LH003: Leo Monahan – The Medium is Paper Sculpture, and the Process is the Reward

Leo Monahan Western North Carolina Artist, expert paper on cut and folded paper sculpture
Leo Monahan in his studio

It is difficult to know where to start writing about the career of Barnardsville, NC artist Leo Monahan.  Leo shares in this interview how the many threads of his life led him to Western North Carolina.  He transitioned from commercial art to fine art upon moving here ten years ago.  Now 83 years old, Leo continues to create his colorful cut and folded paper sculptures in his home studio on a daily basis.

Leo is also the creator, along with his friend John Otto in California, of the Local Hearted logo, for which I will be eternally grateful.

In this interview with host Meredith Adler, Leo talks about his 50 years as a commercial illustrator in Los Angeles, where his company designed 1200 record album covers in a period of 5 years, and NBC was his largest client.  Leo taught color and design at Disney, and is now a member of the Southern Highland Craft Guild.  Now that I have started writing about Leo, it’s hard to know where to stop, but I would rather you listen and let Leo tell you the stories himself!

To connect with Leo and see more of his work:

Highlights from this episode include:

  • Leo explains why he wouldn’t mind if his inventory of completed work was destroyed
  • How a series of lucky breaks and opportunities Leo accepted came together, culminating in the creation of his original art medium
  • Leo’s opinion that you cannot call yourself “creative”
  • Leo’s history as a teacher of the Bauhaus design and color course and how he is teaching a version of the Bauhaus design to his students here in WNC
  • Why Leo thinks the opportunity for an artist to have their exhibitions viewed by people is actually greater here in the Asheville and Western North Carolina area than it is in Los Angeles
  • How the theme of process rather than product runs through everything Leo does artistically

Local artists mentioned in this episode:

  • Nancy Swift, who is also Leo’s agent

Another local resource mentioned:

Other people, places and things pivotal to Leo’s life story mentioned during this episode:

  • Ben Black Elk, the man Leo honors by referring to him as his mentor when he was young.  Links with good information on Ben Black Elk can be found here and here.
  • Chouinard Institute, now called CalArts, where Leo received the first Disney Scholarship ever awarded.
  • The Bauhaus Movement, the style of design Leo learned and taught at Chouinard Institute, and still teaches today
  • Murray Garrett, the photographer who was Leo’s partner at the commercial art agency (whose request for Leo to design “something different” for Liberty Records was the catalyst for Leo to develop the format of cut and folded paper sculpture)
  • Studio Five, the Los Angeles commercial art agency of Leo Monahan and Murray Garrett
  • Jeff Nishinaka the artist  Leo refers to in the interview as “the Master of White.”  Jeff was a student of Leo’s. Leo himself is known as “the Master of Color.”
  • The Dada Movement in art
  • Ed Parker, Leo’s martial arts teacher in L.A.
  • An example of one of Leo’s students who went on to great achievement–Don Hall, Oscar winning Director of “Big Hero 6”
  • Leo’s role at Disney included teaching color to the Disney teams and designing aspects of the parks.  In this article, Leo talks about how he could design 3D models using paper and the engineers would then translate his design into steel.  The website this link takes you to is a little tricky to figure out, but if you wait for the magazine to load and then “turn the pages” till page 5, you will find the article about Leo.

More of Leo Monahan’s paper sculptures:

"Summer Bundle #1" Paper Sculpture by Asheville area artist Leo Monahan
“Summer Bundle #1” Paper Sculpture by Leo Monahan
"Big Red" Paper Sculpture by Asheville area artist Leo Monahan, Asheville Area
“Big Red” Paper Sculpture by Leo Monahan
"Kitchen #3" Paper Sculpture by Asheville area artist Leo Monahan
“Kitchen #3” Paper Sculpture by Leo Monahan
"Hot Kitchen" Paper Sculpture by Asheville Area artist Leo Monahan
“Hot Kitchen” Paper Sculpture by Leo Monahan



12 thoughts on “LH003: Leo Monahan – The Medium is Paper Sculpture, and the Process is the Reward”

  1. first congradulations! Just finished listening to your podcast and was very impressed. I am in J and will listen to another hopefully on the bus. Yay smartphone.

    • Thank you, Carol! I’m thrilled that you liked the show. Thanks for taking the time to listen and to comment. Enjoy your time in J…really great of you to listen and comment when you are so busy with your 30 Paintings in 30 Days Challenge!

  2. This was so interesting! Loved meeting Leo and learning about his life and his art. Thank you so much for bringing him to me in Kentucky. Can’t wait for more.

  3. I feel I must leave a comment about Leo, my brother. I am always amazed at how much I learn about him, his life and his amazing art. I was very young when he left home, and I really enjoy hearing him talk about his life. Thank you.

    • Christine, you really touched my heart with your comment. I’m so glad you found value in listening to your brother Leo’s interview. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment–having you here means the world to me…

  4. Leo’s story is fascinating! As a commercial artist turned artist I can relate to his journey. What an inspiration.
    Meredith-well done on putting this site out to the world. I look forward to future podcasts and stories

    • Jim! I’m so happy you listened to Leo’s story. Yes, when you and I were talking about your own life, I definitely made the comparison to Leo’s. I’m thrilled that you came here to listen, and really looking forward to the day we get YOUR interview out there, Jim!

    • Thanks so much for taking the time to listen to the show and to comment, Lyn. I totally agree, Leo has so much to offer on so many levels 🙂

    • Thank you for listening and taking the time to comment, Julianne! And I have to agree, Leo made an excellent interviewee, and he is a fabulous artist!

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