Friday, September 14, 2007

Lucia Lerner: Snapshots from a Passing Train

"Did I mention your site came up somewhere along the line after I put Lucia's name on Google in hopes of finding out if she was still around? And this was probably the first I had thought of her in several years."

That's what Will Nelson wrote in one of his first emails to me as he began relating the story of his early days at Stephens, Biond, DeCicco studios in Chicago in the 1950's.

"All of this brings back vivid memories of the studio and the wonderful experience it was."

"We occupied the top 7th floor on Ohio St. Just a block off Michigan Ave. Next door to the studio was a upstart publishing group with a new magazine called Playboy."

"Barry Stephens constantly sought new samples from all of us to show in New York. I was sent to New York for a couple of months to work on large toy project requiring extra hands. Getting work out of New York was considered a major accomplishment...and Lucia did do well."

"I think [Lucia] may have come from the same previous studio base as Reno (Biondi) and Frank (DeCicco). They had worked together prior to starting SBD."

"Lucia [moved] to the L.A. studio (SBD) when she left Chicago. Dan Toigo (he was featured a few years later in the American Artist magazine for his watercolors) went at the same time. I saw both of them a year or two later at SBD in L.A. while on a vacation trip. As I recall, Lucia was immediately in demand in the high end fashion market...I. Magnin, Bullocks, etc. I assume she fell back on her considerable fashion skills."

"I lost track of her after about 1960. I just don't know if she is still with us or not."

*All of today's images can be seen at full size in my Lucia Flickr set.


  1. Leif, this whole week has been an example of what, in my view, TI does best: you have resurrected a hardworking, talented illustrator who would otherwise be lost to history. You have pulled together a nice retrospective of her work in an online gallery that people will be able to consult forever. You collected the fading memories of the last people to know her, along with tearsheets from a few random files around the country, and glued it all together with an interesting narrative and a lot of love. In doing all this, you have really rescued Lucia from oblivion, and I'm sure she would have been flattered and pleased.

  2. I’m totally agreed with david words, you rescued the nice Lucia’s work from the past, and of course...thanks for showing her illustations and interesting history.
    Extended weekend here almost mini vacations, returning next thursday :)

  3. As usual, a wonderful series on an artist not known to the masses. Thank you!

  4. Through the late 50's and into the 60's, after finishing my illustration training and starting my illustration career, art directors wanted illustrations with ideal looking men, women or children... particularly for ads. Normally they did not want us to show earthy character studies of real people. We referred to these quintessential heads as "stock heads".

    Although Lucia's people are quite attractive and ideal in many respects, they are amazingly real... as though you have seen them somewhere before in your every day life. She bridges the gap between the "stock head" and a real person with real character. I attribute this to her excellent drawing skills and her keen insight of the people around her. This same insight is also apparent in the interesting and natural poses of each figure. This is not by accident or coincidental. I'm quite sure it was carefully thought out and developed through many preliminary figure studies for each illustration. These assignments are not easy, but Lucia made it look easy and natural.

    Will Nelson's recollections revealed some interesting insight into Lucia's character, and Leif revealed examples of her wonderful talent.

    Thanks again, for an informative and entertaining week, Leif.

    Tom Watson

  5. Thank you all for your encouraging comments! Its great to know you're enjoying the work and stories I post here. Hearing from you means a lot to me so... thanks again! :-)

  6. Hi Leif,
    David's description of what you have accomplished is spot-on. As animated as Lucia Lerner's art is, your efforts have breathed life into the person wielding the brush. I'm still hoping something else comes up and have been trying to track more on her down using all my bag of internet tricks and other resources, but as yet to no avail. Let's hope her daughter finds out about your posts!

  7. Thanks Jack! If any art detective could have found something I know it would have been you.

    I really do have my fingers crossed that her daughter... or perhaps some other relative... does contact us some day.

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  9. Posted with the permission of Barbara Bradley:

    Thank you, Leif , for running last week's series of Lucia's delightful and authoritative illustrations. My appreciation also goes to David Apatoff and Tom Watson's beautifully analytical appreciations of her work and it's charm. When starting out in New York, I remember seeing, appreciating, admiring and relating strongly to Lucia's work. How I looked up to the women who had made the editorial pages. You and your viewers have brought pleasure and satisfied curiosity by filling in so much of her career both before and after her move to Los Angeles. I knew almost nothing about her life but how I wished I had known her. Thank you again.

    A small aside, relating to attitudes towards women in the 50s and 60s. In one respect, women illustrators were generally more fortunate than those in many businesses. The contents of our portfolios spoke for us. I had heard that women in the 20s and earlier had received far less for comparable work than men but I personally was never aware of any discrimination in pricing of art. However, no matter what my income, I could not buy a car without my husband's signature, nor could I open a charge account without it. When I bought disability insurance, no company would provide permanent disability payments to a woman beyond five years, on the premise of actuaries that women were inclined to malinger. How times have changed!


  10. Wow , these are really nice , esp the Photographer one.

  11. Hi, as one of Lucia relatives, it is amazing the following that Lucia legacy has left. It is greatly appreciated that so many people appreciated her work. She was my grandmother's sister who would randomly visit talking about her work and life. I was talking to a local curator about a piece that has been passed down to me and found this blog showing her work. I think it is a wonderful collection that shows her style and originality of her work. I know that she would have been totally flattered and pleased. She was an outgoing, giving and wonderful person.

  12. Adam;

    Thanks SO much for leaving a comment. Lucia is sort of my 'Holy Grail' - an illustrator from the 50's whom i have admired for a very long time but have never yet been able to document properly. If you or some other family members would be willing to share some more details about her, I'd be most grateful.

    You can contact me at lpeng[at]cogeco[dot]ca or leifpeng[at]gmail[dot]com

    and thank you in advance!

    Best - Leif