Beyond Vassar

Anne Cleveland '37

By Vassar Quarterly

Every Vassar graduate is familiar with the work of Anne Cleveland ’37, even if she or he doesn’t know Cleveland or her frequent collaborator, Jean Anderson ’33, by name. Cleveland’s painting of the Daisy Chain — sophomores striding confidently in white dresses, faces cheerfully turned up, while black-gown-clad seniors glumly slink off into the unknown — is one of the most well-known representations of Vassar’s famous Commencement tradition; and her murals remain one of the most charming aspects of the Alumnae House pub. Many alums will also know Cleveland and Anderson’s books of cartoons specific to their alma mater — Vassar (1938), Vassar: A Second Glance (1942), and Everything Correlates (1946).

Cleveland’s drawings also had a reach beyond Vassar’s walls (and beyond Vassar-specific punchlines). The first Cleveland and Anderson collection sold thousands of copies, leading to work for Ladies’ Home Journal, Harper’s Bazaar, Life, and other publications. Cleveland also published a number of books with other collaborators. But the book that comics aficionados agree is her greatest is It’s Better With Your Shoes Off (1955), a collection of cartoons about Westerners living in postwar Japan. Shaenon Garrity ’00, a cartoonist and writer on the subject of comic art, calls the book “charming, funny, and timeless.” Vassar professor and New Yorker cartoonist Liza Donnelly describes Cleveland’s style as “beautifully drawn and stylized in a unique way.” Canadian cartoonist Seth, author of the Palookaville comics, told the Comics Reporter that upon discovering the book, he “immediately fell in love with her brilliant drawings and her smart, innovative layouts.” It is, he said, “a virtuoso act. Which makes it a shame that so little of her work seems to have been done. I wish there were 20 Anne Cleveland books out there.”

Anne Cleveland died in March of this year at the age of 92. When her family told her, in the last few weeks of her life, of her new fans, Cleveland “was very surprised and pleased,” says her son, Toby White. “She never really understood what the Internet was, so it was hard to tell her where the interest was coming from. However, she certainly appreciated that her work was being reexamined and enjoyed by a new generation of artists.”

— Thomas Hopkins

Photo credits: Anne Cleveland '37
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