VALDOSTA – Shut-in during quarantine last year, Dr. Stephen Lahr chose to utilize his time creatively.
The abstract mixed-media artist put color on a canvas and went to work, making a number of art pieces that will be seen in an upcoming show at the Annette Howell Turner Center for the Arts.
He calls the collection his “COVID series,” though not all of the artwork was completed during quarantine.
“The work in this show spans my working period from the late 1960s to this past year. It is a retrospective to some degree – about half the works were done over a long span of time and the other pieces have been done in the last two years,” Lahr said.
“Actually, the new pieces were done during the COVID (pandemic), but that didn’t influence any of the pieces; it just gave me time to produce these pieces.”
To be featured in the Price-Campbell and Mittiga galleries at the arts center, the exhibit will showcase Lahr’s watercolors and acrylic paintings, mixed-media collages, assemblages and photographs.
He is skilled in oil painting, as well.
Lahr’s journey into the world began at age 4, when his aunt gave him an easel and paints.
“All through grade school in both Illinois and Nebraska, I was always known as the artist of the class,” he said. “In fact, I got a purple ribbon from the Illinois State Fair for a drawing of a Navajo Indian roping a calf. So, I would say I’ve been an artist for going on 74 years.”
Born in Lincoln, Neb., Lahr relocated to Decatur, Ill., where he lived for two years before returning to Nebraska.
After studying art for two years at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, he ventured to Northern Colorado State University to study wildlife art.
Lahr said he earned three degrees from the
University of Nebraska-Lincoln and started teaching art in Omaha for half a year.
Teaching art to Lincoln East High School juniors and seniors came next. Simultaneously, he completed a master’s program in art and secondary education.
He became the first state art education consultant in the Nebraska State Department of Education’s curriculum section, gaining him statewide and nationwide contacts, he said.
Lahr has been an instructor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, the University of Missouri-Columbia and – in 1985 – Valdosta State College, where he retired as a professor emeritus.
While at VSC, he taught drawing, painting, design and art education courses. Lahr said he also developed a master of art education program.
As for artistic influences, he said there have been plenty.
“One of my first influences was Hans Hoffman, an abstract expressionist who painted with vibrant pure color with thick oil paints,” Lahr said.
“Others included watercolorist John Marin and painter Richard Diebenkorn. All of these painters use geometric shapes in their works, which you can also see in many of my works, as well.”
One day in Lincoln, Neb., Lahr observed 50 painted cigar box lids that were completed by Diebenkorn. After, he was inspired to paint and collage these lids himself in the 1990s.
One of his paintings of the cigar box lids recently hung in the Turner Center’s Spring Into Art show.
His involvement in art galleries is long-lived, having been featured in more than 250 shows. Lahr estimated he’s possibly been featured in close to 300 shows.
“I’ve always had a passion for art,” he said.
His wife keeps him connected to his love for art.
“She challenges me to help her understand why I do what I do,” he said. “And how could I not be connected to art when I taught art in one way or another for over 40 years.”
Though Lahr said he teaches students to craft plans before starting a project, artists often work with “mistakes,” changing their minds as they go.
He focuses on composition when creating his masterpieces.
“Application and technique are important, as well, but after all these years, I don’t think too much about those things,” he said. “I often paint about five paintings in one, which means I keep making changes until it feels right.”
According to his artist’s statement, Lahr has been listed in “Who’s Who in American Art” since 1983 and is on the Morris Museum’s list of Contemporary Southern Artists.
His artwork has been displayed locally, regionally and nationally, the statement read. He has one large watercolor and two assemblages in the Valdosta State University archives.
Lahr said he has been exhibited in the Turpentine Building, previously owned by Lowndes-Valdosta Arts Commission.
He’s been in all of the Spring Into Art exhibitions and all of the Turner Center’s DrawProject exhibitions.
“I was part of the Georgia Watercolor exhibit that was at the Turner Center a number of years ago and have shown work in other exhibits there, as well,” Lahr said.
His upcoming show at the arts center is a first regarding the size of the show. He’ll have 65 pieces in the Price-Campbell and Mittiga galleries.
Lahr is available for commission work.
He asks that people wanting to contact him for commission work go through the arts center.
Featured Artists: Jaime Llewellyn-Liang and Leslie Wallace-Coon (“Two Perspectives in Clay;” Josette’s Gallery), City of Valdosta People’s Choice Photography Contest (Jerry Tillman Gallery), Rosemary S. Ferguson (“The Spirit of Watercolor;” Boyette Gallery) and J. Stephen Lahr (“Artworks from 1965-2021; Price-Campbell and Mittiga galleries)
Opening Reception: 5-7 p.m. Monday, June 14; free admission
Gallery Offerings: June 14 through July 28
More information: (229) 247-2787, turnercenter.org