Charles T. Coiner, 91, Painter And Noted Advertising Designer

Posted: August 14, 1989

Charles T. Coiner, 91, a landscape artist and retired advertising designer, died yesterday at his 240-year-old stone farmhouse in Mechanicsville, Bucks County.

Mr. Coiner, an art director at N.W. Ayer & Inc. of Philadelphia for 45 years, pioneered the use of fine art in advertisements. He designed war and civilian defense posters during World War II, the Red Feather symbol for the charity drive that was the predecessor of United Way and the Blue Eagle symbol of the National Recovery Act.

His landscape paintings - many of them depicting the unspoiled fields, woods, water and wildlife on the 108-acre farm he and his wife bought during the Depression - have been acquired by the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art and many corporate and private collections.

Born in Santa Barbara, Calif., in 1898, Mr. Coiner studied at the Chicago Academy of Fine Art and the Art Institute of Chicago while working for an advertising agency. This led to a job with N.W. Ayer in Philadelphia, where he started as a layout designer in 1924. He was promoted to art director and then vice president in charge of art in 1936.

Early in his career, Mr. Coiner took charge of an innovative campaign for the Container Corp. of America that produced a series known as Great Ideas of Western Man. It featured paintings by famous artists, among them Picasso, Georgia O'Keeffe, Salvador Dali and Ben Shahn.

Mr. Coiner's job was persuading the artists to do the paintings - a challenge, he told an interviewer for the Daily Intelligencer in 1984. For example, O'Keeffe agreed to go to Hawaii to do paintings that would advertise canned pineapple juice. "She came back with all kinds of beautiful paintings but nothing to do with pineapple. . . . I said, 'I wonder if you couldn't paint the pineapple flower.' " She said they didn't show her any pineapple plants, so he sent her one and she painted it, he said.

The Blue Eagle design came about because Ayer had a contract with the government. Dissatisfied with the designs submitted, the administrator of the National Recovery Act asked Mr. Coiner to come to Washington. There, he sketched an eagle with bolts of lightning in one claw and gear and cogs, to represent industry, in the other.

Mr. Coiner was the first American to receive the Art Director's Award of Distinction. Upon retiring from Ayer, he was inducted into the Art Director's Hall of Fame. He was a former trustee of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and former chairman of the Philadelphia College of Art.

Since his retirement, Mr. Coiner had indulged two passions - painting and salmon fishing. His articles on fishing have appeared in Esquire magazine.

On their farm in Bucks County, Mr. Coiner and his wife created ponds and orchards. His wife maintains a spectacular garden, while he had been delving into wood-lot management. The Coiners' farmhouse and land will be permanently preserved as a working farm through their donation of the property to the Natural Lands Trust, a nonprofit conservation organization based in Philadelphia.

Mr. Coiner is survived by his wife, E. Mae Coiner. Services will be private.

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