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Art in Focus Spotlight: Lisa Congdon, Fine Artist and Illustrator

By Julie Smith SchneiderDec 1 2021
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When the scent of roasted chestnuts wafts from street carts, the Christmas Tree twinkles with miles of colored lights, and scarf-clad ice skaters glide around The Rink, the unmistakable warmth of the holiday season envelops Rockefeller Center. Artist Lisa Congdon’s new installation at the Center adds to the festive glow, with a limited-edition holiday map and a series of murals that invite visitors and locals alike to wander the winter wonderland.

For the fourth installment of the artist-designed holiday map series, produced by Rockefeller Center in partnership with Art Production Fund, Congdon’s holiday map and murals illustrate beloved motifs of Christmastime in New York City. (Artists previously featured in the series include Oliver Jeffers, Joana Avillez, and Angelica Hicks.) The Channel Gardens’ trumpeting angels and a quartet of Rockettes in red leotards dance across the page. Illustrations of FAO Schwarz’s stately toy soldiers, a stack of books from Simon & Schuster, and a holly-red Lego brick help visitors find their way to holiday festivities, landmarks, and shopping spots.

“I love playing with color, and I love Christmas,” Congdon said. “Getting to draw a map that was so whimsical and fun, about a place that is so iconic? That was really, really exciting for me.”

With her signature hand lettering and a style that’s infused with mid-century design inspiration, Congdon’s map pops with cheerful bursts of saffron yellow, crisp blues, evergreens, and bubblegum pinks. The free map is available in the building lobbies, at the Top of the Rock Gift Shop and The Rink skate hut, as well as from Rockefeller Center retailers.

Congdon’s art installation, which expands upon the festive imagery of her map, can be spotted throughout the campus. Approximately 30 vinyl murals are installed inside 10 Rockefeller Plaza, 30 Rockefeller Plaza, and the street and Rink levels of 45 Rockefeller Plaza. A pair of lightboxes glows with her art next to Ralph’s wreath-festooned coffee truck and the Atlas sculpture, outside of 45 Rockefeller Center. Take a close look, and you’ll see drawings of the artist’s little white pup, Milkshake, tucked inside some of the murals. “I love to think that she's wandering around the streets of New York,” Congdon said.

In a window on the Plaza, across from Lodi, there’s a mixed-media diorama. Congdon created the piece in collaboration with children and their families at a free public art-making program called Art Sundae, held in mid-November. Contained in the window’s world is an imaginative cityscape with buildings and yellow taxis cut from boards, surrounded by snowflakes and presents, each collaged with glittery and metallic papers by small hands. The scene is set against a royal blue background with glinting gold stars, and framed by a red curtain, like a theater stage. “We organized what we thought would be the simplest way for [the kids] to contribute to the window,” says Congdon, “and it ended up working out really well.”

Self-described as an “artist, joy monger, author, activist, world traveler, collector, goofball” on her Instagram profile, Congdon is known for inspiring creativity in others. Her artwork often features quotes with uplifting messages, and she brings her creative wisdom to The Lisa Congdon Sessions, her podcast about living with curiosity and joy. She offers online courses for artists and teaches a class on creative entrepreneurship at Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland, Oregon, where she lives.

A self-taught artist, Congdon started her professional career in a different field — public education — before making the switch to making art full-time nearly 15 years ago, while in her late 30s. She has since made artwork for clients around the world, including the Museum of Modern Art, Chronicle Books, and the United Nations, among many others. Find Your Artistic Voice: The Essential Guide to Working Your Creative Magic and Art Inc: The Essential Guide to Building Your Career as an Artist are among the 10 books she’s published.

Creating this holiday installation at Rockefeller Center was another career highlight for Congdon. New York City, she said, is one of her favorite places in the world. “It's an honor, I think, for anyone to be asked to put their art in one of the most iconic New York City locations, but, especially at Christmastime,” Congdon said, mentioning the giant Christmas Tree and The Rink. “Even people who don't live in New York are familiar with [Rockefeller Center], just from seeing it on TV. So, it was a real honor to be able to illustrate holiday cheer in a place that's so iconically New York, and so iconically holiday.”

When people open her holiday map or encounter her artwork in the gilded art deco halls of the campus, Congdon aspires for her artwork to spark a sense of wonder, curiosity, and joy that will encourage visitors to explore and discover all the magical places illustrated on the map. “My hope is that people will open the map and squeal, the way you would when you open a children's book,” she said. “I hope that everyone who adventures over there [...] takes away — not just from my decorations and my map, but everything at Rockefeller Center — a sense of warmth and coziness, because we all need that right now.”

Lisa Congdon’s artwork is on view around the Rockefeller Center campus through January 9, 2022. This installation is part of Art in Focus, a series of art exhibitions produced in partnership with Art Production Fund.

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