Pele de Lappe Biography

Pele de Lappe

American

1916-2007

Biography

Phyllis (Pele) de Lappe (1916-2007), artist, labor cartoonist and social activist, was born in San Francisco in 1916. Versed by her father, the commercial artist Wes de Lappe, in Marxism and life studies (caricatures), she began her art studies at California School of Fine Arts in 1930 under Arnold Blanch. The following year, at the age of fifteen, de Lappe moved to New York and Woodstock, New York where she lived with Arnold and Lucile Blanch. She enrolled in the Art Students’ League in 1932 where she studied with Edward Lansing, Kenneth Hayes Miller, John Sloan and Charles Locke. She learned the technique of lithography from Adolf Dehn. Pele was naturally full of life and curiosity. While living in the east she went to dance marathons in New Jersey and the nightclubs of Harlem. De Lappe worked with Siqueiros, and modeled for and assisted Diego Rivera on the Rockefeller Center murals.

 

Returning to San Francisco in 1934, Pele found herself in the midst of the maritime strike. She got involved by joining the Marine Workers Industrial Union Ladies Auxiliary, walking the picket lines, raising money for the strikers and drawing cartoons for the union newsletter. The year 1935 was life changing as she married Bertram Edises, a civil rights attorney, and her first solo exhibition was mounted at the Art Center Gallery in San Francisco. The couple relocated to Washington, D.C. in 1937 but returned to San Francisco in 1941.

 

DeLappe’s work focused on the working class and she made a meager living by drawing for the Daily Worker, New Masses, L'Unita Operaia, West Oakland Beacon, and the San Francisco Chronicle. During the 1940s de Lappe was a feature editor and cartoonist for The People’s World and in 1952 she helped to found the Graphic Arts Workshop in San Francisco.

 

A resident of Berkeley, California for many years, de Lappe moved north to Petaluma in the 1990s to join her friend and fellow artist, Byron Randall. During the next few years she penned her autobiography, Pele: A Passionate Journey through Art and the Red Press. Her work is included in the collections of the Achenbach Foundation for the Graphic Arts, Syracuse University, Woodstock Art Association and the Library of Congress.

 

[Paraphrased from Susan Teller Gallery and Spencer Jon Helfen Fine Arts]