Artist Donald James Zolan dies at 71

The Donald Zolan Collectors Club alone included more than 40,000 members

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Donald James Zolan, an award-winning collectibles artist whose tender and heartfelt paintings of early childhood graced collectible plates, prints, figurines, children’s books, and licensed products for 30 years, died of cancer on July 20, 2009. He was 71.

A fifth-generation artist, Zolan’s art spanned both the fine art world together with the world of collectibles and licensing. With original oil paintings selling for as much as $35,000, and collectibles and licensed products selling worldwide, Zolan’s art reached millions of collectors. The Donald Zolan Collectors Club alone included more than 40,000 members.

A child prodigy, Zolan began drawing and painting at the age of three winning his first scholarship in oils to the Art Institute of Chicago at 12. Upon graduation, he won a full scholarship to the American Academy of Fine Art in Chicago. He apprenticed under Haddon Sundblom, the well-known illustrator of the Coca Cola Santa Claus, and later attended the Arts Students League in New York City.

Always expressive in oils, Zolan garnered portrait commissions from political leaders, writers, religious figures and industrialists from around the world. Galleries across America,

Japan and the United Kingdom featured his original works, eventually leading Zolan to open his own gallery on Nantucket Island.

By 1978, Zolan focused his work towards the collectibles and licensing side of the art world and was the featured artist of Pemberton & Oakes, a Santa Barbara, Calif. collectible company, for 15 years.  Zolan’s incredible talent to portray the joy, innocence and wide-eyed wonder of early childhood captured the hearts of collectors propelling him to the top of the industry as his works commanded some of the highest secondary market values.

Zolan had the uncanny ability to constantly adapt the artwork to the changing times yet always keeping within his classical style that spoke to people’s hearts. His subject matter became a natural to co-brand with some of America’s greatest brands. In 1996, Zolan’s nostalgic portrayal of children on the farm and John Deere tractors was a huge licensing success. The John Deere co-brand program has grown and expanded through the years. In the last decade, Zolan’s work was also branded with Coleman, New York Yankees and Radio Flyer. New co-brand programs include International Harvester and Collegiate. Today, Zolan’s artwork is licensed to 30 multinational companies in North America, Europe and Russia.

Born in Brookfield, Ill. in 1937 to middle class parents, Zolan embodied the values of the Heartland of honesty, humility, and straightforwardness. What he captured in his art work was the honest, open expression of his heart. A compassionate and kind man, an insightful and positive man, and a dedicated artist his entire life, there was no distance between what he portrayed and how he lived his life.

Awards for Zolan’s art include the New York Salmugundi Awards Best of Oils, 12 “Collector Editions” Awards of Excellence for Collectibles, and six-time winner of America’s Favorite Plate Artist by the readers of Plate World Magazine. In 2008, New York’s prestigious Society of Illustrators elected Zolan to artist membership.

As Zolan’s business grew so did his generosity in directly helping children and those in need. Whether visiting children’s hospitals to bring a smile and comfort to a child’s face, giving money directly to struggling families, donating artworks to nursing homes, children’s homes and hospitals or simply helping an aspiring artist to start his life and career, Zolan always gave from the heart and anonymously.

Zolan leaves behind an enormous legacy of artwork with over 200 oil paintings in the collection that will continue to be licensed nationally and internationally by his wife, Jennifer Zolan. The company will continue to expand its licensing programs and its presence internationally. Zolan’s sudden death did not allow him an opportunity to fulfill all of his dreams but Jennifer Zolan will continue his work and his legacy, with plans to establish a children’s museum and programs to help young, needy and aspiring artists reach their artistic dreams.

-Contributed by Katherine Holden and Jennifer Zolan

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