The Hamptons that artist Walter Bernard remembers are not the glamorous celebrity scene that epitomizes much of today’s East End. He remembers stopping off for an afternoon in Sag Harbor on the weekend following Labor Day in the early 1960s and having to leave after a few short hours after discovering that the only open business was a bar that didn’t even serve food. He remembers, upon buying his first house in Bridgehampton in 1968, scooping up potatoes that fell off trucks on the Butter Lane overpass. “There were literally five gas stations in the whole area,” Bernard recalls. “There was nothing out here.”
The Hamptons have evolved greatly in the past three-plus decades. Bernard‘s connection with the community, though, has stood the test of time—especially his relationship to one of its cornerstone events. He has gone from a casual participant in the annual Artists and Writers Softball Game to one of its biggest promoters and its most prominent illustrator.
The first Artists-Writers cover he did for Dan’s Papers hit the stands in 1994. It was a pastel drawing of Bernard‘s own glove with imaginary lineup cards on either side, featuring legendary names like Walt Whitman and “Vinnie Van Gogh” as an homage to the actual game lineups that feature a who’s-who of the art and literary world. Up to that point, Bernard devoted his time to establishing himself in the “artist” side of the real world. After spending nearly nine years as the art director of New York Magazine in its burgeoning days under the tutelage of his mentor Milton Glaser, one of the co-founders of the magazine, Bernard set sail onto a career as a master of “redesign” at another one of today’s household names.
“Time magazine was probably one of the most meaningful things I’ve ever done,” he explains. “They gave me the opportunity to redesign their magazine, and we had an agreement that I would have it done in three months. And if they liked it, they’d agree to take me on staff and run the art department for at least a year. So we did that, and we were successful—circulation went up, the covers were pretty good, and I think the magazine improved. I’m proud of it because it was kind of my first thing to do on my own. And it worked. That was the one that sort of launched my ability to do a lot of other things.”
Indeed, he did. Redesigning publications became Bernard‘s forte. He was responsible for the complete redesigns of big name magazines like the Atlantic Monthly and Fortune, and newspapers like The Washington Post, to go along with over 100 international and domestic design projects.
His most recent venture is one that is somewhat foreign to him—Bernard has only worked on four websites in his diverse and illustrious career. Exploring new waters is part of what makes ESPN‘s new literary sports website, Grantland.com, such an exciting prospect for an artist and designer (not to mention, sports fan). Says Bernard, “They wanted a different site. They already have ESPN.com, ESPN New York, and so on. So the idea here was to look different, to feel different, not to have all the latest scores and constant updates. It’s about writing.”
Not that he’s against sports action. Quite the opposite, as you’ll see if you catch him playing in this year’s Artists-Writers Charity Softball Game (for which he’ll present his new painting on this week’s cover of Dan’s Papers), or get a chance to meet him and even own one of his classic creations, several of which will be up for silent auction at the Dan’s Papers Cover Artists Show & Cocktail Party on Saturday, August 20. The event is a celebration of something Walter Bernard keeps very close to his heart. “It’s an honor to be part of it,” he says. “I think it was a brilliant idea—whoever had it—to use local artists as much as possible. It really does say something about the community. And God knows, there are a lot of artists out here.”