An interview by Judy Vizzari in May 2020. Leanne is the tutor of our Painting & Drawing class.
You can’t miss her enthusiasm, which speaks of a zest for life, a willingness to take things head-on and to confront challenges. Then there’s her very evident artistic streak; her eyes light up at the mention of a favourite painter or a loved image and, although that trait may be expected from an art tutor, art seems to seep into every corner of her being. For confirmation, walk through her home – you’ll see walls crowded (artistically) with glowing landscapes, birds in never-ending flight, botanical studies and also the stillest things in the house (shimmering still lives). Then you might glimpse her garden, which is a mix of unbridled orchids, exotics and native plants. Perhaps you’ll note a predominant colour in this world – blue – the blue of her eyes, her clothes, her paintings and, I’m sure, parts of her spring garden. Her world is all shades of blue and blends perfectly with her blonde bob.
Nillumbik U3A’s members are drawn largely from Nillumbik and Banyule, but their paths to our district are diverse and traverse international borders. Leanne is a country girl.She was born in Bendigo and was the youngest of three children by 18 years. She says that she was almost an only child as her sister married when she (Leanne) was four and her brother moved to Melbourne to study medicine. But she never ‘missed out’ on companionship, hers was a happy childhood in a simple home with a loving extended family who nurtured her early artist bent. “Mum was the encourager and dad was the academic without the qualifications, he was an apiarist and photographer, he had a thirst for knowledge.”
Leanne didn’t train as an art teacher; rather, following her mother’s advice, she chose to train as a secondary English Literature teacher. But while at Bendigo High and then Monash University she was unknowingly preparing for a role as a drama teacher through her involvement in school magazine production, school social initiatives, musical and non-musical productions and complementary program and poster making. During a gap year travelling around Australia, she sold her first painting and, she remembers, that sale cemented her faith in her abilities and established her total commitment to painting. She says that she actively chose literature over the visual arts but always with an intention to return to the latter when she could. During those formative years, Leanne she immersed herself in all art but particularly performance art (directing and acting) – I’m guessing she was a perfectly well-rounded Drama Queen!
“I loved art then“, she says and acknowledges it as a continuous theme in her life.
She laughs as she tells me the story of her request from the Monash University Library for Beardsley prints to inspire her development of posters for a “Titillating University Ball“. When she learned that much of Beardsley’s work had been locked away and was only available by special request, she realised how relevant it was to her theme! Leanne is tenacious in her will to produce her best.
Brenda Smith was our sole Eltham-based Art Tutor until 2016, the year that Leanne retired from teaching at Eltham High. Brenda recognised Leanne’s artistic bent (she was by then winning art competitions and taking commissions for her portraits and pet paintings). Brenda knew that she would be a dedicated and talented co-tutor for the class and that, together, their skills would complement a broad curriculum and allow each of them freedom to travel. Leanne visited the group to “try it out” but, she says, “Brenda is one of those naturally optimistic people who believe in people. She believed in me, so I just thought I was naturally going to do it [tutor the group].” So, in 2017, Leanne committed to co-tutoring the class.
From there, their group has followed a whirlwind path of artistic investigations, group projects, community projects and exhibitions. Noteworthy amongst them were the first exhibition – at Colin’s Café in Bolton Street, Eltham in 2018, the Montsalvat Exhibition during Seniors Festival 2019, the Research Pre-School Signage Project, 2019 and the Looking Forward, Looking Back joint exhibition in the Eltham Library Gallery at the end of last year. In total, they have displayed their work in five exhibitions over the past two years, produced three short videos of the events, and investigated a range of artistic techniques. Leanne and Brenda have catered for a range of participants, from beginners to accomplished artists, and their strengths have included enthusiasm, knowledge and ability.
COVID-19 has impacted greatly on all our lives but, recently, Leanne has continued to provide artistic guidance through weekly art challenges and online discussions with the group and along with key members she’s investigated new venues for exhibitions and project ideas. This year, she was accepted into the Nillumbik Shire Council Arts Committee and now serves our arts community and Nillumbik Shire through participating in deliberations which will affect the course of art in within our Shire.
Leanne and is one of the 65 volunteers who are important cogs in our machine and, like all our tutors, she commits a large slab of her time and skills to her group. We thank her for her contribution.