The Artist And The Bridge
During the construction of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in the early 1960s, a petite woman could be found weaving her way among the burly bridge builders with her drawing board and art supplies in hand. Artist and illustrator Lili Rethi became so familiar to workers building the bridge that they built her a little shed on site to shelter her from the wind and cold.
The result was a series of 42 powerful drawings, watercolors and one oil painting drawn and sketched over a period of several years depicting the building of Verrazano-Narrows. Today, most of the Rethi works are housed in the MTA Bridges and Tunnels Special Archive collection, with the exception of the oil painting which was given to the Smithsonian before the artist’s death in 1969.
Rethi, born in Vienna in 1894, came to the United States in 1939 to cover the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair for the Illustrated London News and remained here. In addition to sketching, she also illustrated more than 50 books over the course of her career.
She particularly loved depicting heavy construction projects. As a young woman, she disguised herself as a boy and sneaked inside a Belgian mine to do some sketching. She also drew shipyards, canals and bridges under construction in Europe.
The Rethi series was exhibited at the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of History and Technology in 1965 and at the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair. Her work was also reproduced in the 1964 hardcover edition of Gay Talese’s book, The Bridge.