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 Sara (Sarah) Gailey Langley Mendenhall  (1885 - 1953)



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Lived/Active: Pennsylvania/California/New Jersey      Known for: nude figure painting, fashion illustration

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Ad Code: 4
AskART Artist
from Auction House Records.
Portrait of Oliver Martin of Philadelphia
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following, at the suggestion of Wes Loder, Campus Librarian, Penn State/Schuylkill, heavily references the website:

Elizabeth Sarah (Sara) Gailey was born in Uvalde, Texas in 1885, the eldest child of Asa Jones Gailey and Sue Louise Connally Gailey. She had two sisters, Sue May Gailey Wescott Gill, who also became an artist, and Ruby. "Sara" showed artistic talent at an early age and was encouraged to by her family to draw and paint. In the 1890's she attended the free art classes offered by the Chicago Art Institute and soon had a job producing dinner cards for Marshall-Fields.

The family eventually moved to Denver, Colorado in order to seek help for Ruby's tuberculosis. Sara soon married Ralph Langley, a handsome, personable young man who took her back to Chicago. There a daughter, Sarah Elizabeth, was born in 1907. The marriage deteriorated into violence and in 1911, Sara and Elizabeth (Lisa) fled West, settling in Eagle Rock, California, where her father was the engineer for a road bridge then under construction. Sara and her mother did not get along, and Sara soon moved into Los Angeles where she got a job doing illustration work for the Los Angeles Times. Lisa stayed with her grandparents and Aunt Ruby.

By 1918, Sara had had enough of fashion drawings and resolved to continue her education. She and Lisa returned to Colorado where she spent the summer painting and applying to various art schools. The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia made her the first offer and sweetened it with a scholarship. In the fall of 1918, Sara and Lisa moved to Philadelphia. Both soon came down with the flu and nearly died but by January Sara was well enough to begin classes. She loved the school and work and encouraged her sister, Sue May, to join her.

In the fall of 1919, Sue May, with her four-year-old daughter, Mary Sue, and the two sisters, their children and Mary Sue's nurse-nanny moved in together. Sara enjoyed considerable success in her first years at the academy, and in 1922 won a travel scholarship to spend the summer studying art in Europe. Leaving Lisa at a girls' summer camp, Sara headed overseas with Sue May and Paul Gill, another student Sue May had started an affair with.

But Sara soon developed other interests. She became increasingly involved with the occult and fortune-telling. She was introduced to Earl Mendenhall, a prominent Philadelphia banker by his wife, Aileen, who was looking for someone for him to fall in love with so that she could get a divorce. The plan worked and Sara and Earl married. The relationship lasted off-and-on for most of the rest of Sara's life.

Sara did not complete her studies but moved to Harvey Cedars on Long Beach Island on the coast of New Jersey,where her parents now ran the local store. She lived there the rest of her life, dying in 1953.

Primarily a painter, her later work had strong mystical elements and included many powerful female nudes as subject matter. Original and talented but somewhat lazy, Sara Mendenhall remains an artist waiting for public discovery.

These Notes from AskART represent the beginning of a possible future biography for this artist. Please click here if you wish to help in its development:
Born in Texas on July 12, 1885. During 1914-17 Langley lived in Los Angeles. She studied at the PAFA during 1918-23 and while there won the Cresson Scholarship for further study in Europe. By the early 1930s she had returned to Philadelphia and was Mrs. Earl Mendenhall. Exh: PAFA, 1921. In: PAFA.
Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
City Directory; Dictionary of American Painters, Sculptors & Engravers (Fielding, Mantle); American Art Annual 1919-33; Who's Who in American Art 1936-40.
Nearly 20,000 biographies can be found in Artists in California 1786-1940 by Edan Hughes and is available for sale ($150). For a full book description and order information please click here.

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