Each quarter, we feature a local artist in our St. Petersburg office. We thank Jenee Priebe of No Good Deeds Art, St. Petersburg College and the Leepa-Ratner Museum for the coordination of this exhibition.
Dr. Allen Leepa, abstract expressionist artist, author, professor and philanthropist, was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1919. He died in Tarpon Springs, Florida, in 2009.
As a teenager, Leepa began studying art at the Art Students League in New York City. In 1937, at the age of eighteen, he received a tuition scholarship to attend the first class of
the New Bauhaus School of Design in Chicago, modeled after the famous Bauhaus in Germany. The young artist benefited from the teachings of the New Bauhaus director, the acclaimed artist László Maholy-Nagy, a Hungarian-born painter, photographer, sculptor and filmmaker. Leepa also studied in New York under Hans Hofmann, a German émigré who was a key figure in the development of Abstract Expressionism in New York in the 1940s. Eventually, Leepa earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in Fine Arts and a doctorate in Education from Columbia University in New York.
At the Charles Fourth Gallery in New York in 1940 Leepa enjoyed his first solo exhibition. While continuing to search for his personal painting style, he began teaching art at Michigan State University in 1945. He clarified concepts about his style and modern art in his first book, The Challenge of Modern Art, published in 1949.
In 1956, Leepa and his stepfather, figurative-expressionist artist Abraham Rattner, established an art school on Long Island. Nearly twenty years later, Leepa published an illustrated book about his stepfather, titled Abraham Rattner.
Leepa and his wife, Isabelle Sutton Leepa, inherited a significant collection of Rattner’s work, which they donated to St. Petersburg College in 1996, and which became the foundation of the Leepa Rattner Museum of Art collection. Included in the gift were paintings by Leepa, watercolors and found-object sculptures by Esther Gentle, Leepa’s mother and Rattner’s second wife, and artwork by major twentieth-century artists such as Pablo Picasso, Georges Rouault, Marc Chagall, Joan Miró, Henry Moore, and Max
Ernst. In addition, the Leepas donated funds for and oversaw the construction of the Fine Arts Building and the museum, which opened to the public in January of 2002.