Home Events Three with a Pen: Lily Renée, Bil Spira, and Paul Peter Porges

Three with a Pen: Lily Renée, Bil Spira, and Paul Peter Porges

March 11, 2021 – September 3, 2021

Open daily, 10am – 6pm

Free admission

Curated by Sabine Bergler and Michael Freund

Presented in cooperation with the Jewish Museum Vienna

The Austrian Cultural Forum New York is pleased to announce the presentation of Three with a Pen: Lily Renée, Bil Spira, and Paul Peter Porges featuring works by the three Jewish artists driven from their homes in Vienna after the German annexation of Austria, the so-called “Anschluss,”, in 1938. On view March 11 through September 3, 2021, the exhibition showcases examples of their signature work in comic books, New Yorker cartoons, Mad magazine spoofs, caricatures, portraiture, fashion design, advertising, and children’s books, among other formats. Biographical material and ephemera amplify the artists’ personal stories of survival and, in part, help contextualize their professional achievements.

Paul Peter Porges, Dr. Sigmund Freud tastes his first banana split in America

Born in Vienna to Jewish parents, Lily Renée Willheim (b.1921), Wilhelm Spira (1913-1999), and Paul Peter Porges (1927-2016) each showed early promise as artists. When Nazi Germany annexed Austria in 1938 and the persecution of Austrian Jews began, Willheim and Porges’ parents placed them on children’s transports to what they thought were safe havens—England and France, respectively. Spira was repeatedly arrested, escaped multiple times, and finally interned in concentration camps for the duration of World War II. Willheim and Porges eventually settled in New York and Spira in Paris where they made successful careers as illustrators and graphic artists.

The exhibition, organized by the Jewish Museum in Vienna, intentionally displays the artwork and biographical information separately so visitors may consider the quality of the artists’ output apart from their experiences during the war and the Holocaust. Depicting a range of subjects and using distinctive techniques, some works were intended to expose and ridicule Nazism and fascism and comment on political and historical events. Others reveal aspects of human nature and contemporary society—both in satirical terms and affectionately.

The ACFNY Director Michael Haider said, “We are delighted to present this selection of work by these influential artists in New York City, where Lily Renée and Paul Peter Porges settled and where they launched their careers. While very different stylistically, they and Bil Spira produced a rich array of characters and stories based on current events, daily life, memories of Vienna, and their vivid imaginations. We look forward to welcoming visitors to our galleries and related programs illuminating the lives and practices of these three highly creative individuals who wielded mighty pens.”

Watch the short profile on the exhibition featuring interviews with Lily Renée, Bil Spira, and Paul Peter Porges’ daughter below:

Lily Renée, Señorita Rio comic strip

Lily Renée

The only child of a well-to-do family, Lily Renée Willheim discovered drawing early, creating opulent fantasy worlds with mythical creatures. As a result of the so-called “Anschluss”, her father lost his job, her school friends were no longer allowed to play with her, and, like many, the family endured a variety of hardships. In 1939, at age seventeen, her parents put her on a children’s transport bound for England where she briefly stayed with a British family.

She reunited with her parents in New York City in 1940, where she lives today. After studying at the Art Students League and School of the Visual Arts, she was hired by comic book publishers. An exception in the male-dominated field, she created illustrations for several comic books including Señorita Rio, a glamorous Brazilian secret agent fighting the Nazis, the comedy duo Abbott and Costello, and others. Her later works include children’s books, decorative motifs, and textile designs. In 2007, Lily Renée attended Comic-Con in San Diego to receive their Inkpot Award and was inducted into the Hall of Fame of Friends of Lulu, an organization promoting women in comics. She celebrates her 100th birthday this year.


Bil Spira

Wilhelm (Bil) Spira was precocious, producing work for newspapers while still in high school. After graduating, he attended the School of Applied Arts and collaborated on an animated cartoon in Paris before returning to Vienna. Shortly after the “Anschluss”, he was arrested and ordered to leave the country. He returned to Paris where he worked as an illustrator for various publications and as a portraitist of fellow exiles. When Germany invaded France, he escaped to Marseille. There he met Varian

Bil Spira, Drawing from Blechhammer Camp

Mackey Fry from a New York-based organization helping to address the refugee crisis. Spira put his talents to work by forging identification papers and passports thereby helping save many. Betrayed by an associate, he spent the rest of the war in internment and concentration camps. He exchanged for cigarettes several drawings documenting life in the camps to a British POW with whom he was interned, examples of which are on view in the exhibition. Liberated in 1945, he returned to France to work as an illustrator for various publications until his death.

With just a few strokes of his pen, he captured the distinguishing features of a person. His innovative use of blank spaces as formative elements made him a master of reductive technique. Despite his lived experiences and losses, Spira’s work is imbued with optimism and humor.


Paul Peter Porges

Paul Peter Porges, Messenger Gridlock on Madison and 54th Street

Paul Peter Porges attended classes conducted by Franz Čižek for children at the Vienna School of Applied Arts. In 1939, he was put on a children’s transport to France. He and dozens of refugee children lived in La Guette, a property in the French countryside that had been transformed into a progressive school structured as a “Children’s Republic.” When Germany invaded and after a period on the run, Porges was interned. Nevertheless, at age sixteen, he escaped, made his way to Switzerland, and continued his studies in Geneva.

By then a talented graphic artist, he reunited with his parents and brother in New York in 1947. After a period of traveling the country with a circus, he joined the U.S. Army where he created a popular comic strip published in Stars and Stripes. He went on to produce cartoons for the Saturday Evening Post, Playboy, New Yorker, Look, and other national magazines. At Mad magazine, he drew satirical caricatures and developed subversive content. The range of publications attests to his creativity, sly humor, and versatile practice.

Three with a Pen: Lily Renée, Bil Spira, and Paul Peter Porges was previously presented at the Museum Judenplatz (Jewish Museum Vienna), a Wien Holding museum, curated by Sabine Bergler and Michael Freund. Accompanying the exhibition is a fully illustrated German-English language catalog published by the Jewish Museum Vienna.


March 11: Virtual Exhibition Opening

On March 11th at 10 AM ET, the ACFNY will welcome “Three with a Pen: Lily Reneé, Bil Spira, and Paul Peter Porges” in a virtual exhibition opening. The virtual opening will include teasers of the exhibition, opening remarks from ACFNY Director Michael Haider and Jewish Museum Vienna Director Danielle Spera, as well as statements from Friends of Jewish Museum Vienna president Eric Huebscher, the exhibition’s curators, and the artists’ family members. Watch the opening at this link.

Further public programming will be announced at a later date.



Lily Renée, Señorita Rio comic strip, in: Fight Comics no. 35, December 1944. Reprinted in: Good Girl Art, Summer 1991 (reproduction). Collection of the artist.

Paul Peter Porges, Messenger Gridlock on Madison and 54th Street. Proof, India ink and colored crayon on paper, New York. Appeared in Crain’s New York Business. © Jewish Museum Vienna

Bil Spira, Drawing from Blechhammer camp. Gouache and colored crayons on paper, 1944. © Imperial War Museum London, Art.IWM ART 17121, Art.IWM ART 17127

Paul Peter Porges, Messenger Gridlock on Madison and 54th Street. Proof, India ink and colored crayon on paper, New York. Appeared in Crain’s New York Business. © Jewish Museum Vienna


Director ACFNY: Michael Haider

Director Jewish Museum Vienna: Danielle Spera

Exhibition Coordination: Nina Monschein

Exhibition Design: Fuhrer,

Vienna Exhibition Bureau: Anna Lena Kiesbye

Conservation Management: Bettina Dräxler

Supported by

Austrian Federal Chancellery

City of Vienna

legero united

RaiffeisenCapital Management




Mar 11 2021 - Sep 03 2021

Tue ‒ Thu: 09am ‒ 07pm
Fri ‒ Mon: 09am ‒ 05pm

Adults: $25
Children & Students free

673 12 Constitution Lane Massillon
781-562-9355, 781-727-6090