Born in Hungary in 1900, Carl Pappe showed an early interest and talent in drawing, taking up the only tools available, chalk and slate. When just five years old, his father immigrated to the United States in search for a new life for his family. Six years later they were reunited in Lorain, Ohio.
(below: The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art)
While in his early teens, Carl was apprenticed to a Hungarian muralist working in Cleveland. From 1921 to 1925 Carl attended the Cleveland School of Art (now the Cleveland Institute of Art). Awarded a scholarship by the Hungarian Society, he enrolled at the school of his choice, the prestigious Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. He studied under Daniel Breckenridge and Hugh Garber from 1925 to 1926. The Academy awarded him a full scholarship but he was unable to complete his third year of studies due to medical problems.
In 1929 he worked in stage design for Paramount Studios in New York but was laid off due to the recession. "If I am going to die of hunger it wont be here, he said. Amidst the Depression, Carl worked crafting repairs to the gold leaf of the ceilings of theaters while refinishing furniture and sail boat decks in Philadelphia and Boston. He started a drawing school for children in Easton, Pennsylvania in a downstairs room of the Masonic Temple. Tuition was 50 cents per week. This was the first of many opportunities Carl took in instructing young people in the arts.
Carl visited Mexico City in 1934 and began to work as a cook and tour guide to earn money for rent on a studio where he could paint. He met Bernice Goodspeed, his future wife, an anthropologist and tour guide specializing in sites of antiquity. She became a designer of silver jewelry and authored books on Mexican folklore, illustrated by her husband Carl. They opened a gallery in the still quaint silver mining town of Taxco, southwest of Mexico City.
(above: Pappe at the Pennsylvania Academy with sculpture teacher circa, 1926)
Acquainted with many interesting and influential people during his four years in Mexico City, he heard lectures on art given by Diego Rivera and shared the same Swedish doctor with his friend Frida Kahlo, Rivera's wife. He was a great admirer and friend of the sculpture Isamu Noguchi. He also worked to become an apprentice to muralist Jose Orozco, visiting his studio often. As a personal tour guide to Amelia Earhart upon her arrival via solo flight, Carl took her to the studio of Diego Rivera as well as the Pyramids of the Sun and Moon outside of Mexico City. Carl's friendship with Carlos Merida, Juan O'Gorman and Ruffino Tamayo brought them to Taxco in an effort to escape the politics and distractions in the Capital.
Carl outlived all of his contemporaries, a reality he attributed to his avoidance of the tempting and often addicting evils of smoking, drinking and fast living.
He left such distractions and settled in Taxco, Mexico's silver mining capital in the Sierra Madre Mountains. He was able to focus entirely on art and all that delighted him, inspired by the love and beauty that is Mexico. He could not live anywhere else, he said of colonial Taxco, "That was the magnet that attracted me here, in the heart. Painting and sculpting is my blood, that is what I was trained for. Now with all my years what am I going to do? There is nothing else but to continue until the end".
According to Abraham Davidson's essay, CARL PAPPE: The Late Works (1995), "Pappe had not seen an ARTnews since about 1945, had never watched television and heard radio for the last time when listening to an Amos 'n Andy program." Davidson further explains the abstract works as having, "a controlled delicacy and shureness of draftsmanship which compel our close attention and admiration. His pieces do not comprise a composition of diverse parts or contain a focus." Another series inspired by Paul Klee's Magic Squares of 1922-1930, are like going up or down scales of music and according to Pappe they are put together so they "work as a whole on all sides, forget the individual squares and feel what the whole thing says to you".
Pappe's use of the vignette can be seen in works dating from 1980 through 1990. The strong lines outlining the works usually contain washes used to illuminate the line drawing such that without using perspective Pappe has caused dimensionality. Abstract works crossover from early cubist toward Nahuatl glyphs. Much reflection is seen in the contemporary Mexicana design; however, more mysterious are the 'Anthropos' which seem to have come directly from ancient shamanistic dreaming. Inherent in the human species, the animal concepts are depicted in an anthropomorphic style. Carl has visited these images in a somewhat three dimensional outline of prehistoric design which resemble artifacts of animals, living beings or entities. His abstract line drawings resemble western continental petroglyphs; webbing and connections could serve as spirit catchers or preform the use of virtual universe.
Carl was a fellow of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts where his work has been shown. Several of his woodcut prints of Taxco street scenes are among the collections at the Library of Congress. An exhibit of his abstract pastels was held in 1994 by the Government of Guerrero as a commemorative to his fifty five years as an artist in Taxco. In 1995 over eighty of his abstracts were shown at the Woodmere Art Museum in Philadelphia.
His sculptures, drawings and paintings hang on the walls of European, Middle Eastern, American, South American as well as many Mexican collectors who had visited him in Taxco through the years.
His creativity as an artist continuously evolved in art that ranged from pencil and ink drawings, etchings, woodcuts, abstract sculptures in solid silver, bronze busts, watercolors, oil paintings to his more recent series of abstract pastels. Truly a modern scholar of numerous genres of art and a generous instructor of his crafts, Carl Pappe's creative spirit lives on in his century of art.