Leo Meiersdorff: 1934 - 1994

Born 14 December 1934 in Berlin-Charlottenburg, Germany.

As a young child, Leo spent time living both in Berlin and the family estate in East Prussia, where his Prussian ‘junker’ family raised Trahkehner horses and sheep. Family trips to Rügen on the Baltic Sea and to grandparents in Magdeburg provided wonderful early childhood memories.

After WWII, Leo’s family resettled in Berlin where he graduated from high school. Despite his family’s objections, he began to pursue a career as an artist. Financing his studies by going to sea, he worked on a herring trawler in the North Sea and as a merchant seaman traveling far from his studies, but giving him many perspectives. As an art student, he was greatly influenced by Max Pechstein, Karl-Schmitt Rottluff, and Oskar Kokoschka and painted in an expressionistic style.

He also loved music—particularly jazz. He liked to emulate famous jazz pianists and formed a group of like-minded musicians in Berlin. In the late 1950’s, Norman Granz, through the U.S. Department of State, sponsored wellknown jazz musicians in cultural exchanges around the world. One such concert was headed to Berlin. Leo entered a competition to design the record album cover for that event—and won! This could be considered the juncture when art and jazz became a theme for Leo.

In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, he embarked on trips to New York City and southern California, Laguna Beach and the LA area, meeting fellow artists and following the jazz scene there before returning to Europe to continue working in the arts. This was a period of exploration for Leo and he did restoration at the monastery in Einsiedeln, Switzerland and resumed art studies in Salzburg, Austria, eventually becoming a master student of Oskar Kokoschka.

By 1966, Leo was firmly planted in NYC, painting large expressionistic pieces in oils and mixed media. He befriended many jazz musicians and other people in the music world and began to focus on painting jazz figures in watercolors. His smaller jazz pieces became known in jazz circle, eventually becoming a demand outside of his musician friends. Leo’s experience in working in set design in Berlin transferred readily to New Orleans and Toronto, where he painted background jazz figures for television specials. Many legendary album covers from Blue Note, Concord Jazz, and Chiaroscuro are graced with Leo’s work—the artwork often requested by the musicians themselves who loved him.

Around 1970, Leo moved to New Orleans anchoring a career that has solidly identified him as a major contributor to jazz--America’s unique cultural contribution to the world. This was a prolific time for chronicling the musical and culinary culture of New Orleans and Leo captured it all. Iconic New Orleans restaurants display Meiersdorff paintings and imitators of his style can still be seen along the fence at Jackson Square in the heart of the French Quarter.

New projects brought him to the west coast to set up his studio in 1979. Herb Alpert commissioned Leo to paint several large pieces of artwork to line the entry way of A&M Studios; The New Woody Herman Club opened at the Hyatt Regency in New Orleans, beckoning Leo back to New Orleans for a few months to design a mural in front of the club; vineyards throughout northern California and the Pacific Northwest requested original art for wine labels as well as restaurants and jazz clubs, including jazz concerts here and abroad.

The demand for his work peaked in the mid-1980s-early 1990s and he sold prolific amounts of artwork to many different galleries and individuals, befriending many along the way. Sadly, Leo suffered from diabetes and its effects were unimaginably cruel as he began to lose his eyesight. Still, he continued to live life to the fullest, surrounded by his wife, Jennifer, and their many beloved pets. Leo died in Idyllwild, California, a small artistic mountain enclave in southern California, in 1994, at the age of 59 years.

Copyright by Jennifer Meiersdorff, all rights reserved