Artist in the Archives - Earl Thollander

13-cent USPS stamp from 1977 with an early settlement landscape illustration. Text: First Civil Settelement, Alta, California, 1777.

Earl Thollander and San Jose

Since the 240th Birthday of San Jose as the First Civil Settlement is happening on November 29, we thought it was fitting to honor Earl Thollander.

Earl Thollander was an internationally known artist. In 1977, he was commissioned to illustrate a commemorative stamp to celebrate the City of San José’s Bicentennial. The design was so popular that United States Postal Service sold around 70,000 stamps on the first day.

Thollander's Background

Originally from Kingsburg, California, a small city just south of Fresno, Thollander moved to San Francisco along with his family where he was educated through the public school system. He continued on in 1939 to study art at the city college. In 1944, Thollander earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California.

After graduating, Thollander served two years as a naval officer during World War II. During this time, he began to sketch and paint the places that he visited. This compelled Thollander to take classes at The Art Institute, The Academy of Art, and The Art League of California. In 1949, Thollander started his career as an illustrator by continuing his travel and sketching. Many of his drawings were used as research for book illustrations and painting.

Thollander, the Illustrator

Thollander published at least 10 books full of his sketches from his travels. He was best known for the Back Roads series, with Back Roads of California being first published in 1970. The series continued on to Arizona, New England, Texas, North Carolina and South Carolina. For years, Thollander traveled around in his Chevy pickup truck and sketched the countryside.

The following scanned images are from some of his works, available for viewing at San José Public Library's California Room. We love visitors!

Backroads of California

Scanned Images from "Back Roads of California", which includes sketches of a locomotive and another one of an old country church.

Scanned images from Earl Thollander's "Back Roads of California: 65 New Trips along Country Roads", which includes sketches of a wooden fence, redwood trees, mountains, and a country house off in the distance.

Scanned Images from "Barns of California", which includes sketches of a country road, farmland, and an old farmhouse.

San Francisco Illustrations

Scanned Images of Earl Thollander's "San Francisco", which includes an elevated view looking out toward the Bay with the palm trees and the Palace of the Fine Arts in the foreground.

Scanned Images from Herb Caen's "Guide to San Francisco and the Bay Area", which include Thollander's sketches of a busy San Francisco skyline and another one of the Golden Gate bridge.

More Illustrations

Thollander also illustrated many other types of works of all forms, including children’s books, cookbooks, and history books.

Scanned images of vineyard sketches from the book "Napa wine : a history from mission days to present"

Scanned Images from the book "On the shore of the Sundown Sea," including a stone tower and a house next to the shoreline

Thollander's Passing

After returning from travels in Indonesia and China, Thollander began to feel ill. On August 8, 2001, he passed away due to complications from multiple myeloma (a form of cancer).

Learn More

Learn more about Earl Thollander and about sketching:

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I liked the laid back presentation of Earl's story. I can imagine what a pleasure it would have been to travel the back roads at That time. It gave me an idea to explore the back roads of Arizona.. Thank you for the information.

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