Pieces of art history in Minden
October 8, 2012
Critical pieces of American art history hang in a corner of the Lone Tree Gallery in Minden.
When one-third of the American people were jobless during the Great Depression, Gardnerville resident Gayle Laurel’s father, Seymour Fogel, was painting murals under the Works Progress Administration.
The WPA employed millions of unskilled workers to carry out public works projects, including the construction of public buildings and roads, and provided thousands of unemployed artists the opportunity to decorate hundreds of post offices, schools, and other public buildings with murals, canvases, and sculptures.
“He was one of the figures in it. He wasn’t somebody who was watching it,” Laurel said. “Famous people came to see his work. It was a period of unrest. It was a creative period. It was a very exciting time.”
Fogel was born to Russian immigrants in New York in 1911.
“He was always into art. He was the artist for his high school newspaper,” Laurel said. “His father was an excellent leather worker. He made one of Mamie Eisenhower’s purses.”
Fogel received his formal training at the National Academy of Design in 1929.
Following college, he became interested in murals, which led him to sneak past security into an area where artist Diego Rivera was working his controversial mural at Rockefeller Center in New York City.
“He saw my father watching him and they started talking. He started off as unpaid, and then became a salaried assistant,” Laurel said. “He was fascinated with Rivera. He was a legend even then, so studying with him was exciting to say the least.”
Some of the projects Fogel worked on during this time was the U.S. Federal Building in Safford, Ariz., the U.S. Post Office in Cambridge, Minn., The WPA Building at the 1930 World’s Fair in New York City and the Social Security building in Washington D.C.
It wasn’t until after his time with the WPA in the 1940s that Fogel moved away from social realism and into more abstract art.
Fogel primarily worked in the mediums of oil paint, acrylic, ink, conte crayon, wood constructions and mosaics.
“Nature inspired him, shapes inspired him, space inspired him,” Laurel said. “He took the sheets off my bed, soaked them in a water and glue mixture, put them on a canvas and started painting. When he went through his mirror phase we couldn’t find a mirror in the house.”
In 1946 Fogel and his family moved to Texas where he taught at the university and continued doing public works.
His commissions include American National Bank in Austin, University Baptist Student Center in Austin, Petroleum Club in Houston and First National Bank of Waco. He pioneered the use of ethyl silicate in his mural commissions.
“Texas was one of the heads of abstract art, and he was one of the leaders of the movement,” Laurel said. “He was the first one to do an outdoor mural in Austin, and now murals are all over Austin.”
In south Austin, Fogel converted a 19th century barn into a ranch-style house in 1953, which he named “Southwind.” The house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on April 2, 2003, both for its association with Fogel and its unique architecture and construction.
“At the time it was the largest floor space of any residence in Austin,” Laurel said.
In 1959, Fogel moved to Connecticut where he established his residence, but also maintained a studio in New York.
Mural commissions at this time include the U.S. Federal Building in Fort Worth, Texas, the Hoffman La Roche Corporate Towers in Nutley, New Jersey, Public School 306 in Brooklyn, New York and the U.S. Federal Customs Building in Foley Square, New York City.
Fogel died in 1984 at the age of 73.
Laurel has consigned seven pieces of her father’s work to the Lone Tree Gallery, and owner Barry Jobe has access to a larger selection.
“We are interested in associations with galleries here. We’re looking for a gallery in Reno, Tahoe, San Francisco and Los Angeles,” Laurel said. “I want his significance in the history of 20th century abstract art to be appreciated. He was one of the leading figures in American abstract art.”
The works at the gallery include abstract pen and ink, acrylic, newspaper collage, sand painting and figurative renderings spanning from 1934 to 1975.
“Looking at them I know the significance of his work, and it was immense in the 20th century,” Laurel said. “You don’t hear his name much because he was a private person. He painted. That’s what he did. He didn’t promote himself, that’s what the galleries would do.”
Laurel moved to Gardnerville last September and recently finished bringing her father’s large body of work to a warehouse in Minden.
Some of his work is held in permanent collections in the Houston Museum of Fine Arts in Texas, Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington D.C, and many others.
“I have some that I love, but I don’t know I can say one piece,” Laurel said. “I like the social realism, but I like a lot of the abstracts.”
Looking at Fogel’s diverse artwork in one place makes it seem like multiple artists are being represented, instead of one.
“I enjoy just understanding that what he did with his hands was an expression of what was going on inside him. His art was an expression of himself, his soul,” Laurel said. “He was on a profound search for the meaning of human beings on this planet, and he expressed that search in various ways artistically.”
“A man’s soul inner being is as vast as the universe itself. It would be a shame to close the door and only look upon the physical shell.” – Seymour Fogel – “The Art of Seymour Fogel: An Atavistic Vision” by Charles C. McCracken, Ed.D., Faith M. McCracken, Jared A. Fogel