Career

To that instrument of the subconscious, the hand of the sculptor, there exists an image within every rock. The creative act of realization merely frees it.”

Flannagan, John B., “The Sculpture of John B. Flannagan,” Dorothy C. Miller, ed., The Museum of Modern Art, 1942

Sea Gate     Manhattan

Clay—A New Life

Working with clay, Ente soon developed an intense and everlasting interest that would ignite the most important phase of her life.

Studying on her own, Ente viewed and studied works in museums and art books. The piece of clay provided by Xenia soon engaged her completely. At first, Ente used her family as models, particularly her daughter Paulette. She found someone to make the molds to cast her pieces into plaster, eventually learning to complete the process on her own. Her bathroom was her casting studio. Ente’s work quickly took on a sophistication and refinement.

Sea Gate

Ente learned to polish and finish the surfaces of the stones, especially white marble and the extremely hard black Belgian marble, as well as alabaster, after consulting with the local monument carvers in Brooklyn, who must have been surprised to encounter this intensely driven, diminutive artist.

Ente’s artistic undertakings expanded. She progressed from modeling clay to terra cotta in the mid-1940s. Her work became more abstract, including openings and holes. During this same period, Ente’s interests turned to carving. Her media included driftwood found on Brooklyn’s shores near her home and rocks from Coney Island’s beach, and white and pink alabaster. Paulette recalls her mother, after working on a piece with an ordinary hammer and chisel, declaring, “I pulled a face out of the stone.”

Ente was becoming a full time artist. She needed more space. Luckily, Ente was able to rent the basement from her landlord for an affordable amount. It would serve as her studio until the early 1950’s.

Dancer, Lily Ente, wood

Figure 1

With her natural talent, and unrelenting hours of study and exploration, Ente gained understanding of the necessary tools needed to carve wood and stone—soft iron hammers, mallets, tooth chisels, rasps and files—and developed a sophisticated approach to carving  wood and stone.

A triumph was a wooden sculpture titled Dancer (1940s) (Figure 1), an elongated, tall, subtly defined figure, which demonstrated Ente’s skill in carving wood in such a way as to expose the multiple layers within the wood piece. By chipping and carving the surface, she added another interesting textural element. In many of her earlier works, Ente contrasted the smooth shiny surfaces she worked so hard to achieve with rough textured surfaces. These became recognizable motifs that Ente used in her work to maximize the natural beauty of both wood and stone and produce light and reflection.

Untitled 25, Lily, Ente, Alabaster

Figure 2

Ente’s wood pieces contrasted with her stonework: the former generally tall and narrow, the latter, with notable exceptions, round and wide. This is evident in the pink alabaster sculpture called Untitled 25 (Figure 2), a smooth surfaced sculpture that appears plucked from nature, highly polished from years of erosion. Upon close scrutiny, it’s evident that this “object of nature” is the outcome of an artistic and highly skilled sculptor, with a keen understanding of the uniqueness of the raw stone that she alters.

Reunion, Lily Ente, White Marble

Figure 3

A major accomplishment in stone is a white marble piece titled Reunion(Figure 3), the consoling embrace of mother and child, entwined, and reunited. (Ente frequently referred to childhood wartime experiences in her early work.) The contrast between smooth and textured surfaces is more evident on this somewhat figural piece, the rough chiseled surfaces more dominant.

Moving toward organic, abstracted forms, Ente, in the 1950s, began to work increasingly in stone, further exploring the natural shape, hue and veining of each piece, leaving behind literal imagery.

Parallels have been made between her works and those of Jean Arp, Constantin Brancusi, Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore. Contemporaries of Ente’s time, it’s conceivable that  these twentieth-century masters were an inspiration. Though Ente’s and their works possess some similarities—direct carving, abstract imagery, openings, textured surfaces, and similar subjects—there is nothing conclusive to support their specific impact on her works.

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Manhattan

Lily Ente in her New York studio in Manhattan

Figure 4

During the years between discovering her life’s work as a sculptor,  perfecting her techniques and discovering the challenge of marble, Ente understood the need to exhibit her works. Having joined The League of Present Day Artists—created by a group of artists to improve the opportunities to exhibit their works—she was able to garner her first public showing in 1947 at the Riverside Museum located on Manhattan’s Upper West Side in an exhibit titled “Sixth Annual Exhibition of The League of Present Day Artists.” Among over a dozen or more exhibits, including those in England and France, specific exhibitions include the Brooklyn Artists Biennial Exhibition of 1954, Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, New York, and The Painters and Sculptors Society of New Jersey, Inc., West New York, New Jersey. Ente’s first solo exhibition was in 1959 at the Contemporary Arts gallery in Manhattan on East 57th Street. She was to have another individual show a few years later in the same gallery.

Realizing the importance of living in Manhattan, which would provide more opportunities to promote her work and participate in the art scene, Ente and her family moved to a spacious apartment on upper Riverside Drive. The small maid’s room would have to serve as her new studio (Figure 4), a closet compared to the ample basement studio she left behind in Sea Gate. It was in this piteously small studio that Ente would create some of her most demanding and challenging works that would earn her recognition and approval.

To increase exposure to her work, she became a member of the Master Institute and joined ad hoc artist groups to exhibit her work. Besides enjoying the opportunity to associate with other artists, Ente gained experience as a teacher of sculpture to adults and children and as a curator of shows at the Master Institute.

Head, Lily Ente, Black Belgian Marble

Figure 5

In the 1950s, Ente completed several significant works in black Belgian marble, one of which included Head (Figure 5), a transitional sculpture—with a dimple for an eye to serve as a hint toward its name—that she highly polished to illuminate its subtle curves and concaves. This amorphous form was well received by the artist community, becoming a signature piece that appeared in several exhibitions, and at one time was part of the permanent collection at the Chrysler Museum.

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While some of her pieces soar, others are earthbound, saturated in leaden pain, crackling with human frailty.”

Lane, Dakota, “With soaring form and earthbound frailty,” Woodstock Times, September 27, 1990

Black Belgian marble became Ente’s chosen medium into the early 1960s. Her mastery over its brutally hard, unforgiving surface, transformed the stone into layers that flowed from one to the other. She then highly polished the surface to create vistas that gleamed and reflected light, entrancing the viewer.

During this productive period of her life in Manhattan, Ente’s career strode forward. In 1959 and 1960, she was invited to exhibit with the New Sculpture Group at the Stable Gallery, which was originally housed on West 58th Street in an old livery stable. The gallery’s featured luminaries included Louise Bourgeois, Isamu Noguchi and Louise Nevelson. The stimulating and creative art world that she now enjoyed surely broadened her techniques and subjects.

Ente and Nevelson knew each other as fellow artists through past exhibitions of their work, including the Artists Equity Association Building, and the National Association of Women Art “60th Annual Exhibition” at the National Academy Galleries on Fifth Avenue; in their early years they were friends and showed together. Ente’s and Nevelson’s sculptures face each other directly opposite the page in the November 1953 program for the “13th Annual Exhibition of Paintings and Sculpture” of The League of Present Day Artists at the Riverside Museum, an amusing portent of the friendship they’d develop. Later on, they were in a three artists show with Sara Dienes in the SoHo gallery Buecker and Harpsichord. They were dubbed the three old ladies of sculpture. Many years later, after both Ente and Nevelson had died, they would be shown side by side in the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art in New Paltz, New York.

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To purchase a detailed account of Lily Ente’s history and works,
please contact Paulette Esrig in Woodstock at bernpaulet@aol.com
for a copy of Lily Ente . . . Listening to the Stone.

  • Mixed Gallery

    Lily Ente with Laughing Form 5 Lily Ente Studio, Woodstock, NY, right interior Lily Ente Studio, Woodstock, NY, left interior Rabbis of the Forest Series, Lily Ente, Monoprint Abstraction 4, Lily Ente, Black Belgian marble Night 5, Lily Ente, Black Belgian marble
  • Maintaining a legacy…

    Recently published Woodstock Times article by Paul Smart illuminates Lily Ente's complex history and includes new quotes by her daughter Paulette Esrig. “Art truly saved her life. She had had a horrific childhood. She had enormous drive.” To read full article click here