It recently came to the attention of Ink Spill that Stuart Leeds, a long-time New Yorker cartoonist, passed away several years ago, in his mid 70s. This then is a very belated appreciation of Stuart’s contribution to the magazine and its community of artists.
Looking through his New Yorker work, beginning with his first drawing published April 27, 1981 (shown at the very bottom of this post) one sees a New York City-centric world, with a number of city sidewalk drawings (many depicting the awnings of swanky addresses such as the ones dotted along Park Avenue or 5th Avenue), and drawings focused on coffee (Manhattan’s unofficial drink). There are excursions into the old New Yorker cartoon stand-bys, relationships and business, and a few — too few — stops in childrens literature. One of those (one of Stuart’s two Alice in Wonderland-themed drawings) is, to my eyes, a classic.
Stuart was a Bronx native whose love of the New York Giants baseball team remained a preoccupation throughout his childhood and adult life (he was an active member of The New Yorker‘s softball team). He founded the New York (Baseball) Giants Historical Society. From City of Memory, a website funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, here’s what I believe is, in Stuart’s own words, a mini auto-biography addressing his love of the team:
Stuart Leeds was born in New York City on February 7th, 1939. His family, including his father Izzie and his grandfather lived in the Bronx and were avid New York Giants fans. Stuart went to his first game at the age of 5 — he remembers that it was threatening rain but it held off so he could watch. The Giants won! Stuart attended the last game in 1957 at the Polo Grounds, cheering, “Stay team, Stay!” Today, Stuart is part of a community of fans who still cheer the San Francisco Giants and reminisce about the old days of the New York Giants. He pulled some grass from the grounds of the Polo Grounds and still keeps it in a jar at his home.
Other facts of Stuart’s life are fuzzier. We know he lived on 16th Street in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood for years, and that he had a parrot named Harry. A New Yorker cartoonist colleague, Sid Harris told me that Stuart once brought the parrot into the New Yorker‘s offices; on another occasion, in what seemed like a page out of Thurber’s Pet Department, Stuart was quite distraught when the parrot began hanging upside down in its cage (Harry lived on). A New Yorker cartoonist, Nick Downes, told me that, “You knew [Harry] accepted your presence when he let you scratch his head with a chopstick.”
Another New Yorker colleague, Sam Gross, told me Stuart spent many a summertime on Fire Island, at first living in a home across from Sam, and in later years further away on the island. Sam reminded me that Stuart had contributed spot drawings to the New Yorker. Here’s one from 1982:
We know also that Stuart taught humorous illustration at Cooper Union. Here’s a piece on Stuart’s class that appeared in New York magazine back in 1994. It includes a memorable quote, “Humor is often about releasing anger in a socially acceptable way.”
Finally, and fittingly, in this video produced in 2009 we hear Stuart talk about New York, about art and about his attempts to sell his first drawing (below) to The New Yorker.