Crump as my art teacher too.
    He was a great person-RIP

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  16. I had Mr. Crump for art in the early 80′s. I still treasure the paper mache creation I worked so hard on for weeks and many other “works of art” I still keep, hidden away in the very top of my closet. I reflect back on all that he taught us so long ago often. Ansel Adams became my favorite photographer because of that class (memorizing artists and their works) and my official hobby became landscape photography (I was never a really great artist). I thought of him just this morning when the desert sky was painted beautiful hues of pink and orange. The photo I snapped reminded me of a project we did in his class in watercolor. He will always be one of my favorite teachers!!!

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  17. I was six when I received two of Mr Crump’s books. I loved daydreaming about being one of his characters and believing black people have fairy tales too. Now as a mom I’ve passed the same very worn, very loved books down to my child and enjoy reading them all over again.

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  18. And the comments keep coming! So glad people who think of Mr. Crump and google him, can at least find this little page here about him. He was such a good man with a kind heart. And WOW, he will be remembered! There’s some immortality in his works he left us.

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  19. Hey DJ, I don’t know if you remember me, but we went to RCMS (and PSHS for that matter) together. I too occasionally have googled Mr. Crump, curious to know how he’s doing. I’m saddened to learn of his passing now so long ago. I was in Mr. Crump’s art class too and even to this day, I still quiz myself when I see classic art pieces to see if I remember the artist who created it. I remember I was to receive some award at some Raymond Cree ceremony and thought it must be for my math skills. To my shock, I was awarded for art by Mr. Crump. I guess he was impressed with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle paper machete statue I made. I recall spending numerous days after-school to finish the damn thing. But man, that was so much fun! Mr. Crump is one of those teachers that I look back and admire, thankful that he saw something in me that even I could not see. Even though I haven’t pursued a career in art, his “Seek Art in Everything” mentality has seeped into everything that I do, and I thank him for that.

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    • I do remember you, Donny Callego! Glad you found this blog and have fond memories of Mr. Crump.

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  20. WOW!
    Thank you for this post… I just stumbled upon some of the many book covers Mr. Crump illustrated on tumblr minutes ago and after a quick search I found myself here… learning of his passing nearly 10 years ago.
    Mr. Crump was my art teacher at Raymond Cree back in 1976… and what an amazing, positive influence he has made in my life! He was such an awesome, patient and creative man… and never without that iconic apron! One one occasion he made a plaster cast of my hand that I would later use in a super-8 film back in the day. It was one of a trillion steps that lead to my career in film making.
    Until a little while ago I had NO IDEA about the many books he has illustrated and I’m seriously blown away! What an inspiration… I will always remember him!
    I’m so sad to have just heard of his passing, yet I’m also very pleased to see the great effect he has had on all the people posting here… as well as countless others.
    Way to go Mr. Crump!!

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  21. Tonight for some reason, Mr. Crump came to my mind and so I googled his name and your article about him came up. I took his class at Nellie N. Coffman Jr High back in 1964-1965. Reading your bio on him, I realized that I was in one of his early classes. I remember that he showed us some of his illustrations and I was very impressed, and That is one of the reasons I was thinking about him tonight. I thought wow he’s a real artist. Thank you for writing about him and sharing your time with him.

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  22. It’s heartwarming to know that so many past students think of Mr. Crump the way I do. I’ve had past students contact me via e-mail and on Facebook to say thanks for this post. Thank all of you for remembering what a raw talent Mr. Crump was and how he shared his light with the world.

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