Celebrating an Idyllwild Artist & Pioneer
It all started when her family called the curator of the Krone Museum at Idyllwild Arts.
By Marcia E. Gawecki
They were having a reunion in August and wanted to arrange an exhibit of some of her sculptures, illustrations and early photos. Since then, it has grown from a private family reunion to a public event. The Idyllwild Area Historical Society has gotten involved, and others have contributed more photos and sculptures. Speakers, live music, and videos will help celebrate the life and art of Idyllwild Arts’ (ISOMATA’s) first teacher, Lora Woodhead Steere.
The daylong celebration will be held today, Saturday, August 7, starting at 11 a.m. with the video, “When Art Met Idyllwild: A Tribute to Lora W. Steere,” by an Idyllwild Arts student, held at the Rustic Theater. It will be followed by an art exhibit and reception at 1 p.m. at the Krone Museum on the Idyllwild Arts campus. Both events are free and open to the public.
In the small space of the Krone Museum, Sydney Cosselman, acting director, and Carol Mills, owner of the Courtyard Gallery, have created a welcoming tribute to Lora Woodhead Steere (1888-1984).
Lora’s parents (a Los Angeles socialite and a grocer/rancher/developer) first brought her to Idyllwild as a toddler on horseback. Loving the outdoors, she studied and received advanced degrees in zoology and paleontology, although she is best known as a sculptor including a commission by Helms Bakery for the 1932 Olympics. She was later recruited by Max Krone, founder of the Idyllwild School of Music and the Arts (ISOMATA), to become the school’s first teacher when it opened in 1950.
“We wanted to create an exhibit that looks like Lora has just left her studio,” said Sydney Cosselman.”That’s why we left her hat hanging on her easel, clay moulds and her tools coated with clay.”
Among the many bronze busts of people, two stand out: the full-sized disc thrower for the 1932 Olympics and a portrait bust of Maria Martinez, a Native American ceramics artist.
Standing about four feet tall, the bronze disc thrower is impressive with its attention to detail and atomic proportions.
“Be sure and get a good look at it today because we have to return it to LA on Monday,” Sydney said. “They need it for another exhibit.”
The other piece, a terra cotta bust of Maria Martinez, sits on a desk on the back wall. It’s without ornamentation and fancy glazes, but you get a good feeling from it.
“She got a good likeness of Maria, who is a prominent North American sculptor,” said David Delgado, a ceramics instructor at Idyllwild Arts Summer Program, who, along with Greg Kennedy, brought in a youth ceramics class for a sneak preview on Friday.
He said it was important for the young students to see Lora’s work because she is an important figurehead at the school and the summer program.
“We work every day in her studio, and we wanted to come and see her work and pay tribute to what she’s done for us,” Delgado said.
The 15 summer students were impressed that Lora had climbed Tahquitz Peak nearly every day of her life. And, when she was 95, her friends carried her up to the top in a chair so she could see it again. The Idyllwild Town Crier and the Idyllwild Area Historical Society furnished photos of these trips.
“She climbed to the top 83 times,” said Charles Russell, her grandson, who spoke privately about Lora Steere at a cookout on Friday at the home of Don Parker and Marti Manser. “She taught us how to appreciate nature.”
He said he had been coming to Idyllwild every summer since he was three years old, and has kept her cabin here.
“She taught me how to see,” said Charles, who is now an architect.
He remembers the time she helped him create a sculpture of a Viking.
“I was in the Cub Scouts, and needed it for a merit badge,” he said. “She was patient with me, and it turned out pretty good.”
He no longer has the Viking sculpture, but contributed several of Lora’s works to the exhibit.
“She was multi-dimensional,” Charles added. “Not just art, she liked science and nature. She saw beauty in the smallest things.”
Maria Polmar, a French teacher at the Idyllwild Arts Academy, helped with the exhibit at the Krone Museum. She sewed the white curtains behind the bronze busts of the “Women of the World” series in the display cases.
“The cases had a dark background and we added white curtains to lighten them up,” she said.
Since then, Maria said the exhibit has had a positive effect on her.
“I carried a lot of Lora’s sculptures around, and could see the detail and feel their weight,” she said. “Now, I want to create my own sculpture of my son.”
Sydney said that she expects 200 people to visit the Lora W. Steere exhibit today. It runs from August 7th to September 3rd at the Krone Museum, located within the Krone Library on the Idyllwild Arts campus.
At today’s opening event, there will be a film, speakers, drama and musicians, including:
Dr. Evan Mills: As a child, Mills was mentored by Lora, and grew up to be one of a group of scientists whose research and writing helped earn the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, along with Vice President Al Gore.
Calvin Levels: a Tony-Award nominee, performing a dramatic reading of passages from Lora’s letters from Idyllwild.
Paris Deesing: an award-winning film student at Idyllwild Arts Academy, whose mini-biopic of Lora Steere features rare archival stills (1890’s -1980’s) along with Woodhead and Steere family footage (1920’s-1960’s) taken in Idyllwild.
Dr. Diana Steere-Wiley: Lora’s granddaughter will speak for the family patriarch, and legendary award-winning horseman and veterinarian Dr Jim Steere, Lora’s youngest son, who died suddenly on Wednesday as he was preparing his speech on his mother. Lora’s 95-year-old daughter, Florence, will also be attending.
Carol Merrill: a recording artist, former musical partner, and protégé of international balladeers and ISOMATA regulars Marais and Miranda.
The Golden Grotto Group, with recording artist Jeremy Toback, Bruce Ryan, Kent Weishaus, Amy Fogerson and other surprise guests.
For more information, visit www.LoraWoodheadSteere.com.
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