by Len Lear
Most people probably pay little attention to deteriorating buildings in Philadelphia, but when Mt. Airy’s Lara Cantu-Hertzler sees one, she envisions a work of art. You might even say she is the Philadelphia artistic maven of old, crumbling buildings since her artistic renderings of them have earned her numerous gallery exhibits and prestigious awards.
“I continue to be influenced by the architecture in Philadelphia, particularly the older deteriorating architecture,” explained Lara, 31, in an earlier interview with the Local. “When I look at some of these deteriorating buildings, it makes me sad because I see buildings that were so well made with such intricate detail just being let go and forgotten.
“At the same time, there is also something very beautiful about the aesthetic of these crumbling buildings. The building seems more alive and has a sense of mortality when you don’t know if it’s going to be rebuilt or torn down. By painting these buildings, I feel I’m preserving them … I like the structure of architecture and the fact that it’s easily abstracted. I’m drawn to the architecture in Philadelphia because it has history and character.”
Born in Boston but raised in Chestnut Hill, Lara attended Project Learn School in Mt. Airy, Philly’s High School for the Creative and Performing Arts and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, where she earned a B.A. in Fine Arts. Her mother, of Spanish descent, was born and raised in Mexico, and her father, of German descent, was born and raised in Goshen, Indiana.
Lara, who won a fellowship artist residency at the Vermont Studio Center in 2013, has had her work exhibited in the Woodmere Art Museum Annual group show. She also won Best of Show from Highwire Gallery in Fishtown. Her paintings have been in the Chestnut Hill Fall for the Arts Festival, where she took home Best of Show and First Place in the Oils category in 2013. She has exhibited at the High Point Café on Carpenter Lane in West Mt. Airy, along with the Rosenfeld Gallery on 2nd and Arch Streets in Old City in their annual “Small Works Show.”
She had a solo show at Abington Art Center in October, 2016, and a solo show at Allens Lane Art Center this May. She also showed in the Spring Rittenhouse Square Fine Arts Festival this year and will be exhibiting in Chestnut Hill Fall for the Arts this Fall. She has a new studio space in the Stenton Guild Arts building in Germantown.
Lara previously worked at Weavers Way in Chestnut Hill in the grocery department or at the register, but she now works at Artist and Craftsman Supply, also in Chestnut Hill, “where I connect with different artists, get ideas about using new materials and get a good discount on materials. I still work on gessoed wooden panels and still work in oils but now also work in encaustic and mixed media. Encaustic is melted bees wax and resin with added pigment.” (Ed. Note: Gesso is a white paint mixture consisting of a binder mixed with chalk, gypsum, pigment or any combination of these.)
You may have even seen the painting that Weavers Way commissioned Lara to do of the exterior view of their Mt. Airy store. The stunning 18”x18” painting was hanging in the Mt. Airy building, but then it was given to Weavers Way’s general manager, Glenn Bergman, as a parting gift when he left. There are still prints of this painting available from Weavers Way.
In 2011, Lara created a painting based on a photo to illustrate the humanitarian need in Haiti after that country’s calamitous earthquake. The painting went on to help raise funds for disaster relief for that devastated country. Lara recently started a new painting inspired by the apartment building that recently caught fire in London, killing dozens of residents. She also recently painted some demolition sites in center city, including two of churches that are being torn down.
What is Lara’s idea of perfect happiness? “It is to make a full time living off my artwork and have an unlimited supply of Old Holland paint.”
What person in the world would she most like to spend time with? “Lady Gaga.”
Who are Lara’s personal heroes? “Amy Winehouse, Francesca Woodman and Billie Holiday.” (Ed. Note: Francesca Woodman (1958–1981) was an American photographer best known for her black and white pictures featuring herself or female models, many of them nude. She died by suicide at the age of 22.)
What is Lara’s number one pet peeve? “Animal cruelty.”
Jacqueline Rupp contributed to this article. More information at www.laracantuh.com