Emmett Kelley's most famous alter ego was a down on his luck clown named Willie. Up to that time most clowns were white faced and brightly dressed. A scroungy tramp as a clown was a new idea that really struck a chord with people reeling from the Great Depression.
Willie would often sit in the crowd not drawing much attention. When the spotlight was brought on him, people sitting nearby would be delighted. Here willie is being offered a peanut by a boy. This lead to one of his most well known gags where he would struggle to shell a peanut and ultimately resort to a sledgehammer to do the job.
I never expected to paint a clown. The thought of painting a sad clown ranked up their with painting a matador on black velvet or painting dogs playing poker. (Okay, truth....I think I could paint an awesome scene of dogs playing poker....must resist temptation!) Anyways this project has been a lot of fun, and honestly after reading about Emmett Kelly and watching old movies on youtube of him working his craft, its easy to see his appeal and why he was so loved.
This illustration is for the Notable Missourian book on Emmett Kelly, written by Donald McManus and published by Truman State University Press.