Pap Dean marks lifetime of art and politics
Art career started with sketching from comic characters in first grade at Colfax school

Journal Correspondent

Just off US Hwy 71 north of Alexandria, Louisiana, there is a succession of small communities which had their inception long before the Civil War.

One of these hamlets is called Baghdad, and is part and parcel of plantation living of years gone by. The area is steeped in history as rich as a pecan praline, which were probably invented in the area, due to its close proximity of Colfax, the modern-day site of the Louisiana Pecan Festival.

It's also the retirement home of P.A. "Pap" Dean, one of the most venerable artists, political cartoonists, illustrators, and state historians of this century. It's not very far as the crow flies to where he grew up near Colfax, the county seat of Grant Parish. Preston Allen Dean was born on August 25, 1915, which when you do a little fast mental calculating, you quickly note that he's no spring chicken, but neither is he ready to adjourn to a Senior Siblings Home either. At 86 years of age he's still very active, with membership at River Oaks Studio in downtown Alexandria, and a studio in his home.

Pap Dean is a member of the Louisiana Political Hall of Fame at Winnfield, inducted because of his long association and involvement with the state's political community as an editorial cartoonist and historian. His art graces the Museum, with his caricature sketches of all the Hall of Fame members. He also drew the sketch portraits of the current crop of Hall of Famers, pictured in this issue.

Pap says he was apparently born to draw and sketch. When he was in the first grade, he drew one of the central figures named Jiggs excerpted from a popular cartoon strip of the early 1900's called Bringing Up Father. The cartoon series featured Jiggs and his domineering wife Maggie. The budding artist also drew pictures of Wimpy, the hamburger-devouring ne'er-do-well in the Popeye comic strip, helping to popularize the hamburger in America.

Naturally, the inevitable question was posed as to how he came by the nickname of "Pap"? He chuckled and said that when he was in the fifth grade in elementary school in Colfax, a student sitting behind him punched him and asked him what his initials were? He told him P.A.D., but when he wrote them down he let the vertical slash on the "D" drop down below the line so it looked like a "P". Pap told him he was wrong, but the classmate just laughed and said, "From now on we'll just call you `Pap'", and it stuck until this day.

When he was about 14 or 15 he enrolled in the Landon School of Cartooning, headquartered in Chicago, and was mentored by C. H. Landon, who was recognized at that time as being the best political cartoonist in the United States. Mr. Landon took a special interest in Dean and ended up giving him a lot of personal instruction not accorded other students.

While in high school his father bequeathed him his own portion of the family farm on which to raise cotton, and when the cotton bales were sold, the money was deposited in an account in the local bank towards his college education. He graduated Colfax High School in 1932, and enrolled at Louisiana State Normal at Natchitoches. He was just completing his first year when his father came home one day and told him the bank in Colfax had been closed due to the Great Depression. The terrible realization then hit him that his cotton bale college fund money was gone with the wind.

Not throwing in the towel, one day Pap Dean heard Huey Pierce Long speak in Colfax while running for the U.S. Senate. As usual, he was ranting and raving and waving his arms in true Long oratorical fashion, declaring how he had always helped the poor and downtrodden. Well, when Pap got home with the Kingfish's speech still ringing in his ears, he noted that he felt pretty downtrodden himself, so he sat down and wrote the Governor a letter telling of his plight. Having gotten it off his chest he didn't think too much about it until about a month later, when one day his father told Pap that a local banker, and a close friend of Huey, wanted to see him down at his office. The banker sent him to Baton Rouge to the Office of the President of LSU, James Monroe Smith. When he sat down in his office for what turned out to be an interview of sorts, Smith showed him a copy of his appeal letter to the Governor. As a result of his derring-do, Pap ended up with financial aid and references from the Governor, and by working three jobs he was able to graduate LSU in 1937 with a BA Degree in what is today called Political Science.

Pap then enrolled in the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts for a year, studying and being tutored by the leading political cartoonists of the day, and summarily going to work for The Shreveport Times. He would stay with the Times for 37 years as their Editorial Cartoonist and Illustrator, except for three and one-half years in the U.S. Army, beginning in 1942. He went ashore in an anti-aircraft battalion at Omaha Beach on D-Day, 6th of June 1944. Pap would receive a battlefield commission and would be eventually promoted up through the ranks, and upon his discharge from the U.S. Army Reserve, he had achieved the rank of Lt. Colonel.

Pap Dean's studio wall is adorned with caricatures and sketches rendered by noted luminaries of the elite Political Cartooning gentry. There is one drawn by Al Capp, who drew the popular nationally syndicated comic strip Li'l Abner for decades. Bill Mauldin, the G.I. turned cartoonist, who drew and wrote the popular strip Up Front which appeared regularly in Stars and Stripes during WWII, rendered a cartoon for Pap which adorns the wall also.

Jeff McNelly, Pulitzer Prize winner of the Chicago Tribune, and regarded as the leading political cartoonist at the time of his death in 2000 from leukemia, patterned his style after Mauldin. He favored Dean with a caricature of himself.

One of Pap's many notable achievements has been a publication of the history and pen-and ink drawings simply titled Central Louisiana Historical Homesteads and the families who've touched them. He has also written a history of Louisiana featuring his illustrations, and currently has for sale a history on Natchitoches, regarded by many as the oldest town in the Louisiana Purchase, excluding Harrisonburg in Catahoula Parish.

Preston Allen "Pap" Dean, Jr. has led an exciting life and rubbed shoulders with many famous people through the years. Huey Long even bought him a hamburger one time on an excursion train to Nashville when the Fighting Tigers were going to play Vanderbilt. And judging from the prodigious amount of works he's turned out over the years, he doesn't believe in idle time. The dedication he has in one of his superbly crafted publications says it all regarding Preston A. "Pap" Dean's accomplishments: "Dedicated to those who have hung onto their heritage and shown an my mother, Addie Swafford Dean who, while the milk was being churned, and the lamps lighted, taught me such an appreciation."