Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Lucia Lerner: A Female Illustrator You Should Know

"Lucia" was one of the very first mid-century illustrators I ever took note of. Finding out the details of her career became a sort of holy grail to me. When I first presented her work I titled the post "The Mysterious Lucia".

Below, the earliest piece I've ever found by her, from the January 1947 issue of an obscure old magazine called Household. As you can see, there was really nothing exceptional about the artist's work at that early point in her career.

Below, one of many Gibson Greeting Cards ads Lucia illustrated during the mid-1950s. Gibson was a steady account for the Chicago-based artist. I had the great fortune to connect with a gentleman named Will Nelson, who was just starting out in the commercial art business during this period and worked as a junior illustrator in the same studio, Stephens, Biondi, DiCicco. Will befriended Lucia, and its thanks to his generosity in extensively sharing stories of those times that I've managed to document as much as I have about Lucia. She was a remarkable woman... a single mother at a time when it was almost unheard of, a highly paid and highly respected professional in a field dominated by male competitors. Will said, "Her studio was the only one with a private counter and sink....the rest of us shared individual two man studios. You knew you had "arrived" when you were placed on the north side of the building. In the SBD family she was queen and treated accordingly."

Below, a Lucia illustration from 1960, from around the time she moved to SBD's Los Angeles studio. What became of her after this point is more difficult to determine. But the quality, skill and maturity of her work at this point in her career is without question. I like to think that, despite the adversity that was being visited upon the illustration business after 1960, Lucia continued to enjoy a successful career.

I've just collected and rewritten the entire Lucia Lerner story and posted it on Female Illustrators of the Mid-20th Century. Included there is a hint to what ultimately happened to this wonderful, still mysterious artist (and its not by coincidence that I used a Lucia illustration for the header art on the new blog).

* My Lucia Lerner Flickr set.


  1. Enjoyed this blog post, and I'm now following your new "Female Illustrators" blog. Thanks for this look into art history.

  2. This is great stuff, even her "unremarkable" work blows me away. Now of to follow the newest flank of the great Ping Media Empire...

  3. Is Lucia still alive?

    1. I am a great fan of Lucia Lerner, and I have read your blogs about her with great interest.

      I collect old adverts amongst other types of commercial "pop art".

      Amidst those of us who collect adult paperbacks (aka, "Sixties Sleaze"), there is serious wonderment concerning one of the unknown illustrators. This artist's style is so similar to that of Robert Bonfils, that many presumed he had done them. But he denies it.

      My theory is that Lucia herself is a prime candidate. The publisher of Nightstand Books, William Hamling, was a rival to Hugh Hefner in Chicago, where Lucia worked. Hamling moved his flourishing empire to San Diego in 1965.

      At about that time, and for a year or so, these vibrant, Day-Glo masterpieces graced dozens of covers.

      The electric colours, the vaguely oriental features of the ladies, the "Pepsodent smile" as I call it. And especially the outlines of the figures, and the warm, mellow flesh tones.

      Do you agree that she might have done them? Perhaps you can investigate a possible connection with Hamling.

      I had intended to attach a file or two, it seems I can't. I will send any number of pics to your email address if you wish.