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vera bock


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Vera was born in Saint Petersburg, Russia (at different times, known as Petrograd and also Leningrad). Her father was an American banker, and her mother was a Russian concert pianist. Told to leave Russia by the American Ambassador months before the outbreak of the Russian Revolution, the Bock Family left for the United States. (Fuller) They arrived in San Francisco in January 1918. Vera was 15 at the time. (Ancestry)


From a young age, Vera could both read and speak four languages, English, French, Russian, and German. (Viguers) Even before she trained as an artist, she seemed to have been drawn to creative expression. Looking back at her younger self, when asked about her career as an artist, she wrote, “I drew pictures long before I knew it was ‘Art.’ I did not make it my career. I used it to earn a living when that proved necessary. It became a career because it happened that enough people liked the way I drew pictures.”(Fuller) 


Beyond her natural enjoyment of creativity and her innate abilities, her formal art education began when she traveled and studied art in Europe. Her art education during this time was focused primarily on drawing and painting. However, following that, she ultimately spent a year in England, where she expanded her knowledge and skill set to include the arts of wood carving, printing, manuscript illumination, and photoengraving, among others. (Viguers) She used all the knowledge she had gained through her studies in much of her future work. The influence of her time studying woodblock cutting, printing, and illuminated manuscripts can be seen in many of Bock’s works before, during, and after her time creating posters for the WPA’s FAP Poster Division. Her education and natural talents allowed her to both design and illustrate books, as well as to design memorable posters for the WPA. 


Vera was employed by the FAP’s Poster Division in the New York City division between the years 1935 and 1939. She produced numerous posters during that time. The subjects of these posters ranged from advertising the WPA generally, WPA art events and endeavors, societal and general health concerns (such as cancer prevention and education), and a series of posters depicting the history of the civil service in New York City, among others. Vera is one of the most well-known (and I am using that term loosely) poster designers who worked for the FAP. 


Her career as a book designer and illustrator, which had begun prior to her time with the FAP’s poster division, continued after the WPA years. During her career, Vera designed numerous books, illustrated a variety of children’s books and many books for adults, and produced a series of well-known dust jacket designs for The Crime Club’s popular mystery series. (Fuller, Viguers)


Her career as an artist began in 1929 with the publication of Waldemar Bonsels’s The Adventures of Maya the Bee. This book is a beautiful example of Vera’s skill as an illustrator. For these illustrations, she used three colors to produce her exquisitely detailed images echoing the wood block carving and printing she had studied. Her second professional project was her illustration fork for Ella Young’s The Tangle-Coated Horse and Other Tales. Also published in 1929, it was a Newbery Honor Book. Like Katherine Milhous, many examples of her work in children’s literature were collected and are housed in the Kerlan Collection at the University of Minnesota. (Kerlan) 


Some of the other titles she worked on during her career included, A Ring and a Riddle, The Little Magic Horse, Bow Bells, and Turkish Fairy Tales. 


However, Vera’s illustration and design work was not limited to children’s books. She designed numerous covers for The Crime Club, a very popular Doubleday and Company imprint. These illustrations often required darker, more sinister, often surreal imagery, something that she appeared to lean into. Vera also illustrated a wide variety of books for adults, some of which provide particularly fine examples of her skill as a designer and illustrator, including The Koran, Love Poems and Sonnets of William Shakespeare, Fairy Tales by Oscar Wilde, and The Kasidah of Haji Abdu. Norman Kent, editor of the magazine American Artist, considered her a very accomplished, successful artist. He described Vera’s book designs: "Each is planned like a good house, with paper, type, and decoration harmoniously interrelated. The crispness of her style with its clean line is ideally suited to adorn type, and in her selection and arrangements of the latter, she has been most successful.”(Fuller)   


She also worked illustrating for magazines like Life and Coronet and various other more singular projects like those works she created for the Girl Scouts of America. (Life, Coronet, GSA) However, she was most well-known and respected for her work in publishing and, specifically, illustration.


Vera Bock’s work was collected by individuals and institutions alike. (Merriman Collection, Boston public library rare books collection) Her work was also featured in various exhibitions during her life (as well as several posthumously). Those exhibitions that occurred during her life included the Art Directors Club of New York’s 25th Anniversary Exhibition in 1946, several of the American Institute of Graphic Arts’ exhibitions, including International Book Illustration, 1935-1945, presented at the Pierpont Morgan Library, two at the New York Public Library, including Ten Years of American Illustration, in 1951, as well as exhibitions at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington D.C., the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and two solo exhibitions at the Farnsworth Art Museum. (Fuller, Book of Knowledge) 


Vera spent most of her life living in New York City. She also traveled extensively and often with family. She spent many of her summers in Maine. There she cultivated a relationship with the Farnsworth Art Museum. Her connection went beyond the two exhibitions of her work that had been held there. She knew and maintained a friendship with the director of the institution for many years. It was likely through this association that she came to design the museum’s logo in 1957. In fact, according to the Farnsworth Museum staff, the institution used a modified version of her design until the 1980s. Long after her death, Bock’s niece (her brother's daughter) cemented her connection with the institution, donating a large number of Bock’s works to the museum in 2016 (Farnsworth).

Later in life, Vera moved abroad to Switzerland, where she lived for the remainder of her life. She was cosmopolitan and worldly. Unafraid in her work, knowing her own mind, and executing her vision with distinction. Her work reflected her life, her years spent traveling, and her appreciation and education in many art forms. She had no children of her own, but she was always close with her family, spending a significant number of years living or traveling with them. This close connection was appreciated and maintained after her death by those who survived her, considering how she lived and honoring those things that mattered to her.  

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her work

When it comes to Vera Bock's work, the best place to begin is with her time with the WPA. She was part of the New York poster division, and many of her posters are specific to the state and New York City. The New York poster division was one of the largest in the country in terms of the number of employees and the volume of designs produced. The New York poster division's work was quite varied. This is evidenced in Bock's posters designed more generally for the WPA, other Federal Art Project(FAP) programs, and various WPA public health initiatives. 

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