Bob Levering-The Passing of a Sweet Man, a Masterful Illustrator, and Wonderful Teacher

I was saddened to learn of Bob Levering’s  passing this past April (Friday the 22nd). Bob was not only a long time faculty member of the illustration department at Parsons School of Design, but a connection to the history of illustration. His career spanned the old studio system of illustration I was fortunate to have had Bob as a painting instructor when I was an undergrad at Parsons and to consider him a colleague when I began to teach there.

(above) Bob teaching in one of the painting studios at Parsons about 1983.  The student with him is Joe Dzialo, photo courtesy of Alex Goodman

Bob was a  passionate painter and instructor, and anyone who knew him would add the description ” …a kind , sweet man”. He took painting and class very seriously as I recall but it always came across in a gentle , mentoring manner. A good sense of humor too.  I always had the feeling  that Bob had the secrets of art inside him and he was just waiting for the right moment to impart them as you progressed in your painting. When I met Bob in the 1980’s  he had an energy that defied his age and it continued up into his 90’s.  We were amazed at Bob bounding down 2-3 steps at a time on the way down  8 flights of stairs at Parsons to get a coffee during a break in painting class.

In class when he demonstrated something you could see his mastery of paint, and at capturing a gesture. At one point Bob had brought in some small collages he was working on that looked  rich and intriguing. I remember Alex Goodman was invited to stop by his place and told me about the manhole cover he had, I believe it was some sort of perk from a job. He was doing portraits when I first met him and  it wasn’t until quite some time afterward that I saw Bob’s earlier  illustration work, his Pepsi and other adwork for The Charles E. Cooper studio in New York in the ’50s and ’60s.  At Cooper he was on staff with a host of other top artists of the day : Bernie D’Andrea, Norman Adams, Coby Whitmore, Murray Tinkleman, James Bama anlong with many more.

(above) Bob’s  flyer/promo created by Cooper to advertise their  artists.  -An example of Bob’s Pepsi work (Sept 1956  Family Circle magazine) and a Philip Morris ad.

(above)  From murraytinkelman.blogspot.com  Murray, who was a good friend of Bob’s has some annecdotes and photos of Bob on his blog.

(above) Bob posing for an brother illustrator no doubt  (originally posted at murraytinkelman.blogspot.com  and on the right playing  for the Cooper Studio team at interoffice baseball game, c. 1960, Central Park, NYC originally posted at www.flickr.com/photos/leifpeng/3490924935/in/set-72157617105314858/

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(above) left: Look magazine April 1959   Right: Art Directors Annual  1952
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(above) Saturday Evening Post-April 1961   -originally posted at www.flickr.com/photos/leifpeng/3490924935/in/set-72157617105314858/

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(above) Boy’s Life April 1964 illustrating an article written by Stan Musial. I think Bob’s work got progressively looser and more expressive as time passed.  He had a great sense of when to let paint just drip and be…

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Bob’s work  has been exhibitioned in a number of venues: New York City Center Gallery; The Brooklyn Museum, NYC. Award: Society of Publication Designers, gold medal. and is in the Collection of The Pentagon, Washington, DC.  His work appeared in Ladies Home Journal, The Saturday Evening Post, Look, Woman’s Home Companion. In 2003 Bob was given the  Distinguished University Teaching Award from Parsons/The New School, a much deserved honor.

(above) a great, warm recent photo of the charming old gent  with former students:  the fabulous Liz Lomax and illustrator  Michael De Brito outside at the Met –  photo from www.lizlomax.com/tag/teachers/

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Bob’s mentoring, good spirits and friendship impacted thousands of students in his 30 plus years of teaching. I’m sure that there are a number of you out there that have  stories or photos of Bob. Maybe even a scan or original work of his.   If so, please feel free to contact me and I will try and arrange  some sort of exhibit of his work and maybe a few pieces of artists/students  he’s influenced over the years.

Thanks for everything Bob- You will be missed by many. I hope you’re painting your heart out up there.

A obituary notice in the New York Times  that gives a more thorough account of Bob’s history can be found  here.   Robert Kenyon Levering 1919-20011

A memorial service celebrating his life, his art, and his teaching  will be held in the chapel at the Unitarian Church of All Souls (1157  Lexington Avenue @ 80th Street) on June 21st at 4 p.m.   –   All are welcome to attend.

A Post Script to this post :   Below are some comments/photos that came in after the very heartfelt memorial at  All Souls.

The photos below are from Ned Jacoby Bob’s cousin who spoke beautifully about Bob’s insatiable thirst for knowledge in science as well as art. Both Bob and Ned are avid ham radio operators/enthusiasts from early on.

(above(L to r ) Jules Wenglare W8DVS, Frank Lucas WS8CRA, Ned Jacoby W8KPB, Bob Levering W8INQ about 1935-37  in Ohio. (far right) A 16-17 yr. old Bob.

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(above) Murray, carol and Bob at the Society of illustrators in New York.
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The above  images were originally posted at   Today’s Inspiration, Leif Peng’s  thoughtful and well researched site on ilustration from the ’40s and ’50s.   About the occassion this photos were taken Leif wrote: ”  I only met Bob once – last May – at the SI.  Murray Tinkelman invited me to lunch there and asked if I wouldn’t mind if his old pal Bob Levering joined us.  What a thill that was!  I brought Bob colour copies of all those old ads… he was delighted… said he hadn’t seen any of them in half a century.  I can honestly say I’ve never met a more warm, kind, gentle human being in all my life than Bob Levering.  We three – Murray, Bob and I, spent the afternoon perusing illustration originals upstairs in the collection with the help of Eric Fowler.  Murray’s wife Carol joined us and I had to keep pinching myself – yup, it was all real – I was actually in New York, at the SI, holding an original robert Fawcett from Collier’s while Murray Tinkelman and Bob Levering sat five feet away discussing the relative merits of an original James Montgomery Flagg to an original Charles Dana Gibson!
… I’ll remember that day as long as I live.”
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Jody Rosen Portrait

The above portrait of Jody Rosen was done quite a few months back for  an illustration symposium in Nov. ’09 titled “Moving Pictures”. Presented by the Parsons  Illustration Department, and moderated by illustrator/author/Parsons Prof.  Lauren Redniss.  The symposium focused on  ideas of motion in illustration, and looking beyond animation to  some unexpected ways  motion figures in illustration. The symposium featured presentations by Richard McGuire, Joel Smith,  Lauren Redniss, Jody Rosen.

I put together a display in the illustration dept. as  a teaser  to the symposium and included was this portrait  of Jody as a map of London.   His presentation was of  a new book he’s working on: The Knowledge, about London, cartography, and taxi drivers.