The Art of Arthur Stenholm
arrow&v

May 25, 2017 - March 13, 2020

Arthur “Art” Stenholm began working as commercial artist for Advertising Posters in March of 1964 with artists Roy Parker and George Molentin. Advertising Posters was a graphic design company that produced artworks for pinball machine manufacturers Bally and Williams. Stenholm’s boss, George Molentin, was the Art Director for Advertising Posters, and he managed the print production for all of the big pinball companies at the time.

Roy Parker's failing health may have created a situation where he and Stenholm worked together on a few projects, with Parker training Stenholm as his heir to the Gottlieb artist throne. There are many examples of Stenholm's involvement in Parker’s artworks such as World Fair, Kings and Queens, North Star, and Central Park. Regardless of whether or not he was groomed to be Parker’s replacement, Stenholm assumed the position of Gottlieb’s lead artist following Parker's death in 1966.

Stenholm’s artwork is distinct from Parker’s in the way Stenholm frequently presented women as self-assured and capable human beings, rather than helpless glamour dolls and beauty props for male amusement. Possibly influenced by the relationship with his daughters, Stenholm’s work encouraged and empowered women to play pinball by incorporating them playing the game directly into the artwork. He often depicted women as active participants in sports, music, and other facets of fun and life, a departure from the pinball art up to then.

Arthur “Art” Stenholm passed away in 2007 at the age of 90. With this exhibit, we hope his legacy in pinball art will be long remembered.

How Was it Different?

Jerry Kelley used the term Contemporary Style when discussing his work for Bally and Williams, and many credit him with moving pinball styling forward from the Pop Art look. Since Christian Marche was encouraged to emulate Kelly’s visual style, we can consider them both working within the same framework for their pointy people art.

Stylized vs Realistic

In a departure from the comic book and pin-up style illustrations popular in pinball art of the 1940’s and 50’s, Kelley (and later Marche), would develop a style full of flattened, exaggerated forms. Decidedly modern, this cut-paper style expanded the vocabulary available to pinball artists, marking a new chapter in how they reached players.

 

Geometric Abstraction

Angular, geometric abstraction factored heavily in the Contemporary Style, bringing avant garde influence to popular culture. With roots in Cubism, Futurism, and even International Style architecture, Kelley and Marche discarded ornament and detail, distilling their subjects down to straight lines, simple curves, and geometric blocks of color.

 

Energy and Motion

The Contemporary Style captured energy and motion like no pinball art before it. Broken down to the simplest elements, the work suggested movement through distorted perspective fully outside the boundaries of realism. Here, artists could create scenes that defied gravity, physics, and anatomy to attract the attention of potential players.  

 

These 2 backglasses illustrate just how striking the Contemporary Style was in comparison to the prevailing pinball art of the time. Though both released in 1970, Marche’s artwork is stylish, modern, and energetic, making Stenholm’s work seem subdued and old fashioned by comparison.

PP-diff_1.jpg

STENHOLM - TARGET POOL

PP-diff_2.jpg

MARCHE - MISS O

Art Stenholm - Bio

Arthur “Art” Stenholm began working as commercial artist for Advertising Posters in March of 1964 with artists Roy Parker and George Molentin. Advertising Posters was a graphic design company that produced artworks for pinball machine manufacturers Bally and Williams. Stenholm’s boss, George Molentin, was the Art Director for Advertising Posters, and he managed the print production for all of the big pinball companies at the time.

 

Roy Parker's failing health may have created a situation where he and Stenholm worked together on a few projects, with Parker training Stenholm as his heir to the Gottlieb artist throne. There are many examples of Stenholm's involvement in Parker’s artworks such as World Fair, Kings and Queens, North Star, and Central Park. Regardless of whether or not he was groomed to be Parker’s replacement, Stenholm assumed the position of Gottlieb’s lead artist following Parker's death in 1966.

 

Stenholm’s artwork is distinct from Parker’s in the way Stenholm frequently presented women as self-assured and capable human beings, rather than helpless glamour dolls and beauty props for male amusement. Possibly influenced by the relationship with his daughters, Stenholm’s work encouraged and empowered women to play pinball by incorporating them playing the game directly into the artwork. He often depicted women as active participants in sports, music, and other facets of fun and life, a departure from the pinball art up to then.

 

Arthur “Art” Stenholm passed away in 2007 at the age of 90. With this exhibit, we hope his legacy in pinball art will be long remembered.

ArtStenholm1.jpg
ArtStenholmSolo.jpg
ArtStenholm3.jpg

GALLERY IMAGES

Moulin Rouge

Moulin Rouge

1965 Williams

Moulin Rouge was Stenholm's tenth pinball art design, and his eighth for Williams. It's unclear who came up with the concept of an artist painting a picture that gets revealed as you play the game, but it seems that the artist would need to be involved early on in the design process. The mirrored panel in the center gradually disappears as the player lights up sections.

Even though he is working for a competing company, Stenholm seems to be borrowing from Roy Parker's tendency to use humor and a cartoonish style. However, with lots of little details and a skillful composition, we see Stenholm developing his chops for designing pinball art.

Hi-Score

Hi-Score

1967 Gottlieb

Art Stenholm often created art actively encouraging women to play pinball. He generally toned down the cheesecake aspect in pinball art, portraying women as real people. In Hi-Score he made it cool for women to play pinball, putting them front and center in an arcade where they are playing a machine that repeats the motif of them playing on the backglass. The same pattern is repeated on the glass of the game next to them.

We could be seeing recurring characters, with the woman at the snack counter also appearing as the target shooter from Funland and a player on Super Score, the 2 player version of Hi-Score. She seems to be the self assured female role-model for Stenholm's world giving the men a run for their money in a game of skill, like pinball.

Funland

Funland

1968 Gottlieb

Straddling two worlds at once, we see Stenholm nodding to the cultural changes happening in America in the late 1960's. The traditional carnival atmosphere is infiltrated with trendy UK-inspired fashions, bold colors, and shaggy haircuts. Like some of Stenholm's other work, this is an observational scene that would have resonated with a young person's social experiences at that time.

At our center, a young woman in a minidress and high boots takes aim at a shooting gallery game. A world-weary woman at the counter sullenly grasps a lemon soda while a couple on a motorbike pass by. A pair of beatniks approach, guitar in hand in the background. In the playfield plastics, notice 2 people dancing in what looks to be a Hullabaloo style, frenetic and loose.

Again, the adult men are very stylized almost like marionettes in their features, perhaps setting apart one generation from the next. Also notice that, like Hi Score and Spin Wheel, Funland is both a game within the world depicted and one in our own. The playfield carries through the motif with duck targets that align the pinball player's objectives with the game's characters.

Four Seasons

Four Seasons

1968 Gottlieb

In some ways, Four Seasons is a departure from some of our other selected games. Here we see little of the growing culture shift of the 1960's, and a theme more in line with earlier pinball art. It's possible that some influence of Roy Parker and earlier attitudes were still at play in the design and theme, which feels old-fashioned by today's standards in its character portrayal.

The bold, geometric graphic organizes the scene into neatly divided seasons. Popular pastimes of the day are front and center, even a Smoky Bear character makes an appearance. Our female lead seems unaware of the destruction she leaves in her wake, with men spellbound and bewildered at every turn. Just short of catcalls and wolf whistles, the artwork would have us see our heroine through the eyes of interested men. While Second-wave Feminism was in full bloom by 1968, our scenes here seem to reflect attitudes of an earlier era.

Spin Wheel

Spin Wheel

1968 Gottlieb

Stenholm frequently used a “game within a game” approach in his pinball art. The premise here being a board game where you spin the wheel, matching the objective of the pinball game. Also, there’s a likely reference to "spin the bottle", a game played by young adults where kissing is involved. Much of Stenholm’s art spoke directly to the interests and activities of young adults.

The art is a snapshot of the American living room circa 1968. Stenholm created richly detailed scenes, putting in the seemingly insignificant objects like the glass ashtray, the TV Guide and the energetic Chihuahua. Even the fluffy carpet is a sign of the times. The hairstyles and the Mondrian dress complete the effect and one is pulled into the party and playing spin wheel just like the backglass.

Airport

Airport

1969 Gottlieb

With a Boeing 727 visible through the window of the mostly empty terminal, the blue tile floor suggests the vast emptiness of an ocean. The background is all straight lines, a very geometric visual which along with the cold slabs of blues and violets makes the curves and bright colors of the airline crew contrast strongly. The flight attendants are the focal point of the backglass, and are further emphasized with backlights.

Unlike his predecessor Roy Parker, Stenholm shows the women sporting current fashions and hairdos, appearing not as fashion models but regular people. In most of Stenholm's work, women are presented as capable people confidently participating in the action.

The lone traveler with too many bags is one of the last things the eye is drawn to although he is centered in the painting. Finally, in a very Stenholmian motif, we find a weary traveling musician asleep on the bench.

Flip A Card

Flip A Card

1970 Gottlieb

Stenholm used his art to capture the little things that made up a certain period. On the backglass and the plastics are little things that create the whole story of this 1960’s dorm room; phone, flower trash can, gooseneck lamp, stuffed animal, and the typewriter.

One thing that intrigued me about Stenholm’s work was that he did not depend on cheesecake clothes, poses, or exaggerated features to portray the women in his art. The clothes were plain, comfortable but not high fashion, little or no makeup, and doing things that most other college students would be doing. In this case, playing a game of solitaire while her friend plays an acoustic guitar.

Mini Cycle

Mini Cycle

1970 Gottlieb

Again we see Gottlieb and Stenholm tapping into popular consciousness of the 1960's. Mini bikes and beach party movies were a huge part of pop culture, especially with pinball's biggest audience, young people.

The backglass scene appears less populated than some of his other games, focusing on a small group of partiers and minibikers. However, this is probably owed more to the expansive scenery, which is a departure from the closed-in imagery of games like Spin Wheel and Hi Score. While the beat and hippie fashions are present, the look is a little more subdued than in some of Stenholm's other scenes. Notice the acoustic guitar, a familiar recurring icon in our selected games.

Mini Cycle's playfield is bold and graphic, but also spacious. The yellow background carries through from the backglass evoking an expanse of beach sand for players to frolic on.

Crescendo

Crescendo

1970 Gottlieb

Though released in 1970, Crescendo effectively conjures the psychedelia of the 1960's. Building on some of his earlier inclusions, Stenholm saturates the scene with the beatnik and hippie characters.

Set in a club, hallmarks of the times are on display. Immersive colorful visuals, organic lettering styles, and youth fashions dominate. Based on the female-fronted band and visuals, the title Crescendo may be an allusion to Jefferson Airplane's White Rabbit and its famous build-up. Historically speaking, we might also apply the title as a description of the hippie movement's rise and eventual fall.

The playfield is dominated by a flower power motif and energetic clubgoers from the backglass art. In terms of game features, Crescendo is important as the first Gottlieb game to include drop targets. The game was also released in a 4-player version titled Groovy.

Scuba

Scuba

1970 Gottlieb

One of the most visually engaging subjects of pinball art is life under the sea. Art Stenholm captured the vast expanse and wonder of the deep blue ocean and incorporated mythology, humor, greed, sex and envy to take it a step further. This is a work that is very atmospheric, every time I play Scuba I am transported to a comfortable place of warm water and mysterious marvels.

The way Stenholm handled color in several of our selections shows a skillful understanding of successful pinball art. For it to be effective, a backglass has to stand out and capture a customer’s attention right away, often in a busy arcade environment. In these examples, Stenholm highlighted his foreground characters by using large expanses of color in the backgrounds. In effect, this immerses a viewer into his scene and hopefully convinces them to play the game.

Birth of Pinball

Shortly after relocating to the United States in 1869, British-born inventor Montague Redgrave produced a miniature version of bagatelle - a French table game related to billiards - and established the basic play rules and appearance of the first pinball game.

 

Players competed by pulling and releasing Redgrave’s patented, spring-loaded plunger to shoot marbles up a chute to the top of the playfield where they fell through pins and into a variety of scoring holes. Totals were then tallied to determine the winner.

 

The M. Redgrave Bagatelle Company produced several versions of the games from the 1870’s through the 1890’s. Originally intended as an adult game, it was later made and sold as a children’s toy.

 

In the following decades, pinball (and later pachinko) would explode in popularity thanks to the innovations first established in Redgrave’s bagatelle.

birth of pinball - patent.jpg

BIRTH OF PINBALL - PATENT

credit: Google Patents

A Game of Skill - The Birth of the Flipper

In the pinball games of the 1930's, players had little control over the ball aside from plunger shots and/or shaking the cabinet. This kept pinball largely a game of chance, and fueled its association with gambling. It wasn't until the invention of the flipper in 1947 by Harry Mabs that a new element of skill would enter

pinball gameplay.

 

D. Gottlieb and Co. introduced the first flipper game with Humpty Dumpty in late 1947. The pinball industry immediately recognized the appeal of flippers, and within months every manufacturer was making them standard features on new games. The addition of a player-controlled device on the playfield dramatically influenced a game's outcome, and helped establish pinball as a game of skill.

 

This innovation aside, gambling was still very much at the center of many pinball games. While the flipper helped establish a new category of “novelty” pinball, many flipper games continued to offer replays that players could earn and redeem for cash.

A Game of Skill.jpg

A GAME OF SKILL

credit: IPDB.org/Rob Hawkins

One Two Three

Mills Novelty 1938

Mills Novelty Company was a major manufacturer of slot machines and amusements, and One Two Three leveraged that expertise in a pinball format. Partnering with slot machine inventor Charles Fey, Mills enjoyed massive success with their Liberty Bell slot machine. As pinball gained steady popularity, Mills moved to integrate the new format with their proven earners.

 

A stainless steel playfield and lighted backglass dazzled players, while the tumbler reels banked on the appeal of the slot machine. Available in both payout and replay versions, this game would have originally had an additional lighted box atop the backbox displaying the number of replays earned. Alternate versions featured fruit or tobacco-themed symbols on the reels.

 

A one ball game, the tumbler reels were triggered by striking the color coded bumpers. Two steel-capped spinners launched the ball back up the playfield, adding even more chance to the results. Payouts (or replays) were awarded by matching the symbols on reels. This may be the first use of what became the numbered score reel on pinball machines sixteen years later first introduced in 1954 on Gottlieb's "Jumbo".

one two three flier.jpg

One Two Three

credit: IPDB.org / Mike Pacak

Getting Paid

While it’s maybe not surprising that players could wager on a pinball game among themselves, the way someone could collect on a win from an establishment isn’t necessarily as clear. Because the gambling side of pinball operated in a legal grey area, payouts manifested in a few different ways. Depending on the time and place some were more formal or obvious than others.   

 

Purely Mechanical Pinball

The early pingames before the introduction of electricity were scored manually by simply counting up the balls in scoring pockets. Generally, a card would be found on the machine indicating the payout rate for a given score. The operator of an establishment would verify the score achieved and payout according to the card.

 

Payout Games

A great many games were produced with an internal mechanism similar to a slot machine that would automatically dispense a prize: anything from a mint, to a token, or simply cash. Most often the non-cash prizes could be exchanged for money as well. Sometimes the payout drawer was hidden inside the machine to make the gambling aspect a bit less conspicuous to the casual observer.

 

Replay Games

Free games were far and away the most common way to earn a payout in pinball. Much like the early mechanical games, a player would show the venue operator their earned replays and exchange them for cash. The operator would then press a knock-off button, returning the counter to zero. Bingo machines in particular usually had 3 digit replay counters, allowing a player to accumulate far more replays than they were likely to play off.  

getting paid 1.jpg

PAYOUT CARD

credit: Dick Bueschel Collection

Getting paid 2.jpg

PAYOUT GAME

credit: IPDB.org / Mike Pacak

Bingo!

While the flipper helped introduce an element of skill to pinball, the gambling association did not immediately disappear. In 1950 Congress passed the Johnson Act, which banned interstate shipment of gambling devices (including repair parts, manuals, etc.) except to states in which the device was legal. Even still, Bally and other manufacturers found great success with bingo machines in the early 1950's. The Korpan Decision in 1957 specifically classified bingo machines as gambling devices.

 

Modeled after the popular chance game, players launched balls onto a playfield covered with numbered holes hoping to line up rows on an illuminated card. If a player accumulated a significant number of free game credits, they could ask the proprietor to cash out those credits. The operator would then push a “knock off” button that would count down all the credits and zero the game for use by the next player. Any credit counter with 3 digits is a fairly good indicator of a gambling machine.

 

Despite the Johnson Act, Korpan Decision, and many local bans, the game was simply too popular to effectively hold back. It thrived in the many states where machines were legal, and even those where they weren’t. Enforcement was uneven at best and police could not keep up with all the secret rooms and payola protecting the operators.

Bingo - Flier.jpg

BINGO FLIER

Moral Panic

Over the years pinball has been described as evil, a tool from the devil, a waste of time, and a gateway to gambling. Below those descriptions lie an expression of social values and the individuals who hold them. Moral panics are often rooted in legitimate fears, but are exaggerated by sensationalized dangers. Regulation and enforcement often arise as an expression of political power or as a means of limiting behaviors considered off-limits in society.

 

Campaigns against pinball and gambling were bolstered by appeals to a specific view of morality. Fears around the influence of organized crime (itself a coded fear of newly arrived Italian immigrants), a public seduced into the horrors of gambling addiction, and children being tempted by forces they don’t understand all tell us something about American culture at that time, as well as the people who waged those campaigns.

 

The moral panic around pinball was not the first or last to grip American culture. Here are a few more examples of similar panics in 20th Century America.

 

Motion Picture Production Code, 1934

Also known as the Hays Code, after then MPPDA president Will H. Hays, the code laid out specific guidelines of morally acceptable portrayals and storylines in motion pictures for American Audiences.

 

Comics Code Authority, 1954

Formed in response to public outcry over content in comics, the CCA required comics contain no disrespect to established authority, gruesome illustrations, or the words horror or terror in the titles. The code further required that good triumph over evil in every circumstance.

 

Parental Advisory Sticker, 1985

Adopted by the RIAA in 1985 after pressure from the Parents Music Resource Center, the label was affixed to recordings containing material deemed unsuitable for children.  

Moral Panic 1.jpg

MOTON PICTURE PRODUCTION CODE

Moral Panic 2.jpg

COMICS CODE AUTHORITY

Moral Panic 3.jpg

PARENTAL ADVISORY

Parallel Histories

To understand the history of pinball and gambling, we need to consider several key factors simultaneously at work. In the first half of the 20th century, forces like organized crime, Prohibition, the Great Depression, and pinball are all influencing one another and having a great effect on American culture.

 

Prohibition solidified organized crime in America, providing a tremendous source of revenue for the mob. With the repeal of the 18th Amendment in 1933, those profits quickly dried up, leaving organized crime to concentrate on new money makers. Gambling and coin-operated machines were cash businesses, difficult to track and regulate by authorities. The rising popularity of pinball made it a natural choice for organized crime outfits.

 

At that same moment, the Great Depression was gripping America. Unemployment reached 24% and cheap entertainment, especially that with the possibility of a cash payout, was a welcome respite from everyday struggles. The popularity of pinball exploded.

 

Organized crime was dominating headlines, and Hollywood seized the moment with the era of the gangster film. Mobsters became folk heroes and rebels operating outside of a failed system, a storyline that many struggling Americans could identify with. After nearly a decade of alcohol prohibition, the transition from speakeasy to gambling hall was an easy one.  

 

All of these lead us to the clash with pinball’s biggest opponent, Fiorello LaGuardia, and his campaign to rid New York of corruption, the mob, and pinball.

LaGuardia's Crusade

The most famous opponent of pinball was New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia. He had run on a ticket promising to “Clean up New York City,” and following his 1934 election quickly declared war on slot machines. Mafia gambling Kingpin Frank Costello reportedly had exclusive rights with the Mills Novelty Company for their gambling machines in the New York territory, and even started his own factory to supply the mints delivered in many payout games. After a successful campaign of raids and dumping thousands of confiscated devices into the Hudson from barges, LaGuardia turned his attention to pinball.

 

Despite his outsized personality and love of publicity, it’s fair to say LaGuardia's crusade was motivated by deep beliefs. He saw himself as a protector of a working class long abused by corrupt power brokers in New York City. In his eyes, gambling tempted desperate men, lured unsuspecting children, and encouraged widespread corruption. As New York's first Italian-American mayor, LaGuardia had a personal desire to break up organized crime and confront its widespread association with Italians.

 

With the entry of the United States in WWII, LaGuardia further characterized pinball as a waste of both time and precious resources. In 1942, he ordered the seizure of an estimated 12,000 pinball machines in the city. His skillful use of publicity made LaGuardia one of the most visible opponents of pinball and gave him the political leverage to enact a ban in New York that wouldn't be lifted until 1976.

LaGuardias Crusade.jpg

LAGUARDIA'S CRUSADE

credit: Associated Press

Spotting a Cheater

Like most games, pinball has always had cheaters looking to beat the house. Given that gambling was a central part of early pinball, it’s not surprising that many of the innovations on those machines were there to thwart the dishonest player.

 

The simple addition of glass covering the playfield kept a player from moving the ball, while a copper-coated brass ball could prevent a magnet from altering its course. It was famed designer Harry Williams who, after observing players abusing his games, developed the quintessential pinball cheat detector, the tilt mechanism in 1933.

 

The earliest version of tilt detection involved a ball resting upon a post inside a metal cup. Too much movement and the ball rolled into the cup and completed a circuit, invalidating the player’s score. Additional mechanisms followed, including the pendulum tilt bob, slam switches and the roll tilt.

 

Today’s games still employ many of these devices, a testament to the clever design work of Harry Williams.   

 

Stool Pigeon Tilt

A steel ball sits on the retractable center post. If the ball is shaken off the post, the circuit is closed and the game ends. Depositing another coin retracts the post and resets the ball. 

 

Slam Switch

A blade switch with a weight on one side is attached inside the machine. With a powerful enough strike, the weight will move and close the circuit and indicate a tilt.

 

Roll Tilt

A captive ball rests inside an inclined switch attached to the cabinet. If the machine is lifted, the ball rolls to the end and connects the circuit that declares it tilted.

 

Tilt Bob

A weighted pendulum is suspended inside the machine cabinet. At the bottom a metal ring surrounds a post extending from the bottom of the tilt bob. With a significant shake or bump to the machine, the post will contact the surrounding ring and trigger a tilt. 

Spotting a Cheater 1.jpg

STOOL PIGEON TILT

Spotting a Cheater 4.jpg

TILT BOB

credit: Bally Parts Catalog

Spotting a Cheater 2.jpg

SLAM SWITCH

credit: Bally Parts Catalog

Spotting a Cheater 3.jpg

ROLL TILT

credit: Bally Parts Catalog

Researched and written by Michael Schiess and Chris Rummell.
Special thanks to Art Stenholm's daughter's, Leona and Sally.