Architecture and Design

Remembering Scottsdale Designer Janis Leonard

This week the Valley arts community is mourning the loss of Janis Leonard. The accomplished designer, former board member of the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, and Phoenix arts scene pioneer passed away on Sunday, June 8. She was 55.

An environmental design graduate of the Parsons School of Design, the Canadian-born and later Scottsdale-based Leonard made her creative mark with a multitude of installations around the country and across decades. She won numerous awards including the James Beard Award for excellence in restaurant in design, the Preservation Achievement Award from the New York Landmarks Commission, and ID Magazine's Design Distinction Award for her innovative use of materials.

See also: Best Thinking Outside the (Museum) Box: SMoCA Lounge

Leonard produced works in New York, Wisconsin, and even China, but some of her most beloved works could be found in Phoenix in Scottsdale. As a design partner of Karl Kopp, Leonard designed countless installations at local restaurants AZ88 and Hanny's -- as well as their out-of-state sister restaurants Bar89 in New York and Elsa's on the Park in Wisconsin.

Up until this past month, one of Leonard's most notable installations was the SMoCA Lounge at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. A monochromatic space entitled "Under the Wave," the red room was admired and occupied by numerous artists, performers, and museum patrons. This installation has since been replaced by artist Dalek's "Shift."

As we look back on the works that transformed Janis Leonard into a local design icon and the Valley into a contemporary design destination, we asked art community members who knew Janis to contribute their own words.

"Janis Leonard leaves us with a long legacy of her talent in the design and art world. Janis was recognized internationally with much deserved awards and accolades for her creative force expressed in so many mediums. Her long steadfast loyalty and clever sense of humor which she unconditionally gave to her friends and family will forever be remembered." -- William Lykins, Gebert Contemporary director, friend of and frequent collaborator with Leonard

"I feel like the two past years that I've lived at SMoCA that I've lived with Janis. I've lived in the space that she created. And every day that I ran a program, I talked about the SMoCA lounge and how it came to be and that it was Janis's design so I feel like I had an opportunity to live in her creative space. I feel very lucky." -- Tania Katan, SMoCA Lounge Program Director

"She was very good at understanding how to make people look their best in spaces, in restaurants, in public spaces. And I really appreciated that about her. She understood the performance of looking good. I think with Janis, she literally could paint on a face. I mean she transformed herself in ways that were really spectacular. She was really a master at it and she brought all those skills and talents to her design work." -- Tim Rodgers, SMoCA Director

"We discussed in great extent the SMoCA lounge and something that stuck to my heart and to my brain was when I said, 'Janis, why do you want to do this lounge red?' And she told me very calmly and with typical Janis demeanor, 'Red is the color of love, the color of passion, the color of blood. . . Everyone looks good in red, it belongs to us, it runs inside of all if us -- no matter your creed, race, sexual orientation, height, weight, nothing-- no matter what, it is part of us.'" -- Oscar De Las Salas, friend and artistic collaborator with Leonard No public memorial is being planned.

Updated: A community celebration will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. on Sunday, June 22, at AZ88 to honor Janis Leonard.

Editor's note: This post has been updated from its original version.

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Katie Johnson
Contact: Katie Johnson