An early client of The Short Center Lela was particularly close to staff artist Steve Vanoni who saw the artistic value in her work and took her drawings to the prestigious Ames Gallery in Berkeley; Lela had her work shown there over a period of several years. Lela was one of the most prolific artists to ever attend SCN, and attended until her death in 1995.
Except for her artwork we can barely remember her, except that she was once a scarecrow for Halloween; another time she was a hula dancer. She spoke in a garbled style that consisted of a few syllables, usually with a smile on her face. She was always pleasant, and looked like a gal who probably grew up on a farm and indeed she did know her way around the large Short Center North vegetable garden. It was said by SCN staff Carol Herrmann that Lela had an innate knowledge of planting and harvesting, most likely learned in her childhood. This theory is reinforced by her depiction of many natural elements in her artworks; rabbits, trees, grass are recognizable, other images bring to mind birds, porcupines, seeds, flowers, dancing worms as well as human figures in a type of Short Center Rorschach Test.
Lela’s media is primarily pencil and colored pencil on paper and looks deceptively simplistic in its style. It has an organic immediacy to it, and sometimes appears electric with many short sharp lines and loops, or vibrating with energy due to her quick layering of outlines. Jittery rabbits scamper across the paper, caffeinated females with spidery eyelashes – wide open eyes and fright wig hair – are in are caught in frenetic poses, and worried looking creatures have so many small loop legs, one growing out from the other, that they resemble a Saturday morning cartoon character getting ready to scamper. In other works hair and grass appear to follow an unseen magnetic force like the ‘Wooly Willy” metal filing toys of yesteryear, hurried black slashes identify a mouth, fingers explode out like fireworks, and gumball machine heads are filled with colored loops. Script becomes part of some works, “le” for Lela and” he” for Hasty written in careful cursive letters.
Lela’s layering of outlines in different colors gives richness to her works, although some of colors are not perceived at first. In her ‘Wild Turkey” this is most evident; at first the work appears almost monotone, on closer inspection red, green, blues and greens are embedded in the brown and black loops.
Looking closer at Lela’s work reveals another clever selective use of color. In “Gumball Machine Head’ Lela has embedded 4 purple dots in the middle of the fire amidst a field of 100s of other colored loops; “Toast Girl” has a narrow row of blue lines cutting through the background of many grey pencil lines; “Head with Many Loops, has several green loops in the background scattered about a background of multi colored loops; and “Many Legged Purple Rabbit” she has encircled the purple looped rabbit with black loops. This technique evokes colorblindness tests in which a series of circles comprising many small colored dots combine to form a number or pattern. If Lela has purposely attempted to make patterns is unknown, but there is some type of methodology she used, which results in this subtle contrasting technique, not easily noticed upon first glance.
Lela had quite a natural sense of artistic scale – there is a grace in the asymmetrical balance in her lively compositions: Trees explode with scribbly loops seemingly ready to burst out from the confined corner of the paper. In “Short Center Classrooms 2”, and compositions such as “Rabbit in the Tall Grass” slashes of pencil lines are dramatically slanted to the left or right of the paper, creating a much-needed open space on the opposite side.
Lela created thousands of drawings during her time at SCN. Every once in a while a new drawing will magically appear from the back of a drawer of a flat file or be found hidden in a pile of other student’s work, Hopefully in ten years from now a yet to be known SCN staff will also be unearthing these artistic treasures, and will love them as much as we do.