by Mitchell Kirk
A 1969 Logansport High School graduate has recently returned to her Blackford County home as the first non-Chinese artist to exhibit work in the prominent LiRen Gallery in Anshan, China.
A retired elementary and middle school art teacher, Leslie Newton is currently the staff visual artist and curator of Arts Place in Portland. Throughout her career in the Jay School Corp., she was involved in the educational exchange program that sent herself, other teachers and students to China.
She has also hosted Chinese teachers and students at her home. Her latest trip marks the third time she’s been to the country.
Through the diplomatic ties fused by the exchange program, eventually word of Newton’s artistic talents had gotten around to a renowned Chinese artist named Wang Dengke. Newton describes Dengke as a “master calligrapher” who runs the LiRen Gallery at Normal University in Anshan.
When representatives of the exchange program in China told her Dengke wanted her to come and exhibit her work, she said she was overwhelmed.
After a year of organizing, she packed 41 of her pieces in a suitcase and sent them off to Anshan.
The pieces in Newton’s LiRen exhibit consisted of oil paintings, collages and pastels of landscapes in northern New Mexico, an area she visited extensively in 2007 with the aid of a Lilly Creativity Grant. She said she wanted to travel to New Mexico because of her fondness for the elements that make up the land there.
“They’re undressed,” she said. “You get to see the rocks, the land, I’ve always been attracted to that.”
Newton recalled riding up in the car that took her to her exhibit in Anshan and seeing the promotional material for her exhibit hanging outside the university.
“It was one huge banner after another,” she said. “It looked awesome.”
After the first day of her show, Newton had sold 11 pieces. The exhibit was received so well it was extended an extra week. By the time it was over, Newton had sold half her pieces.
Newton said she was humbled by her work’s reception.
“With all that I’ve done, somebody really likes it,” she said, adding people would come up to her at the exhibit and comment on how calming and soothing they found her work to be. “Just the way it made them feel — that’s rewarding.”
“Leslie’s a star,” said Tim Long, superintendent of Jay School Corporation. “She’s dedicated her life to art. Leslie was a teacher for me and is a good friend. I was very supportive of her gallery and art show and she’s really helped us with our whole interaction and program and I look forward to doing more.”
In February, before Newton left for China, she had Dengke present an exhibit at Arts Place in Portland, continuing the spirit of the school corporation’s educational exchange program.
“We’ve added this to our educational exchange,” she said. “It’s become a cultural exchange.”
This wasn’t the first time Newton has found success with her art. In 2009, she was one of 13 winners in a national competition that saw her work featured in a calendar distributed by the American Association of Retired Persons.
“I’ve been in shows before and won some things, but China was just so special,” she said.
Mitchell Kirk is a staff reporter at the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached at 574-732-5130 or email@example.com.
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