Painter, sculptor, and printmaker Carl Lewis Pappe was born in Hungary in 1900. His father traveled to the United States in search of work and, after establishing employment and residence in Lorrain, Ohio, he brought his over. Pappe by then was eleven, and showed an interest in art. Two years later he was apprenticed to a Hungarian muralist in Cleveland, through whom he became acquainted with the Hungarian Society, who would later support the young artist's education. Following grade school, Pappe first enrolled at the Cleveland School of Art (not the Cleveland Institute of Art) from 1921 to 1925. Upon graduation he was awarded a full scholarship by the Hungarian Society to attend the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, where he studied under Daniel Garber and Hugh Breckinridge.
A job as a set designer for a Paramount Studios theater took him to New York in 1929, but the economic effects of the Depression shut down the studio the following year. As with many artists of the time, this meant that Pappe had to scramble for suitable work and innovate when all else failed. He got a job refinishing boats in the Boston harbor and repairing gold leaf on theater ceilings, and started a drawing school for children in the basement of a Masonic Temple, charging 50 cents a week. He eventually traveled to Mexico City, which had become a hub for artists. To make ends meet he worked as a cook and a tour guide, where he met his wife, anthropologist, writer, and silversmith Bernice Goodspeed, also working as a tour guide. They became acquainted with the Taller Grafica Popular, befriending such artists as Jose Orozco, Frida Kahlo, Carlos Merida, Juan O'Gorman, Diego Rivera, Ruffino Tamayo, and others. Pappe found work as a mural painting assistant to Orozco and settled into his new life in Mexico.
In the late 1930s Pappe and Goodspeed opened a studio and gallery in the silvermining town of Taxco, where Pappe began to expand his personal art career, exhibiting in the U.S. as well as Mexico. As political uprising surged in the Mexican capitol, the two artists established their home as a sanctuary for Mexican artists fleeing persecution by the Mexican government, including many of the artists who had welcomed them into Mexico. Pappe and Goodspeed remained in Taxco for the rest of their lives, and their gallery and home were often at the center of goings-on among the artists of Mexico and beyond. Pappe's prolific oeuvre included sculpture, pastel, oil painting, watercolor, drawings, and more, and he worked in the genres of realism and abstraction throughout his career.
Pappe was a fellow of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where he often showed throughout his career. His work is included in private and public collection worldwide, including a collection of abstract pastels at the Government of Guerrero, and in 1995 the Woodmere Museum in Philadelphia held a retrospective of over eighty of his works.