David Arthur Lemon Biography

David Arthur Lemon




Painter and sculptor David Arthur Lemon was born in Bradford, Pennsylvania on February 18, 1908 to Frank and Ellen K. Lemon, and was raised from age two in the Bronx, New York. Around 1918 his father, a master sculptor, was offered a position with Gladding, McBean & Co., an ceramics company of the West Coast specializing in architectural trimming, and the family relocated to Seattle, Washington. Lemon learned sculpting from his father and studied architectural modeling and art at Cornish College of the Arts; he also took a course from Alexander Archipenko during the renowned artist's residency at the University of Washington, Seattle in 1935. It was around this time that he would meet his future wife, Abstract Expressionist Jerry O'Day (born Geraldine Heib).

In 1937 Lemon sailed with artist Steever Oldden from Seattle to San Francisco to find work with the Federal Art Project's Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island; O'Day would follow in 1938. When the fair closed Lemon and his now-wife O'Day rented an abandoned codfishery on the west shore of Belvedere Island, Marin County, maintaining their home, studios, and operating an art gallery and an artists' colony.

For the duration of World War II Lemon, an accomplished boat builder and sailor, worked as a manufacturer of wooden, anti-magnetic mine layers and sub-chasers at the Madden & Lewis Shipyard in nearby Sausalito. Following the war he immersed himself more fully in his art, exhibiting throughout the Bay Area including at the San Francisco Museum of Art (now the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art). In the early 1950s his reputation as a sculptor led to the commission of the sculpture Christus Rex for the St. Stephens Episcopalian Church in Belvedere, and then Hosea for the famed Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. In 1961 his sculpture The Feminine One caught the eye of his friend, the collector and architect Victor Steinbrueck, who had been commissioned to design a tower for the Seattle World's Fair. With Lemon's permission, Steinbrueck borrowed the work to design what is now one of the world's most recognizable structures: the Space Needle. A bronze reproduction of the original source of inspiration resides next to the Needle.

Meanwhile, Lemon and O'Day continued to operate their secluded artists' colony, attracting artists such as SF Chronicle cartoonist Justin Murray, ceramicist Jack Brinker, collagist Jean Varda, and British Surrealist Gordon Onslow Ford. Lemon participated in major exhibitions alongside Bay Area artists Ruth Asawa, Richard Deibenkorn, Elmer Bischoff, Robert Colescott, William Wiley, and many others. In 1965 the codfishery was demolished by its owners. Lemon and Heib then moved their belongings onto their wooden sailboats, the Nomel and the Space Ship, and lived in the Sausalito bay.

Lemon exhibited less frequently after the 1970s. After O'Day's death in 1986, Lemon continued to work on his boats. A decade later, while traveling to Orcas Island, Washington in 1997, he died of a heart attack in Bandon, Oregon, on April 9th.

Selected exhibitions include: the San Francisco Art Association, 1939, 1954; GGIE, 1939; Sausalito Arts Center, 1953, '54; Landmarks Gallery and City of Paris (San Francisco), 1955, and at various times with San Francisco's East and West Gallery, Lucien Labault Gallery, the Legion of Honore, and Rotunda Gallery, among others. His work is in the Grace Cathedral (SF), and the Belvedere-Tiburon Landmarks Society, which held a retrospective of his work the year before his death.

Information sourced from an obituary originally written for the San Francisco Chronicle, an article
from SFMOMA on the Belvedere Codfishery artists' colony, and from Edan Hughes' biography on AskArt.com.