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Michael Schreck and Larry Chandler and the painting, left, they created for The Hartford Financial Services Group, which replaces the one at right in current use.
Daily photo by John Godbey
Michael Schreck and Larry Chandler and the painting, left, they created for The Hartford Financial Services Group, which replaces the one at right in current use.

Bringing new life
to an old symbol

Area artists updating venerated insurance company logo

By Paul Huggins
phuggins@decaturdaily.com 340-2395

If modernizing one of America's most recognizable icons wasn't hard enough, local artists Larry Chandler and Michael Schreck found a way to make it twice as difficult.

They put their 44-year-old friendship to the test and decided to work together.

That would be the underlying challenge of their historic commission to paint a new logo for The Hartford Financial Services Group, whose deer emblem has existed since the 1800s and was copied from one of the most celebrated paintings in history.

"This will be around for 200 years," said Schreck while standing next to the oil painting that will soon hang at Hartford's corporate headquarters in Connecticut. Versions will soon appear in advertising campaigns.

Hartford chose Chandler, 55, of Hartselle and Schreck, 57, of Decatur from a select and undisclosed number of artists across the country who submitted preliminary drawings.

Work began last February, and it took Chandler and Schreck the next 10 months to complete what they called the most challenging assignment of their careers.

For starters, the job was to produce a realistic illustration rather than artistic interpretation of a European stag ascending the Scottish Highlands.

"It had to be anatomically perfect," Chandler said.

Then, they had to please a group of demanding critics at advertising giant Campbell Mithun in Chicago, which continually asked for revisions to details, such as adding more muscle tone in the legs and more girth to the belly.

Artists can take only so much criticism before they snap, especially when they feel they know the subject better than anyone else or are asked to paint things that aren't natural to the animal, Schreck said.

"It was like root canal," he said. "It really was. It was the hardest thing we've done."

That difficulty was also due to cross-examination from each other. Chandler said they didn't restrain their conflicting opinions, and they engaged in highly vocal arguments from time to time.

If they had tried The Hartford piece when they were younger, he said, they probably would have failed, but both have matured enough to appreciate the other's abilities.

"There's not too many artists who can work together. Egos get in the way. But if you can't compliment another artist on a good piece of work, you just look foolish," Chandler said.

No one knows for certain how long The Hartford has used a stag as its logo, but it likely had some use dating back to the formation of the company in 1810, the company said. A stag, also known as a hart, fording a stream is a natural symbol. The earliest record of a stag appears on an insurance policy issued to Abraham Lincoln in 1861.

Ten years earlier, English painter Sir Edwin Landseer produced a painting of a red deer stag atop a mountain called "Monarch of the Glen" for British Parliament, but the House of Commons refused to pay the bill of 150 pounds. Copies made from steel engravings, however, became widely distributed, and the powerful image spread across the English-speaking world.

By 1875, the Hartford logo clearly resembled the "Monarch of the Glen," though in a stream-crossing setting instead of the mountains. It underwent several revisions since then, but maintained the traditional pose.

Chandler and Schreck's version has basically the same pose. The main difference is the old pose had the stag's legs crossed. The new pose, the artists said, has the legs uncrossed and wider apart to give it more stability. They are now producing four additional paintings, each with different poses.

As for why The Hartford would tamper with a logo that it says has a 90 percent recognition rate, company spokeswoman Lauran Williamson said it needed a modern look based on the classic painting, and with different poses to give the company more advertising options.

"It was easier to create that live feel in a painting," she said. "It looks more real than a computer-simulated image, even in this day of technology."

Chandler and Schreck share some painting styles because they learned together while becoming friends around Hickory Hills during high school. Both are successful wildlife artists, but each followed the tracks of different animals. Chandler focuses on waterfowl and dogs while Schreck paints more exotic big game animals.

Schreck has actually hunted stag in Scotland, and Chandler said Schreck's knowledge of the deer's habitat and composition was a key reason for working with him on the Hartford piece.

Schreck also brings more of a traditional artist approach with heavy brush strokes, whereas Chandler paints with a more detailed, photorealism approach.

Each has his share of awards and honors. Chandler has won state duck stamp competitions and recently gained international fame among conservationists for his rendition of the ivory-billed woodpecker that until 20 months ago was thought extinct. In addition to his wildlife work, Schreck routinely gets commissions to paint western and Civil War historical scenes for museums.

The artists wouldn't say how much The Hartford paid, but confirmed it was enough to make it worth the 10-month effort.

Even with no money, The Hartford commission is the prize of their careers, they said, because of the notoriety and future commissions that come with it. Campbell Mithun already indicated it would use them again, they added.

"That type of notoriety can change our lives," Chandler said, explaining it can bring the chance to be more selective with commissions and not have to produce what they call "meat and potato" paintings that may sell well, but don't quench their artistic desires.

Schreck concluded: "This gives us the opportunity to do more of what we enjoy doing."

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