Sarah Gailey Langley Mendenhall, 1885-1953

Lisa O. Langley, 1907-1994.

Sara Mendenhall, late 1920's

Lisa O. Langley, 1949

Sara Gailey Langley Mendenhall and her daughter, Lisa O. Langley (Sarah Elizabeth) had active careers as artists that spanned almost the entire 20th Century.

Elizabeth Sarah Gailey was born in Uvalde, Texas in 1885, the eldest child of Asa Jones Gailey and Sue Louise Connally Gailey. She had two sisters, Sue May Gailey Wescott Gill, who also became an artist, and Ruby. "Sara" showed artistic talent at an early age and was encouraged by her family to draw and paint. In the 1890's she attended the free art classes offered by the Chicago Art Institute and soon had a job producing dinner cards for Marshall-Fields.

The family eventually moved to Denver, Colorado, in order to seek help for Ruby's tuberculosis. Sara soon married Ralph Langley, a handsome, personable young man who took her back to Chicago. There a daughter, Sarah Elizabeth, was born in 1907. The marriage soon deteriorated into violence and in 1911, Sara and Elizabeth (Lisa) fled west, settling in Eagle Rock, California, where her father was the engineer for a road bridge then under construction. Sara and her mother did not get along and Sara soon moved into Los Angeles where she got a job doing illustration work for the Los Angles Times. Lisa stayed with her grandparents and Aunt Ruby.

By 1918 Sara had had enough of fashion drawings and resolved to continue her education. She and Lisa returned to Colorado where she spent the summer painting and applying to various art schools. The Pennylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia made her the first offer and sweetened it with a scholarship. In the fall of 1918, Sara and Lisa moved to Philadelphia. Both soon came down with the flu and nearly died but by January Sara was well enough to begin classes. She loved the school and work and encouraged her sister , Sue May, to join her.

In the fall of 1919, Sue May, with her four-year-old daughter, Mary Sue, did and the two sisters, their children and Mary Sue's nurse-nanny moved in together. Sara enjoyed considerable success in her first years at the academy and in 1922 won a travel scholarship to spend the summer studying art in Europe. Leaving Lisa at a girls' summer camp, Sara headed overseas with Sue May and Paul Gill, another student Sue May had started an affair with.

But Sara soon developed other interests. She became increasingly involved with the occult and fortune-telling. She was introduced to Earl Mendenhall, a prominent Philadelphia banker by his wife, Aileen—who was looking for someone for him to fall in love with so that she could get a divorce. The plan worked and Sara and Earl married. The relationship lasted off-and-on for most of the rest of Sara's life.

Earl Mendenhall, Sara's second husband

Sara did not complete her studies but moved to Harvey Cedars on Long Beach Island on the coast of New Jersey,where her parents now ran the local store. She lived there the rest of her life, dying in 1953.

Primarily a painter, her later work had strong mystical elements and included many powerful female nudes as subject matter. Original and talented but somewhat lazy, Sara Mendenhall remains an artist waiting for public discovery.

Link to examples of Mendenhall works.

Lisa, Sara's daughter, graduated from the Friends' School in Philadelphia in 1925 and spent the next several years dabbling in art and theater. Her mother discouraged her male relationships and refused to let her attend art school so that she would be "original." She finally had a nervous breakdown. Recovering, she studied at the Phildelphia School of Industrial Art and at the Art Students' League in New York. She took classes in the graphic arts from Earl Horter and private instruction from the painter Arthur B. Charles while keeping house for her stepfather. In 1932 she entered into a relationship with Jessie Rhoades and a year later the two sailed for the island of Majorca where they lived a year and Lisa painted. She had a one-woman exhibition while there.

Lisa studied ceramics at Alfred University in New York and by 1940, "terra cotta" work had become her focus. In 1941 she took over the WPA ceramics program in Pennylvania, working under Frank Philbin. Under the program she created and supervised the making of defence plagues and murals.for civic enterprises. After World War II, she joined the faculty of the Tyler School of Art. She taught ceramics for most of the rest of her life, at the University of Pennsylvania and finally at the Philadelphia College of Art where she worked until she retired. She continued a pugmill business out of her center city home, selling clays and glazes until 1982. Then she sold her home and moved into the Woodriver retirement community where she died in 1994.

Link to examples of Langley work.

Lisa Langley assemblying tiles for her Philadelphia Zoo project.

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