Photo credits: Purses & Paintings by Gary Mamay; Portrait by Sandra Geroux; All courtesy of the Leiber Collection
The Art League of Long Island is proud to present art created by the iconic Long Island couple: Judith and Gerson Leiber – Judith as the internationally celebrated handbag designer and Gerson as the modernist American artist. Their talents are strong and singular, but when combined with their unique love story and passion for the arts, it is a match that is legendary. Together over 70 years, these two nonagenarians share an unbreakable bond personally and professionally.
The Art League of Long Island is honored to bring their treasures to its art gallery. There is something for everyone to enjoy – from the fanciful handbags to the stunning paintings of fashion and flowers.
About Gerson and Judith Leiber
Their story began in Budapest, in the spring of 1945. Judith, who had grown up in an elegant Hungarian-Jewish family, had survived the Holocaust after many hardships. Gerson was a U.S. Army radio operator, who hailed from a small town in Pennsylvania and came to the city to assist in Eastern Europe’s liberation. The two met serendipitously, fell in love, and eventually left for New York with big dreams. Their love of culture and art was mutual which led them to accomplish great things together.
“It was our promised land,” remembers Judith of her arrival in New York with Gerson, in 1947. “Though we were motivated by a shared desire to be successful, we were driven by sheer fear,” Gerson adds. “It gave us each a tremendous impetus to reach our goals.”
Along with her treasured tools of the trade, she took with her the skills of a master craftsperson which were immediately sought after at the top fashion houses, including for Nettie Rosenstein of the LBD (little black dress) fame. Over the coming decades, Judith’s career soared as she designed handbags with exotic skins, leathers, gems and other unique materials. Her handbags have gloriously passed the test of time and style and are built to last.
She later came to invent her signature style of imaginative bejeweled minaudières in whimsical shapes from colorful animals, fruit and even a peacock! Judith produced over 3,500 designs and first ladies including Barbara Bush, Mamie Eisenhower and Nancy Reagan to movie stars and celebrities from Liz Taylor, Beverly Sills, Jennifer Lopez to Blake Lively and more have worn her handbags.
Judith crafts with precision engineering and describes her mission eloquently – “I design the shading and highlighting so that every crystal counts. It’s the way to make it perfect.”
These purses are not just for the rich and famous – people all over the world covet her handbags and they are often cherished for special occasions and even passed down as heirlooms. There are even collectors who specialize in acquiring exclusively Judith Leiber originals.
In addition to running their fashion empire, Gerson pursued his ambitions of being a fine artist, resulting in having his work collected by over sixty museums. From his modernist style that includes Cubism and Abstract Expressionism, he also explored the art of printmaking and sculpture. As seen in this exhibition, he used the fashion world as his muse to create images of models on the runway and other glamorous settings that he and Judith encountered along the way. As stated in one of the Leiber’s catalogues: “Behind and surrounding the accessories… are the party people depicted in the fashion-world paintings, drawings, and prints of Gerson Leiber, which invest these pristine objects with a living spirit. The ghosts of Seventh Avenue in the 1970’s, 1980’s, and 1990’s rise to gawk, talk, and observe…”
Their palladian-style museum is located on the property that Judith and Gerson purchased in 1956 in the East Hampton hamlet of the Springs. It is situated in the middle of gardens designed by Gerson himself. His love for nature is evident in his floral still-life pastel drawings, some on display for the first time ever at the Art League!
Special Reception at the Art League on Sunday, October 15th
Join us as we honor the Leibers and their magnificent contributions as artist and artisan for an afternoon event in our bi-level gallery. This is the perfect opportunity to enjoy the show in a private atmosphere. Tickets are $50 per person. With each ticket purchase, guests are automatically placed in our raffle contest for a unique prize: A private visit with Gerson and Judith Leiber and a VIP curator-led tour of the Leiber Collection in East Hampton!
During the event, guests will have the opportunity to “meet and greet” the Leibers, as well as listen to a talk about their lives and legacy by their museum curator, Ann Fristoe Stewart. She will also discuss her search for over 3,500 original Leiber handbags for the collection – they have over 2,000 already! As part of the exhibition, the Art League invites handbag owners to pose for a photo holding their Leiber bag (or bring their own photo) to be posted on a “Wall of Fame” and who knows, one could be a bag the Leibers have been searching for!
For more information or an invitation to this private reception, contact Bobbie Janowitz, Director of Donor Relations, Events & Membership at (631) 462-5400.
Art League Curator-Led Tours of the Exhibit
In addition to our regular gallery hours for viewing the exhibit, the Art League is offering curator-led tours by Debbie Wells, Art League Chair of the Board and Sue Peragallo, Art League Gallery Coordinator. Admission is $10pp for the tour (approximately 1 hour). There will also be raffle opportunities available for autographed books about the Leibers.
Curator-Led Tour schedule:
Sunday, October 8, 11:30am & Monday, October 23, 10am
To arrange private group tours, contact Bobbie Janowitz, Director of Donor Relations, Events & Membership at (631) 462-5400.
The Art League of Long Island thanks Bridgehampton National Bank, Harlan & Olivia Fisher and Artful Circle for sponsorship. Special thanks to Long Island Museum for sharing their research, graphic materials, and generous assistance which formed the basis of this exhibition. Champagne generously donated by Wine Doc of Elwood.