Sheila Levrant de Bretteville

Memories of growing up a block from the ocean and being head of Lincoln High School's Art Squad

Sheila Levrant de Bretteville is a graphic designer, artist and educator who graduated in 1959 from Lincoln High School, where she was mentored by Leon Friend, the much lauded chair of Lincoln's art department. She recalls her work as head of the Art Squad, a student group founded by Friend, and winning a $500 prize in one of the citywide art contests he encouraged his students to enter. "He was so inventive about the different ways in which young people could get their work seen and prove to their parents they could survive doing these things," recalls Sheila, who adds that "Mr. Friend said it was the sea breezes that made the students so creative." 

Born in Brooklyn in 1940, Sheila Levrant grew up one block from the ocean on Corbin Place in Brighton Beach, where the boardwalk ends. She describes growing up in a household that included not only her parents and elder sister, but also a constant stream of immigrant relatives and survivors of the camps. Swimming in the ocean was her escape from the chaos of all the people who lived in the house and she loved going to school. Her first job, at age 14, was renting umbrellas and beach chairs under the Boardwalk, which she hated. Her first job as an educator, at age 16, was teaching arts and crafts and pioneering at an upstate camp for girls, which she loved.

Sheila Levrant de Bretteville is professor and director of the Yale University Graduate Program in Graphic Design. In 1971 at the California Institute of the Arts, she created the first women’s design program and, in 1973, founded the Woman’s Building and its Women’s Graphic Center in Los Angeles.