Stevens, Lawrence Sterne

Tagged: Art

(1886-1960) American artist who also signed himself Stephen Lawrence or just Lawrence; some covers attributed to Lawrence were actually the work of his son Peter Stevens (1920-2001). The elder Stevens effectively learned how to draw by working as a newspaper artist and did not begin drawing for the sf Pulp magazines until the early 1940s, when the demand for newspaper illustration was diminishing. He was most admired for his interior illustrations, which became his major activity when the aging Stevens was called upon to replace the great Virgil Finlay when the younger artist was drafted. Although faster, more versatile, and excellent at pen-and-ink stippling, he never achieved Finlay's fame. Stevens's finest work may be the dozens of interiors he did for Adventure from 1943 to 1954, though his interior illustrations for Famous Fantastic Mysteries, Startling Stories, Super Science Stories, and Thrilling Wonder Stories were also admired. In Science Fiction Art (1975), Brian W Aldiss singled out for special praise an interior for the September 1945 issue of Famous Fantastic Mysteries, illustrating Joe Archibald's "Heaven Only Knows" with a drawing of a skeletal Grim Reaper directing Adolf Hitler to join a grisly landscape of dead bodies recalling photographs then emerging of the mass graves at Nazi concentration camps.

Stevens also painted a number of sf magazine covers, but any evaluation of these is complicated by the fact that he often gave these assignments to his son Peter. Thus, Jane Frank is sure that Stevens painted the cover of the November 1942 issue of Super Science Stories, showing an astronaut in space being seized by two winged women, but she attributes the cover of the December 1942 issue of Astonishing Stories, showing a batlike human flying over and threatening a fleeing mob, to his son. In other cases, one assumes, the actual identity of the cover artist remains uncertain. Surveying the Lawrence covers, though, one can conclude that both artists were able to produce competent renderings of human figures in the company of colourful Monsters, though the results generally do not command special attention. The father and/or son were at times more creative in their covers for Famous Fantastic Mysteries, as shown by the cover of the August 1946 issue, showing an enormous skull comprised of human bodies.

In the early 1950s, Stevens retired and moved to Connecticut, where he died in 1960. There are reliable reports that Famous Fantastic Mysteries published some portfolios of his illustrations, but since corroborating evidence of their existence is hard to locate, one hesitates to list such elusive items as official publications. [RB/GW]

Lawrence Sterne Stevens

born Pontiac, Michigan: 4 December 1886

died 7 January 1960

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