Chances are, anyone familiar with our Hamptons art community has come across Eleanor (“Chip”) Leaver from time to time. After all, she and her family have lived on the East End for over 50 years. In 1984, she became the first president of the East Hampton Artists’ Alliance. In 1996, encouraged by her friend, Renee Shilhab, Leaver started a series of penline drawings for Shilhab’s book about restaurants.
Regardless of the years and dates, however, Leaver is still active with a new publication featuring East Hampton landmarks. And just so we know that time is still important, Leaver is now 91 years young.
Leaver has always been active in the arts, no matter how old she was at a particular time. In fact, she says she first became interested in drawing when she was six years old. It’s clear that this interest hasn’t subsided during the subsequent decades, from her years as a student at the Rhode Island School of Design to her career as an advertising art director in New York.
We can’t help but wonder where this woman got her inspirations from, how her hard work and talent sustained her all these years. One answer may lie with the fact that Leaver grew up in a small Massachusetts town (Whitinsville) where there was no art museum and no family automobile so she could travel to see art. So where did she learn about visual art? From movie magazines, of course. And from seeing films (she would sneak into the theaters through the back door).
Real awareness of art came a few years later when she moved to Rochester and was able to take art in school. It was an experience, says Leaver, that “changed my life.” Going back to her hometown, she got some more art experience that would serve her well: after high school she participated in drama activities and wrote interviews about celebrities. She also did drawings for the weekly newspaper. As luck would have it, a man from the Rhode Island School of Design was in town and saw her work; he gave her a scholarship to the well-known art institution.
After design school, Leaver came to New York to seek her fortune, working first as an illustrator for the department store, Henri Bendel; she then did special projects for Charles of the Ritz. She got her initial position in advertising as an assistant but soon went on to become an Art Director. While this was the time when there were very few women in advertising, Leaver and a few other females were referred to as “Les Girls” by The New York Times.
Leaver may not be part of “Les Girls” anymore, but her book, Penline Drawings of East Hampton Township, is equally appreciated. Its iconic nature, along with its simplicity, captures East Hampton’s spirit in a way that comes from the heart of a longtime resident. For example, consider such illustrations like “The Nature Trail,” “Village Hall,” “The Huntting Inn” and “Main Street.” While the images cover diverse structures, they are bringing back past memories and recent experiences. Most important, Leaver’s drawings evoke substance and timeliness, qualities that she herself possesses.
Eleanor Leaver’s book can be bought at the following places: East Hampton’s BookHampton and Guild Hall; Amagansett’s Gone Local and Montauk’s Montauk Books. [/expand]