Celebrating LeRoy Neiman

Leroy Neiman smiles while looking off to the side. He is wearing a pink button-up shirt, a black jacket, and a black and gold patterned scarf. He has grey hair and a full gray mustache.

Leroy Neiman (SAIC 1946–50, HON 2006)

Leroy Neiman (SAIC 1946–50, HON 2006)

by Peyton Sauer

Join us on September 21 to celebrate LeRoy (SAIC 1946–50, HON 2006) and Janet Neiman (HON 2015) as we mark the 10th anniversary of the vital nexus of student activity that is the LeRoy Neiman Center.

Since its opening in 2012, the LeRoy Neiman Center sits at the heart of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s campus. With funding donated by LeRoy (SAIC 1946–50, HON 2006) and Janet Neiman (HON 2015), the 17,800-square-foot space is home to a student-run gallery, a café and lounge, and meeting areas for student-led organizations. Ten years after the opening of the LeRoy Neiman Center in SAIC’s historic Sharp Building, Neiman’s legacy continues.

Students and faculty gather together around a table. On top of the table are many black and white drawings and sketches.

Leroy Neiman working with students.

Leroy Neiman working with students.

LeRoy Neiman was born in Saint Paul, Minnesota, in 1921 and grew up in the city’s blue-collar neighborhood, Frogtown. As a child, Neiman showed an early talent for drawing and selling his works, often creating posters for local merchants for a nickel each. Neiman entered the U.S. Army during World War II and worked as an army cook, painted sets for Red Cross shows, and created murals on the walls of mess halls.

Following his honorable discharge from the Army, Neiman began studying at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) on the G.I. Bill. After completing his studies at SAIC, Neiman spent a decade teaching figure drawing and fashion illustration at SAIC.

Throughout his career, Neiman painted a myriad of major figures in sports, politics, and art. Neiman worked for Playboy for 50 years, writing and illustrating various stories and columns. He also illustrated album covers, created posters for large events, and painted Broadway show sets.

A mural of multiple people enjoying a day at the sand dunes. While most of the sand is tan, there are splotches of light blue scattered across the ground. Some are people walking on the sand together, some are sitting on the sand in groups, and one person at the center of the mural lies down by themselves on a towel.

Summertime on the Indiana Dunes, LeRoy Neiman.

Summertime on the Indiana Dunes, LeRoy Neiman.

In addition to his artistic career, Neiman was a major supporter of arts education. In 1986, Neiman and his wife, Janet Byrne Neiman, established the LeRoy Neiman Foundation [15] to fund programs encouraging arts education. In 2005, the Neiman Foundation donated $3 million to SAIC’s scholarship fund. 

In 2011, the Neimans donated $5 million to fund the construction of a community campus center for SAIC students, faculty, staff, and alums. The LeRoy Neiman Center opened less than a year later, housing amenities for students, and includes Neiman’s largest mural, Summertime on the Indiana Dunes [16], which hangs in the lobby outside the center.

LeRoy Neiman passed away on June 20, 2012, just 12 days after his 91st birthday. His contributions to SAIC total $8 million, making Neiman one of the most generous alums in SAIC’s history.

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