Role models of greatness.

Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Military Recruitment Art of Leyendecker and Barclay

I have already written a post about gay commercial artist J.C. Leyendecker (see sidebar), but a regular reader sent me this Leyendecker image used for Navy recruitment. Although I had not seen it before, I knew that Leyendecker took a back seat to McClelland Barclay (1891–1943) in the realm of military recruitment art, as the following images attest.

Barclay was a commercial artist born in St. Louis, and he had early success. By the time he was 21 years old his work had appeared in magazines such as the Saturday Evening Post, Ladies' Home Journal, and Cosmopolitan.

During World War I one of his military art posters won a prize given by the Committee on National Preparedness. He achieved great fame for Hollywood movie poster art beginning in the 1930s, but it was during World War II that his work for Navy recruitment posters allowed him to reach the height of his popularity and fame.

Barclay painted sailors who were notable for their handsome faces and well-defined physiques, and most of the posters were emphatically homoerotic. Although it is not known if Barclay had same sex relationships (he was married to a woman), he created some of the sexiest commercial male images, thus establishing a new military masculine ideal. The largest collection of his military recruitment posters is housed at the Naval Historical Center in Washington, DC (Navy Yard); 202-433-4882.

Theron MacKay, a gunner's mate who was sketched by Barclay in early 1943 recalls, "Me and another crew member were cleaning a gun, so we were bare from the waist up. Barclay had his sketch pad out and was drawing us. Being an amateur artist myself, I took an interest in what he was doing and asked if I could look over his shoulder. Well, he made us look like the finest human specimens that ever were! Really, we were skinny kids with our ribs hanging out. I said to him, 'I don't look like that!' and he answered, 'Well, if I sketched you like you are, it wouldn't make much of a recruiting poster, would it?'"

Barclay also achieved success with portrait painting and other commercial clients such as General Motors. His paintings for their Body by Fisher advertising campaign were instantly recognizable the world over. Barclay also designed women's jewelry, as well as utilitarian objects such as ashtrays.

A Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Navy, he also worked on airplane and ship camouflage designs. Barclay went missing in the Solomon Islands after his tank landing ship was torpedoed by the Japanese in 1943.


  1. Wonderful Military Recruitment Art of Leyendecker and Barclay! Nice post as well.
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  2. I've always admired Barclay's poster art and agree that yes, it's a bit homoerotic. However I don't ever recall seeing or reading anything about him that would lead me to think he was one of the tribe, either openly or under the radar. He had a thriving design business before the war in decorative arts, jewelry, advertising and some pretty saucy looking pin-up girl images. I'm sure his comment about making the men look as handsome and strong as he could was accurate- he was working to make military service look as appealing as he could! BTW- I had the opportunity, a few years back, to see some of his original artwork and unpublished sketches at the Naval History Center in DC.. Fantastic!

  3. Gay or no, thanks for posting this! I' seen some of his art, but I was unfamiliar with Barclay!