Pele de Lappe Biography

Pele de Lappe




Phyllis (Pele) deLappe, artist, labor cartoonist, and social activist was born in San Francisco, California on May 4, 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 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. De Lappe found inspiration in the night light of the east coast, going to dance marathons in New Jersey and the nightclubs of Harlem, often sketching the people she met. At this time De Lappe also worked with Mexican artist David Siqueiros, and modeled for and assisted Diego Rivera on the Rockefeller Center murals in New York.

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 at the encouragement of 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.

Phyllis "Pele" deLappe died in Petaluma, California on October 10, 2007.

An in-depth article on Pele's life in between two coasts can be found on the Hudson Valley One website (Tad Wise, "Lives of the Painters: Pele the Conquerer", Feb. 26, 2020).