Leonard Zielaskiewicz


photographs: 1951-1954

drawings: 1950-1992

May 5 - June 9, 2012

Opening Reception: Saturday, May 5, 6 - 9PM


SMITH ANDERSEN NORTH is pleased to present a selection of Leonard Zielaskiewicz’s rare vintage prints from the Golden Decade of the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute), most of which have never been seen. Each gelatin silver contact print is unique, created while Zielaskiewicz attended CSFA from 1951 to 1954. Also on view for the first time are Zielaskiewicz’s private drawings, which demonstrate the vibrant creative life of a man who deliberately hid himself from the world.

On October 17, 1989, the San Francisco Bay Area was rocked by the Loma Prieta earthquake. In addition to causing casualties and injuries, the quake left thousands of people homeless.

Among the people shaken from their homes was Leonard Zielaskiewicz, a graduate of the California School of Fine Arts, who had mysteriously disappeared in 1954 after completing the four-year photography program. For 35 years, his family, friends, and colleagues could not locate him, although he was living only a few miles from where he had studied under Minor White.

After the quake, Gary Marsh, a disaster relief volunteer, met Leonard at a Red Cross shelter and helped him find a new home and adapt to a new life. Leonard’s story slowly emerged, and Gary discovered that this quiet, emotionally distant man was an artist.

Zielaskiewicz was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1922 and grew up with eight siblings during the Great Depression. In 1942, he enlisted in the United States Army and shipped overseas to serve in France and Germany during World War II. In 1945, he returned to his family home in Ohio and entered the Cleveland School of Art (now the Cleveland Institute of Art), where he studied drawing, painting, and sculpture under Viktor Schreckengost. Zielaskiewicz secured a scholarship to the California School of Fine Arts and moved to California in 1951 to study photography.

At CSFA, Leonard embraced Minor White’s declaration that a photograph could express more than what is seen on its surface. He used the camera as an extension of his personal vision, tightly framing subjects in the viewfinder to create semi-abstractions. His gaze was frank, sometimes witty, but rarely romantic, which is particularly appealing to modern viewers.

After Leonard finished the program in 1954, he dropped out of sight until the earthquake forced him from seclusion in 1989. Although it appears that Zielaskiewicz stopped practicing photography after he left CSFA, he drew avidly his entire life and had a shadow career as a commercial illustrator.

Leonard Zielaskiewicz passed away in 1992 and is survived by his sister Dorothy Latko. Details of Leonard’s life remain unclear, obscured by his deliberate withdrawal from society.

Above left: Leonard Zielaskiewicz, #2 Wall, 1952. Vintage gelatin silver contact Print, 4" x 5".
Above right: Leonard Zielaskiewicz, Bow of Boat with Rope, 1952. Vintage gelatin silver contact Print, 4" x 5".