James Lechay 1907–2001
James Lechay was a painter of figures, landscapes, cityscapes and still lifes who played a notable role in the tradition of avant-garde painting in New York and in the Midwest. An artist who defied categorization, he assimilated the precepts of modern European and American art, evolving a spare, semi-abstract style with expressionist overtones; as Lechay himself put it, he was an "abstract impressionist" who followed his own artistic agenda throughout the course of his career.
James Lechay was born in New York on July 5, 1907. He spent his childhood in Brooklyn; when he was thirteen his mother died, and he was sent to live with an uncle in Illinois. Lechay went on to attend the University of Illinois, where he received a B.A. in psychology in 1928. In 1929 he dropped out of graduate school to study with his brother, the painter Myron Lechay (1898-1972). He then traveled through Canada and the United States before settling in New York, where he became friendly with painters such as William Zorach, Milton Avery, Mark Rothko, Arshile Gorky and Raphael and Moses Soyer. In the 1930s, he was a leader of the Artists Union and worked for the government's Works Progress Administration, during which time he was sent to Las Vegas, New Mexico, to organize exhibitions of W.P.A. paintings by artists such as Milton Avery and Max Weber.
After his first one-man show in 1936, Lechay went on to have many solo exhibitions in New York and the Midwest. He participated in many group exhibitions and many of the major national annuals. In 1945, James Lechay joined the art faculty at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, working out of a studio that had once been used by Grant Wood. In the ensuing years, he also conducted summer workshops at institutions, including Stanford University, the Skowhegan School of Painting, the Chinese University of Hong Kong and the Studio Art School of the Aegean. After retiring from his position at the University of Iowa in 1972, Lechay moved to Wellfleet, Massachusetts, where he continued to paint and teach privately. Lechay continued to paint up until a few days before his death in Wellfleet on August 11, 2001.