One of Frogtown’s best known native sons of the 20th century was famed American artist LeRoy Neiman. He was born in 1921 in Braham and was of Swedish and Turkish descent. His birth name was Runquist but his father deserted the family when he was young. His mother Lydia Sophie Serline Runquist married John Niman or Neiman in 1926 and LeRoy took his stepfather’s surname. That marriage ended in about 1935.
When Neiman was a small boy, his family moved to Saint Paul, initially living on Grand Avenue. They moved to 563 N. Western Av. in about 1935 and then to 569 Van Buren Ave. when his mother married Ernest G. Hoeschler in 1940. Both houses are still standing. Neiman’s longest-term Frogtown home was the Van Buren address. He lived here from about age 15 to age 34.
Neiman’s biographies state he attended a Catholic elementary school where teachers encouraged his interest in art, but don’t state which one. He attended Washington High School (now Wellstone) in the North End but didn’t graduate.
Neiman served in the U.S. Army during World War II. He returned to Saint Paul and briefly attended the Saint Paul School of Art, then went to the School of The Art Institute of Chicago. He served on the Chicago school’s faculty and began exhibiting his art and winning contests. He began his long association with Playboy magazine in 1954 on the G.I. Bill. After graduating, Neiman served on the Art Institute faculty for ten years. During the time Neiman was teaching, he was exhibiting art in competitions and winning prizes. In 1954, Neiman began his association with Playboy Magazine thanks to his friendship with magazine founder Hugh Hefner. The two had met when Neiman did freelance fashion illustration for the Carson Pirie Scott department store chain. Neiman would work for Playboy for 50 years.
Neiman produced about six different serigraph subjects a year, generally priced from $3,000 to $6,000 each. Gross annual sales of new serigraphs alone top $10 million. Neiman traveled the world painting almost every kind of sporting event, as well as depicting night life, social and leisure activities. He also sponsored numerous organizations that fostered art activities for children and facilities for college students studying art. He died in 2012 at age 91.