By Tia Lynn Ivey
A new collaborative exhibit entitled “Faces in Time,” opened at the Steffen Thomas Museum of Art (STMA) featuring powerful artwork of the late Steffen Thomas, a renowned sculptor and namesake of the museum, Leanna Leithauser Lesley, a revolutionary needle-pointer, and Chris Cook, a local designer who produces paintings of ”fine art with a Southern flavor.”
Each artist immortalized influential historical figures through their various creations. The STMA board believes the works of Lesley and Cooks perfectly compliment the art and vision of Thomas, for this special exhibit. The new exhibit will features “works-on-paper, fiber art portraits, and sculptures of renowned individuals who have influenced the world will be on display at the Museum: jazz musicians, civil rights activists, poets, writers politicians immortalized through art by Steffen Thomas, Chris Cook, and Leanna Leithauser Lesley.”
The opening drew 80 attendees last Thursday, January 31, with a steady trickle of visitors to the STMA over the weekend to see the exhibit.
“With both living artists present at the opening, and all three artists having a big following, we knew the opening would be successful, and it was,” said Patricia Dubose, director of the STMA. ”What we hope visitors will get out of the exhibition is multifold. First and foremost, to appreciate each artist—Steffen Thomas, Leanna Leithauser Lesley, and Chris Cook—for their different styles and art forms; though each has a unique style, they complement one another, which is why the exhibition hangs so well together. Second, we hope visitors take time to read the biographies of each subject and learn about their contribution to the world. The reasons each artist chose to pay tribute to the public figures they did speaks to what that artist values and provides insight into the souls of Steffen, Leanna, and Chris, which is as interesting as the works themselves.”
All of the artists’ diverse styles make the Faces in Time exhibit particularly eclectic and compelling.
“Steffen Thomas, a prolific artist who was trained as a classical sculptor, was inspired by current events, politics, music, psychology and literature, most of which had a well-known person or people behind them,” said DuBose before the opening. “He sculpted, painted, carved and cast portraits of these famous people throughout his lifetime. Many became his personal friends, but all were important to him and some segment of the world. Steffen Thomas portraits included in Faces In Time include actress Rosalind Russell; poet and writer Walt Whitman, German dancer Harold Kreutzberg, Lebanese-American writer Kahlil Gibran, Queen Catherine the First, the Jackson brothers of the Jackson five, and others. “
Lesley, a Birmingham, Al. based fiber artist, has spent decades honing her needlepoint skills to “paint canvases with yarn.”
She uses her talents to create intricate art portraits comprised of colorful yarns that reflect the legacies of her personal heroes, and in recent years, portraits that encapsulate the struggle for civil rights through the legacy of American Jazz musicians. “You’ve got this quiet, beautiful, methodical stitching that’s mixed together with this sort of unrestrained jazz,” Lesley said in an interview. “Anything that requires a level of creativity and planning and thought and experimentation is an art form,” she said. “I want people to see needlepoint as a modern kind of art.”
Lesley’s collection of portraits don canvases, tapestries, vinyl frames and even furniture, Her work has been displayed in various galleries and museums throughout the Southeast, including Atlanta, Ga. The likenesses of jazz legends such as Louis Armstrong, Nina Simone, Ray Charles, Ella Fitzgerald, Art Blakely, Ethel Waters, and Dizzy Gillespie, who is considered to be one of the greatest jazz trumpeters of all time, are all among Lesley’s ambitious exhibit. “As I went deeper and deeper into it, it’s become more of a history of America and a Civil Rights story just as much as it is a jazz story,” explained Lesley.
“You can’t separate the two…it’s a story of adversary and revival and being pushed down and coming back up again and just the story of this crazy ride we have been on since the 1850s that started in New Orleans.”
In an interview with the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Lesley characterized jazz music as a crucial testament to a complicated history. “It’s the story of America. “It’s not a pretty story and I didn’t want to ever get that wrong.”
Cook, who own Madison Studios, is a self-trained artist whose work has been featured on Georgia Public Television, published in numerous art books, displayed on book covers, and showcased in art exhibits throughout Georgia. His portraits feature a wide-range of diverse figures, from inspiring heroes, cultural icons, celebrities, and personal friends and acquaintances.
“Over the years, Chris Cook has painted in a wide variety of styles, medium and subject matters – contemporary spiritual, realism, southern landscapes, abstract and still life,” said Dubose. “With brush, black paint and pallet knife – his current medium of choice – Chris creates remarkably life-like portraits of well-known people, providing viewers a way ‘to look into the eyes of others . . . especially people of fame.’”
The STMA has all three artists’ work currently on display through March 23. The STMA is located at 4200 Bethany Road in Buckhead.