Artist Jim Flora probably never listened to WFMU. He was a fan of Bix and bebop (i.e., foot-tapping jazz) and the Budapest String Quartet, none of which garners heavy rotation on our "free-form" airwaves. Yet Flora unknowingly contributed to WFMU's visual identity several times in recent years. His cartoonish figures have appeared on a station t-shirt, hoodie, bumper sticker, and Marathon mailer, as well as an oversized canvas banner displayed hither and yon.
Flora wasn't aware of these adaptations of his work because he passed away ten years ago today at age 84.
The images were used by WFMU designers thru arrangement with the Flora family, with whom I've worked for several years archiving and cataloging the artist's vast (and largely uncirculated) fine art collection. Flora's 1955 Mambo For Cats LP cover (re-purposed at left by co-archivist Barbara Economon) is one of his most iconic illustrations. Flora's hyperactive gremlins frolicked across dozens of quirky album covers for Columbia in the 1940s and RCA Victor in the 1950s. Today his work adorns new CDs.
Over a career that spanned from the early 1940s, when he was Art Director of Columbia Records, to the 1980s, when he authored and illustrated the last of his 17 popular kid-lit epics, Flora practiced art in service of business. He was a highly sought commercial illustrator who probably turned down more jobs than he accepted. In retirement during the 1980s and '90s, his output of paintings, drawings, and sketches increased. One of his final works was poignantly entitled "Taken Before His Time."