Activist art: McLeod's life of balance


No artist is an island. Behind the geniuses are the teachers, gurus, and Yodas who help them discipline their talent. Judy McLeod is proud to be one of them.

"I've taught something like 10,000 people," she says. But McLeod is different because she's also a meta-mentor. In addition to teaching art classes at CHS and undergraduate and graduate level drawing, painting, and printmaking classes at VCU, she has been teaching classes on art education methods at UVA since 1979.

"I teach old folks and young folks," she laughs. "Some people come to learn about making art, and some come to learn about teaching art." Because she seems to know a bit about the latter herself, McLeod is the program director of the ArtQuest program, which identifies artistically gifted children in city schools and provides them with special after-school opportunities from fifth grade until graduation.

"I have the luxury– no, the privilege– of teaching kids longitudinally," she says. And oh, how they grow up.

"Teaching the children in ArtQuest is frequently like teaching at the college level, except that you're teaching children," McLeod says. "The conceptual level is often the same."

Recently, she brought together students from across that entire range. "Everyone Is An Artist" is a series of four murals by students in third grade through high school currently on display at the Virginia Discovery Museum. Similar projects have graced the walls of the UVA hospital and the Salvation Army Soup Kitchen.

And gracing the walls of the McGuffey Art Center in March was McLeod's latest solo venture, a series called Espacios Dorados. "They were mixed-media collages of exotic, mysterious, and magical interior spaces," she explains. "These places all have a golden glow. The subject of the collages was light entering through doors and windows."

The show was a break from her usual inclination to create work with a pronounced message, often focusing on issues that affect women. "It's not so much political as it is sociological and feminist," she says. ""I speak from I, but I speak to we."

McLeod obviously doesn't consider them still-life pieces, though. "I think our lives are very intricate patterns. There are these things that you keep doing every day or every week. The patterned interiors seem to represent the patterns of our lives," she says.

And as for her own patterns? "I go to my studio every day after teaching," she says. "My life is a balance." Most of us could probably learn a lesson or two from that.

Age: Just turned 61 on April 2. How can that be?

Why here? 30 years ago I came reluctantly to stay for a few years– and nowhere else has yet drawn me away from Charlottesville!

What's worst about living here? The uneasy and unhappy relationship between the races

Favorite hangout? The McGuffey Art Center

Most overrated virtue? Moral superiority

People would be surprised to know about? All those love letters I wrote to Bob Dylan in my head

What would you change about yourself? I would return calls within 24 hours and never miss anyone's birthday.

Proudest accomplishment? Knowing and "growing" three great children and the 10,000 (+/-) people I've taught about art

People find most annoying about you? My high energy

Whom do you admire? Eleanor Roosevelt, Toni Morrison, Alice Neel

Favorite book? The Magus by John Fowles

Subject that causes you to rant? The fact that some people would legislate women's bodies and lives

Biggest 21st century thrill? The global village: connected and interconnected people

Biggest 21st century creep-out? Bush and the politics of his power buddies

What do you drive? 1999 Saab

In your car CD player right now? Norah Jones

Next journey? JazzFest in New Orleans (again) and then Seattle and Vancouver, BC

Most trouble you've ever gotten in? Fleeing with friends, chased by the police, after late-night swimming at a country club pool

Regret? Certain hurtful comments that escaped my mouth to loved ones. "The bell cannot be unrung."

Favorite comfort food? Utz Kettle Classic potato chips

Always in your refrigerator? Yogurt

Must-see TV? My only-see TV: The West Wing

Favorite cartoon? None

Describe a perfect day: Sunrise. Cozy in the warm bed then an energetic walk. No bills to pay. Productive studio time making good art. Interesting conversations and surprising experiences with people. Easy sleep.

Walter Mitty fantasy? My breathtaking villa on a beautiful Jamaican beach where everyone comes to visit and enjoy

Who'd play you in the movie? Audrey Tautou

Most embarrassing moment? Fainting onto home plate while up to bat in sixth grade

Best advice you ever got? It's okay to go on missing your mother when she dies (and I have missed mine for 30 years).

Favorite bumper sticker?Just about any of those slogans we see on the backs of the Yellow Cabs in Charlottesville

Judy McLeod