Mel Conrad, well-known York caricature artist, dies at 57

Lindsey O'Laughlin
York Dispatch
"Artist Mel Conrad, left, of York, creates a caricature of Kiana Horton, 9, right, of Dover, during the 15th Annual Penn-Mar Irish Festival at the Markets at Shrewsbury in Glen Rock, Pa. on Saturday, June 20, 2015.  Dawn J. Sagert -"

At festivals, parties and other special events across York County, caricature artist Mel Conrad wanted everyone to be happy when they left.

"I would book him for his two-hour minimum and he would stay until every kid was drawn," said Mary Yeaple, planner for all York City special events.

Yeaple said she hired Conrad at almost every event she planned. Most recently, he drew attendees at the Penn-Mar Irish Festival on June 15.

Conrad was found deceased in his apartment Tuesday, June 26, after not showing up for work Monday and Tuesday, Yeaple said.

The York County Coroner's Office determined he died of natural causes.

He was 57 years old.

Conrad was a staple at area events and greeted everyone he met with a smile, Yeaple said, adding that was a "true gem" and a kind and sweet person.

In addition to city and county festivals and special events, Conrad did caricature drawings for reunions, post-prom parties, New Year's Eve events and nursing homes, Yeaple said.

One of several caricatures posted on artist Mel Conrad's public Facebook page for his business, Caricatures by Mel Conrad. Conrad died unexpectedly early this week. He was 57.

"You’re going to be hard-pressed to find a family in York who doesn’t have one of his drawings," she said.

Conrad dealt with health problems, including hemochromatosis, said Kelley Gibson, president of the Cultural Alliance of York County and a longtime friend of Conrad's.

Hemochromatosis is a genetic blood disorder that causes excess iron to build up in the body, according to the Iron Disorders Institute.

Conrad traveled to Maryland a couple of times a year for treatment, Yeaple said.

Before serving as president of the Cultural Alliance, Gibson was Yeaple's predecessor planning York City's special events, but she said she met Conrad the same way almost everyone else did: he drew her portrait at an event she attended.

"What I always loved about Mel was that, as a caricature artist, he was a kind caricature artist," Gibson said.

Whereas some caricature artists amplify unflattering characteristics and portray their subjects cuttingly, Conrad had a way of making his subjects feel good about themselves when they looked at their portraits, Gibson said.

She became emotional when she spoke about regularly running into him and seeing his smile, something she said she'll miss.

Mel Conrad, left, and Mary Yeaple posed for a photo at the Penn-Mar Irish Festival on June 15 in Shrewsbury Township. Conrad died unexpectedly earlier this week.

Conrad didn't consider himself an artist, Gibson said, although she disagreed and said he "totally was."

He was always trying to improve and reach the next level of skill, she added, but that didn't stop him from going out into the community and giving of himself with his talent.

"Mel would be, I think, a little shocked at the attention he’s gotten," Gibson said. "I don’t think he realized how much he meant to everybody."

There are plans in the works for a public memorial service, and details will be announced once everything is finalized, Yeaple said.

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