Fashion illustrator's fluid and impressionistic sketches filled store advertisements and theater programs for decades
Hazel Croner (John Makely, Baltimore Sun 2004 / July 26, 2004)
In her 70-year career, she was a fashion illustrator for Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, Town & Country and Glamour and was a courtroom artist and on-the-spot summertime boardwalk painter at Rehoboth Beach, Del., and Atlantic City, N.J. Her department store artwork for the old Schleisner's and Hutzler's appeared in the society sections of Sunday papers and in theater programs for decades.
Born Hazel Marcus in Baltimore, she was a Forest Park High School graduate. In a 2004 Baltimore Sun interview, she recalled, "When I was 10 years old, I yelled at my mother: 'I wanna go to the Maryland Institute.'" Her mother complied and enrolled her in an after-school and Saturday course and she later earned a bachelor of fine arts degree. In 1996, the school honored her at graduation ceremonies.
In 1938, she was the first woman to win top honors in The Evening Sun's sketch contest. She won honors for an ink wash of a row house scene, "Looking South on Penn Street."
When a reporter called to tell her of the $150 award, she replied, "It isn't a joke, is it?"
As a young woman, she moved to New York and sought work drawing in her signature quick, loose, fluid and impressionistic style.
"My mother and father were dead — absolutely dead-set against it," she said. "I went against their wishes. I didn't know anybody there. I was always independent."
After working at a New York ad agency, she landed an illustration job, first at Hecht's and later at the old Schleisner's, at Howard and Saratoga streets. There she met her future husband, Milton Croner, a salesman. She regularly signed her work with his last name.
"Schleisner's was a very glamorous store," she recalled in 2004. "I got to do wonderful art work there. I treated it like it was a fine art, rather than commercial. I had my own model, and they sent me up to all the designer houses in New York."
She stayed 16 years and moved to Hutzler's department store when Schleisner's went out of business around 1959. Mrs. Croner became the head fashion illustrator, and she was sent to the New York openings of Bill Blass, Geoffrey Beene and Oscar de la Renta.
She recalled the designers wanted her to use their models, but she took her own.
"I was very picky, and I didn't want those professional models doing their canned stuff," she said. "One of my favorite models was kind of unattractive-looking. But it didn't make any difference, the face. I looked for a certain fluidity to the body, the way the clothes hung on them. They either had it or they didn't, and they didn't know they had it until I told them."
She recalled that Hutzler's took full-page ads in high-fashion magazines.
"And her illustrations usually had a little vignette of Baltimore in the background animating the drawing. Her lunch-hour sketches of the Inner Harbor, a street a-rab wagon, scenes from the point-to-point races, Charles Center, the view of Howard Street from her fifth floor window at Hutzler's — all turned up in the slick haute couture magazines," The Sun's 2004 account said.
On her lunch hour, she took her pens and sketched Baltimore scenes, which she free-lanced to numerous publications. She drew Secretariat poking his nose out of his stall before the 1973 Preakness for The Sun.
She retired from Hutzler's in the 1980s. At 75, she became a courtroom artist for television stations and worked murder trials. She also taught at Baltimore City Community College.
She took summers off and did on-the-spot portraits, often of children, along the Rehoboth Beach boardwalk. "She's probably done a thousand at Fassnacht's Funland," said the 2004 profile of her. "But she started on the long-gone Million Dollar Pier in Atlantic City." She also took the day off for many years to do portrait sketches at the Flower Mart.
Over the years, she exhibited her work at the Fells Point Gallery and the 26th Street Art Mart. In the 1950s, she also taught at the old Metropolitan School of Art.
She continued to win honors until several years ago.
"I never thought of stopping. Never will, if I can help it," she said in 2004. "I sketch in pen and ink. I take my Rapidograph pens with me wherever I go. Fashion art, it's a dead art now. Dead. The computer and photographs have taken its place. It's no longer a living thing. I think I must have gotten out at the right time."
Plans for a memorial service at the River Road Unitarian Universalist Church in Bethesda have not been finalized.
Survivors include a son, Dr. Charles M. Croner of Potomac; four grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. Her husband of nearly 40 years died in 1982.