A Painter Discovers Her Earliest Inspiration at the Park

May 18th, 2021 News and Events

One Christmas, about 40 years ago, Leslie Austin’s husband gifted her a set of paints and brushes. She’d never thought of herself as an artist in any formal sense, but she started painting later that day.

She’s painted virtually every day since. Through the first 25 years or so, Austin was entirely self-taught. She devoured books about painting, putting new techniques into practice as soon as she read about them.

It wasn’t until she and her husband retired in 1996 – they were both teachers at the New Jersey School for the Deaf in Ewing Township, New Jersey – and relocated from West Trenton, NJ, to Arizona that she felt compelled to start taking classes. She was also compelled to come out of retirement; Austin taught for another 15 years at the Phoenix School for the Deaf.

These days, she gets together weekly with five other artist friends and an art teacher, who tutors them through different media.

Austin says she’s always been inclined to experiment, with mediums and even styles. A selection of paintings in her online gallery shifts from impressionism to realism and back again.

While the couple lived in West Trenton, they often walked through the park on weekends, taking photos of potential subjects for Austin’s paintings as they went. She didn’t do any painting onsite at that point, she says.

On one occasion, they came upon the Thompson-Neely House, a favorite destination of Austin’s. Something was different. The white picket fence that normally stood in front of the house was missing. It had been removed for repair.

“We always thought it obstructed an otherwise great view of the house,” Austin says. So she seized the opportunity and took a number of photos. Later, the one that stood out to her was a reflection of the house in a puddle. It became her inspiration for a large watercolor painting that features the house.

Austin sold a number of prints of that painting at art shows, and she donated the remainder of the series to the Friends of Washington Crossing Park in the hope that the prints would be sold at the park’s gift shop, with the proceeds benefiting the Friends.

The painting itself has been hanging in the couple’s bedroom since they moved to Arizona. “It reminds us of our roots,” Austin says.

Learn more about Austin.