Artist Trivia: Vera Bock

From A selection of works by Vera Bock including archival materials, original artwork, proofs from the originals and illustrated books and book jackets
Vera Bock, From a selection of works by Vera Bock including archival materials, original artwork, proofs from the originals and illustrated books and book jackets, 20th century, Gift of Alice Tischler in memory of her aunt, Vera Bock, 2016.4

Question: 

This artist was born in Russia in the early years of the 20th century. During the Russian Revolution, their family escaped via a circuitous route to the United States. Trained in painting and drawing, the artist studied woodcut relief printmaking, manuscript illumination, printing, and photogravure in England with additional studies in art in Europe. Their early career found them illustrating children’s books.

The Federal Art Project hired the artist to design posters for their New York City branch advertising art exhibits, theatre performances, and promotion of healthy positive social activities. 

The artist is best known for their children’s book illustrations, the earliest being published in 1929. Their award-winning publications are held in a prestigious university library. In addition, they worked for Life and Coronet during the 1940s. Their work was exhibited at the New York Public Library several times, as well as the Art Directors Club of New York, Pierpont Morgan Library, and the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, Maine.

Their niece made a donation of their work to the Farnsworth.

Retiring to Lincolnville, Maine, the artist died in New York in 1973.

Answer: Vera Bock

Vera Bock was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1905. At the outbreak of the Russian Revolution, Bock’s family emigrated to the United States. Her father was an American banker, and her mother was a concert pianist. During the Russian Revolution, her family fled to the United States by way of Siberia, China, and Japan. They reached San Francisco in 1917. Bock later studied in Switzerland and England. She was trained in painting and drawing and spent a year in England studying woodcutting, manuscript illumination, printing, and photogravure. In the early 1920s, she began illustrating children’s books.

During the Great Depression, Bock worked for the Federal Art Project, designing posters for the New York City poster division from 1936 to 1939. The Federal Arts Project, part of the WPA, put unemployed artists to work painting murals, sculpting, designing furniture, teaching art, and printing posters. The strong, simple, Art Deco posters advertised art exhibits and theater performances and promoted positive social ideals like travel, exercise, attending community events, and education. Her silkscreen posters have a distinctive appearance similar to woodblocks, dominated by strong solid forms that often show a Germanic influence. She made a series of posters, History of Civic Services, which are reminiscent of the style she often used in children’s books.

Bock may be best known for her children’s book illustrations. Her first book illustrations were published in 1929 in Waldemar Bonsels’s The Adventures of Maya the Bee and Ella Young’s The Tangle-Coated Horse and Other Tales. The latter book was reviewed for the Newbery Medal in 1930 and was retroactively given Honor Book status in 1938. The Kerlan Collection of Children’s Literature at the University of Minnesota holds many of Bock’s illustrations.

During the 1940s Bock worked as an illustrator for Life and Coronet. Her work was shown in exhibitions at the New York Public Library (1942), Art Directors Club of New York (1946), Pierpont Morgan Library (International Exhibition of Illustrated Books, 1946), and New York Public Library (Ten Year’s of American Illustration, 1951).  Bock retired to Lincolnville, Maine. She died in New York in 1973.

A recent donation from the artist Vera Bock’s niece, included over fifty drawings for book interior and jacket illustrations designed by Bock, and a selection of books in which her illustrations appear. Bock and her mother spent a number of summers in Lincolnville, Maine, and it was during that time that she became acquainted with the Farnsworth and then-director Wendell Hadlock, who mounted two shows of her work, including a display of some of her book jackets. In 1957, Vera Bock designed the Poseidon logo for the Museum. It was subsequently modified by designer David Niles, and used during Marius Péladeau’s tenure as Farnsworth director through the late 1970s and 1980s.

Featured in “Maine and American Art: Farnsworth Art Museum” with thanks to the Henry Luce Foundation and Wyeth Foundation for American Art.

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