Home Electronic artist San Rafael artist honors history’s lesser-known players in busts

San Rafael artist honors history’s lesser-known players in busts

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  • Courtesy of Howard Lazar

    San Rafael artist Howard Lazar with his bust of late railroad pioneer Peter Donahue. It is on display at Tiburon’s Railroad & Ferry Depot Museum.

  • A bust of music legend Duke Ellington by Howard Lazar.

    Courtesy of Howard Lazar

    A bust of music legend Duke Ellington by Howard Lazar.

  • A bust of former Sausalito mayor Sally Stanford by Howard...

    Courtesy of Howard Lazar

    A bust of former Sausalito Mayor Sally Stanford by Howard Lazar.

  • San Rafael artist Howard Lazar with his bust of the world...

    San Rafael artist Howard Lazar with his bust of World War I flying ace Lloyd Andrews Hamilton. (Courtesy of Howard Lazar)

  • A bust of James Wong Howe, a cinematographer who worked...

    Courtesy of Howard Lazar

    A bust of James Wong Howe, a cinematographer who worked on over 130 films, by Howard Lazar.

  • A bust of jazz singer Ivie Anderson by Howard Lazar.

    Courtesy of Howard Lazar

    A bust of jazz singer Ivie Anderson by Howard Lazar.

Howard Lazar has fond memories of growing up in Tiburon, in the 1950s and 1960s, when it was still a railroad town, hearing the sounds of hammering steel and blowing torches in his family’s home in the hills. This is where he spent an idyllic childhood exploring the region and its creativity.

So when the San Rafael sculptor unveiled his life-size bust of the late railroad pioneer Peter Donahue at Tiburon’s Railroad & Ferry Depot Museum in 2019, it felt like things had come full circle. A lifelong lover of the arts, Lazar found his passion for sculpting busts later in life, donating them to museums like the American Jazz Museum in Missouri, the Hamilton Field History Museum in Novato, the Chinese Historical Society of America Museum and the Museum of the San Fernando Valley.

Some of the more than a dozen works by the former San Francisco Street Artist Program Director include former Sausalito Mayor Sally Stanford, movie star and Little People of America founder Billy Barty, jazz legend Duke Ellington and World War I flying ace Lloyd Andrews Hamilton, the namesake of Novato’s Hamilton Airfield.

Q Tell me about what it was like to feature a bust in your hometown.

A It was a great feeling, this museum building that I practically grew up in, pedaling my bike in front to go to elementary school, so there was a lot of romance for me. Tiburon at the time was unbuilt, so there was this amazing train station and grassy hill that we kids used to slide into cardboard boxes every summer. So when we had the bust unveiling of Peter Donahue, it was amazing. It is an experience I will never forget.

Q Do your sculptures somehow preserve history?

A Yes. I’m interested in people who have long since left Earth, people who are famous or who never got the fanfare they deserved. Sure, there are exceptions like Duke Ellington, but others I’ve done I felt deserved a bit more. I was interested in their lives and I wanted to show them at least how I perceived them, to give them their due in history and to pay homage to them.

Q How do you approach work?

A When I sculpt someone, I sculpt their life and times. I read everything I can get my hands on about these people. It was hard in some cases. I listen to their music, I watch their films or sometimes I play music from the era and I feel that. I’m not trying to surprise, shock or be dramatic, I want to capture someone as I think they would have been as a human being.

Q When do we start doing busts?

A In the 1990s I started making mini sculptures of World War II scenes which I donated to the Veterans Home of California in Yountville and the Veterans Hospital in San Francisco. A friend of mine, world-renowned sculptor Ruth Asawa, looked at my miniatures and said, “Howard, why don’t you work bigger? I said, “I feel like I can handle this,” and she said, “Someday you’re going to be great.” As soon as my eyesight started failing, I started working bigger. My first, Henry Mancini, was a full figure and then I said, let’s forget the waist, legs and arms, let’s capture the expression. But I have always made art. My mother told me that I made art since I could hold a pencil and she could recognize what I was drawing even though I could barely pronounce what it was.

Q What brought you to sculpture?

A I have been a painter all my life and I have done portraits. I grew up around the statues of my grandfather, he was a professional sculptor in the 1920s and 1930s. He died in his 40s so I never knew him, but I grew up around the statues that it left to my grandmother and there were a few busts. They were wonderful expressions. He caught the agony of the Great Depression happening around him. For me he was and still is the pinnacle, a classical sculptor. His work was on point. Growing up around them, I think I resisted, if ever I wanted to do a sculpture when I was younger, but the day has come. I don’t know what it was, something prompted me to dip my hands in a clay-like substance and create.