Moving unobtrusively through the festivities surrounding last year's Kentucky Derby was a conservatively dressed Floridian with a sketchbook and a look of amused curiosity. The fact that few people took notice of W.B. Park owed more to the fascinations of Derby Week than to any lack of distinction on the part of the subject.
Artist-Writer Bill Park, like most skilled journalists, prefers anonymity in some situations so that he can carry on his work in peace—in this case, assembling the portfolio of sketches that begins on page 34. In Louisville he attracted real attention to himself only once. That was when he arrived late for a steamboat race between the Belle of Louisville and the Delta Queen and had to execute an impromptu grand jeté to get aboard. The acrobatics almost cost Park a bowed tendon (the SI entry would have been a late scratch), not to mention a dunking in the Ohio. The leap also inspired the sketch you see above.
The Kentucky Derby was Bill Park's first brush with horse racing, but after a day or two in the conviviality of Derby Week he felt right at home. "It seemed I had been there forever," he said. "That weeklong buildup is very compelling."
As appetizing as he found his first taste of racing, he has not taken to haunting the tracks since returning to his home near Orlando. He is too busy operating his Park-Art Studio, where he designs all manner of printed material, from corporate reports to magazine features. Park did make one professional sortie to New York in 1960, after a stint in the Army. But after a year of what he calls "lonely struggle" as a layout man in a publishing house, he moved to Atlanta, where he found an ad agency job and got married. He has remained in the South ever since.
Though the drawing board is still his main turf, Park produces a good deal of text—blending prose and drawings into a message that neither alone could convey. He says he began the practice when he was sending illustrated love letters from his New York exile to his wife-to-be. The felicitous result of this combined talent is evidenced in his Derby story this week.
Some of Park's most amusing work has taken the form of illustrated articles that show satiric bite as well as engaging warmth and humor. One of his most successful is The Christmas Gift. In it, an angel offers the world the gift of peace and is shouted down as a troublemaker. Another is The Man Who Hated Sex, in which an inventor develops a chemical to neutralize the sex drive—with depopulating results. The story ends with the inventor lamenting his loneliness.
Judging from his sketches, loneliness was not one of Bill Park's problems at Louisville last year.