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July 26, 2005 > Pete and Maureen Langenbach, a dynamic art duo

Pete and Maureen Langenbach, a dynamic art duo

Approaching this cheerful home in a small cul-de-sac, it is easy to know which house belongs to Pete and Maureen Langenbach. The colorful "vertical, two-dimensional art display" facing the street might be called a fence by some, but is more of an introduction to the vibrant and sometimes zany world of these two well-recognized artists. Married for 35 years, the Langenbachs have each retained a distinctive personality and approach but share a love for artistic expression.

Fun and whimsy is a hallmark of Pete's life-sized sculptures. He says that they are usually happy pieces that may carry a message as well. Inspiration can come in a variety of ways, usually a "chain of thought." For instance, he says that he once noticed the remains of giant ants. Thinking of genetically altered commodities, he created a piece called "Genetically Engineered Picnic" with small ants crawling up a pedestal, snacking on a picnic of corn and tomatoes along with their human counterparts and then moving away from the feast as giants. When his works highlight political situations, Pete says, "They are my way of making a comment." Asked about the large size of his works, he replies that they are readily noticed and cannot be ignored.

Maureen is a fan of watercolor paintings and her celebrated works serve as both a counterpoint and compliment to Pete's works. The bright colors and intelligent use of the medium seen in Pete's work are also present in her works along with incredible attention to detail; a reflection of a different muse. She is currently working on a commissioned piece for Tri-Ced Recycling and a sketch, currently dominating the living room of their home, reveals an amazing work in progress.

This couple has been together since their high school days in Napa but neither started out as a dedicated artist. However, artistic expression runs in the family. Pete says that his father, William, was a master machinist who carved small, intricate pieces depicting his co-workers and himself in their roles as factory workers. Examining one of his balsa wood carvings from a showcase in the Langenbach home, each figure of the tableau is meticulously fashioned and labeled with a co-worker's name including the artist seated at a work table.

A Physical Education major with an Art minor at San Francisco State, Pete did not use his artistic talents until leaving the army and looking for a job. At that time, an art teaching position was open and "I was ready for art at that time." He adds that then he was involved with ceramics, "a different aspect of art." The kitchen walls are lined with whimsical ceramic "vegetable heads" from those days.

With two growing children, Maureen was, as Pete puts it, "The Mom," as they progressed through school. She took an active interest in their classes and school activities to such a degree that when the boys graduated from high school, the principal asked Maureen to stay on because, "you do everything here anyway." During the summers as the kids were growing up, Pete began carving small smoking pipes as he baby-sat while Maureen, an Art Education major in college, attended painting classes at Ohlone College.

Pete's transition to his present art form came as he realized that as an active teacher who urged his students to shed their shyness and "show your stuff," he either had to "put up or shut up." He says that around 1995, he began devoting much of his time to big sculptural pieces. Even though the art form was a departure from previous endeavors, Pete had dabbled with large art pieces when, in his early years of college, he worked at a Styrofoam factory that made insulation for large freezers. "I took their scraps, glued them together and made sculpture pieces." The storage problem soon became evident and he and Maureen were soon out of space.

People often wonder about Pete's undergraduate studies and how they relate to his artwork. He believes that his college training in physical education with a minor in art was a perfect match. Pete explains that "physical education is the body in motion and [my] art work is the same. They correlate." Large scale pieces are "exactly where I want to be." People can relate to the artwork and "they have a presence."

Art is a form of communication and Pete uses that aspect to its fullest extent. "A large sculpture sends a large message; it gets in your face." His art incorporates recycled materials, primarily wood, and gives these pieces an alter ego through his imagination and insight. Wood is the dominant material of Pete's sculptures although other materials find there way into his creations as well. "When somebody's fence falls down and they take it to the dump, I get that wood."

In his art classes, Pete says he does "a lot of modeling, giving examples of each project." He encourages students to make things with "a presence" but is aware that if they all created art of his scale, he would rapidly run out of storage space. Pete's enthusiasm for his craft and interaction with students at César Chávez Middle School was recently recognized by the New Haven Unified School District as the 2005-2006 Teacher of the Year. Principal Mireya Casarez noted Pete's "incredible ability to always be positive, enthusiastic and passionate about his teaching and his students."

Pete and Maureen collaborate often. Each has their own medium for expression, but as a piece is taking shape, constructive criticism and comment flow freely between the two. Pete says the ability to help each other is the result of "the partnership of 35 years of marriage." Maureen adds, "Both of us know that sometimes you are so close to something that you can be blinded. He might come in and, with a fresh eye, be able to offer a good suggestion."

As personal and professional advocates for each other, Pete and Maureen epitomize the soul of art. Both recognize the value of their medium of expression and use it as an integral part of their lives. The Tri-Cities are fortunate to count the Langenbach duo as members of our community.

For those interested in contacting Pete or Maureen Langenbach, please use their email address:

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