Famed Mobile artist John Augustus Walker (1901 – 1967) lived and worked at the height of the Great Depression. Some of his most recognized works include his Works Progress Administration murals in the lobby of the Old City Hall/Southern Market building (now the Museum of Mobile) and the Historic Panorama of Alabama Agriculture series in the special collections of Ralph Brown Draughon Library at Auburn University.
Besides his more serious pieces, Walker also supported himself through the Depression as a graphic artist, designing floats for many mystic societies and advertisements for area businesses. In an age before computers, all the work was hand-drawn and one of a kind. Some of his clients included Sam Joy Laundry, Bellingrath Gardens and the Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo.
Before a design was accepted, Walker would provide a company an artist’s proof of the proposed advertisement’s components. In the late 1930s, the hand-drawn collage proof, above, became the basis of many Smith Bakery “Holsum Bread” product line advertisements. When the advertisement appeared in the Mobile Press, in 1938, it read, “The use of the finest ingredients available, carefully and perfectly balanced, together with better baking soda, assures in Smith’s ‘Holsum Bread’ a wholesome, nutritious food and an exceptionally appetizing flavor.”
Although Walker only earned a meager few dollars for the original drawing, the design paid off for him. Eventually he painted the massive Smith Bakery murals when the company was at 1104 Dauphin St. However, the much-loved murals were lost in the years after the bread makers moved from Dauphin Street, as were the early 20th century printing presses used to convert Walker’s designs into mass-produced ads. After Walker’s death in 1967, his family donated many of the original advertisement drawings to the Museum of Mobile.