Leonard Maurer was born in 1912 in Newark, New Jersey. From an early age Maurer was interested in reading and sketching. Because of his father’s death and the economic pressures on his family, Maurer was unable to complete high school. Instead, he worked several jobs, including copyboy for a print company, sales assistant at a bookshop, and as a book sales representative. These jobs allowed Maurer time to practice and develop his skill at sketching and printmaking. Maurer began his formal artistic career while in the United States Army, working as a cartographer for the Army Infantry before the Second World War. During the war, Maurer was stationed in Ireland and then took part in the liberation of Europe, moving through France, Luxembourg, Belgium, and Germany. Maurer’s collection of sketches from this period illustrates his experiences as a soldier and the people and places he encountered.
Upon Maurer’s return to the U.S. in 1945, he moved to Washington, D.C. where he continued to work for the U.S. Army Map Service. In 1948, he began his studies at American University, earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1952. That same year, he began teaching locally at Mt. Vernon College and served as Chairman of the Art Department until 1967. Maurer continued making prints and expanded his canon to include watercolors, painting, pen and ink, and woodcarving. Maurer’s artistic style tended toward abstraction, as he sought to create symbolic forms rather than simply capturing actual appearance. Maurer drew inspiration from Japanese prints, mastering calligraphy and brush and ink. The Phillips Collection’s The Beggars in Town (1948) is representative of Maurer’s expressive ink drawing style.
Maurer’s experience as a cartographer fueled an interest in nature, an interest that emerged in his later work in expressive, natural forms that convey a sense of mystery. Maurer’s most notable technique, however, is the manner in which he highlights his compositions, using accents of rich color to convey a sense of space. Maurer demonstrates this technique in The Phillips Collection’s Night Signs (1951) and Into Paris, No. 2 (1955). Throughout his career, Maurer exhibited extensively across the United States and won numerous awards, including the selection of his work to hang in the White House in 1969.