Lara Cantu-Hertzler is seen with former Mayor Michael Nutter after winning First Place Painting honors in the “Art in City Hall Show” in 2015.

by Len Lear

When most of us look at an old, deteriorating building, we simply see a hulk that has outlived its usefulness. But Lara Cantu-Hertzler sees a potential work of art. I have called her the Philadelphia artistic maven of old, crumbling buildings since her artistic renderings of them have earned her numerous gallery exhibits and prestigious awards. (Her work is currently on exhibit — along with the work of other local artists — on the walls of LeBus, a 2-year-old restaurant at the corner of Ridge and Midvale Avenues in East Falls.)

“I’ve sold five paintings there,” said Cantu-Hertzler, 33, of Germantown. “It’s very generous of David and Isa (owners David Braverman and Isa Goldfarb) to take local artists paintings without taking a cut for themselves, especially because they process the sales for us.”

Born in Boston but raised in Chestnut Hill, Cantu-Hertzler 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.

Cantu-Hertzler, 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 in West Mt. Airy and the Rosenfeld Gallery on 2nd and Arch Streets in Old City.

“My favorite award,” she said last week, “was winning a full fellowship to Vermont Studio Center because I was housed, fed and given a month to do nothing but paint. However, last year the Rittenhouse Fine Arts Festival used my image for the banner image, which was also a great honor. I do still work on wood panels, but recently I’ve been working in encaustic (melted bees wax and resin with added pigment) and mixed media. This gives my paintings more depth and texture.”

Regarding her fascination with deteriorating buildings, Cantu-Hertzler explained, “When I look at some of these buildings, it makes me sad because I see buildings that were so well made with such intricate detail just being let go and forgotten.

Cantu-Hertzler specializes in painting old, dilapidated buildings in Philadelphia, such as this “Old Mansion on Upsal II,” an 8”/8” oil on gesso board that was in a juried exhibition at Woodmere Art Museum.

“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.”

Cantu-Hertzler 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.” She also hopes to be teaching two classes soon at Wayne Art Center.

You may have seen the painting that Weavers Way commissioned Cantu-Hertzler to do of the exterior view of their Mt. Airy store. The stunning 18” x 18” 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 by special order.

“My ultimate goal,” she said, “is to make paintings with integrity by expressing my feelings through texture, color and gesture … to create images that engage the viewers by allowing them to enter open-ended paintings. I don’t create definite narratives. This allows the viewer to write part of the story … and, of course, to get rich and famous one day!”

What is the best advice Cantu-Hertzler ever received?

“It was in ‘The Artist’s Way’ by Julia Cameron: ‘It’s my job to do the work, not judge the work.’ This goes against everything I was taught in art school, where I was always told to ‘be your worst critic.’ I feel you can really block creativity if you spend too much time critiquing yourself.”

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