Licien Harris

[ Age 89 ] Fashion illustrator was an active preservationist and founding member of Baltimore Heritage.

As a member of the city Planning Commission, Mrs. Harris voted against interstate highways through Baltimore.

April 15, 2008|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,Sun reporter

Licien "Lun" Harris, a retired fashion illustrator who was a voice for neighborhood preservation and beautification through tree planting, died of a stroke April 8 at Gilchrist Center for Hospice Care. She was 89.

A resident of Bolton Hill for nearly six decades, she was a former board member of the Baltimore City Planning Commission, where she cast negative votes when plans for an interstate highway were discussed at its meetings. She was a founding member and former president of Baltimore Heritage, a preservation advocacy group.

"Lun was a unique advocate of proper city planning, historic preservation and the quality of urban life," said former state Sen. Julian L. Lapides, a neighbor. "She put her money where her mouth was and restored a magnificent home on the John Street Park. She was a modern Renaissance woman."

Licien King was born in Baltimore and raised in Washington. When she was 14 she lied about her age to get a job selling linens in a downtown Washington shop. She went into fashion illustration and worked from 1935 to 1937 as a model for photographers and artists at the old Lansburgh department store. As she learned on the job, she moved to a competitor, the Hecht Co., and became its chief illustrator while studying painting and life drawing at the Corcoran School of Art.

She later earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at the Maryland Institute College of Art, where she taught fashion and figure illustration in the 1970s.

In a memoir Mrs. Harris wrote, she detailed how she met her future husband in the mid-1940s while on a visit to Baltimore, where she had relatives. A cousin was about to go on a treasure hunt with a group of friends. He found a date for her.

"When the door bell rang later and I went out into the hall to meet him, I took one look and thought, `I'd be happy to spend the rest of my life with him,'" she wrote of her initial meeting with her future husband.

During the treasure hunt, Mrs. Harris and the other participants followed clues that took them to various locations. The hunt ended at Druid Ridge Cemetery in Pikesville and its landmark, the bronze grave memorial known as "Black Aggie."

She married her date, Barney "Barr" Harris, in 1946, then moved to Baltimore. She became chief illustrator and later an art director for the old Stewart's department store at Howard and Lexington streets. She later did many freelance drawings for the Jos. A. Bank men's clothing business, among other clients.

For several years the Harrises lived above his family's business in the 800 block of N. Howard St., where his father had a cabinetmaking and antiques business. That property became the Harris Auction Galleries, where she often assisted her husband in weekly sales as a bids recorder.

She and her husband bought a run-down John Street home in 1951 for $6,750. The residence was photographed by Sun photographer A. Aubrey Bodine in 1964 and described as a "townhouse marked by imagination and flair" in an accompanying feature story about the restored home.

Mrs. Harris, who could not vote while a Washington resident, became active in neighborhood issues and politics and was an early member of the Mount Royal Democratic Club. Mayor Thomas J. D'Alesandro III named her to a seat on the city Planning Commission, where she cast votes against the plans for interstate highways through Baltimore.

Mrs. Harris was also active in neighborhood beautification through the old Baltimore Garden Block Committee. She was a founding member of Beautiful Baltimore. The group planted trees and spring bulbs and installed hanging floral baskets on street lamps along Charles Street. By 1976, the group was working with city officials with a Tree-for-All program, wherein numerous flowering trees, including Bradford pears, were planted along city streets.

In 1973, Mayor William Donald Schaefer named her a Special Baltimorean.

She also organized material for a book on Baltimore artist Edward Rosenfeld, with whom she and others had a Friday lunch gathering. The group met for decades.

A memorial service is being planned for May 25.

In addition to her husband, she is survived by a daughter, M. Elizabeth Harris of Longmont, Colo.; two brothers, Benjamin W. King of Chevy Chase and Martin L. King of Alexandria, Va.; and a sister, Selma K. Sauer of Alpharetta, Ga.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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