During his childhood in Chicago, Illinois, Lester Beall’s mother encouraged him to draw as a means of creative expression and as a diversion from their family’s difficult financial situation. In 1917 Beall began attending Saturday art classes at the Art Institute of Chicago, where his youthful efforts received high praise. Beall continued to draw during high school, his course work including four years of mechanical drawing classes. This early grounding in technical drawing became an important element of his developing graphic style.
Beall enrolled at the University of Chicago as a science major, but ultimately switched to the art history program. Because the school offered no studio courses at that time, Beall supplemented his art history classes with additional life drawing and painting classes at the Art Institute. Upon graduation from the university in 1926, Beall found work as a freelance illustrator in Chicago. During the difficult years of the Depression, Beall continued to take studio art classes at the Art Institute. In addition to the classes, he spent a great deal of time at the museum’s library, where he reveled in the avant garde graphic design of French art magazines.
Exposure to these very modern representations of art, typography, and illustration dramatically changed Beall’s artistic vision. He incorporated these influences into his own advertising designs to create the dynamic graphic style for which he is remembered today. The Museum of Modern Art recognized Beall’s achievements in 1937 with a solo exhibition, the first time a graphic designer was so honored.
Therese Thau Heyman Posters American Style (New York and Washington, D.C.: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., in association with the National Museum of American Art, 1998)