Arthur Bernard Singer
PFC in 603rd Engineer Camouflage Bn : Co C
Born 1917 in NY
County of residence at enlistment: New York County, NY
United States Army, European Theatre of Operations
Occupation before the war: commercial artists
College education before the war: Cooper Union 4 years
Art Singer was born on December 4, 1917, in New York City. His father was an immigrant from Hungary, and he was the older of two children. His mother made expensive doll clothes on contract for F.A.O. Schwarz, allowing her son his first glimpse into the creative life.
As a very young man, he would take the subway to the Bronx Zoo where he first fell in love with drawing wildlife. He was also what his son Paul calls a "nifty handball player." His New York Times obituary says that he "had a passion for jazz, and friends recall his forays into Harlem in the 1930s to hear the best jazz musicians and learn the latest dances." While still in high school, he became friendly with Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington, and did portraits of both of them formed out of the names of the songs they recorded. These friendships lasted for years; in the 1950s Ellington asked Art to design a number of album covers.
He studied art at The Cooper Union in New York; it was there that he first saw the double elephant folio (huge pages) of Audubon bird portraits, which would inspire the rest of his career. After graduation, he went to work as a printer and in an advertising agency. He registered for the draft on October 16, 1940, and married Edith "Judy" Goulfine on May 15, 1941.
Art enlisted in the Army on June 29, 1942; he listed his profession as "commercial artist" on that registration form. In his book, An Artist in the Ghost Army, Art's son Paul, a graphic designer and printmaker, tells the story of Art's journey to the Ghost Army. After basic training, he was assigned to a combat unit. "As the unit was staging for deployment to Europe, a chance encounter changed the course of his life. The commanding general happened to see Private Singer painting a watercolor in his spare time and was impressed enough to recommend his transfer to the 603rd. . . . Many years later, dad told his family that this lucky meeting may have saved his life. His original unit had fought on the beaches of Anzio, and more than 7,000 GIs had lost their lives there."
Art's fellow artist/soldiers in the Ghost Army had a high opinion of his work. In Paul's book, GA Legacy Foundation President Rick Beyer quotes GA veteran John Jarvie: "If they put us in some place for two weeks, sure as shooting one wall of that place would have beautiful birds and animals on it, done by Arthur. He'd do the whole wall, think nothing of it. And he never penciled it in. He just took his brushes and painted it."
Art was discharged from the Army in October, 1945. He had made over 150 watercolors and pen and ink drawings during his time in Europe, and in November he exhibited much of this work at the Franklin Savings and Loan Association, an exhibit promoted by the NY Herald Tribune in conjunction with the sale of Victory Bonds. Thousands of people viewed the works during the six weeks they were on display. And to excite interest, Art promised to make a free portrait of anyone who purchased a $500 bond. So many people showed up to buy the bonds that he was kept busy every weekend until Christmas to honor his commitment.
After that, Art taught briefly at Cooper Union and returned to the advertising business, as an illustrator and designer, to support his growing family—he and Judy became the parents of two sons, Paul and Alan. But he eventually wanted to become a wildlife artist, and started moonlighting as one. According to his obituary in the New York Times, "assignments by Sports Illustrated for several wildlife features, followed by a commission to do 11 pages of color illustrations for the bird section of World Book Encyclopedia, established him as a modern Audubon." In 1958 he was able to realize his dream, and became a full-time bird painter.
During his career, Art illustrated more than 20 books, including Birds of the World and Birds of North America. Birds of the World was his first book of illustrations, and included 300 illustrations of more than 700 bird species; it sold more than a half million copies. His alma mater, Cooper Union, honored him with its Augustus St. Gaudens Medal in 1962, after the publication of that book.
Birds of North America has been a best-seller ever since its initial publication; over 6 million copies have been sold.
Art was an avid photographer, especially when he had the chance to photograph the birds he would later paint. His passion for travel took him around the world, always hopeful of identifying a new species.
Sadly, Art's wife Judy died in 1978. She had been an artist as well, illustrating a book about plants from bulbs.
In 1982, he and his son Alan created the series of stamps entitled "Birds and Flowers of the Fifty States," which became one of the largest selling special issues in the history of the Postal Service—25 billion stamps were sold! Art painted the birds, and Alan the flowers. The stamps, and the Singers, were featured on CBS Sunday Morning.
Art was honored in 1981 with the prestigious Master Wildlife Artist award from the Woodson Art Museum, and in 1985 he received the Hal Borland Award from the National Audubon Society.
In the early 1980s, Art also collaborated with ceramist/master potter and fellow Ghost Army veteran Lloyd G. Reiss, painting birds on Lloyd's pots. (Lloyd had been an early member of the 603rd, though he was discharged with disability before the unit went to Europe.)
During his career, Art painted every species of bird in the United States, Europe, and the West Indies. His work is housed at the American Museum of Natural History and the Smithsonian, as well as in other museums and in a number of private collections (including those of Prince Philip and the King of Sweden).
Art died of esophageal cancer at his home in Jericho, NY on April 6, 1990. He was survived by his second wife, Dale, as well as his two sons.
1940 draft card
1941 marriage record
1942 enlistment record
1984 article in the New York Times which includes a description of his collaboration with ceramist Lloyd G. Reiss
1990 VA death record
1990 Social Security applications and claims index
1990 obituary in New York Times
2017 article in the Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester NY)
2017 article on the Stanford University website by David Wagner entitled “Arthur Singer: The Wildlife Art of an American Master” (documents that he taught briefly at Cooper Union)
2017 blog post by his son, Alan Singer, entitled "Art is My Father"
Arthur Singer website
An Artist in The Ghost Army: PFC. Arthur B. Singer's Art & Letters from World War II 1944-1945 by Paul Singer, 2020.