March 27, 2011

Helping the homeless

A son’s accomplishments as an artist have made a Logansport father proud.

Hugh Leeman, the son of attorney Kelly Leeman, recently won a Masterminds Art Grant from SFWeekly, a publication that focuses on the happenings of San Francisco.

“As to Hugh’s work and his recent award, I, as any father, am extremely proud of his art and his accomplishments,” said Kelly.

For the $1,500 award, Hugh topped more than 300 artists who submitted materials in the grant competition.

“The award is meaningful because it represents a group of people and an organization in San Francisco that have acknowledged his accomplishments as well,” Kelly said. “A significant factor is that when he won out of 300 other Bay area artists he did so without having any formal training other that what he received in art classes at LHS.”

Hugh is a self-taught artist living in San Francisco. He draws and paints people he meets on the inner city streets. He then transforms the people, who he says are marginalized by society, into murals that end up on buildings and galleries throughout the world.

“A lot of it is giving people who haven’t had an opportunity to tell their story an opportunity to be seen or to be heard,” Hugh said.

Hugh graduated from Logansport High School in 2002. He lived in Indiana until the age of 18. From that point, he embarked on a journey around the world. Over the next three years, he lived out of a backpack and worked odd jobs for travel money.

About six years ago, Hugh entered San Francisco. He wanted to work for about six months to earn money for a trip to South America.

He intended on catching a sailboat ride to South Africa, but the art inspired by the people of San Francisco compelled him to cease his global trek.

“I started making art and ended up staying here in San Francisco,” he said.

Kelly noted that his son has worked hard to get to the point where people are taking notice of his artwork.

“He has put in countless hours working to perfect his technique and the various art forms he pursues,” Kelly said. “His work is constantly evolving as are his political views that he often speaks to with his art.”

Many of Hugh’s subjects are homeless. To help them, Hugh began trading clothing and canned food in exchange for them posing for a photo he would later depict by drawing and/or painting.

The effort evolved into a “micro economy” based on the artwork.

Hugh started printing shirts that contained the faces of the people he depicted. As he tried to master screen printing, he messed up. He began giving away the shirts. The concept grew in popularity.

Now, through his T-shirt Project, Hugh gives the shirts free of cost to who he calls “vendors.” The recipients get to keep 100 percent of the proceeds.

“The shirts are given to the very people who have posed. They sell the shirt baring their own likeness and keep 100 percent of the profits,” Hugh said.

Hugh has formed friendships with the people he encounters.

Larry the Bucket Man plays drums on five-gallon buckets turned upside down. He does so every day of the year, rain or shine, Hugh said.

Larry recently found himself the target of a lawsuit over his lack of an entertainer’s permit through the city. He did not have money to pay for an attorney so Hugh set up a website — — that allows people to book Bucket Man to play at parties. Hugh also gives him T-shirts with his face on it to sell wherever he plays.

Hugh used the $1,500 grant to fund the website hosting and print T-shirts baring the face of Larry the Bucket Man.

Hugh wanted his art to be more than “pretty pictures.” He figured there was a more worthwhile task for his artwork. He wanted it to literally communicate with people.

Kelly said he has visited his son’s studio and noted how apparent his son’s dedication is to his work. He also keeps informed by regularly searching Hugh’s name online for articles, blogs and videos that make reference to his son.

In 2009, Kelly had a piece depicting a man named Blue playing the harmonica mounted on an outside wall of his office building at 412 E. Broadway in downtown Logansport. The painting has since faded, but Kelly plans to have more permanent artwork installed.

“With the approval of the local review board, I anticipate adding some of his art to my office building this spring as part of my pride and to share his work as part of the developing downtown art district,” Kelly said.

• Kevin Lilly is news editor of the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached at 574-732-5117 or

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