An amazing artist, work by the author
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An Amazing Artist

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It was the first time that I ever visited an Artist’s studio. My instructor was nationally known artist, Lila Pell Katzen, a painter as well as a sculptor of abstract works. She invited the class to visit her in Soho New York to see her apartment which she used as an art studio. Looking back it was 1971 and at the time I was 21.

Lila was a member of The Maryland Institute, College of Art staff. She held her class at Corpus Christi Church up the street on Mt. Royal Avenue in Baltimore, Maryland.

It was winter and the class of 10 sat in a small circle as Lila discussed her expectations for the course including painting, sculpture and mixed media.

She was tall, thin and in her 50s. She had high energy and excitement in her voice.

We were mesmerized by her demeanor as she showed slides of her work. Lila was the first artist that designed and constructed light floors which were neon colors mixed with lights to glow a geometric motif. She was an amazing talented artist and I wanted to be like her!

A classmate and I traveled to New York in my Volkswagen. We drove up to meet the other three members of the class and dined with Lila and her husband Philip at their favorite restaurant. It was a real treat. I’ve never been to Chinatown and dinner was so much fun!

But during dinner the weather changed and snow was falling fast and furious! We learned that the turnpike was closing down and driving back to Baltimore that night was not an option. Consequently, Lila graciously invited the five of us to stay overnight at her studio.

We all were thrilled and grateful for the offer and gladly accepted. She gave us a tour of her amazing studio and showed us works in progress such as paintings, small sculptures and drawings. Lila told us stories about her time at Cooper Union and the Art Students’ League in New York. She was originally a student of architectural drawing and then became a painter. Her works were influenced by her colleague and friend Morris Louis. His artwork included dripping and pouring paint onto canvases as well as the gestural paintings by Jackson Pollack in New York.

Suddenly, in her studio, there were leaks in the ceiling from the heavy snow. Lila yelled to Philip to get the pots and catch the water! It was really funny to watch!

Later in the evening Lila showed us her closet where we were able to get robes and blankets. This way we could spread out on her couches for us to be comfortable. In her closet we noticed a line of hooks holding up her long hairpieces that were thin and all the same reddish color! That was unusual! Philip was instrumental in helping and supporting Lila with the moving of her sculptures. In addition, he drove her all over the country for all of her art exhibits. We saw him often during our class time in Baltimore and it was easy to see how much he adored her.

Lila’s tenacity and perseverance really impressed me. She was always working and seemed to be driven to accomplish all she could during her lifetime. She also raised two children and was a grandmother twice.

I am so grateful that I had such a wonderful experience in meeting, learning and creating with Lila Katzen 48 years ago. It made a difference in my life as an artist.

Read more by Paula Shevitz.

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