Lenore Thomas Straus

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Lenore Thomas Straus
Lenore Thomas

1 November 1909
Died16 January 1988(1988-01-16) (aged 78)
EducationChicago Art Institute
Known forSculpture

Lenore Thomas Straus (1 November 1909 – 16 January 1988) was an American sculptor and author.

Life and work[edit]

Lenore Thomas was born 1 November 1909 in Chicago, Illinois, the daughter of Andrew S. Thomas and Lucy Haagsma, and died at her home in Blue Hill, Maine, on 16 January 1988. Although she studied at the Chicago Art Institute, as a sculptor she was largely self-taught.[1] She had an exhibit of her work in Mexico City in 1933.[2] Much of her early work involved public art created under various New Deal programs, including terra cotta murals for several post offices. She fashioned two major pieces for the Resettlement Administration's planned community in Greenbelt, Maryland—a large Mother and Child[3] and several panels illustrating the Preamble to the United States Constitution.[4] Along with other Public Works Administration artists Hugh Collins, Carmelo Arutu, and Joseph Goethe, she created playground sculpture for Langston Terrace, the first federally funded housing project in Washington, DC.[5] In the early 1940s, when she was living in Accokeek, Maryland, she married Robert Ware Straus, who was to play an integral role in the preservation of the view across the Potomac River from George Washington's home at Mount Vernon.[6] She maintained a studio at their Accokeek home.[7] In 1968, she moved to Maine, where she was a student of zen teacher Walter Nowick at Moonspring Hermitage[8] in Surry, which later became the Morgan Bay zendo. She was an active member of the Morgan Bay zendo,[1] and several of her sculptures remain on its grounds.[8]

In 1987, the University of Maine honored her with the Maryann Hartman Award, which recognizes distinguished women of Maine.[9] Shortly after her death in 1988, the Lenore Thomas Straus Scholarship was established in her name at the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, where Straus had taught as an artist-in-residence in 1984 and 1986 and plunged into the medium of handmade paper.[10]


According to FBI files related to the House Un-American Activities Committee, Lenore Thomas Straus was investigated and admitted that she had joined the Communist Party while working for the government in 1935.[11] Her stand on social justice, like that of her husband, leaned heavily on U.S. Communist affiliations.[12] Her art focused on equality for immigrants, along with dignity, personal power, and respect for the working poor. Idealized collective beliefs about the social benefits of Communism were a visible constant for numerous other artists in the 1930s.[13]

The annual campaign by President Franklin Roosevelt's office to reignite the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act of 1935 for almost a decade not only worked to lift the economic down-slope in the United States, but also changed career directions for numerous artists, especially women artists living and working in the 1930s and 1940s. For many, this was the first time women were able to make a viable and valuable living as both artist and creative.[citation needed]

It wasn’t until 1952 that Lenore finally took on her youngest and longest-standing art apprentice, Sue Hoya Sellars.[14] In 1953 Lenore met and recognized thirteen year old Sellars as a young and budding teenage artist with exceptional, yet publicly ignored, talent. Lenore Thomas Straus later became Sellars' legal guardian as well as her artistic mentor. Concepts in art outlining the importance of intentionality in creating art became an important creative focus for both Straus and Sellars within their lifetime as artists.

Today's modern movement in the use of art as 'Intentional Creativity' has more recently been taught by Sellars' artist daughter Shiloh Sophia McCloud. In June 2015 the Greenbelt Museum in Greenbelt, Maryland opened an exhibit of Lenore's work called "The Knowing Hands That Carve This Stone: The New Deal Art of Lenore Thomas Straus." This show highlights the work of Lenore Thomas Straus along with the work of Sue Hoya Sellars and Shiloh Sophia McCloud as a demonstration of art reaching the public from a continuing lineage of art and artists.[15]


List of selected works[edit]

c. 1927 Blue Rhinoceros glazed brick Alice Ferguson Foundation, Accokeek, Maryland
1936 Seamstress Roosevelt Public School, Roosevelt, New Jersey
1937 Preamble to the United States Constitution limestone Greenbelt Community Center, Greenbelt Maryland
1939 Delivery of Mail to the Farm glazed terra cotta Post office, Fredonia, Kansas
1939 Mother and Child stone Town center, Greenbelt, Maryland
1939 Rural Life Post office, Covington, Virginia
1940 Frog concrete Langston Terrace playground, Washington, DC
1941 Industries and Agriculture of Leetonia terra cotta relief Post office, Leetonia, Illinois
1943 Springtime Post office, Webster Springs, West Virginia
1967 The Fisherman's Wife Vestvågøy, Lofoten, Norway
Two Headed Sculpture Blue Hill Public Library, Blue Hill, Maine
Alice Alice Ferguson Foundation, Accokeek, Maryland
Henry Alice Ferguson Foundation, Accokeek, Maryland


  • The Tender Stone (1964)
  • Stone Dust: The Autobiography of a Stone Carving (1969)


  1. ^ a b "Lenore Thomas Straus obituary". Bangor Daily News. 18 January 1988. p. 11. Retrieved 21 January 2014.
  2. ^ Kienholz, M (2012). The Canwell Files: Murder, Arson and Intrigue in the Evergreen State. iUniverse. p. 230. ISBN 9781475948806. Retrieved 23 February 2019.
  3. ^ "Mother & Child sculpture". DCMemorials.com. Retrieved 21 January 2014.
  4. ^ "Constitution Frieze". DCMemorials.com. Retrieved 21 January 2014.
  5. ^ Quinn, Kelly Anne (2007). Making Modern Homes: A History of Langston Terrace Dwellings, a New Deal Housing Program in Washington, D.C. (PDF). University of Maryland Digital Repository. pp. 154–156. Retrieved 21 January 2014.
  6. ^ Kienholz, M (2012). The Canwell Files: Murder, Arson and Intrigue in the Evergreen State. iUniverse. pp. 238–239. ISBN 9781475948806. Retrieved 21 January 2014.
  7. ^ James H. Bready (10 June 1949). "A Colony of Dream Houses, Modern Style, at Accokeek". Baltimore, Maryland: The Evening Sun. p. 31. Retrieved 23 February 2019.
  8. ^ a b "Nowick, Walter (Biography)". Sweeping Zen. 2013. Retrieved 21 January 2014.
  9. ^ "Maryann Hartman Awards - 1987 Award Winners". University of Maine. Archived from the original on 3 March 2014. Retrieved 22 January 2014.
  10. ^ "Haystack Scholarship Honors Late Sculptor Lenore Thomas Straus". Bangor Daily News. 27 January 1988. p. 28. Retrieved 21 January 2014.
  11. ^ "HUAC HQ-13". Internet Archive. Retrieved 23 February 2019.
  12. ^ Kienholz, M (2012). The Canwell Files: Murder, Arson and Intrigue in the Evergreen State. iUniverse. pp. 238–239. ISBN 9781475948806. Retrieved 21 January 2014.
  13. ^ "Communism in Washington State - History and Memory: Communist Party and the Arts". University of Wisconsin. Retrieved 27 August 2016.
  14. ^ "The Life and Lineage of Sue Hoya Sellars". Shiloh Sophia Studios. Retrieved 23 February 2019.
  15. ^ "Heading to the Museum: Lenore Thomas Straus in honor of Sue Hoya Sellars". Shiloh Sophia Studios. Retrieved 29 August 2016.