Rafael Maria de Soto y Hernandez (1904-1992) was born in a noble Spanish banking family descended from the famous conquistador, Hernando de Soto.
In 1915 the family was devastated by a financial crisis and the father died of a heart attack. Eleven-year-old Rafael was sent to St. Joseph’s Seminary in San Juan, where he was trained to be a priest. His natural artistic talent was noticed by Father Noel, who sent Rafael to private art lessons with a local artist, Diaz McKenna. After completing his education at St. Joseph’s, Rafeal decided to become an artist rather than go to Rome to complete his religious training. “I liked girls too much!”
In 1923 at age nineteen he moved to New York City to live with an uncle, who was a tailor on the Lower East Side. With only a schoolbook command of English, he found work at an advertising company. In 1930 he began to draw interior story illustrations for Street & Smith’s western pulp magazines.
In 1932 he began to sell freelance cover paintings to pulp magazines, such as Detective Book, Five-Novels Monthly, Top-Notch, War Stories, Western Story, and Wild West Weekly. The pulp artist, Richard Lillis, was DeSoto’s closest protege, a helpful model, and even a studio assistant. In 1941 DeSoto discovered Gloria Stoll, a seventeen-year-old discouraged high school graduate art student that lived in his apartment building, and inspired her to be a commercial illustrator. She went on to a significant career as a pulp artist and later an abstract painter.
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