ST. LOUIS — Last month, just weeks shy of his 100th birthday, Leslie Laskey closed his last exhibition of new work, “Then and Now,” at the Bruno David Gallery in Clayton.
Laskey, a retired professor of design at Washington University, died Thursday (June 17, 2021). He was 99.
Laskey began his career at what was then the School of Architecture in 1956 and retired three decades later. In those years, he formed a network of students who orbited around him long after they completed his classes.
Laskey was encouraging, but he never minced words, said Dennis Cope, who attended Washington U. in the early 1960s.
“He was challenging,” said Cope. “It wasn’t like it was a year of joy as much as it was a year of discovery.”
Laskey was born in tiny Eastlake, Michigan, in 1921. He served in the Army during World War II and was part of the Allied invasion of Normandy on D-Day.
After the war, he moved to New York to begin his studies and supported himself as a nightclub singer. Laskey later enrolled at the Institute of Design in Chicago before moving to St. Louis to work at Washington U.
“He guided the careers of countless architects and designers,” said Carmon Colangelo, dean of the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts, in a statement.
Laskey’s artistic output only accelerated following his retirement. “He did art every day, just like Picasso,” said Cope.
Laskey and his longtime friend, Frank Schwaiger, established in 2003 the Columbia Foundation of Visual Art, which will serve as an archive of his work. Laskey, who lived in the Central West End, painted, sculpted, wrote books of poetry and did interior design and architectural work, said Schwaiger.
Through his art, he forged lasting connections to other people.
“He was one of those magically powerful personalities who accepted everyone and gave everyone exactly what they needed,” said Schwaiger. “He was an open door.”
The body will be cremated. A celebration of Laskey’s life is being planned for Sept. 11.