William H. Campbell, 97, of Spring Garden, an illustrator, painter, and cofounder of the Main Point, a former cabaret in Bryn Mawr, died Wednesday, Oct. 31, of cancer at Penn Hospice at Rittenhouse.
Mr. Campbell had 47 solo exhibits and shared space at numerous shows with other artists over a career spanning more than 70 years.
In a statement for an exhibit in 2000 at Woodmere Art Museum in Chestnut Hill, he said he experimented with "dimension, texture, and color" to create his abstract art. He also exhibited at Woodmere in 2010 and 2011.
"Bill's art is joyous," Woodmere director William R. Valerio said. "It has a playful edge that pop art can have combined with the precision of minimalism."
After traditional art training, Mr. Campbell studied in the 1930s with Earl Horter, whom Valerio called "the founding father of modern art in Philadelphia."
Although Mr. Campbell credited Horter with "awakening his interest in abstract art," he worked as an illustrator, teacher, and art director for years to earn a living.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, he painted a series of trucks for ads for Auto Car in Ardmore. Recently, the colorful trucks have been included in an online video, viewable at www.philly.com/campbelltrucks.
In the mid-1950s, Mr. Campbell was art director for the Pennsylvania Railroad, producing a magazine for the company's employees and shareholders. He then worked as a freelance commercial artist and taught at what is now the University of the Arts, Moore College of Art and Design, and the Philadelphia Sketch Club.
In 1964, Mr. Campbell and his wife, Jeanette Orndoff Campbell, were living in Bryn Mawr when they decided the area needed a place for folk music.
They pooled their money with several other couples and opened the Main Point in Bryn Mawr. Mr. Campbell created the Main Point logo. His wife booked acts, baked gingerbread and brownies, and made coffee and cider. The club welcomed then-obscure performers such as Joni Mitchell and Arlo Guthrie and hosted a now-legendary Bruce Springsteen show in 1975.
After he and his wife divorced, she continued to run the Main Point. He moved to Spring Garden in 1970 to a home with studio space for his large canvases. For several years he served on the board of the Spring Garden Civic Association.
By the late 1980s, he stopped doing commercial work to concentrate on painting. "I've tried to arrange my affairs more and more so I'll have the time," he told an Inquirer interviewer in 1988.
That year, his work was displayed at Provident National Bank in Philadelphia. "In the paintings, Mr. Campbell's neighborhood is reduced to broad rectangles, sailboats on the Schuylkill become bright triangles in a field of blue, and One Liberty Place is [a] maze of angles, crowding the sky," an Inquirer reporter wrote.
The paintings were more than just pleasing shapes, Mr. Campbell told the writer. Before they were committed to acrylic, he said, all the subjects were photographed, sketched, and re-sketched in a process that took up to three months.
"It's not the kind of abstraction where you take liberties with the facts," he said.
Mr. Campbell received art awards from several organizations, including the Plastic Club, the Philadelphia Sketch Club, and the Acrylic Society of New York. He was past president of the Artist Guild of Philadelphia.
Mr. Campbell grew up in Frankford. His father took him to football games and his mother took him to shows at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
"Starting when I was 5 years old, my mother brought me in to them," he told The Inquirer in 1988. "Then we'd go to lunch at Wanamakers. It was a special thing." Even then, he said, he knew he wanted to be an artist. At 9, he took his first art lessons at La France Art Institute, near his home.
During his senior year at Frankford High School, he had his first art commission, designing a garden-products brochure for a family friend. Mr. Campbell took art courses at the University of Pennsylvania and attended what is now the University of the Arts from 1933 to 1937.
He continued to paint and drove his car into his 90s, his cousin Thelma Eberle said. He was extremely generous with his work, she said, and had given her 10 of his paintings.
Three years ago, Mr. Campbell donated the use of his winter scene of Mount Pleasant, a mansion in Fairmount Park, to the Philadelphia Committee to END Homelessness for use as a fund-raising greeting card. He then gave the original painting to the organization's director, Phyllis Ryan Jackson, and her husband, Bob Jackson, president of the Plastic Club of Philadelphia.
Mr. Campbell is survived by a granddaughter, Heather Fowler. His daughter, Susan Campbell, died in 1999; his former wife died in 2006; and his companion of 30 years, Patricia Hay, died in 2011.
Plans for a memorial service are pending.
Donations may be made to Woodmere Art Museum, 9201 Germantown Ave., Philadelphia 19118.