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Marilyn Terry Lanfear

Obituary for Marilyn Terry Lanfear

December 27, 1930 - January 19, 2020
San Antonio, Texas | Age 89


It is with great sadness that we announce that our mom, Marilyn Terry Lanfear, died on January 19, 2020 at the age of 89. Marilyn was a well-known artist. Her artwork was serious, detailed, and extremely well thought out. She worked with many art forms. Marilyn was a skilled water colorist, oil painter, sculptor, paper maker, seamstress, designer—and more. Through her art she was also the chronicler of family stories. Her artwork is part of permanent museum collections in San Antonio, Corpus Christi, El Paso and Bentonville, Arkansas.

Marilyn was born in Waco, Texas, but raised in Corpus Christi. She attended Del Mar College in Corpus Christi before transferring to The University of Texas at Austin, where she was an all-A student and member of Alpha Delta Pi sorority. She was a beauty.

Marilyn went to college again later in her life after raising her children, obtaining a Master of Fine Arts degree from The University of Texas at San Antonio. She later taught art (drawing, design, and painting) at San Antonio College, The University of Oregon at Eugene, and William and Clark College in Portland, Oregon. She also lived and made art in New York City for many years beginning in the mid-1980s.

She was a loving mother, grandmother and great grandmother to, and is survived by, her four children, Theresa Helms (John), Richard Lanfear, Genie Lanfear, and Daniel Lanfear (Kate), five grandchildren, Ashlea Helms Mattoon, Benjamin Helms (Brooke), Nicole Lanfear, Allison Lanfear, and Walter Lanfear, and four great grandchildren, Theodore Hubbard, Beckett Hubbard, Halsey Mattoon and Ellie Helms. She taught us all important life lessons about family, art, creativity, religion, and politics.

One of Marilyn's closest friends is Glenna Park, a fellow artist and feminist. Glenna noticed that Marilyn's art had very formalist aesthetics that were "dirtied." Marilyn made beautiful prints with a gray square of paper over white paper, enclosing dirt or some other material between the sheets of paper. The top paper was often torn and dirt slowly escaped to the bottom of the art and within the frame. She repaired the torn page with the meanness of staples or by sewing the gash back together with wire. So something that started out as a pristine, well placed subject was slightly damaged and then more crudely repaired. Glenna immediately wanted to know the artist who included such an underbelly of humor in her work. Glenna soon learned that a person who could amuse herself the way Marilyn did with her artwork was a person who would never be boring.

Marilyn was one of the artists who helped organize events around The Artist and The Quilt that opened at the McNay Art Museum. The show traveled and eventually was purchased by the Philip Morris collection. It was also documented in a book. Marilyn's quilt was again a gray square over a white field, this time in fabric. Marilyn's daughter, Theresa, was the professional quilt collaborator on the project. Once again the pristine presentation was shattered by a very deliberate split in the gray square and then put back together by tedious buttoning of the covered buttons and loops found on many traditional wedding gowns. The piece was about marriage where one partner gets the bigger "half" of the covers, while the other partner deals with the slight by closing the covers back together using formal, tediously made covered buttons and loops. The irony was that if the grey fabric matched up, the white background was uneven. The stitching patterns on the quilt represented her 4 children with symbols relating to their interests, like baseball paraphernalia for her son Daniel.

At the same time Marilyn was thinking about the social structure women faced in daily life. She made a Ralph Lauren jacket out of lead. It was life sized and almost resembled armor—social armor. Lead is a poisonous heavy metal, which was a significant part of Marilyn's aesthetic system. Lead is clumsy, soft, and beautiful. Once again the gray color signaled a constant aspect of her art. Marilyn went on to create other "blouses" that fit the social armor concept. She made costumes and hats as well.

Not working exclusively in lead, Marilyn made chairs into costumes. People would be the back of the chair and the back two legs. The arms were human and the seat was crafted by Marilyn. She made chairs that people wore as they told family stories. One that I enjoyed was a family tale, where I fondly remembered each chair person repeating the same story very much like family lore is repeated and remembered. There are some stories that are repeated at every family reunion. The chairs changed places as they repeated the tales, and of course they changed only slightly as a different family member repeated the story. Marilyn loved to analyze the subtle differences in relationships.

Memories of family life let her explore the events of her family for the subtle truths that she found emphasized or repeated. Old black and white photos informed her of family times which she rendered in various shades of mother of pearl buttons. She spent years shopping in flea markets and antique stores for buttons. Then she carefully sanded and polished each button as she separated them into multiple boxes according to color. Marilyn made large patterns and transferred the images to a heavy fabric where she could sew each button into the cloth. Roughly up to 18,000 buttons rendered a photo image. It was a labor of love as she and her button sewing assistants made 5 button pieces.

Marilyn learned to make her materials part of the symbolic messages. She carved drapes out of wood, clothing and furniture out of stone. There was always a reason for the medium. One needed to approach her art asking oneself why she made a cabinet filled with antique poison bottles. Following Marilyn's art required curiosity and patience. It was always quietly making statements. She was a careful observer of daily life, and at the same time commenting on it. Favorite or important family pictures were rendered in Mother of Pearl as a statement of value. No cheap plastic buttons could tell her story. Her art will be talking for generations, revealing the value of family and history. Her son Richard taught her a respect of nature and the value of skillful work. Genie taught her a passionate regard for a labor-intensive, but light, sense of art. Ultimately Marilyn lived life fearlessly, taking new opportunities wherever they came. She had a life well lived and we may continue our conversations with her through her art.

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Those who desire may make memorial contributions to the San Antonio Art League and Museum, 130 King William St., San Antonio, Texas 78204.

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Suggested Memorial Donations

  • San Antonio Art League and Museum, 130 King William St., San Antonio, Texas 78204.

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Porter Loring Mortuary

1101 McCullough Avenue
San Antonio, TX 78212
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