Hal Scroggy’s watercolors depict Akron in times gone by

Reporting and writing by Yoly Miller

David Scroggy is a former Akronite living in Scotland and trying to host an art exhibit at the Peninsula Art Academy for his late father, award-winning watercolorist Hal Scroggy — during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Unable to do any international traveling, and with much of Hal’s work still in storage, David has had to lean on his brother Jim and local photographer Beth Becker for help. 

Jim brought the artwork out of storage while Beth agreed to take on the bulk of the work for setting up the show. David joined via Skype to help them sifted through four boxes and three large portfolios full of art.

In addition to choosing which art pieces to use for the show, the paintings had to be resized, matted and framed.

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“With ‘The Invisible Man,’ that was a much larger piece of paper. I had to make some decisions as far as to how to maintain the quality in the cropping. Then there are some that Hal, bless his heart, he had done the picture and then he drew where he should want to crop it,” Beth says.

People find Hal’s work so captivating they are buying it up almost as fast as Beth can put it on display, she says. Much of what Hal left behind is so well-executed and so sought-after, one is left to wonder why his name is not better known in his own hometown.

As a young boy, Hal liked to draw and paint. He had raw talent and, thanks to an introduction from one of his parents’ acquaintances, prominent watercolorist Roy Wilhelm cheering him on as both a mentor and teacher.

When asked if Hal was a prodigy, his son David shies away from the label, preferring a more conservative description: “Whether you could call Hal a prodigy or not is somewhat subjective. I am sure it is fair to say that he showed artistic talent at an early age, and thanks to Mr. Wilhelm was able to develop it more fully than he might have otherwise. At the same time, I think for Hal, art was a strong component of a well-rounded childhood and teenage time. He had a normal variety of interest, and lots of friends. So if being a prodigy conjures up an image of a youngster focused solely on art, obsessed by it, then that wasn’t Dad. 

“But to say that his talent was recognized early is true,” David adds. “Wilhelm knew a special talent when he saw one, and helped bring it forward. Wilhelm provided a recommendation that helped Hal gain admission at the Cleveland School of Art, now the Cleveland Institute of Art.”

It’s quite possible that Hal would have graduated from art school and gone on to have an average artist life of drawing, painting and trying to make a living out of his craft. He might have lived on or near Crosby Street in West Hill, like his parents, and gone on to enjoy his slice of the American Dream. Instead, Hal joined the United States Army and was shipped out as part of the 104th Infantry Division to fight in the Second World War.

Even as he made his way through Belgium and Germany, Hal continued to sketch and draw. Most of his war sketchbooks were either destroyed in action or were lost in the chaos of war. A watercolor painting he did of a church in France did survive. Hal had rolled it up and sent it to his parents in Akron, where they kept it safe.

Upon his return to the states Hal took on several jobs, working as a fashion illustrator and a photographer as well as in television and film work. His careers in the military and public sectors allowed for much travel. At one point, Hal took a job with Kevin Donovan Films in Glastonbury, Connecticut. David remembers his dad working on films and commuting between Glastonbury and New York City.

“I recall my dad was working on a film for the U.S. Air Force on the DEW Line radar installations in the Arctic. Hal spent a few months up there, very close to the North Pole. He grew a beard on the trip and said that when he returned home that I did not recognize him at first, which really bothered him.”

As David recalls, “something went south” for the film company, and his father wanted to spend more time with his children. He could have gone anywhere, but ultimately it was Akron where he chose to raise his family. 

It was this move back to Akron that landed Hal at B.F. Goodrich as a photographer and Art Director of Publications. He spent 20 years working for Goodrich before taking early retirement to work full time on his art. 

In the treasure trove of paintings and sketches that he left behind are hundreds of photographs of iconic Akron places and institutions, as well as the people who helped to make Akron the place we know today. There are sketches of houses in Akron that are still standing, a painting of a house that was featured as an architectural magazine cover, and some nearly finished pieces. The nearly done look is an aesthetically pleasing quality. The art looks fresh, and the colors are modern.

Perhaps this is why collectors and art dealers from all over the world take pleasure in the finding and acquiring of an original and complete piece by Hal Scroggy. Perhaps, but that is speculation. The truth is this: Hal was born in 1921. He drew things. He fought in the war to end all wars. He worked for the man, he made good art, and then he died. He left behind a cache of art that we as Akronites can find pleasure in. 

Hal wanted his art to be accessible to everyone because it was his truest form of expression. David remembers that Hal used to say “I paint adjectives rather than nouns,” and that is exactly what he left behind: art by which we can describe how we wish to see this world. 

To see Hal’s show, “RetroRenown Watercolorist Hal Scroggy,” visit the Peninsula Art Academy, 1600 Mill St West., Peninsula, Ohio 44264. The show runs through Oct. 18. 

Yoly Miller is writing poetry, dancing salsa, and talking people into sharing their stories.

Watercolor photos: Used with permission.