A snowy Mount Shasta looms over a red Stutz sedan as it wends its way through the Cascades. The picturesque scene from the March 1927 cover of Motor Land—as Via was known back then—recently won a Member poll of favorites culled from the AAA archives.
The artist behind the beautiful watercolor image is a bit of an enigma.
George F. Mannel does not have a Wikipedia page, and a search for his name on Google yields few results. His signature appears on nine covers of Motor Land from 1926 to 1927. The scenes include paintings of cypress trees on the Monterey Coast, Yosemite’s sheer Sentinel Rock, and redwoods towering above U.S. Route 101.
Curiosity prompted John Schubert, a historian and author, to delve into the California artist’s past. In addition to Motor Land, Mannel painted several cover images for Vacation, an annual travel guide published from 1902 to 1940 by the Northwestern Pacific Railroad, which Schubert says he frequently references for historical information on the Russian River area.
“The covers were really beautiful. I thought, God, these are great paintings. I love these,” Schubert says. “But who is Mannel? There was no biography. So I pieced it together.”
George Frederick Mannel was born in Germany on February 10, 1874. At seven years old, he immigrated with his family to the United States, and by 1881, they had settled permanently in San Francisco. There, Mannel attended public schools and the Mark Hopkins Art Institute, a precursor to today’s San Francisco Art Institute. In 1896, he married Caroline Foge, with whom he later had two daughters, Elise and Ruth.
By 1901, Mannel’s work was popping up in publications and ad campaigns around Northern California. He served an artist and art director for Commercial Art Company of San Francisco, creating newspaper ads for Imperial and Obak Cigarettes. He was a house artist for Forest & Stream magazine and created covers for trade publications such as The Commercial Artist and Sunburst Rays. He served as president of the Columbia Pistol and Rifle Club.
Around 1912, Mannel opened his own office and studio on San Francisco’s Market Street. His daughter Elise began working with him as a painter and business manager. In 1917, when World War I prompted a military draft in the United States, Mannel registered but wasn’t accepted.
His Vacation travel guide covers, featuring river and redwood scenes, appeared from 1910 to 1929—when Northwestern Pacific Railroad converted the guide from a booklet with artwork to a brochure with photography. A 1924 poster for Crater Lake National Park also features his work.
Little is known about Mannel after 1929. He died August 18, 1961, at the age of 87, and is buried in Cypress Lawn Memorial Park in Colma, Calif., just south of San Francisco.
History and art enthusiasts can view Mannel’s Motor Land covers along with other back issues of the magazine by request at the Bancroft Library at UC-Berkeley. Select vintage covers, including Mannel's Mount Shasta cover, are available to purchase as posters at AAAimages.net.