A Son’s Quest


Lucia Yee-Lipitz

In summer 1984, Jerry Strauss ’77 got a surprise phone call from his cousin alerting him that his father, Dewald Strauss, who had died 10 years earlier, appeared in that day’s New York Times.

There, on an inside page, was Alice Neel’s portrait of his father, then on display at a 57th Street gallery. Jerry had no idea the painting existed. That weekend, with pride and wonder, he viewed Fuller Brush Man for the first time. But he was disappointed that Dewald’s name appeared nowhere. In 2000, the work surfaced again in a centennial Neel exhibition at the Whitney Museum — still no name. Finally, through Jerry’s efforts, the painting was named in time for the exhibition’s opening at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The work is now among Neel’s best known.

Coincidentally, Jerry worked in information technology at the Met for many years. He first recounted his father’s story at a TEDx talk in 2015, which spawned the graphic novel, Giving My Father Back His Name: The Fuller Brush Man Meets the Great American Portrait Artist, illustrated by Lucia Yee-Lipitz. More than just the tale of a painting, the book breathes life into the story of a German Jewish survivor of Dachau who comes to the U.S. and begins life anew in a new world of freedom, security and opportunity.