Riva Lehrer (born in 1958 in Cincinnati, Ohio) is an American painter, writer, teacher, and speaker. Lehrer was born with spina bifida and has undergone numerous surgeries throughout her life.[1] Her work focuses on issues of physical identity and the socially challenged body, especially in explorations of cultural depictions of disability. Lehrer is well known as both an artist and an activist in the field of Disability Culture.

Riva Lehrer
OccupationArtist and Writer

Early lifeEdit

Her early education took place at Condon School for Handicapped Children, which was one of the first schools in the United States to offer a standardized education to disabled children. She had many surgeries in her early life to render her body more "normal"[2]. Living a huge part of her childhood in the hospital, she got an intimate view of medicine and this has helped her in her career as an educator and an artist. In 1980, she moved to Chicago, where she has lived and exhibited her work ever since.


Her work focuses on people's physical identity as well as political themes, especially in regards to disability. After moving to Chicago, she encountered the works of other artists, joined a disabled artist group, and began one of her best known series, the Circle Stories. Currently Lehrer is the curator for the Access Living collection of art[3] and an auxiliary professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her interest in anatomy originally led her to consider a career in medicine but due to the lack of accommodations she soon felt this goal was unrealistic.

Instead she decided on an art career where she had more control over things like her schedule, but where she could still “prove her interests in biology and medicine”.[4] Her works on a whole are meant to reject the idea of pity and inspire a new way of thinking about the beauty of disabilities.

Teaching ExperienceEdit

School of the Art Institute of Chicago[5]. Adjunct Professor, 2000-current University of Illinois Free School Workshops, 2014 Northwestern University, Medical Humanities. Seminar instructor. 2012-current. University of Illinois at Chicago, Department of Medical Humanities. Visiting Artist and Instructor, Gross Anatomy Laboratory 2003-2006 Evanston Art Center, 1992-2002 Acrylic Paint Technical Advisor. Dick Blick Art Supplies. Golden Paints [6]

Circle StoriesEdit

Riva Lehrer began the Circle Stories series in 1997 and continued expanding it until 2004. Circle Stories is a series of portraits of Lehrer's fellow disabled artists[7]. The title of the series refers to the "circular" method that Lehrer employed in the creative process, "involving extensive interviews with each participant."[7] In her work, she aims to honor the “community of disabled innovators who provide support and context for the work of redefinition of disability in the 21st century".[8]

Other SeriesEdit

Lehrer's If Body series stems from the fact that people tend to visualize what they are going to look like at an older age and how that image can change over time. The pieces themselves represent her personal ideals about her body and how those ideals have changed over time. “The self-portraits of If Body series chart this schism between the imaginary “normal” body I imagine I “should” have had, and my relationship to my subjective “actual” body”.[9]

The Family series breaks the stereotype or myth that disabled people are loners and shows that people, disabled or not, form links, connections, and relationships with others. Lehrer explains “The Family drawings are an ongoing document of my own community of belonging. Some are blood relations, others are people who I consider part of my survival. They are a testament to the power that human beings have to transform each others lives”.[10]

The Totems and Familiars series are portraits that focus on people's objects of power (totems) and alter egos (familiars,) and how this iconography "helped (her subjects) through troubled times."[11]


  • AIR Gallery
  • Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art (Ridgefield, CT),
  • Arnot Museum
  • Chicago Cultural Center
  • DeCordova Museum (Lincoln, MA).
  • Elmhurst Museum
  • Frye Art Museum (Seattle, WA),
  • Herron Gallery at Indiana University
  • Lafayette Museum of Art
  • Mary Leigh Bloch Museum
  • Mobile Museum of Art
  • Muskegon Museum of Art (MI),
  • National Museum of Women in the Arts (Washington, D.C.),
  • Printworks Gallery (Chicago)[12]
  • Riverside Arts Center[13]
  • Susan Cummis Gallery
  • United Nations (NY)[14]
  • University of Notre Dame

Awards, achievements, and recognitionsEdit

  • 2017 · Society for Disability Studies Presidential Award
  • 2015 · 3Arts Residency Fellowship at the University of Illinois[15]
  • 2014 · Mellon Residency Fellowship at Haverford and Bryn Mawr Colleges[16]
  • 2010 · The Critical Fierceness Grant[17]
  • 2009 · Prairie Fellowship at the Ragdale Foundation
  • 2008 · Three Arts Foundation of Chicago grant for artistic achievement[18]
  • 2007 · Wynn Newhouse Award, Samuel I. Newhouse Foundation[19]
  • 2006 · Wynn Newhouse Award for Excellence (an unrestricted grant for $50,000)
  • 2001 · Carol J. Gill Award for Disability Culture, The Progress Center, Chicago
  • 1999 · Chicago Artist's Assistance Program Grant, Chicago Department of Cultural Affair
  • 1999 · Special Assistance Grant, Illinois Arts Council
  • 1998 · Honorable Mention, Portrait Show, Elmhurst Art Museum
  • 1996-97 · Arts Midwest/NEA Regional Visual Arts Fellowship Award
  • 1993-95 · Presidential Merit Scholarship, The School of the Art Institute, Chicago
  • 1994 · Scholarship, Anderson Ranch, Snowmass CO
  • 1993 · First Prize, Schoharie National Small Works Show
  • 1992 · Honorable Mention, Schoharie National Small Works Show


  1. ^ Lehrer, Riva (2017-08-09). "Opinion | Where All Bodies Are Exquisite". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-05-10.
  2. ^ Lehrer, Riva (2017-08-09). "Opinion | Where All Bodies Are Exquisite". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-05-10.
  3. ^ "Riva Lehrer". Access Living. 2008-07-18. Retrieved 2019-05-10.
  4. ^ (Davis, 2010)
  5. ^ "Riva Lehrer". School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Retrieved 2019-05-10.
  6. ^ http://www.rivalehrerart.com/#!resume/c10fk
  7. ^ a b Lehrer, Riva (2000). "Circle Stories: A Collaborative Project | Riva Lehrer | Academic Room". Feminist Studies. 26 (2): 381–390. JSTOR 3178540.
  8. ^ (Lehrer, Circle stories)
  9. ^ (Lehrer, If body)
  10. ^ (Lehrer, Family)
  11. ^ "Totems and Familiars | Riva Lehrer". riva-lehrer-art. Retrieved 2019-05-10.
  12. ^ "Queer artist Riva Lehrer: Her exhibition and documentary - Gay Lesbian Bi Trans News Archive". Windy City Times. Retrieved 2019-05-10.
  13. ^ "Riva Lehrer: Exquisite Radical | Riverside Arts Center". Retrieved 2019-05-10.
  14. ^ Foundation, Joan Mitchell. "Artist Programs » Artist Grants". joanmitchellfoundation.org. Retrieved 2019-05-10.
  15. ^ "News: Riva Lehrer Chosen for New 3Arts and UIC Artist Fellowship". Newcity Art. 2014-09-05. Retrieved 2019-05-10.
  16. ^ "Strategies of Vision: Mellon Creative Resident Riva Lehrer | Decentered". Retrieved 2019-05-10.
  17. ^ Alicia (2012-07-24). "Grant Committee: Critical Fierceness Queer Art Grant". Alicia Eler. Retrieved 2019-05-10.
  18. ^ "3Arts | Riva Lehrer". 3arts.org. Retrieved 2019-05-10.
  19. ^ Dorn, Mike (2007-02-01). "Disability Studies, Temple U.: Riva Lehrer wins first Wynn Newhouse Award". Disability Studies, Temple U. Retrieved 2019-05-10.

External linksEdit

  • Artist Website [1]
  • Printworks [2]
  • New House Award [3]