West Seattle artist Sheila Lengle.
West Seattle artist finds voice through adversity; Sheila Lengle faces challenges, finds success
By Lindsay Peyton
Simply walking into Sheila Lengle’s home reveals much about the artist. The thrift store finds, family photos, books on writing, her paintings on the walls and a studio ready to spring into action provides a glimpse into her many passions and her circuitous life journey.
Despite her creation of the perfect interior to showcase her eye for design – and piles of paintings that point to her strongly developed voice as an artist, Lengle describes herself as a “successful failure.”
“I failed at everything in life,” she said. “But I’ve done it successfully, because I’ve grown, I’ve gathered experiences. I put everything in a philosophical filter – and I ask, ‘How can I add this to my story?’”
Lengle explains that she has learned to embrace and cherish adversity – and to look for the lessons inherent in a struggle.
“I always joke that it’s fodder for my fiction,” she said. “I think unconsciously I designed my life full of emotional, physical and financial adversity.”
The challenges have made her more compassionate. The struggles have resulted in shared experiences, she added.
And Lengle has faced more than her fair share of hardships – from persevering as single mother to struggling with illness. All along the way, she has remained an independent woman, putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward.
After a rocky childhood, Lengle married her high school sweetheart. While the relationship looked good on paper, she was not actually happy and ended up divorcing and moving from her native California to Seattle a couple years later.
Lengle left behind a successful business in environmental design that she built from scratch.
She started her career in hair and cosmetics, attending beauty school before finding employment in a salon. Then, she found a position at a cutting edge makeover studio – doing wigs, make-up and accessories. All the while, she was building her vision and style.
The skills translated well to interior design. She knew how to listen to clients, discover their personal tastes and translate that into the right furniture, decorative colors and home accessories.
Lengle developed a following – remodeling homes and corporate offices.
After moving to Seattle, she switched to a different calling – pursuing a passion for creative writing. She spent countless hours working on a novel.
“I had a finite amount of money and it was dwindling away,” she said. “Then, my money was gone and I had to make something happen.”
Opportunity arrived in the form of an artisan showcase on Mercer Island, which was in need of a manager.
“I had experience working with people and I put it to work, helping these 150 artists,” Lengle said.
One thing led to another and in 1995 Lengle was asked to manage a gallery in West Seattle, which she named Critical Mass. She established a strong stable of artists – and then decided to start her own gallery.
ec’Collective Gallery and Studio Café was located where C& P Coffee Company is now.
“It was an incubator space,” Lengle said. “It became an event every day. As the sun went down, artists would come by with a bottle of wine and we would talk about life, their issues. That’s where my purpose and passion started identifying itself.”
Making art and working with artists would remain a life goal – but first Lengle would face still a few new challenges.
“I came up against a number of obstacles,” she said.
She had her first heart attack and had to leave the gallery. She moved back to California and then found out that she needed a quadruple bypass.
After the surgery, Lengle moved back to West Seattle. She took a job in membership development at the Southwest King County Chamber of Commerce, then worked on a sales team for two area hotels. After the 9-11 attacks, she was laid off as the tourism business faltered across the country.
Lengle found a job at Robinson News working in sales and marketing from 2001 to 2010. She had another heart attack in the office – and received a diagnosis of breast cancer in 2008.
“Getting sick, I had to re-identify myself,” she said. “There’s a transformation – and it isn’t gradual. You don’t feel well, and you don’t know yourself when you look in the mirror.”
Lengle said the key to feeling like herself again was picking up a paintbrush.
“I stayed up all night and spent all day painting,” she said. “I couldn’t put it down.”
One of her first big breaks as an artist was winning a competition, which resulted in her painting being featured on the poster for the 18th annual West Seattle Garden Tour. She has had a number of shows since then – and was a featured artist at the Alki Arts Gallery.
Sarah Cecil purchased the original painting, which was featured on the poster. “I loved the piece,” she said. “When I got to the silent auction, I bought it on the spot.”
Cecil then hosted a few art shows at her home to showcase Lengle’s work. “I love her artwork, and she’s was a professional about the events,” Cecil said. “People who get to know her, love her. The more people who get to know her and love her, the better.”
Cecil keeps Lengle’s art in her office. “It makes people happy,” she said. “Her artwork relaxes them.”
Lengle has decided to use her experience to start showcasing other artists as well. Her dream is to host art shows featuring a number of display tents. She calls it the “canopy gallery” and sees it as an extension of her work incubating the talents of emerging artists.
“I want to help them develop their business, see what their hopes and dreams are,” she said. “I’m making it – and if they see me making it happen with little to no help, with my health issues and having little income, maybe they will do it for themselves too and impact even more artists.”
Lengle already has a group of artists ready to make the show a reality. All she needs is a space to host the event. “We will bring our people to your location,” she said. “And you get to help develop and build the community.”
And while she continues to look for a host for the outdoor art market, Lengle also remains committed to her mission to live a passionate life.
“What most people define as a successful life, I didn’t have,” she said. “But I survived and thrived.”
She encourages others to find a purpose. “If you don’t have a passion in your life, then it’s not a life well-lived,” she said. “You have to develop, water and grow your passion.”
For more information about Sheila Lengle, visit www.lengleart.com.
To contact her about hosting an art show, email firstname.lastname@example.org.