Ellen Lanyon: 1926 – 2013
Ellen Lanyon was such an indomitable spirit, the very personification of vitality, that likely few of the many younger people who gravitated towards her are likely to have given much thought to her vulnerability. That at least is the case of this writer who has been privileged to enjoy the friendship of the artist for the best part of ten years. It comes as a tremendous shock to learn that last night, October 7, Ellen suffered a fatal heart attack at immigration after flying back from England where she had spent two weeks working on a new edition of prints. She was 86.
Lanyon was both a leading force in the Chicago art scene and an equally beloved one in her adoptive home of New York City. She had taught for many years at the Art Institute of Chicago and was connected with several different generations of imagists in the windy city. The formal finesse, humor and literary liveliness of her collage-oriented painting and printmaking sensibility captured perfectly a fusion of Americana and Surrealism that was at once pure Chicago and totally her own.
Ellen was a doyenne of noble causes whether they entailed public activism or private mentorship. Her tastes were passionate but catholic and unbiased by anything other than quality and integrity. And however devoted and creative she was in her various artistic and social struggles – the loft movement, the women’s movement, teaching at the Art Institute, Cooper Union, SVA, her leadership role at the National Academy and other artist-run organizations, historic preservation in Chicago, her collecting of extraordinary machines and toys that also made their way into her work – her art came first. She was prolific, ever open to change, and utterly stalwart in her struggle for the authentic image.
Information regarding a memorial service and further tributes will follow.