Swann in Profile: Skye Lacerte

The start of the fall 2023 auction season at Swann brought Skye Lacerte as a new specialist for the Illustration Art department. Ahead of the December 14 sale, we sat down with Lacerte to discuss all things illustration art.

Skye Lacerte, Specialist, Illustration Art

Tell us a little bit about life before Swann. What brought you into the world of illustration art? 

I’ve spent the past 15 years in the Midwest as a Special Collections curator at Washington University in St. Louis where I helped build an archival collection dedicated to illustration art. At the time that I started, there was no collection like it at an academic institution in existence. So, in a sense, we were shaping the field of illustration and visual culture studies which has since developed into a popular area of interest for scholars, students, and practitioners. 

Before St. Louis, I lived in Southern California where I moved through various fields including the entertainment industry and civil engineering before returning to library school. My interest and education in art history led me to a position as processing archivist at The Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. The combination of my experience with popular culture, art, and library science made my transition to Illustration Art natural. 

I was a fan of illustration art before I knew the term existed. As a child/young adult, I was an avid collector of many forms of visual communication including movie posters, picture books, pulp fiction novels, record album covers, and any antique with graphics that caught my eye. Studying Art History in college, I was drawn to contemporary artists who seemed to me to be influenced by popular visual culture such as Barbara Krueger, Carrie Mae Weems, Cindy Sherman, and Ed Ruscha. When the curator position opened at the Dowd Illustration Research Archive, I realized the role completely aligned with my skills and interests. 

What has been your favorite work you’ve had the opportunity to handle? Why? 

The two paintings by Ludwig Bemelmans for the Office of War Information (OWI) have been a real pleasure to handle and learn about. The Madeline creator was recruited to use his talent to help refugees and allies from other countries who were learning to speak English. I am especially drawn to the charming graphics in Still Life with Wine, Cheese, and Fruit. It’s a reminder to me of how much we all have in common. 

Lot 193: Ludwig Bemelmans, Sky and Sea Landscape, illustration created for the Office of War Information, gouache on board, circa 1942. At auction December 14. Estimate $10,000 to $15,000.
Lot 194: Ludwig Bemelmans, Still Life with Wine, Cheese, and Fruit, illustration created for the Office of War Information, gouache on board, circa 1942. At auction December 14. Estimate $10,000 to $15,000.

What about an all-time favorite work? 

Lot 147: Richard Stone, The Transfer, story illustration, possibly for Cosmopolitan magazine, 1958. At auction December 14. Estimate $600 to $900.

I can’t possibly pick one favorite, but here is one that is significant to me. My favorite work from the collection at my previous job was Dick Stone’s illustration for the Kurt Vonnegut story, Next Door, published in Cosmopolitan in 1955. I’m a sucker for drama, and this work is full of it. The image uses a sequential series of images to tell the story of a little boy listening to a crime taking place next door. The work is laid out effectively and the use of a two-color palette adds to the artistry and emotional impact. I am thrilled to have more works by Stone offered in our 2023 auction!   

Do you have a favorite book? 

I’m a big fan of mystery and hard-boiled detective novels. My favorite of the genre is probably Raymond Chandler’s, The Lady in the Lake. I love stories from an outsider’s perspective, with a strong moral compass and a low tolerance for fools, set during a time when America was transitioning to a new, modern reality. Not to mention plot twists, snappy dialogue, and melodramatic characters. 

You recently moved to NYC, how have you been enjoying your time in the city? 

My partner and I have been enjoying getting to know our neighborhood in the Bronx. We’ve been exploring the streets, restaurants, and shops. There’s a beautiful community here: lively, artistic, and welcoming. I recommend making a trip to Mott Haven for a visit. 

Swann is an auction house by collectors, for collectors… do you collect anything? 

I have collected many types of objects over the years but have had to slow down due to space restrictions. Now I’ve turned my focus to our walls. I have a few works of illustration art in my home, as well as vintage prints and photographs. There’s always more wall space and I like the fact that I can look at my collection all the time and they’re not just packed away in boxes.  

What drew you to the auction world? 

Honestly, Swann drew me to the auction world. It was not something I necessarily saw in my future, although I wasn’t opposed to it. It wasn’t until I met the folks at Swann that I knew this field was for me. Everyone who works here is not only dedicated to their area of expertise, but to the success of all staff. It’s a welcoming environment full of hard-working, creative nerds like me.  

What is a common misconception about illustration art? 

I think one misconception (that has already started to change) is that illustrators are solely draftsmen, hired to replicate whatever the art director wants. But as one can see from the wide range of styles, media, and subject matter in our auctions, illustrators do put themselves into their work. They may be expressing someone else’s words, but they’re still interpreting them through their lens. All illustrators do this to varying degrees, of course. Some are hired to create very specific compositions to express a text they have no connection to. Others are hired to write visual essays for which they oversee the content, point of view, and approach. No matter where they are on that spectrum, they all have something to say. 

Lot 131: Robert Passantino, Let’s Get Literate, editorial illustration for Men by Asa Barber, published in Playboy, 1994. At auction December 14. Estimate $800 to $1,200.