Laura Lengyel (b. 1946)

  • Laura Lengyel is an accomplished painter, sculptor, and printmaker who was greatly influenced by the Modern Era and European standards.  In the late 1960s, Lengyel founded and operated Mendocino’s first fine art gallery, Gallery West.  She spent nearly a decade in higher education developing her skills as an artist and trained as an apprentice with sculptor Spero Anargyros (1915-2004) in his San Francisco studio.  Lengyel’s passion for the figure is evident in works throughout her career, and through her development of the Artist Models Association in Northern California.  Lengyel has remained active in the Bay Area art community and continues to create art in her Marin studio.

    Laura La Foret Lengyel was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut in 1946.  She became interested in art at age 7, fashioning art supplies out of household odds and ends- newspaper, scissors, glue, and scrap cardboard.  Coming of age in the “make do” era informed much of Lengyel’s childhood; fine art supplies were not readily available, especially for children.  In 1954, Lengyel’s grandmother bought her a paint-by-numbers kit, and by age 11 she had taught herself illustration and won first prize for her design of a school science poster.  In her early teens, Lengyel was introduced to oil painting and took a painting class at the local Fairfield Art Museum.  From an early age, Lengyel knew that she was destined to be an artist.

    In 1963, Lengyel followed an older sibling, a Stanford Law School student, and moved to San Francisco to attend San Francisco College for Women (which would later become Lone Mountain College, and then University of San Francisco).  In 1967, she received a BA in Studio Art from Mills College in Oakland.  After graduating, Lengyel moved North to Mendocino to spend the summer.  At the time, the back-to-the-land movement was taking hold across the U.S.; many were abandoning city life for a more quiet, rural existence.  Lengyel rented a one room log cabin with a wood-burning stove and an outdoor cold water tap; she moved the bed outside and slept in a field.  After five months, she took a commercial fishing job and spent the next four months at sea.  Plans to attend graduate school derailed, and Lengyel found herself in need of work in Mendocino.  In the 1960s, Mendocino was a sparsely-populated and economically depressed area, and though exceptionally beautiful, had little to offer in the way of making a living.  Lengyel’s self-reliant attitude led her to pursue different career options, while still focusing on her artwork.

    In July 1968, Lengyel opened Gallery West, the first fine art gallery in Mendocino to feature local fine art and artisan crafts.  Gallery West presented local, contemporary artists and exhibited a wide array of mediums- printmaking, fiber arts, painting, ceramics, woodwork, glass, dance, sculpture, and artisan furniture.  Around 50 regional artists were represented, many of them exhibiting for the first time.  Lengyel was proud to show works by Eleanor Rappe, Emmy Lou Packard, and Charles Griffin Farr, among many others.  Gallery West was a cultural hub in Mendocino, nurturing a prolific, albeit small, community of artists and providing an open and undiscriminating venue for new work until its closure in 1973.

    In the early 1970s, Lengyel was exploring bronze casting sculpture, and built a lost wax foundry at her home studio. She furthered her art studies at Humboldt State University’s foundry, casting bronze, aluminum, and iron. Lengyel also took etching classes at the Mendocino Art Center and College of the Redwoods, in addition to perfecting portraiture and the human form at the Academy of Art College, San Francisco, and College of Arts & Crafts (CCAC), Oakland.  Lost Art Salon has several series of etchings and other forms of printmaking in their collection, which show Lengyel’s affinity for the shapes and colors of the natural world.

    Lengyel and her son, Sandor, relocated to the Bay Area in 1978, settling first in Oakland and later in Marin.  Lengyel returned to school, attending California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland and the Academy of Art in San Francisco, where she studied portraiture and drawing.  During this time, Lengyel was consistently exhibiting in Marin County and Mendocino, as well as curating and organizing exhibitions.  In 1980, Lengyel organized The Artist Models Association.  The group trained artist models and managed their job bookings.  Lengyel herself has always used the figure as a source of inspiration, saying “art academics believed that if an artist mastered the human figure, an artist could draw anything. So we all drew the nude human figure, the most difficult.”  Much of her work found in the Lost Art Collection is focused on the figure, highlighting Lengyel’s progression and ever-increasing mastery of the form.

    From 1979 to 1980, Lengyel apprenticed with sculptor Spero Anargyros in his San Francisco studio.  Anargyros (1915-2004) was a classically trained sculptor, known for his bronze bust of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone.  He visited Lengyel’s Mendocino art studio in 1972, and invited her to study with him in San Francisco. Through Anargyros, Lengyel learned how to manage a sculpture studio and deepened her technical skills.

    Lengyel continues to exhibit, take commissions, and work in fine art mentoring.  She continues to draw inspiration from the California landscape, music, dance, movement, language, and contemporary culture.  Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Lengyel participated as an instructor and lecturer at art institutions throughout the Bay Area, specializing in etching, sculpture, and drawing.  Her involvement in the Bay Area art community is deep; through curatorial work, fundraising, exhibition juries, art education, and critical writing, Lengyel has always been and remains active.  Lengyel has shown her work in over 200 solo & group shows in the United States.  Her artwork is in collections worldwide.  Lost Art Salon first became acquainted with Laura Lengyel through the Gary Lee Shaffer collection.  Lengyel acted as caretaker of the Shaffer estate for more than a decade and introduced the collection to Lost Art Salon.  We are honored to present Laura’s artwork and grateful for her contributions to this biography.
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