The Laynor Foundation Museum


From an article in Charitable Legacies magazine, Fall 1999 issue
"Color her Dedicated, Late Painter's Widow Uses His Art to realize Dream: Encouraging Young Talent".
Written by Susan Watson, Photography by Reed Rahn and Associates and by Jerome.

Every now and then, Gloria Laynor's three adult children ask her why she works so hard. They already know the answer, but they ask anyway because they are amazed by the time and energy Gloria devotes to this labor of love: turning her late husband's dream into reality.

Gloria's husband, Harold Laynor, knew he had been lucky during his life. He graduated from college, established himself as a leading art educator and won recognition as a gifted and prolific painter, whose works have been displayed in some of the most prestigious galleries and museums in the country, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

But one thing bothered him, says Gloria. "He had really talented students who could not afford to continue their education, and he always said that an art student shouldn't be deprived of an education because of financial problems."

He and Gloria used to talk about starting a charitable organization to give scholarships to promising college students. When he retired in 1990 from Pennsylvania's Millersville University where he taught art for 25 years, he planned to move to Arizona where he would begin work on his dream. But he died of a heart attack just eight months after arriving there.

Suddenly Gloria found herself without her partner of nearly half a century. They had met as teenagers in New York in the 1940s when she was 16 and he was 19.They married three years later.

"When he walked into a room, you knew it Gloria recalls. "He was such a good-looking man and he had these beautiful blue eyes. Not only was he an artist, he was so bright. And he sang and he danced and he painted all the time, no matter where he was.

Shortly after his death, Gloria and their three children decided to start a foundation to realize Harold's goal. "My friends said I couldn't do it, but I said I will, and I'll start it with his paintings." And in 1991 that's exactly what she did. Using Harold's vast collection of paintings and $10,000 in seed money, she started the Laynor Foundation Museum in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Today, with Gloria as its president and her three children as officers, the non-profit family foundation gives scholarships to art education students and supports a summer arts program for Native American children on the White Mountain Apache Indian Reservation in central Arizona. In addition, the Laynor Foundation Museum holds about 1,000 of Harold's paintings. Most of the proceeds from their sale go to support the foundation's charitable work.

"I know this is what Harold would have wanted," Gloria says. "He was a tremendous giver. He wasn't concerned with money; he was concerned with people and art. Even though he's been gone for eight years, working on the Foundation makes me feel like he's still with me."

Joseph Sanchez, a painter who is formerly executive director and curator of the Laynor Foundation Museum, takes time each summer to return to the reservation where he was raised. He oversees the workshops, which he started eight years ago with support from Save the Children. The Laynor Foundation added its support in 1997. The reservation is a sprawling, 1.6 million acre expanse that soars into the breathtaking White Mountains, dotted with clear lakes and laced with trout filled streams.

Of the 14,000 people who live there, about half are under the age of 15. The summer program gives youngsters a chance to develop their creativity while exploring and celebrating their heritage.



Children painting at the White Mountain Apache Summer Arts Workshop founded by Joseph Sanchez
This year about 110 youngsters, from toddlers to teens, participated in arts and media classes. In one class, a respected shield maker taught the spiritual and historical significance of shields and instructed the children on how to make their own shields. Each child incorporated individualized symbols, and the shield became that child's personal prayer, Sanchez explains.

In another area, a muralist worked with 30-40 youngsters on a 7- by 10-foot canvas that helped them discover their history and their place in it. Other artists teach everything from computer technology and print making to leather crafts.

At the end of each summer session, Sanchez takes some of the children's work to the Santa Fe Indian Market where observers are amazed by the youngster's talent and skill. The artwork has been exhibited at Arizona State University and is included in the permanent collection at the Fort Apache Cultural Center on the reservation.

Sanchez hopes to expand the program to other reservations. "All kids need art and all kids need their connection with their cultural legacy," he says.

Gloria sees the workshop as one way to reach and educate children. That's especially important to her because each member of her family, from her late husband Harold to their three children, has worked as a classroom teacher. The fiery grandmother of nine is convinced that at-risk children "won't have the opportunity to be involved in art unless we make programs for them."

The foundation helps dreams take flight. Since 1991, about 20 college students have received $500 to $1,000 Laynor Foundation Museum scholarships. The awards are given to art education majors at Arizona State University and Millersville University. Each school selects the recipients based on academic performance, artistic talent and need.

Twenty-three-year-old Jennifer Wright received a $500 scholarship this spring. Jennifer works 30 hours a week and still maintains a 3.8 average at Arizona State University. The money helped pay for summer school classes where she is working on her teacher certification. Her goal is to teach junior high school students.

"At that age, they're just starting to doubt their ability because they look at the work adults have done, and they think their work doesn't measure up' she says. "I want to get in there and help them to keep working at it. I gave up on my art for a while because I became discouraged. I don't want to see others give up."



Jennifer Wright, a Laynor foundation Scholarship recipient, poses with some of her own sculptures.

Some of Laynor's most prized work was completed during and shortly after World War II. Stationed in Europe, Laynor was a member of the 603rd Camouflage Engineers Battalion, which was comprised of artists and architects. Working directly under the command of General Omar Bradley, the unit's sole purpose was to deceive the enemy by creating fake artillery, tanks and other vehicles out of rubber, then painting them to look like the real thing. These soldier-artists became known as the "Ghost Army."

When Harold wasn't working on the decoys, he spent his time putting the unforgettable scenes of war on canvas, Using dark acrylics and watercolors; he even painted in the trenches. After being wounded, he was hospitalized near Paris where he met Pablo Picasso, who encouraged him to paint and sketch.

That body of work, which numbers over 46 pieces, is the pride of the Laynor Foundation Museum. "When I started the foundation, the children and grandchildren consigned their paintings to the museum," Gloria explains. "When a painting is sold, the children get 25 percent of the sale price and the Museum gets the remainder." Gloria donated Harold's wartime work to the museum.

Because the foundation is a public, non-profit charity, Gloria has strengthened her economic future, and that of her family, by avoiding and reducing certain tax obligations on the sale of the paintings, which have significantly appreciated in value over the years.

Gloria's only regret is that she isn't able to do even more, "What better feeling can one have than the one that comes from giving an opportunity to someone else? Doing all this makes me feel wonderful."

 


Gloria Laynor and her daughter Lois Laynor Goldblatt, in her home surrounded by
Harold Laynor's artwork.

 

 

 


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