Throughout his life as a creative artist, Paul Albert Plaschke maintained two pursuits—one, a job, and the other, a vocation. His job was that of an editorial cartoonist for several important big city newspapers, notably the Louisville Courier-Journal and William Randolph Hearst’s Chicago Herald-Examiner. His vocation—indeed, his calling—was that of a painter, a craft he honed in the winding river valleys of Kentucky and southern Indiana.
Plaschke’s family arrived in this country from Germany in 1884, settling in New Jersey. By 1897, Paul had begun his artistic training with practical instruction in commercial illustration at the Cooper Union, before proceeding to painting sessions at the Art Students League under George Luks. Luks was fresh off his one-year stint as the cartoonist for the New York World’s popular “Yellow Kid” comic series, an experience that surely influenced Plaschke’s development as a commercial artist and subsequent employment at the same newspaper in 1898.
In 1899, Plaschke established a residence in New Albany, Indiana, located just across the Ohio River from Louisville, Kentucky and began work as an editorial cartoonist with a series of Louisville newspapers. His cartoons—sharply composed with strong black highlight lines—featured stinging, pithy statements delivered by an impish character named "Monk," a caricature reminiscent of the Germanic “Max and Moritz” comics. The art Plaschke created during his spare time reflected several distinct aesthetic influences: the New York avant-garde, the Indiana Impressionism practiced by the nearby Brown County artists, and the ephemeral plein air efforts of local Kentucky painters. His impressionistic landscapes captured the beauty of the surrounding terrain, infused with light and broken color. In the late 1920s, Plaschke made an aesthetic shift, painting realistic works in warm colors with a certain Cubist-inspired tilt in composition, often flattening human subjects against a minimal modernist backdrop.
Plaschke was a generous man who nurtured other artists in the Louisville community. Along with his friend and fellow artist John T. Bauscher, Plaschke helped establish the Louisville Art Academy and taught night classes at the local YMCA. He was a founding member of the Louisville Art Association and active in both the Wonderland Way Art Club in New Albany and Chicago’s Palette and Chisel Club. He was a frequent participant in exhibitions throughout Indiana, including the Herron Art Institute, and was represented at annual invitationals at the Art Institute of Chicago, the National Academy of Design, and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Kentucky collector and philanthropist Hattie Bishop Speed greatly admired Plaschke and bought several examples for the J. B. Speed Memorial Art Museum’s nascent permanent collection; Plaschke would later serve as a trustee at the institution, where his work can be seen today.