Thursday, September 13, 2007

Lucia Lerner: Maverick

"It's only these last few years that I have come to appreciate just how young I was when I was on staff with the Stephens, Biondi and DeCicco Studios," wrote Will Nelson in his first long letter to me. "Through an extraordinary sequence of events I went from Art Center College, Los Angeles, to the SBD studio headquarters, Chicago, in less than six months. I was on staff with a group of artists fifteen to twenty years older than me."

"Being single, I was on my own in Chicago. My time spent in the studio with the staff ended after 5:00. Lucia was an exception...she invited me to some of her friends' poker games."

"She had a male friend at the time whom I only met a couple of times (he was a reporter with the Chicago Tribune)."

"Lucia had a daughter she was raising on her own. She was very private about her so I can't add much more. I think she was about 12 years old at that time... around 1956 or '57... but I can't be sure."

Reading this last part of Will's correspondence felt like a bomb going off.

Having read this week's posts up to this point, I'm sure you must have felt, as I do, that Lucia Lerner was not only an exceptionally talented and successful illustrator, but a strong-willed and confident woman, determined to succeed despite the hurdles of prejudice and chauvinism that she must surely have encountered in the "man's world" of commercial art.

To discover that she was dealing with the additional challenges of being a single mother in 1950's America is truly stunning -- and only makes me admire and respect her all the more.

The dictionary defines a "maverick" as "a lone dissenter, as an intellectual, an artist, or a politician, who takes an independent stand apart from his or her associates." There is no doubt in my mind that Lucia was a maverick.

Younger people may find my emphasis of this point a little odd... but anyone who grew up even as late as the 1970's, as I did, will probably recall how rare it was to know a kid who came from a single-parent household - and the stigma attached to that situation.

Go back another 20 years and try to imagine how daunting it would be to step out the door each morning and face the societal attitudes of America in the 1950's. I think you'll begin to appreciate what I'm getting at.

Knowing now that Lucia Lerner was a single mother, I can't help but look back over her body of work and take note of how often she created scenes of mother and daughter - with no man present. As Tom Watson wrote in his comment on yesterday's post, "perhaps her feminine point of view gave her an advantage on certain assignments".

And perhaps assignments such as these seen here today were all the more meaningful to her considering her unique personal circumstances.

Full size versions of these images can be seen in my Lucia Flickr set.


  1. Leif:

    What a great discover...
    Do you know if Lucia is still alive??
    I think her daugther now is in her 60’s, will be interesting try to find her :)
    Nice illutrations as always

  2. great story, and how interesting to look at her work knowing of her personal circumstances. i think her love for her daughter comes thru all these beautiful illustrations

  3. Macross8216:57 PM

    Leif, this is incredible. I guess I knew that eventually someone out there would stumble upon your initial Lucia entry and write to you about her, but it's still a great surprise when someone does. I'm finding this all incredibly fascinating, and now that you've got her full name out there, perhaps somehow through word of mouth, someone related to her will come out and tell us more!

  4. Anonymous9:33 AM

    Hi all,
    My name is Ben Denison and I also worked at SBD with Will Nelson and Lovely Lucia. Every thing Will has said about her is as I remember. She inspired me and I admit to imitating her on many of my Illustrations for Playboy and other assignments!
    SBD had many wonderful artists and illustrators in those days, Will being one with his beautifully designed and realistic still lives. I even tried to imitate Will.
    Ben Denison (