Attending Jennifer Leps’ exhibit, currently at the St. Michaels branch of the Talbot County Free Library, is like being exposed to three different artists–such is the range of her work. Yet, Leps is unassuming in taking in the praises she has received from the community. But that’s probably because art was not part of her original career path. That one had been about practicing business law, a profession she retired from after 37 years.
Art had always been part of her life, so it was no surprise that she gravitated toward it when possible. “Once I retired from practicing law, I had more room in my life to try a lot of different types of art. I honestly believe that every person has a creative urge. You only have to stop into Michaels Stores. It doesn’t matter whether they’re scrapbooking, doing wood burning, or painting; it’s all really a fundamental human impulse.”
What has surprised her is the critical acclaim she has been receiving. Especially, as she explained, she is self-taught. “I use watercolor, pastel, charcoal, and acrylic. And sometimes, all in the same piece, which I suspect you’re not supposed to do. But since I didn’t go to art school, I’m unaware of breaking any rules.”
Which brings us to this current show: It came about when her husband (author Bryan Christy) was invited to do a book reading at the St. Michaels library. Branch manager Shauna Beulah, who knew Leps was an artist, approached her about displaying her paintings in the exhibit space. Leps, whose creativity had been previously enjoyed only by friends and family, was forced to consider what everyone else had known for years: she was an artist. And a damn good one at that.
And so, Leps hung three series of paintings, each giving the viewer a glimpse into her artistic mind. In All Creatures Great and Small, Leps expresses her love for animals. Here you will find a black bear, face resting on a tree branch, or the osprey, both majestic yet almost human-like in its depiction. “I love to paint creatures,” she said, “both wild and domesticated, but particularly wildlife. I’m fascinated by everything from insects, fish, and toads to black bears and wild dogs.” St. Michaels’ Art League, of which Leps is a member, describes her work as “whimsical, colorful, and artistically precise.”
The second grouping is titled Spirit Animals. Leps expands her pull towards creatures, depicting them in realistic watercolors but combining them with a drawing of that same animal’s ‘soul using black, white, and red colors. In describing her work Richard Marks, who attended the exhibit, said, “As an artist, Jennifer’s style is quite varied with proficiency in many mediums. What is constant and shines wonderfully is her depiction and love for animals.”
The third series deviates from the pleasantly familiar and imaginative and instead represents a personal statement from Leps. Titled It’s Not Your Fault, these Me-Too-inspired paintings are primarily of women’s faces portraying their pain and brushed in broad acrylic strokes of fiery reds, oranges, and blues.
The series struck a chord with viewers: “I loved all of Jennifer’s artwork,” said Holly DeKarske, Executive Director of Easton Economic Development Corp., “but ‘It’s Not Your Fault’ was the most moving for me. It’s something every woman and girl needs to hear, know, and remember. Each painting was incredibly moving.”
Shauna Beulah agreed: “I was most impressed with the pieces from ‘It’s Not Your Fault. They made me think and reflect on women’s issues and my response to them. Other people reacted to the spirit animals and found one that seemed to speak to them.”
The idea for this collection came about unexpectedly during a trip to Spain Leps took with her family. “We were at an International Women’s Day march, and a couple of men walked in front of us with a sign that said, ‘It’s Not Your Fault.’ My (at the time) 26-year-old daughter burst into tears. Here she was, an extremely poised, successful, competent young woman, yet something triggered her. I put my hand on her back in comfort, and at the same time, my husband Bryan took a picture. So I recreated that scene in my painting, and it initiated a process for the series.”
Leps wanted to go further. In her exhibit, she prominently included information about Easton’s crisis service center, For All Seasons. “The group,” she said, “has an amazing reach and breadth in terms of the expertise that they can provide, and they can do it all in both English and Spanish, without regard to the individual’s ability to pay. In speaking with the staff, they suggested that it might be helpful to put their phone numbers near the pictures because, just like my daughter’s experience, you never know what might be triggering.”
Beth Anne Langrell, CEO of For All Seasons, was happy with the collaboration, “Our team was thrilled to be asked to support Jennifer’s art show and bring to light the topic of sexual assault. The pictures are stunning and highlight that sexual assault affects us all – everyone knows someone who has been affected. The impact of Jennifer’s work is universal. We are so happy to be a part of the artistic journey that shines a light on such an important topic.”
For Leps, this was further confirmation of the effect of her work. “I was gratified that people responded to paintings designed to deliver a message, make a statement, or challenge people to think differently about something.”
Leps is currently working on a series about mothers and children, but you won’t find these images used on Hallmark cards. They are meant to explore the power of motherhood in a challenging world. And she doesn’t want to whitewash it with pretty pictures, which is why the set includes one mother shielding her child during the Indonesian tsunami and another protecting her child during the Syrian war. “I want to represent, across every ethnicity and every economic stratum, the commonality of mothers wanting more than anything in the world to protect their children.”
One thing Leps can take away from the reviews of her show is that she is free to continue to work on whatever inspires her. “I’m pretty sure that what one is supposed to do as an artist is to find your style and keep doing it until you are very, very good. I just enjoy trying different styles and different combinations of mediums. I’m always searching for something that seems to be evocative.”
So, after all this, does Leps finally consider herself an artist? After giving the question some thought, she said: “I do. It’s been a transition, and it has taken a couple of years for me to say that with confidence, but I do.”Jennifer Leps’ one-woman show will run through the end of August at the St. Michaels branch of the Talbot County Free Library, 106 Fremont St., St. Michaels, MD.
For All Seasons forallseasonsinc.org provides outpatient mental health, psychiatric, education, and rape crisis services to English and Spanish-speaking communities regardless of one’s ability to pay. Trauma-certified therapists and psychiatrists provide a variety of treatment approaches and individualized care for children, adolescents, adults, and seniors on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, with locations in Easton, Denton, Cambridge, Stevensville, Chestertown, and Tilghman Island. Phone: 410.822.1018
English Hotlines:800.310.7273 or 410.820.5600 Text in English & Spanish: 410-829-6143
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