The Art Workshop de La Tour
The Lutheran Foundation de La Tour - founded by Elvine, Countess de La Tour in 1874 - is a member of the DIAKONIE ÖSTERREICH and runs several social service facilities in the Austrian federal state Carinthia. Amongst these there are homes for people with a mental handicap. For this group occupational therapy is provided, especially by working in handicrafts. Crafts workers, once recognized as artistically gifted, may then be transferred to the art workshop as full-time members.
At present ten artists, two of them being a sculptor, constitute the Art Workshop de La Tour. Numerous exhibitions and extended media presence inside and outside Austria attest to the quality of artistic performance and to the variety of subject matter found in the La Tour atelier.
This art workshop is one of the oldest institutions of its kind in Austria. It all began with the appearence of Willibald Lassenberger (born in 1952). Towards the late 1970ies his remarkable drawing skills opened the way for the creation of an art workshop of high standing. The above painting of a three-legged rooster underlines the central role of Willibald Lassenberger: this design was chosen to be the distinguishing mark or label for the Art Workshop de La Tour.
Beginning in 1980 Professor Max Kläger from the Heidelberg University of Education promoted the development of the workshop. He initiated a long-term research project that yields significant insights regarding the unique features of the art of intellectually constrained persons.
History and Characteristics of the Art Workshop
The beginning of the Art Workshop de la Tour can be dated back to the year 1980. It is one of the older ateliers, in which persons with a mental handicap work as full-time artists. It was Willibald Lassenberger, an artistically gifted person living with Down-Syndrome, whose remarkable drawings initiated the idea of an art workshop with an exclusively artistic emphasis.
The above painting, showing a three-legged rooster, marked the beginning of the envisioned workshop. Mrs. Christl Szepannek discovered this work of art during an internal drawing competition in 1976. Since then it has become the logo of the Art Workshop de La Tour. In 1980 several drawings done by Willibald Lassenberger found their way to Professor Kläger in Heidelberg, who had started a research project on the art of intellectually constrained persons some years before. Thereupon he contacted the Lutheran Foundation de La Tour in Treffen, near Villach, Carinthia, and confirmed the artistic talent of Willibald Lassenberger. From then on Professor Kläger visited the Foundation regularly. By means of professional advice and in-service seminars he was able to assist art conscious social workers in their role as stimulaters in the workshop. After 12 years of participant observation Professor Kläger presented first results in a monographic publication, dealing with Willibald Lassenberger?s oeuvre. After ten more years another monograph followed, this time on the art of Christoph Eder. A series of video films (one of them in English, titled ?Thinking by Hand?) show the personality of Willibald Lassenberger, his painting behavior and some of his pictures as objects of art appreciation.
Willibald Lassenberger, exempted from occupational therapy in crafts, was for some time the only member of the atelier. The quality and figural richness of his work increased steadily. In a relatively short time span he achieved artistic fame. A dramatic change occurred during the last decade of the past century. Other, equally gifted and productive personalities were discovered and joined the art workshop as full time members. The spectrum of formal presentation and the diversity of figural content expanded remarkably. This holds true for all eight artists working in the atelier:
- Willibald Lassenberger (*1952) combines graphic structure with color areas of an expressionistic flavor;
- Peter Smoley (*1962) employs a color dominant approach in his large-sized paintings;
- Christoph Eder (*1979) depicts a wealth of universal imagery;
- Karin Sickl (*1970) follows an illustrative and anectodal bent;
- Dieter Fercher (*1955) expounds his remarkable graphic ability;
- Wolfgang Mang (*1952) produces enchanting color effects in his miniature paintings;
- Harald Rath (*1966), specializes in printmaking, especially linocuts;
- Johann Meduna (*1951) sculptures in wood, often with a strongly physiognomic stance;
- Paul Nusitz (*1974) his ink paintings impress the viewer by their delicate character;
- Roland Groinigg (*1982) works as skulptor and his main focus is on people;
- Ingrid Kowatschitsch (*1960) creates pieces of art in several different work procedures in rather absorbed colors.
The artistic achievements of Willibald Lassenberger were recognized by the state government of Carinthia: in 1998 he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross of Bundesland Kärnten.
All in all, frequent exhibitions and the favorable response of the media confirm the growing interest and understanding of an enlightened public for the quality art work done in the Art Workshop de La Tour and for the freshness of its contribution to the cultural scene of the state of Austria.