Mervin Allen Corning was born and raised in Santa Ana, California and started his career after WWII in San Francisco (1945). WWII interrupted Corning’s senior year of high school when his parents moved from Santa Ana to San Francisco. Corning joined the Merchant Marines at age 17 and remained until the end of the war.
Corning’s interest in drawing and painting was maintained throughout his early years. But his first experience as a working artist began as an illustrator for a Bay-area drug company chain. In less than two years Corning was working as an art director for a prominent San Francisco advertising agency. Around 1949, Corning accepted a job as a men’s fashion artist for a major department store in Los Angeles.
Corning’s versatility carried him into a broader range of illustration. In the years ahead he joined a professional group of artists who pooled their talents and formed the corporation, Studio Artists. He was president of the corporation until his retirement.
During Corning’s years at Studio Artists, he was commissioned by Leach Corporation to create several paintings depicting famous aerial combat scenes, the airplanes of WWI and the men that flew them. The success of his artwork inspired a total of 44 paintings, later featured in a special exhibit at the Pentagon. Ten of the paintings remain in the permanent collection at the Air Force Museum. Although Corning became known as “the guy who paints old airplanes”, these subjects represent only a small portion of his versatility.
For example, Corning’s many portraits of National Football League football players are equally famous with more than 300 subjects created in the last 30 plus years, aka “the guy who paints those football players”. In May 2012, his portrait of Pittsburgh Steeler player, Mel Blount, was added to the collection of the National Portrait Gallery.
Like most illustrators, Corning had an overwhelming desire for the freedom to paint the things he enjoyed most. For example: Victorian houses, still life, people and landscapes. In 1969, he fazed himself out of Studio Artists and commercial endeavors and devoted his time to fine art painting and commissions.