On Thursday we attended the 90th birthday of George Lengvari. It was a high-end affair in a posh club. Old friends took the mike, toasted him and told tales of his remarkable life and success. George is in the life-insurance business — his clients are a name-dropper’s dream of the rich and famous. His firm will do a billion dollars worth of business this year. He still comes into his office every day. Apart from the fact that he has bought 26 of my paintings, he’s been my friend and mentor for thirty years. What can a painter learn from a guy who sells life insurance? The answer is — lots.
George Lengvari was born in Hungary and as a young man swam in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. He lost both his brothers in the Second World War. In 1948 he and his wife Trude (who died last year) were able to get to Scotland on a working visa. Thinking fast, George became a beekeeper for Colonel Ross of Ross and Cromarty. Soon, he was writing books on bees. But other things were buzzing for George. In 1951, he and Trude, along with their two young children immigrated to Montreal, Canada. He had a degree in Political Science from Budapest, but the best he could do in the new country was at the Faculty Club of McGill University — as a janitor and handyman. Trude worked at the university too — as a cleaning lady. George made 45 cents an hour, Trude less. One day George walked into a life insurance office with the idea of buying some insurance for his family. After a few minutes he thought, “I could do this.” He was hired on the spot.
Within a year George was the top producer in Canada. He went into business for himself and opened offices in other cities. George is an idea man and a fast study. As well as being elegant, urbane and thoughtful, he’s a fanatic. He simply never stops thinking about how people’s lives can be enlightened and improved by the products he sells. “The important thing,” he told me, “is to know what you don’t know.” George made up his mind to be the best. To know everything worth knowing about insurance. To tailor his products to the needs of his clients. To listen to others. To talk, lecture and to communicate his passion. George is the consummate networker. He helps lawyers with their thinking. He tells a good story. He reinvents wild generosity every day. His word is gold. As one of his colleagues said at the party, “George charms people from whom he has nothing to gain.”
PS: “You can get anything you want in life if you help others get what they want.” (George Lengvari)
Esoterica: George treasures connection and most of all friendship. He always honours my art dealers and channels his purchases through them. “Nothing happens without salesmen — you’ve got to honour them,” he tells me. One day George was in my studio and he fished a small painting out of my garbage can. When I looked at it through George’s eyes, it wasn’t half bad. I gave it to him, dedicated it, and to this day it’s the one he always mentions. Brilliantly, he was looking beyond the art. He was looking at something else.
Wonder and passion
by Redenta Soprano
This “success story” about George Lengvari almost had me in tears. Thank you for being the inspiration that you are to other artists. Every time I read a letter from you I’m reminded not to go to sleep when life seems too overwhelming, but to stay wide-awake steeped in wonder and passion. It is the only way to live! I have passed this letter on. My representational collage work has been partly inspired by the electronic juice that you’ve sent to me.
“Never too old to jump on the sofa.” (the bumper sticker I’ve designed)
(RG note) Thanks, Redenta, and thanks to all who wrote in appreciation of George Lengvari. In his beekeeping days George noted that beehives filled up with honey from the top or the bottom — up to or down to the bee entry point. George devised a simple revolving door that sent half the bees up and the other half down. His beehives were no longer half full. It’s called the Lengvari door. May all your beehives be full.
Owning your own greatness
by Jeanne Aisthorpe-Smith
I goal-set every two weeks with a friend of mine, regarding my art and every two weeks I write, “It is my intention to own my Greatness” at the top of the page. I couldn’t help thinking, when I read this story, that George Lengvari is the kind of man who “owns his greatness.” One of the books I just finished reading was The Four Agreements, A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by Don Miguel Ruiz. One of the agreements is “always do your best.” George, obviously, has always done his best. The book I am currently reading is The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. It is there for each and every one of us and when we see that greatness in everyone else our lives become Heaven on Earth. Your story about George truly inspired me.
Each of us a library
by Brad Greek, Mary Esther, Florida, USA
It sounds like George has lived a full life, with an inner wealth guiding his path. Ninety years of accomplishments and experiences, knowledge and wisdom, and remembered by many. I can only hope to be remembered by a few, and wish to have such a friend to share my legacy with others. I often have thought of the waste of knowledge that goes with us when we’re gone. Each of us a library uniquely structured, no two alike. As an artist I feel we have been blessed with a gift to express our experiences for generations to come. They will tell our story, our growth and of our trying times.
People skills and other reasons
by John Simpson, UK
The hot air balloon that we artists are some sort of special species and cannot learn from others in more mundane walks of life has once again been popped. Against terrific odds and with the application of character the likes of George are able to climb out of a morass that could have been self-pity and defeat. Above all it’s the people skills that have George stand out from the crowd. Artists should be aware that there are reasons other than art that cause people to collect art.
by Jordan Ross
George Lengvari is a good example of being in service. I have been reading Wayne Dyer’s book, There’s a Spiritual Solution to Every Problem. It fits right in with this story. It really helps to put perspective on life’s challenges for me.
‘I will be champion’
by Vic Johnson
While there has been some controversy surrounding Marion Jones, there’s no questioning that she’s one of the fastest women of all time. And Marion has spent her life believing she would one day become an Olympic champion. At eight years old she wrote on a chalkboard in her bedroom: “I will be an Olympic champion.” When she was in the sixth grade she wrote the following note: “My plans for the future are to be in the 1992 Olympics.” Even though she missed her goal by eight years (she won at the 2000 Olympics), her life has become “the fruits of her belief.”
“A person cannot cling to anything unless she believes in it; belief always precedes action, therefore a person’s deeds and life are the fruits of her belief.” (James Allen)
Made the change
by Vicki Easingwood, Duncan, BC, Canada
This story about George hit me hard between the eyes. I realize that in the last 6 odd months, that is exactly what I’ve been doing (without really thinking that I was doing that) and in the last 6 odd months, my dreams and hopes have started to be realized. I had stopped working for my own benefit and was working for others,’ and see now, that it is I, too, who have benefited a great deal in the process.
A year ago, I would never have thought I could be where I am in life, right now. I thought I was always trying to help others, but because of recent events in my life, there had been a bunch too much of the PLOM (poor little old me) syndrome. It vanished last summer, as I worked on two matters full time (for me anyway) that were for my friends’ benefits. I just evolved into doing it more and more, and not just for a few, but with a much broader conviction. And as it went, maybe like with George, more stuck to him, even as he was busy making sure others were getting covered/provided with what they needed.
So, now I think I do see a huge change in me — like I was 25 years ago, with the newness of each day being exciting rather than a drudge or worse, a feeling of a disaster waiting to happen. I’ve noticed, too, that this is reflected in my life in ordinary ways. I wear more colourful clothes. I eat prettier food — none of the all white on a plate for me — and yes, my painting and writing are far more colourful and lighthearted, grateful and happy, than they have been.
So, I think I’ll just go and find some more stuff to make other people feel their ‘nets’ are filled abundantly. If I too profit, that’s a bonus.
Relationships and art
by Janet Sellers, Monument, CO, USA
“You can get anything you want in life if you help others get what they want.” (George Lengvari) Boy, he sure got that right. It is true in human relationships and in art. It is one of the most sought after values in relationships, because it relates to both a physical and a spiritual relationship. This all gets back to the spiritual source for the art. Works/words of truth/love, however clumsy or refined, have the power to penetrate to the heart and soul of the viewer/recipient.
Trying to find meaning
by James L. Kay, Ft. Worth, Texas, USA
I share Mary Madsen’s feelings about wanting to communicate in your work and to have the work appreciated as it is offered (even if it only touches one person). Trying to find meaning in this thing we call “life” is a challenge to say the least. Being a primitive artist (in my case) is no advantage. It seems that most people are more interested in where you went to school, or who you have studied under, than the work itself. A power much greater than ourselves drives us to reach out to those around us through our work. The passion to produce, and the result of it, is proof enough that we all don’t see the world through the same eyes. In the work I produce the effort has been to share with the viewer the emotion the subject might have experienced in the given situation (I’ve been in these situations, if not physically, mentally).
Art and “real life”
by Angela Treat Lyon, Hawaii, USA
Mary Madsen’s note “…artists getting their hands dirty in the ugly and difficult stuff of life, rather than just decorating the walls of the color-conscious consumer…” struck a real chord for me. I’ve been a fine art potter (18 years), a stone and bronze sculptor (another 20) and painted all my life. But there was always something missing for me — even teaching wasn’t enough to address what I wanted to look into.
Last year I finally admitted to myself that I had a fascination with the machinations of money and business, and went into hermitude to write and illustrate a book that tells a story of how to use the money you have in order to create more passive income so you can have freedom from the rat race. It’s not a get-rich-quick book by any means, but it talks about the things I and so many others never learned as kids: how to use money, rather than be used by others to make money for them, while we die of not-enough.
After I finished the book, I realized I had a dilemma — into which category would this book fit? It’s written purposely as a story, since we remember stories best, rather than outright how-to. It’s illustrated, but certainly not high art. It’s non-fiction, but wouldn’t fit into a financial book section.
Mary described perfectly what my aim was: to take a look at, and learn about what we normally consider “the difficult stuff of life,” and then turn around and offer my learning to others. It has been a fascinating and fulfilling work, and it’s the perfect-for-me combination of “real life” and art. It has allowed me to interweave my writing and artistic abilities with a solid heart space — and has uses far beyond what a single painting or sculpture would have. It inspires he who uses the book to learn how to become steward of his resources, and to create freedom through that path.
I’m so stoked to have been in line with a way of thinking much bigger than I am, and to put a name to it. Thanks, Mary!
(RG note) Angela’s new book is at The Six Little P.I.G.E.E.S
Not fair to painters
by SA Murray
Obviously the issue of painting famous people like Movie Stars and Politicians was not always a “crime” like it is now — I am in a San Francisco Gallery (coincidence) that owns/manages the ART HOTEL currently getting some media attention. One of the artists who was invited to paint a room there is in “hot water” because he painted logos of an established Company and art of Madonna on the walls.
Now there are lawyers involved to defend the artist who claims the right of “freedom of expression” so who knows how far this issue will go. Perhaps all the way to the Supreme Court.
I was threatened back in 1991 when I tried to get permission to show the art I created of Stevie Ray Vaughan who had tragically died. I was told that his image was trademarked and they would sue me if I showed the original and someone took a picture. I was only trying to do the right thing by asking for permission and did not expect the intimidation. I did not show the art after that until recently. It’s on my website now (go to Illustration) along with one of Stevie Nicks. Since the Internet has become so popular I saw many artists displaying unauthorized artworks of both Stevies so I thought it must be okay now.
My question is why is it okay for photographers to publish photos of these stars without getting permission but not okay for artists to show artwork of the same famous people — most of which is interpretive. Their images are out there for all to see — and used so often. There have been threats to “ruin” the artist who painted this room. How can that be fair? Madonna’s image is everywhere. Do all those artists and photographers have written permission from her to use her image?
I would like to hear more opinions about the issue of trademarks versus “freedom of expression” when it comes to famous images.
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 105 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2005.
That includes Aynne Johnston, Kingston, Ontario, Canada who wrote, “George’s story made me realize that there are some people out there — old or young — who remember that insurance was created out of a concern for humanity and community.”
And also James Culleton who wrote, “I love hearing about people celebrating people.”
And also J. Shuldiner who wrote, “I will not allow myself to be corrupted by the intimidating “art-world” and it’s nice to know that there are stories out there like this that allude to honesty, integrity and loyalty.”