In memoriam of U.S. Catholic illustrator Bill Petersen

This year, long-time U.S. Catholic illustrator Bill Petersen died of cancer. Art Director Tom Wright shared a few thoughts on working with him, and we’ve pulled up some old favorites from Bill and put together this slide show in memoriam. We hope you enjoy viewing these illustrations as much as we have.

Late this summer, U.S. Catholic lost a good friend to cancer. Bill Petersen illustrated articles and columns for us beginning in 1988 when I left advertising and became full-time art director for the magazine. I had commissioned Bill’s work at two ad agencies and hoped he might continue with me at my new job. He agreed, even after I told him it would be for about a quarter of what I’d previously been paying him.

He was great at facial expressions and at interpreting my often cryptic descriptions of a certain smile or frown I wanted for one of the characters in an illustration. He was also the go-to guy for complicated scenes like a wedding couple leaping hurdles down the aisle of the church or the Tin Man, Dorothy, and the Wizard of Oz crew trying to get through airport security. Bill also had a special talent with caricatures: Michael Moore, George W. Bush, Mother Teresa, Tony Soprano, all rendered in different styles.

Bill was what is now called “Old School.” He worked with pen and ink, pencil and chalk, brush and watercolor. Right on actual paper. I occasionally told him about various digital art programs, but he wasn’t interested. And to be honest it was always a treat to open the Fed Ex package to see what he’d done. We had both grown up in the advertising business of the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s and had mutual friends and experiences, but in the last few years we spent more time talking about our kids and grand kids. I’ll miss those talks as much as Bill’s good work.