Marilyn Szalay

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Marilyn Szalay
Born(1950-01-20)January 20, 1950
DiedNovember 3, 2012(2012-11-03) (aged 62)
EducationBachelor of Fine Arts, Master of Fine Arts
Alma materKent State University, B.F.A., M.F.A.
Known forRealism
MovementContemporary Figurative Realism

Marilyn Szalay (1950-2012) was a contemporary figurative realist painter and draftsperson. Best known for her oversized charcoal drawings of humans and animals, her aesthetic came from journalistic photography and her work relies on strong draftsmanship and powerful compositions with great psychological depth. Hellen Cullinan of the Cleveland Plain Dealer said of Szalay's work, "Powerfully expressive gestural and facial closeup details reflect Szalay's command of behavioral and physical characteristics."[1]

For the span of her almost 40 year career as a fine artist, Szalay was an instructor of life drawing at every major art institution in Northeast Ohio.


Marilyn Szalay, born in Cleveland, Ohio grew up and attended Magnificat High School in Rocky River, Ohio. She earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1972 and Master of Fine Arts in 1975 from the Kent State University

Childhood Dreams Marilyn Szalay Collection of Artists Archives of the Western Reserve


“I am floored by the depth of form she achieves in charcoal, and love that her figures are larger than life size. Using only shades of gray, she models a face to come all the way out beyond the picture plane. And then she continues the construction and places a beautifully sculpted three-dimensional nose to sit on it.”

Judy Takács, Curator for “Majority Rising: Cleveland's Female Gaze”, Artists Archives of the Western Reserve,[2]


After matriculating with a BFA and MFA from Kent State University, Marilyn Szalay began her art career in the late 1970s as a photo journalist for the Sun Newspapers in Cleveland, Ohio. She maintained a purity and integrity for the art form of traditional 35mm black and white photography, processing and printing her own film and enlargements in her home darkroom. Always working on location with natural light, she rarely used a flash and never made enhancements and corrections in the darkroom. A stickler for the integrity of the rectangular view she composed in the camera viewfinder, she wouldn't even crop an image in the darkroom.

Her photographic compositions were also psychologically compelling. Photographer, Dave Dreimiller writes:

“Technically Lynn was a master of light and shadow as well as composition. But there was something much deeper in her photos. They often captured a mood that seemingly reflected her mental state at that moment. Lynn was conflicted and you can read this in her images: sometimes soft and gentle, other times ripped by a feeling of stark grittiness. Her photos often evoked darkness and ultimately sadness; full of emotion yet utterly devoid of joy or happiness. The use of run down old buildings as backdrops further accentuated the forlorn quality in her images. An enduring aspect of Lynn's work was the ability to fit the facial expression and pose of her model with its environment. It provides a sense that the subject somehow belongs there, and makes the images feel more cohesive. One can see this time and again in Lynn's work.”[3]

Her photographic sensibilities influenced her large scale charcoal drawings. Her process began with an 8 x 10 photograph she had taken as reference for the drawing. She would draw the composition on paper without use of grids, projection or a transfer process. From that point she would, as Dave Dreimiller writes, “define contours and fill in tones […] Work on this drawing went on night and day until it was completed. The finished drawing had even greater impact than the original photo. The sheer size was impressive, and the drawing somehow conveyed more depth and dimension than the photograph from which it was based.”[3]

Her work has been exhibited at the Cleveland Museum of Art,[4][5] Cleveland Institute of Art, Butler Institute of American Art,[6] Erie Art Museum, Case Western Reserve University, Canton Art Museum, SPACES, John Carrol University, Mount Union College, and the Cleveland Clinic.

Szalay has participated in the Lakeland Community College[7][8] annual “from WOMAN” exhibitions during her lifetime and posthumously. In 2013, the "from WOMAN VI" exhibition was dedicated to Marilyn Szalay by curator Mary Urbas, who used her drawing, "Self-Portrait with Frog" on the poster. Urbas, who has also consistently exhibited Szalay's work in her bi-annual Skull and Skeleton Show[9] describes Szalay as “incredibly prolific.”[7]

Szalay's drawings have won awards from the Butler Institute of American Art.,[6] Jewish Community Center and The Cleveland Museum of Art Cleveland May Show[4]

Szalay's work is part of the permanent collections of MetroHealth Medical Center, Akron Children's Hospital, The Plain Dealer Publishing Company, The Cleveland Zoological Society, Kent State University, The Jewish Community Center and Ronald Macdonald House.

In 2014 Marilyn Szalay’s work was permanently archived in the collection of The Artists Archives of the Western Reserve. The Artists Archives is an archival facility and regional museum that preserves representative bodies of work created by Ohio visual artists and, through ongoing research, exhibition and educational programs, actively documents and promotes this cultural heritage for the benefit of the public.[10]

Her work was curated posthumously by Judy Takács into the Artists Archives of the Western Reserve group exhibition, "Majority Rising: Cleveland's Female Gaze" along with the work of Shirley Aley Campbell,[11][12] Kathleen McKenna,[13][14] Lee Heinen[15][16] and Marsha Sweet.[17][18] This exhibition was also featured in the Collective Arts Network (CAN) Journal[19] and in Cleveland Scene Magazine.[20]

Her work was published by American Artist Magazine in 2000 as part of "Realism Today," [21] a national juried competition with a physical show was at the John Pence Gallery in San Francisco. She was regularly featured in "Dialogue, An Art Journal" from 1985 to 1983, and her work was reviewed multiple times by the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Her charcoal drawings were featured on the Women Drawing Women[22] online journal, a subset of the Women Painting Women Movement.

During her 40 years as a figurative artist, Marilyn Szalay was a life drawing instructor at each major art and educational institution in Northeast Ohio, including Kent State University, Cuyahoga Community College, Virginia Marti College of Fashion and Art, Cooper School of Art, Cleveland State University and Cleveland Institute of Art.[23] Her reputation as a tough teacher who didn't mince words, was chronicled by a student, Brian W. Fairbanks, to whom she taught life drawing at Cuyahoga Community College. Fairbanks writes, “Life Drawing went exceptionally well today. Not once did the teacher berate or mock my drawings, as she is often inclined to do.” – Journal entry, Tuesday February 2, 1990.[24]


Tangible and Intangible and Childhood Dreams are characteristic of Szalay's work in that they portray young children in psychologically complex settings. Masks, dolls, skulls and horns are common motifs in her charcoal drawings, as are settings in playgrounds and cemeteries.

Timmy is a portrait of a mountain gorilla, representative of Szalay's work with the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo as an artist, volunteer and docent. In 1993, Plain Dealer critic Helen Cullinan praised Szalay's drawings of a chimpanzee, orangutan and gorilla for the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo: “Powerfully expressive gestural and facial closeup details reflect Szalay’s command of behavioral and physical characteristics.”[25]

Selected exhibitions[edit]


  • 2001 Juror's Mention Award, 65th Annual Midyear Juried Show, Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio[6]
  • 1992 Simpson Award of Excellence, Gorilla Giver Brochure, Cleveland, Ohio
  • 1990 Purchase Award, Jewish Community Center, Cleveland, Ohio
  • 1989 Cash Award, Six State Photography
  • 1987 Purchase Award, A New Generation of Ohio Artists
  • 1985 Cash Award for Graphics, May Show, Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, Ohio[4]


  • Women Drawing Women, “Marilyn Szalay”, September 14, 2011[31]
  • American Artist Magazine, "Realism Today", November 2000[21]
  • University of Akron Catalog, "Drawing in Ohio at the Turn of the Century", 1995
  • Pilgrim Press Daily Calendar, "In Good Company", 1996, 1997
  • The Plain Dealer, Cleveland, Ohio, June 1985, January 9, 1986, September 14, 1986, November 5, 1986, July 1993
  • Dialogue: An Art Journal, May/June 1981, March/April 1984, January/February 1986, May/June 1986, November/December 1986

Selected permanent collections[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Segal, Grant (1993). "Marilyn Szalay was a leading local artist: News Obituary". The Cleveland Plain Dealer.
  2. ^ Takács, Judy (March 5, 2015). "Marilyn Szalay, the artist I couldn't paint".
  3. ^ a b Koslow, Mark (2011). "Long May She Fly (On the Life and Art of Marilyn Szalay)".
  4. ^ a b c d "The 1985 May Show: June 12 through July 21 Sixty-Sixth Annual Exhibition by Artists and Craftsmen of the Western Reserve". The Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art. 72 (3): 211–239. May 1985. JSTOR 25159901.
  5. ^ a b "Cleveland Museum of Art Archive". Cleveland Museum of Art. May 1990.
  6. ^ a b c d Thomas, Mary (August 2, 2003). "Pittsburgh Post and Gazette, Art Review: Midyear Artists Find Time to Reflect".
  7. ^ a b c Worrell, Chris (March 18, 2013). "Lakeland Award Ceremony, Art Exhibition Honor Women". Cleveland Plain Dealer.
  8. ^ Thomas, Cathee (23 April 2013). "Miniature' back at Gallery One in Mentor". The News Herald.
  9. ^ "The Skull & Skeleton in Art V: Folk Art to Pop Culture Reception". Akron Beacon Journal.
  10. ^ "Artists Archives of the Western Reserve".
  11. ^ Takacs, Judy (2015-01-15). "Chicks with Balls by Judy Takács: Majority Rising: Cleveland's Female Gaze". Chicks with Balls by Judy Takács. Retrieved 2016-01-29.
  12. ^ "Shirley Aley Campbell - Witch Doctor Jesus Don Chuey". Retrieved 2016-01-31.
  13. ^ Takacs, Judy (2015-02-26). "Chicks with Balls by Judy Takács: Majority Rising: Inspired by Kathleen McKenna". Chicks with Balls by Judy Takács. Retrieved 2016-01-29.
  14. ^ "Kathleen McKenna | Cleveland Figurative & Portrait Artist". Retrieved 2016-01-31.
  15. ^ Takacs, Judy (2015-02-09). "Chicks with Balls by Judy Takács: Majority Rising: Inspired by Lee Heinen". Chicks with Balls by Judy Takács. Retrieved 2016-01-29.
  16. ^ "Lee Heinen Artist | Paintings and Prints Cleveland Ohio". Retrieved 2016-01-31.
  17. ^ Takacs, Judy (2015-02-18). "Chicks with Balls by Judy Takács: Majority Rising: Inspired by Marsha Sweet". Chicks with Balls by Judy Takács. Retrieved 2016-01-29.
  18. ^ "Artists Archives of the Western Reserve: Our Archived Artists, Marsha Sweet". Retrieved 2016-01-31.
  19. ^ Takács, Judy (Spring 2015). "Artists Archives Presents Majority Rising". CAN (Collective Arts Network) Journal.
  20. ^ Usmani, Josh (March 10, 2015). "Celebrating Women's History Month at the Artists Archives of the Western Reserve". Cleveland Scene Magazine.
  21. ^ a b "Realism Today". American Artist Magazine. November 2000.
  22. ^ El Bermani, Alia (September 14, 2011). "Women Drawing Women: Marilyn Szalay". Women Drawing Women.
  23. ^ Chico, Beth (October 1992). "Paving The Way to Success". Cleveland Institute of Art Magazine, the LINK. 25 (1).
  24. ^ Fairbanks, Brian W. (November 20, 2012). "Hells Unutterable Lament, Marilyn Szalay (1950-2012)". Hells Unutterable Lament.
  25. ^ Segall, Grant (November 9, 2012). "Marilyn Szalay was a Leading Local Artist".
  26. ^ Usmani, Josh. "Celebrating Women's History Month at the Artists Archives of the Western Reserve". Cleveland Scene. Cleveland Scene Magazine. Retrieved 2016-01-29.
  27. ^ "Artists Archives presents Majority Rising". CAN Journal: Collective Arts Network. 6 March 2015. Retrieved 2016-01-29.
  28. ^ "from WOMAN VIII ... Created by women, of women about about(sic) women | CIA alumni". Cleveland Institute of Art. Retrieved 2016-01-30.
  29. ^ Usmani, Josh (March 6, 2016). "Lakeland Community College Hosts 'From Woman IX' in Honor of Women's History Month". Cleveland Scene Magazine.
  30. ^ Usmani, Josh (March 2014). "An Interview with Mary Urbas, Organizer of "from WOMAN"".
  31. ^ Alia El-Bermani, Diane Fiesel, Sadie Valeri (September 14, 2011). "Women Drawing Women, Marilyn Szalay".{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)