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Art Henrikson, noted political cartoonist, dies at 91

From 2003 to 2008, readers of this newspaper knew Art Henrikson as "the Scribbler."

His weekly one-panel cartoons featured wry observations about life in the Brandon area. He'd poke fun at the traffic or the weather or events in the news.

Few readers knew that Mr. Henrikson lived his entire life in the Chicago area, and visited the Tampa Bay area only occasionally.

And few knew that he spent his career as a political cartoonist for papers in Illinois, lampooning the foibles of local, state and national politicians while delighting readers and sometimes angering important people.

Mr. Henrikson died Nov. 27. He had suffered a fall in October and never fully recovered. He was 91 years old.

He was already retired from his career as a political cartoonist when his work started appearing in the Times. His daughter, Diane Russell, lives in Brandon, and one day saw an item in the paper asking people to submit cartoons that would appear each week in a feature called "the Scribbler."

"I called him and said, 'You should do this,' " Russell said. "I told him about how bad the traffic was and he sent in a cartoon about that and they used it."

The initial idea of "the Scribbler" was for different people from the area to submit cartoons. But Mr. Henrikson's work was so much better than anyone else's that he soon became the only contributor. His daughter would call him and tell him what was going on in the area and he'd create a cartoon.

He had studied journalism at Northwestern University. His education was interrupted by World War II — during which he was stationed at MacDill Air Force Base — but he went back to Northwestern right after the war and graduated.

A first he'd peddle his cartoons to papers around Illinois, but then he landed a job with a Chicago area paper called the Daily Herald. Five days a week, he'd meet with the paper's editorial board, and then go back to his home studio and create a cartoon based on that day's editorial.

Most politicos took his jabs and his caricatures in stride. The mayor of one Chicago suburb repeatedly complained about the way he was depicted — a man of some girth, he was invariably drawn with a triple or quadruple chin — so Mr. Henrikson simply stopped drawing him.

He worked at home, and was never too busy to spend some time with his three daughters during his work day.

"The door to his studio was always open," Jan Henrikson said. "Now that I look back, I realize we must have driven him crazy."

But if they did, he still never closed that door. His daughters would come into his studio and see him making funny faces in a mirror to try to find just the right absurd expression to draw on a politician's face. Sometimes he'd draw his daughters in his cartoons.

The people who knew Mr. Henrikson best say he was one of the rare and fortunate individuals who made his living from his passion. In fact, long after he retired, even into the weeks he spent in hospice care just before his death, he kept cartooning. He compiled an ever-growing list of addresses and would send what he called "Artoons."

Sometimes he'd draw several a day. They generally featured light and gentle comedy, not the type of fare that would anger powerful Chicago political bosses.

But jabbing at politicians wasn't what Mr. Henrikson loved about cartooning. What he loved was making jokes.

"My father," Diane Russell said, "just loved to laugh."

Mr. Henrikson is also survived by his daughter Michele Kovalcik.

Marty Clear writes life stories about area residents who have recently passed away. He can be reached at mclear@tampabay.rr.com.

Art Henrikson, noted political cartoonist, dies at 91 12/15/12 [Last modified: Saturday, December 15, 2012 3:31am]
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