Laird H. Wise, 84, commercial artist, designed logos for Easton businesses


Laird H. Wise, a commercial artist in New York who returned to the family farm in Trappe and opened a studio in Easton, died of complications of a stroke Wednesday at the House in the Pines in Easton. He was 84.

Mr. Wise suffered the stroke two months ago.

In 1948, he tired of the pace in New York and moved back to Breezy Top Farm, the 300-acre family farm. He opened a commercial art and photography studio in Easton and designed logos for many of the town's businesses, including the landmark Tidewater Inn.

He also was known for his oil portraits, for which he used a technique that combined photography with portrait painting.

That Mr. Wise was able to paint after 1980 was, in his own words, "a miracle."

In 1977, he was on the farm cutting grass with a rotary mower when he fell and the mower's blades nearly severed one hand, badly mangled the other and caused other injuries and a severe loss of blood.

Doctors weren't sure they could save both his life and his hands, recalled his son, Laird H. Wise Jr. of Ellicott City. "But he decided, 'If I can't paint, I don't want to live.' "

At the Raymond M. Curtis Hand Center at Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore, specialists labored for months to help Mr. Wise fulfill his vow that he would paint again.

First, two teams of surgeons -- one for each hand -- worked on his hands for eight hours. Microsurgery, with sutures small enough to mend a human hair, repaired blood vessels to his right hand. Skin from his torso, tendons from his toe and nerves from his thigh were grafted onto his left hand.

During months of recovery, his wife, the former Blanche Shepard, whom he married in 1941, fed and dressed him. The Elks Club in Easton organized to drive him to Baltimore for therapy.

According to the son, Mrs. Wise, who died in 1991, encouraged her husband and involved herself in his daily therapy. He said his father gave her all the credit for his recovery.

In 1980, Mr. Wise presented to Union Memorial a portrait of one of the surgeons who operated on his hands.

Mr. Wise told reporters how he had trained himself to paint with his left hand and called his reconstruction "a miracle."

"I said even in the hospital that I would paint again," he recalled in interviews in The Sun and The Evening Sun. "Don't let anybody tell you that just partial function isn't important. You'd be surprised what you can do with just this much.

"Everything is backwards, using the left hand. What it's done, it's forced me to work more carefully, more minutely, than I ever did before.

"But it's a lot of satisfaction," he said. "Some people think the paintings I'm doing now are better than I ever did before."

Mr. Wise was born in Trappe and finished high school there, while working on the family's Breezy Top Farm.

But he hated farming and began drawing as a boy on anything he could find, including tomato baskets, to the amusement of the farmhands. "So his parents sold the family cow to send him to art school," his son said.

After studying at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, Mr. Wise headed for New York and worked as an apprentice in a commercial art studio in the early 1930s.

During that time, he won a national poster-design contest sponsored by RKO theaters, allowing him to continue studies at the Phoenix Art Institute in New York. Among his influences there was substitute teacher Norman Rockwell, his son said.

Mr. Wise was a commercial artist for 15 years for several large advertising agencies, then became art director of fashion advertising at Vogue and Harper's magazines.

But in 1948, he tired of the pace and moved back to Breezy Top Farm.

Mr. Wise also was well known for his photographs of the interiors of famous Maryland houses. Later in his career, he also restored photographs.

Mr. Wise donated about 50,000 photo negatives to the Talbot County Historical Society, and his 50 portraits of the exalted rulers of the Elks is on display at the Elks Club in Easton, of which he was a member.

He was a founder of the Talbot County Waterfowl Festival.

Among the many honors he received was the national Freedom Foundation Award in 1953.

The Wises and author Dickson Preston collaborated on a 1976 book, "Trappe: The Story of an Old-fashioned Town."

Funeral services were held Monday.

Mr. Wise also is survived by a brother, Granville Wise of Trappe; and a grandson.

Pub Date: 12/18/96

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad