Manual Arts High School

In February 1929, at the age of sixteen years old, Harold Lehman left his home in New York City to join his father in Hollywood, CA. He began attending Manual Arts High School in South Los Angeles because of its excellent art department. It was there that Lehman met fellow students Philip Guston (then Philip Goldstein), and Jackson Pollock. They all became close friends, sharing the same interest in art, politics, and other youthful ideals.

 

During these early years, Lehman's main interest was in sculpture. Just prior to coming to Los Angeles he had already had experience with clay and plaster-casting in a large professional sculpture studio in New York City. As Lehman recalls, "I took with me a full set of modeling and plaster tools - which I put to good use in Manual Arts High School."

 

Lehman thrived at Manual Arts, which at the time was considered a "first rate" Los Angeles high school.  He was inspired by the head of the Art Department, Frederick J. Schwankovsky, who became his mentor and father figure.  As Lehman recalled in an interview with Stephen Polcari, for Archives of American Art, "He was known as Schwany and he and  I hit it off immediately." Lehman thrived in the open atmosphere, as well as exposure to literature, art classes, and new ideas. Schwany introduced Hinduism to his students having them read the Bhagavad-Gita, as well as the Light on the Path, the first book of Krishanmurti. Lehman created what he described as a "life-sized volute" of his teacher. In return, Schwankovsky who was a well-known water colorist, did a a portrait of Lehman in watercolor.

 

Unfortunately the school itself was "very straight-laced and rigid," which accounted for him, Pollock, and Guston having run-ins, resulting in each of them at different times being "thrown out." However, the Art Department, and in particular Schwany were very open and liberal in their approach to teaching. Schwany even arranged for his students to have drawing classes with nude models outside of the school and Lehman recalled going to these on a regular basis with his "best friend," Phil Guston.

Lehman met Jackson Pollock in a clay modeling class, which they took together. Lehman said, "That's where he focused his energies... Yes, his first love and first ambition was to be a sculptor."

Even though Reuben Kadish attended another high school across town, he got the attention of Guston and the others when there was publicity about him being thrown out for "unruly political activities."  They all became fast friends having the same political perspective, passion for art, and of course getting kicked out of school.  Pollock, Guston and Lehman had Schwany go to bat for them, so they were reinstated, with the agreement they only had to attend art classes. 

By 1930, Lehman was the only one of the gang still attending Manual Arts.  For his senior year, he became Art Editor of the school's 1931 year book, The Artisan, creating plaster motifs photographed and used as headings for each of the sections of the Year Book. He was also a member of the Phrenocosmians, Harmonica Club, Artisan Staff, and Band. 

To be closer to school, Lehman moved into his own apartment in South Los Angeles. Pollock steered Lehman to a studio apartment where his girlfriend lived. Lehman recalled, "Pollock was always coming around since his girlfriend was the landlady's sister". 

In the national bestseller, Jackson Pollock, An American Saga  (c1989), Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith wrote:

Lehman was everything that Pollock wasn't: self-confident, erudite, articulate, and extraordinarily talented...Of all the artists Jackson had encountered, and perhaps ever would encounter, Lehman came closest to that ideal of effortless accomplishment expressed in the term 'gifted'. There was no doubt: Harold Lehman was extravagantly gifted.

Related Images

Manual Arts High School. 1930.
Manual Arts High School. 1930.

High school in Los Angeles, Lehman attended.

press to zoom
The Artisan. Manual Arts 1931 Year Book
The Artisan. Manual Arts 1931 Year Book

Harold Lehman was Art Editor of this issue.

press to zoom
Untitled
Untitled

Sculpture done while Lehman was attending Manual Arts High School.

press to zoom
Manual Arts High School. 1930.
Manual Arts High School. 1930.

High school in Los Angeles, Lehman attended.

press to zoom
1/10

Harold Lehman. 1930.

Frederick J. Schwankovsky, 

Manual Arts High School Director of the Art Department. Bas relief by Harold Lehman 1930

Harold Lehman in Merchant of Venice.  Manual Arts Players Company, March 1931.

Lehman was also a member of the Phrenocosmians, Harmonica Club, Artisan Staff, and Band. 

Related Links