Illustrating from Paradise: The Works of Morgan Dennis and Gerald Leake

September 17, 2021 - January 3, 2022

Custom House Museum | Bryan Gallery

Artists Gerald Leake and Morgan Dennis share much in common.  Both lived and worked in the Northeast United States as professional illustrators for such well-known products as Coca-Cola, Lucky Strike and Black and White Scotch Whiskey.  Along with product advertising, the pair turned their talents to illustrating stories. In the case of Gerald Leake, his imagery adorned the pages of such magazines as Cosmopolitan, Harper’s Bazaar, Good Housekeeping, McCall’s and others.  For Morgan Dennis, his focus was writing and illustrating books about dogs and their adventures.

Gerald Leake (1885-1975) was a British-born painter and illustrator who became a professional artist in 1905.  He came to the United States in the early 1920s and found work as a successful illustrator for magazines with national circulation.  His Coca-Cola, Lucky Strike and Electric Boat Company designs were distributed widely.  His art is of the traditionally academic manner and has been shown at the Royal Academy of Art in England and was elected to membership in the Royal Society of British Artists.  He came to Key West shortly after World War II, following his distinguished career in New York City.  Leake made his home aboard his boat at Garrison Bight where he served as the harbormaster.  Between commercial projects, Leake taught portrait classes at Fort East Martello Museum.  Not wanting to be defined by a particular artistic genre, he worked in several mediums including oils, watercolors, pastels and crayon; his subjects were equally as diverse and included portraits and land and seascapes.

Morgan Dennis (1892-1960) was born in Boston, Massachusetts and studied art at the America School of Design in New York with William Harry Warren Bicknell and Stanhope Forbes.  In his early years, he spent several years working on Boston newspapers and sold etchings through dealers.  The Texaco Company picked up his etching of two listening Scottie dogs in 1934.  Some time later,  he began the ‘Blackie & Whitey’ series of advertisements used by Dewar’s Black and White Scotch Whiskey Company for many years.  Dennis was involved in producing the poster for Be Kind to Animals Week® for several years in the 1930s and 1940s.Like Leake, Dennis discovered Key West soon after World War II and, also like Leake, he and his wife lived on a houseboat off South Roosevelt Boulevard named ‘The Sea Dog’.  Known primarily for his dog subjects, he authored and illustrated a number of publications including, Pup Himself (1943), Burlap (1945), Skit and Skat (1951) and Pure Breeds (1953).  The Sea Dog (1958) is a children’s book written and illustrated by Dennis and follows a family that builds a houseboat to live on in Key West a with their Irish water spaniel named Splash.

“Illustrating from Paradise: The Works of Gerald Leake and Morgan Dennis” launches with an exhibit opening on September 17, from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. that is open to the public.

Sponsored in part by The Helmerich Trust and the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs.

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