Art

Art and genius of Ted Egri

Curators hope to get famous Taos artist's work out of garage, into people's homes

By Virginia L. Clark
tempo@taosnews.com
Posted 7/31/19

Genius, like a prophet in its hometown, is rarely recognized except in hindsight. Ted Egri was just such a genius. Egri's wide-ranging career attests to his remarkable talent and can be newly …

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Art

Art and genius of Ted Egri

Curators hope to get famous Taos artist's work out of garage, into people's homes

Posted

Genius, like a prophet in its hometown, is rarely recognized except in hindsight. Ted Egri was just such a genius.

Egri's wide-ranging career attests to his remarkable talent and can be newly appreciated in "The Life's Work of Ted Egri (1913-2010)." This special three-day pop-up exhibition and sale opens Friday (Aug. 2) with a reception from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Stables Gallery of the Taos Center for the Arts, and runs through Sunday (Aug. 4). The Stables is located in the TCA courtyard at 133 Paseo del Pueblo Norte.

"This diverse collection, some of which have never been available to the public," press materials state, "includes paintings, sculpture and drawings of the artist's early illustrations, [Works Progress Administration] period, figure studies, Taos-Pueblo inspired works and Taos Modern imagery. Memorabilia, historical video footage of interviews and recent installations of the artist's works around Taos will be presented throughout the weekend."

Locally well known for his huge, expressive metal sculptures placed in prominent locations around Taos, Egri's contributions to underserved Natives, Hispanics and women were honored by two Taos mayors, with no less than two Ted Egri days during his 50-year art career in Taos. The events underscored an art education that started at age 7 when he began painting in oils, all at the behest of his Hungarian immigrant parents. Lagos Egri, his father, was a published writer who worked in the garment district of Manhattan, New York City, while mother Llona Egri was a singer.

Presented by 203 Fine Art and Fine Art Services, the pop-up exhibit, according to Eric Andrews of 203 Fine Art, "will be a great opportunity to purchase artwork by ... Egri. There will be sculpture, paintings and drawings (framed and unframed) directly from the artistic portfolio at reasonable prices. The objective of this exhibition is to get Egri's art out of storage and into people's homes where it can be appreciated."

Some pieces have never been shown, according to Elise Waters Olonia of Fine Art Services, who is co-curating the show with Andrews. "People just don't realize that Ted had incredible draftsmanship - charcoal, pencil, pastel, watercolor, oils, mixed media, pen and ink, acrylic, gouache - you name it, he did it all."

Ted and his first wife, Kit, whom he married in 1950, moved to Taos to study with Louis Ribak on the GI Bill, a common practice of many Taos Moderns - a group name Egri came up with and developed with groundbreaking exhibitions starting in 1952. The group energetically established and promoted the Taos Art Colony as a bona fide American art movement to be taken seriously.

After studying at the Leonardo da Vinci School of Art in Manhattan at age 10, Egri got into clay, winning a three-year scholarship to the Master Institute of the Nicholas Roerich Museum in New York, and studying dynamic symmetry arts fundamentals of China and Japan. As a commercial artist in New York City, and part of the WPA, he created designs for the New York City Library and U.S. Postal Service; later in the Easel Project, he submitted paintings every one to two months.

Regarding the New Deal -- era WPA projects -- Egri is quoted in his online bio stating, "I see it as the richest and fullest period I ever had in my life by artists working together to maintain a cultural entity in the nation."

His WPA involvement spread into membership in the Artists Union, later the Artists Congress, and then the Artists Equity where he was national vice president, developing local and national standards and conferences in New York for artists and museum directors throughout the country - standards later adopted by the American Federation of Arts for all arts-related organizations.

Employed by Time and Fortune magazines, he later enlisted in the U.S. Navy as a preinvasion, shipboard mapmaker for the Air Force and Navy. He painted in his free time, sending paintings back to Maryland for safekeeping - many of which are in the U.S. Naval Museum in Washington, D.C.

He taught at the Kansas City Art Institute in 1948 and '49, where he began sculpting and created his first social injustice sculpture, "Hands Reaching Through Bars," inspired "by a wrongful murder conviction involving six African Americans in Trenton, New Jersey," Olonia notes online. Inequality and oppression of minorities, especially blacks, Hispanics and Jews, are recurrent themes in his works.

Egri was an original co-founder of the Taos Art Association in 1952, and Kit Egri became director of the TCA's Stables Art Gallery.

Like many of his Taos artist contemporaries, every year or so he had to teach out-of-state art classes to be able to afford his Taos lifestyle. In the '70s he worked with over 2,000 students grades three through 12, through a National Endowment for the Arts pilot program for Taos, Ranchos, Arroyo Seco, Questa and Peñasco.

An indefatigable creator, besides via painting, sculpting, teaching and community arts development, he also created El Vibarón, a vibrating rattler-cum-Chinese dragon, so popular over the decades during Las Fiestas de Taos Children's Parade. In 1987 he also managed to get Taos Living Treasures going, a community-wide recognition of stellar, though typically low-profile, citizens whose contributions make Taos all that more congenial and rewarding a place to live.

He received the 1996 Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts for working with unrecognized artists of all cultures, ages and socioeconomic groups. Following the death of Kit in 1998, he married Janet Macy and worked to create the Taos Art Organization, a nonprofit learning center for the community. Numerous artists lived and worked at Egri's property, assisting with welding and other aspects of sculpture.

For a comprehensive listing of Egri's accomplishments, see fineartservices.info or 203fineart.com.

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