Allen Frank Brewer Jr.
PVT in 603rd Engineer Camouflage Bn : Co D
Born 1921 in Newton Centre, MA, Died 1967
County of residence at enlistment: Essex County, NJ
Other residence(s): West Orange, NJ; Port Arthur, TX; Avon-by-the-Sea, NJ; Lexington, KY
United States Army, did not accompany the unit to Europe
College education before the war: Yale 4 years
Allen Brewer was born on February 9, 1921 in Newton Centre, MA, the oldest of three sons. His father was a mechanical engineer in the oil industry, later editor of an oil trade magazine. His mother had been born and raised in Japan, and adopted by Allen's grandfather who was a missionary in Japan.
The family moved to Port Arthur, TX when he was an infant and that was where he first began to develop his love for horses. They moved to New Jersey when Allen was a grade-schooler. As a boy, he was part of the Junior Essex Troop of Cavalry, sponsored by the First Cavalry Regiment of the Essex Troop of the NJ National Guard. Its mission was to foster the love of horses among boys through military training and education in the art of horsemanship. Allen also received awards for his expert marksmanship from the Essex Troop.
He graduated from West Orange High School in 1938; there he did most of the artwork and the cover design of his yearbook. After high school graduation, he went on to study for a BFA at Yale.
He was also part of the Civilian Military Training Course, and spent a month training at Fort Dix, NJ. In 1939, he joined the cavalry encampment at Fort Ethan Allen, VT, and received awards for his excellence in horsemanship.
He continued his fine arts studies at Yale, completing a six-year degree program in four years. A 1958 newspaper article says that he worked his way through Yale "painting pinup girls with innocent pastoral scenes on the other side that could be switched when parents came to visit." He also found time to play football, baseball, tennis, and polo.
He spent his college summers in New York, working as an assistant to Russell Patterson, artist of the "Flossy Frills" comic strips—one of the first pinups. In a 1965 newspaper article, Allen said that he earned $10 a week cleaning Patterson's brushes and trays, and that it cost him $15 a week to commute to NYC, "but it's the cheapest tuition I ever paid."
Allen registered for the draft on February 15, 1942 during the last semester of his senior year at Yale, and enlisted on October 14, 1942. As was true for many other New York art students, he found himself in the 603rd Engineer Camouflage Battalion. (His earlier plans had involved continued officer training for the cavalry because of his childhood experiences with the Essex troop, but horses had been largely phased out of the cavalry by the start of World War II.)
After a year in the 603rd, he transferred to the Army Air Force Tactical Center in Orlando, FL where he worked in Statistical Control and continued to use his art skills to advance the war effort. He developed picture charts, laid out manuals and instruction books, and painted murals at the base. (He also painted portraits for commanding officers.)
During his time in Orlando, he also showed his work. One exhibit at the Orlando Chamber of Commerce in 1944 showed Allen's portraits of officers and their family members. A study of military poker players on a train, which he entitled "En Route," was also featured. But the article says that "a great part of the exhibition is given to horses, Sgt. Brewer's specialty." It also noted that Allen had been commissioned by Warren Wright, owner of Whirlaway (1941 Triple Crown winner), to paint that horse in the near future.
On November 9, 1944 he married Nell Marian Thompson of Greenwood, SC, who was working for Allen's commanding officer.
Allen quickly developed a reputation as a thoroughbred racehorse artist. A 1949 newspaper article says that he had started professionally as a portrait artist, but switched to horses "because they don't talk back." A 1948 newspaper article reported that "praise for his paintings has been uniformly enthusiastic. Art critics note his ability to use light and shadow to vivid effect." The article went on to say that Allen had studied animal anatomy thoroughly, and thus was conscious of details which might have escaped other equine illustrators; many preferred his work to photography. A later article reported that Allen's "attention to fine detail, correct anatomy, and vivid color" were the reasons for his success. His work was commissioned all over the US and internationally.
According to a 1965 newspaper article, Allen claimed to be "the only man who ever unveiled an important painting in a steam-filled bathroom." He had been commissioned by Samuel Riddle to paint a portrait of Man o' War for the American Thoroughbred Breeders Association. Allen had met Man o' War as a 30-year-old horse, but was charged with painting him at the age of seven. He worked for months with men who knew Man o' War as a young horse to get it right. When he brought the finished portrait to Mr. Riddle, he was invited into the house, and then into the bathroom. "I propped the canvas across the tub, fanned away what I could of the steam, and unveiled the painting." This portrait eventually became one of the most reproduced horse portraits in the world.
Over the following years, Allen and Marian had five more children: Terry, Susan, David, Marian, and Sean. They also started buying horses, and training and driving harness horses. By 1964, Allen was president of the Gentlemen's Driving Club in Lexington, and Marian, one of the few licensed women trainers in America at the time, held the world's record for the fastest mile ever recorded by a woman driver.
Allen was also the proprietor of Equi-Lith in Lexington, a firm specializing in reproductions of his paintings. He was a member of the Lexington Rotary Club, and a member of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Lexington, where he served as Sunday School Superintendent for six years.
Sadly, Allen's life came to an abrupt and early end when he was killed in a small plane crash on September 21, 1967, on his way home from a race in Atlantic City. His remains were cremated in Lexington, and his ashes are interred at Hillcrest Memorial Gardens in Fort Pierce, FL.
His daughter, Susan Brewer Tonarely, recalls that "he taught other young artists the skill of drawing and painting," and that he instilled in his children "his love for horses of all breeds."
1942 draft card
1942 enlistment record
1943 mother's obituary in the Asbury Park Press (NJ); shows he is still with GA at Fort Meade
1944 article in the Orlando Evening Star (FL) about an art show he is exhibiting in
1944 Florida marriage record
1944 article in the Miami Herald (FL) about his marriage
1945 city directory for Asbury Park, NJ (which includes Avon-by-the-Sea)
1948 article in the Sunday Herald-Leader (Lexington, KY) about his art
1958 article in the North Adams Transcript (NJ) about his college experience
1964 article in the Lexington Herald-Leader (KY) about his art career with lots of biographical detail
1965 article in the Lexington Herald-Leader (KY) about his art career
1967 obituary in the Orlando Evening Star (FL)
1967 detailed obituary in the Lexington Herald-Leader (KY)
1967 death certificate
1967 Find a Grave record
2023 (April 11) GALP Veteran Biography Worksheet from daughter, Susan Brewer Tonarely
A website about his art; biographical details