Sylvia Spicuzza

Billie the Brownie With Flowers #407, ca. 1945
Tempera, stamped signature lower right
10 x 8 in
SKU: DB5180d
PurchaseMake an OfferInquire

In this painting, Sylvia Spicuzza demonstrates her skill as an illustration artist, representing the Milwaukee character Billie the Brownie with a pair of flowers. An illustration like this could grace the pages of a children's book or illustrated magazine, or as an advertisement for Schuster’s Department Store.

10 x 8 inches, artwork
17 x 13.13 inches, frame
stamped with artist signature lower left

Born in 1908, Sylvia Spicuzza was the daughter of noted painter Francesco Spicuzza. Sylvia devoted herself to teaching art to the students of Lake Bluff Elementary School in Shorewood, WI. During this time Sylvia produced a magnificent body of work that was undiscovered until her death. Sylvia's work is rich, diverse and fascinating collection of drawings, watercolors and prints from the 1920's to the 1990's. Her style ranges from early figurative drawings to regionalism, Art Deco, lyrical abstractions of every conceivable subject (both real and imagined), as well as figurative paintings that reflect the work of Picasso, Kandinsky and Max Ernst in the 1930's and 1940's. Biomorphic and organic, Modernist images are presented with Sylvia Spicuzza's own unique sense of style, humor and fantasy.

Billie the Brownie was a multi-media star of Christmas in Milwaukee from the 1920s to the 1950s. Years earlier, the writer and artist Palmer Cox had popularized “Brownies”—he created dozens of the little men, each with a different ethnic background, personality, and occupation—in scores of stories published in children’s magazines late in the nineteenth century. They also appeared in numerous advertisements, were made into toys, and became the namesake of the hand-held “Brownie” camera in 1900. In Milwaukee, Brownies began to appear in Schuster’s Department Store advertisements and displays during the 1920s. By 1927, “Billie the Brownie” was featured in Schuster’s annual Christmas Parade. Four years later Billie joined Santa Claus and an Eskimo named Metik on a fifteen-minute, daily radio show on WTMJ. They chatted about the holiday, read letters from children to Santa (in 1947, 100,000 letters were received), and told Christmas tales. After nearly a quarter century, Billie, Santa, and Metik made their final radio broadcast on Christmas Eve, 1955. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel honored the tradition when it launched a seasonal comic strip called “Beanie the Brownie” in 1996. Beanie, Billie’s son, is challenged each year to “save” Christmas from one villain determined to ruin Christmas.