Leo Lionni, the author and illustrator of children’s books, was born in the Netherlands, before moving to Italy, and finally coming to the U.S. By day, he worked as an art director for advertising agencies. He even worked for Fortune magazine. Despite his degree, he was a creative man, after all. A man of many talents, he is most known today for his ability to combine illustrations and words like no one else. He even being able to tell stories through images alone.
Today would have been his 107th birthday. Won’t you celebrate it with us and get to know more about Lionni’s life?
- Born in Holland on May 5, 1910, Lionni spent most of his free time in the Amsterdam museums as a child, teaching himself how to draw.
- His father was an accountant, his mother an opera singer. Both were Dutch.
- They moved to Italy when he was a teenager.
Setting The Foundation
- Despite his creative inclinations, Leo Lionni had a doctorate in economics from the University of Genoa. His business faded into the background as his interest in art grew, however.
- He married Nora Maffi, the daughter of Fabrizio Maffi, a founder of the Italian Communist Party. They had two sons, Louis and Paolo.
- They settled in Milan soon after the 1931 marriage, and he began his career change by writing about European architecture for a local magazine.
- By 1939, he’d moved to America, hired by a Philadelphia advertising agency as an art director.
- Soon, Lionni worked with accounts like Ford and Chrysler. He commissioned art from people like Andy Warhol too.
- In 1948, he accepted a position as art director for Fortune magazine, which he held until 1960.
- He also became a member of the Advertising Art Hall of Fame.
- In 1960, he moved back to Italy with his family. There, he began his career as a children’s book author and illustrator.
- He produced over 40 books in total, and received major awards for his work, including the 1984 American Institute of Graphic Arts Gold Medal.
- His books are known for not only providing entertaining stories for children, but also for the unique, and visually appealing illustration children love.
Leo Lionni might be more well-known for his work in the art industry, but his ability to weave a story using words and images knew no bounds. He began as a student of economics, progressed to a writer of architecture, became an art director and exhibitionist, with exhibits of his own from New York to Japan, and then became a children’s book author and illustrator. He did a lot in terms of work, breaking boundaries and claiming slices of various industries.
Clearly, the man had more than talent, he had determination.
If there’s anything to learn from Lionni, it’s that nothing good comes easy, and just because it’s not easy, it shouldn’t keep you back. Despite his background and lack of overall experience, Lionni taught himself how to draw, and wrote about architecture, before landing a job as an art director. If you’ve been wondering what direction to take in your career path, try doing what Lionni did: focusing on the next logical steps. Pick a path, look at your background, and see what’s missing. In the end, you might win a few awards.