The Art of Lea Learning

Category: arts 132

Beaverbrook Art Gallery & Theatre New Brunswick celebrate the work of Lea Learning, the artist responsible for more than a decade of TNB poster art.

Matt Carter
An unsung hero of NB art and design, Lea Learning designed more than 50 production posters for Theatre New Brunswick before moving on to design for Neptune Theatre in Halifax and Alberta Theatre Projects in Calgary.

To help mark the 50th anniversary of Theatre New Brunswick, the Beaverbrook Art Gallery have announced an upcoming exhibition of work by graphic designer Lea Learning beginning in mid-October. 

In 1968 Learning began working as Director of Publicity and PR with Theatre New Brunswick where she designed posters for every production in the company’s first ten years. The exhibition Theatre New Brunswick’s 50th Anniversary – Lea Learning’s Posters of the 1970s will feature a selection of posters designed between 1968 and 1978 with a few additional works from later seasons.

Born Lea Mersereau in 1938 near Woodstock, NB, Lea was raised in Bathurst before eventually moving to Fredericton where she met and later married Walter Learning, who would later found Theatre New Brunswick.

The two moved to Australia in the early 1960s, where Lea began working for David Jones, a leading department store chain. In the few years they spent living in the country’s capital of Canberra, she quickly rose through the ranks moving from a secretarial position to become the company’s PR Director where she designed illustrations for weekly newspaper features before leaving the job to return to Canada in 1966.

“Every week in the newspaper there would be a full page of fashion ads and she did all the illustrations by hand,” said Walter Learning. “She was amazing.”

In the summer of 1968, Lea began designing for TNB, creating some of the company’s most iconic imagery including posters for the company’s productions of Frankenstein, The Man Who Became God and The Incredible Murder of Cardinal Tosca.

Lea Learning.

“When you look at the poster for Frankenstein, that’s a photograph of actor David Brown in his full makeup for the creature,” said Learning. “Now, how could that be before the show was in rehearsal?  Lea had asked David if he would think about his makeup and she photographed him. We couldn’t believe it when this poster came out. She knew what the monster was going to look like before we did.”

After a decade with TNB, Lea went on to design posters for Neptune Theatre in Halifax and Alberta Theatre Projects in Calgary.

Though her connection with Theatre New Brunswick also included occasional design work with later Artistic Directors – Malcolm Black (1978-1984) and Sharon Pollack (1988-1990) – Lea is most recognized for her work during the company’s first ten seasons. Her use of high contrast images and bold colours helped define the company’s public image and became synonymous with live theatre across the province.

“She was a painter and a very good painter. She had a natural ability,” said Learning.

“There are not too many companies across the country where a single person was associated over such a long period of time. It’s interesting how these artists can influence what happens.”

She died in 1999.

Theatre New Brunswick’s 50th Anniversary – Lea Learning’s Posters of the 1970s will be on display at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery from October 13 to January 6, 2019. There will be an opening reception from 4-6 p.m. on October 13. Everyone is welcome. 

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