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Oral history interview with James Lechay, 1998 July 9-Aug. 26

Oral history interview with James Lechay, 1998 July 9-Aug. 26

Lechay, James, 1907-2001

Painter, Educator


Collection Information

Size: Transcript: 85 pages.

Format: Originally recorded on 2 sound cassettes. Reformatted in 2010 as 4 digital wav files. Duration is 2 hrs., 17 min.

Summary: An interview of James Lechay conducted 1998 July 9-Aug. 26, by Robert F. Brown, for the Archives of American Art, in Lechay's home, Wellfleet, Mass.

Lechay discusses his early childhood in the Bronx, N.Y.; copying paintings at the Metropolitan Museum under the tutelage of his elder brother Myron; discontinuing his study of psychology at the University of Illinois in 1929 to return to NYC to paint; taking odd jobs to counter his extreme poverty in the early 1930s; first exhibition at Another Place (1936), a gallery run by De Hirsh Margules and praise from David Siqueiros, the Mexican muralist; first trip to Provincetown (1930); exhibiting several times at the Whitney Museum (and others) but not at MoMA; touring NYC galleries on Fridays; meeting Marsden Hartley and Alfred Stieglitz; friendship with the arrogant Arshile Gorky; and on Jackson Pollock with whom he served as a juror, along with Max Weber, for a Momentum exhibition, Chicago, 1940s.

Teaching at the University of Iowa 1945, succeeding Philip Guston, because he taught only 2 days a week and Iowa was the first American university to hire mature professional artists; his luck in always having (since 1935) a New York dealer; his work as self-referential; being repelled by art fashions and not compromising his work in order to sell; painting must look effortless, simple, easy, as though "breathed on the canvas"; the appearance of simplicity in his work but actually it being the product of struggle for him, but elation when finished; comment on his early NYC friends: Raphael and Moses Soyer, Abraham Walkowitz, and Arshile Gorky; aquaintance at Stieglitz's gallery with Marsden Hartley.

Biographical/Historical Note

James Lechay (1907-2001) was a painter from Wellfleet, Mass.


This interview is part of the Archives of American Art Oral History Program, started in 1958 to document the history of the visual arts in the United States, primarily through interviews with artists, historians, dealers, critics and administrators.


Funding for the digital preservation of this interview was provided by a grant from the Save America's Treasures Program of the National Park Service.

How to Use This Collection

For information on how to access this interview contact Reference Services.

Quotes and excerpts must be cited as follows: Oral history interview with James Lechay, 1998 July 9-Aug. 26. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.