Founder of Mission Renaissance art schools honored

On Sunday, friends and family members gathered in a Glendale office building to pay tribute to a La Cañada resident, artist and teacher whose work helped shape 20th century Western Art. Larry Gluck, who’d turned 80 the day before, was feted with a birthday celebration and a special showing of his life’s works.

Many paintings on display were watercolors reflecting the 10 years the he and wife Sheila lived in St. Thomas in the 1960s. Other canvases showed the faint outline of ethereal nudes barely visible through a solid block of color, a style Gluck termed “mirage d’esprit,” while still others showed the artist’s penchant for portraiture.

“He was discovered to have the gift, the talent,” his wife said with admiration. “He is truly, truly a consummate artist.”

As good as they are, the paintings don’t tell his real life’s story, Gluck will tell you. The real story is written on the faces of instructors and students who are, themselves, a testament to a method of art instruction meant to liberate and inspire anyone who dreams of being an artist.

Mission: Renaissance began in 1975, born out of Gluck’s frustration with what he describes as a drug-induced modern art movement and its effect on art schools. A student of the prestigious New York art school, Pratt Institute, he was disappointed to learn that there was no emphasis on the basic, foundational principles of art.

“I just basically flew by the seat of my pants for years,” he recalled. “That’s when I realized what was happening — thousands of people were going to art school and never learning what they needed.”

Today Mission: Renaissance has moved out of the Gluck’s living room to comprise 19 studios throughout Southern California, including one in La Cañada. As many as 85 instructors teach the Gluck Method to more than 3,000 children and 800 adults each week.

Lesson 1 imparts the true meaning of the word “draw,” which, Gluck said, means “to pull.” Students learn to hold a pencil across the pads of their fingers and secure it gently with the thumb, making the elbow a fulcrum as they pull the pencil downward. They also learn that one origin of the word “art” comes from a Sanskrit word meaning “to put together,” and they make painter’s lists outlining the steps they will take.

“Creating has nothing to do with the physical universe,” Gluck said, explaining how inspiration takes place in the spirit of the artist. “When you open that up in someone’s world, it’s life changing.”

Peta Carley is the children’s program director at the school’s studio in Laguna Niguel. In the four years she’s been with Mission: Renaissance, she’s seen young artists grow. Carley told a story of a 9-year-old student who said to her mother one day that life was like a painter’s list — if you don’t do it in the right order, it gets messed up.

“It is indescribable,” Carley said of the program’s affect on the self-esteem on children and adults alike. “It’s changed my life so much. It’s added to my value and my personal vision as an artist.”

A nod to the school’s impact in the local community, a proclamation from La Cañada Flintridge Mayor David Spence officially dubbed April 10, 2011 “Larry Gluck Day.” Another commendation, from Glendale Mayor Ara Najarian, was read by Sheila Gluck, who afterward shared champagne and a kiss with her husband.

The candles on an enormous chocolate cake were lit, creating a blaze to which some partygoers reacted with mock trepidation. When it was time to blow them out, Larry Gluck closed his eyes and pointed a finger to the ceiling to make a wish.

According to American birthday mores, if you tell someone what you wished for when you blew out the candles, it won’t come true. But Larry Gluck, who elegantly welcomed 80 amid an outpouring of friends, family members and people whose lives changed the moment he arrived on the scene, didn’t have to say a word.

His wish had already come true.

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