Connecting the Dots to a Calling: The Adventures of Lois Lambert

We all wish we could follow our bliss. If only we knew what it was. Because most of us don't, I set about to interview achievers who somehow found theirs in a variety of ways. Connecting the dots is one example. Only in retrospect, when I mapped their lives, I could see a variety of pursuits, both successful and unsuccessful. The one common denominator was that they could connect the dots of interests when, after trying many different jobs, they were willing to seize and develop one opportunity that came to them, an opportunity that stirred them -- that led, in turn, to forge their calling.

Lois Lambert is one such example of a dot connecter. After growing up in Chicago surrounded by her family's art collection as well as a great aunt's store, the first to import Paris couture to the U.S. Lois absorbed the beauty all around her and learned more about it from voracious reading.

Beautiful and fiery herself, she tried modeling and acting for a brief stint. She was also politically involved, but after 1968 she became disenchanted for a time. She ventured into lease management and hotel catering. She moved to a small town in Southern California with her baby daughter and started a pre-school. After her divorce in 1972 she moved back to Los Angeles with her daughter. With two partners she received government funding to create People Centered TV, a small format video project to help youth in trouble with the law as well as children in critical health to learn to film themselves--and in the process, find themselves. When the funding ended, a time of imaginative social contracts to improve society in the 70's and 80's, expired. In an effort to survive, she co-founded a college speakers bureau.

Such hit-or-miss careering challenges security and reputation. It also adds confidence, like arrows of experience in a quiver. Hers were arrows of self-starting, imaginative selling and marketing, conceiving and executing new and innovative concepts with an ear for changing business trends and an eye for art.

Not knowing what to do next, she asked everyone she knew for ideas. Should she go back to school? Should she make a sudden leap into day-trading, in a market that had just allowed her to buy a house? Should she take the offer from a businessman to open a functional art store? Not even knowing what functional art was, but intrigued, she did her research. This concept started in Paris and then spread to New York. She read about art furniture and discovered a functional art gallery in Manhattan called Art & Industry. She was hooked. When the businessman did not agree with her vision, she asked if she could open her own gallery and rented a space in Frank Gehry's new Edgemar building. Mortgaging her house and borrowing money, she opened The Gallery of Functional Art in 1988.

With the idea of one-of-a kind furniture and lighting in the air, Lois added dramatic flair in a time when happenings were still hoped for: a concert for chairs made from musical instruments and orchestrated by new musicians, unusual lighting crawling up walls and furniture made from paper. It was a hit: crowded inside, cheek by jowl, and lines forming outside. Live music, the score for the visual arts and crafts. Seven years later, she moved her high design gallery to Bergamot Station with an SBA loan. Soon artists were asking her to exhibit their paintings and sculptures. She created a second gallery, the Lois Lambert Gallery, showcasing emerging and mid-career artists.

Always doing research, her current passion is Cuban art. Inspired, she flew to meet artists who we would never otherwise know, just as she had done for artists in Vietnam and Mexico. Moved by the sheer energy, talent, and verve of Cuban artists, she has now invited three painters with museum exhibits on their resumes to show in her gallery. Fueled by these three Cubans, Lois will bring another painter to her gallery in July and plans to showcase Cuban women artists later.

Lois Lambert has weathered the economic recessions of the 1990's and mid-2000's as well as another financial blow, the advent of low cost manufacturing of art furniture influenced by the one-offs. Once again, she has adapted to change.

Mapping her career, you can see how the dots connect -- jobs yearned for, jobs lost, some taken from need of pure survival, to those that feed her soul, and ours. Oblivious at the time to an emergent pattern, this independent, creative spirit was being trained all along for her life calling.

It took courage to forge something else, and courage is what Lois Lambert, now with 27 years in the art gallery business, leads with.

Make your own luck happen!