Delonga was an artist and teacher who believed in the exploration of art. He did not only want to develop and nurture his own talent but also spent a great deal of his career teaching all aspects of art and theory and fostering the nascent talents of his students, the young women of Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts. In part due to DeLonga’s dedicated effort to expand the horizons of those who would follow in his footsteps, his work stretched across decades, voyaged through mediums, and inspired new generations of artists.
DeLonga’s success as a teacher was documented by his colleague, Professor Grant Holcomb, in a gallery introduction for DeLonga’s 1973 showing at Mount Holyoke College Art Museum. As Holcomb observed at the time, DeLonga “sees the creative process as an enrichment of life; his ability to communicate this idea to his students has vitalized the educations of many.” Holcomb places DeLonga in a group of educator-artists that includes Robert Henri, John Sloan, and Hans Hofmann, men who believed as much in the path of educating and encouraging new artists as they did in the path of their own careers.
Perhaps this drive to mentor is, in part, what makes Henri, Sloan, Hofmann, and DeLonga such masterful artists: the willingness to learn, explore and develop new skills can only broaden the horizons of one’s own work. Indeed, from the time that DeLonga graduated from the University of Georgia in 1952 until his death in 1991, DeLonga not only taught, but he sculpted in both stone and metal, drew in pastel, cray-pas and charcoal, and painted in watercolor and oil. As his colleague Holcomb noted in the aforementioned introduction, commentators of the time noted DeLonga’s “considerable virtuosity” and “technical control.” DeLonga himself believed in the benefits of creative exploration and discovery, and so much of his oeuvre and following success was founded upon this versatility.
DeLonga’s beliefs are the whole of his work. He believed that his art was the expression of his thoughts and feelings and, as such, a vivid communication of those ideas to whomever viewed his pieces. As Holcomb said about DeLonga: “His art is the response of the living to life.” Some of DeLonga’s pieces bring to mind the graceful ebb and flow of all living things, while others recall the monument and majesty of past civilizations. Still others inspire terror and despair as they force us to confront the sometimes quixotic but often ugly side of the human condition. The varied subjects and moods of these works are a lasting chronicle of DeLonga’s observations on life and living.
Leonard DeLonga’s legacies survive him. His legacy as a husband and father can be found in the memories held in the hearts of his family, as well as in the friendships of his fellow artists and colleagues. It is held by those he mentored as a professor, including Shannon Collins Pan, who compiled her photographs of DeLonga’s bronze sculpture “An Artist’s Life” into a 2009 book entitled An Artist’s Life: Leonard DeLonga 1925-1991. She prefaced her work with: “[s]tudying under Leonard was one of the most significant events of my life. His pedagogy changed how I viewed the world and myself. I hope that I can have the same influence on my own students.” These words promise that DeLonga’s students have carried his legacy as both a teacher and inspiration forward and to a new generation.
Lastly, Leonard DeLonga’s legacy as an artist requires no explanation. The breadth of mediums he mastered and the sheer volume of work he left behind speaks for itself. Each pencil mark, brush stroke, molded shape and welded joint he crafted is unique to the time, place, and mood of its creator. These pieces give voice to his views on what it meant to be alive - a beautiful, tangled, roughly-hewn journey of angles and dark corners, color and passion. When faced with this dynamic and vast œuvre, there can be no question that Leonard DeLonga’s voice will continue to be heard for a great many years to come.