‘Monuments’ brings energy and animation to 55th Annual

Leslie Mathis poses next to her work titled “Monuments,” part of the “55th Annual Exhibition of Contemporary Art” at Strohl Art Center. Photo by Michelle Kanaar.

Joanna Hamer | Staff Writer

Though some of her co-workers may not know it, Chautauqua’s digital communications manager is moonlighting — as an artist.

If they didn’t know, they now do, thanks to Leslie Mathis’ painting “Monuments,” featured in the “55th Annual Exhibition of Contemporary Art,” which closed Thursday.

Mathis grew up just a few miles away from Chautauqua in Cassadaga, N.Y., and worked at the Athenaeum Hotel during college, when she studied illustration at the Rochester Institute of Technology. She moved back a year and a half ago from Virginia and is eager to settle down somewhere, to send her 4-year-old son, Sam, to preschool and to start getting back into the arts community.

“I’ve always had jobs in the arts or arts management. Even though I do Web development and programming, I started out in graphic design and illustration,” she said.

Mathis taught painting in Virginia and was involved with art nonprofit organizations such as First Night Winchester, a family-friendly New Year’s Eve celebration of the arts.

She illustrates children’s books and makes realistic and animated oil paintings, such as the one in the Strohl Art Center.

“It’s this idea of being bright, painting things that move in a new direction and have an energy about them,” she said.

Mathis’ painting in the annual exhibition was inspired by a church sermon she heard last fall that struck her as meaningful and generative.

“It had to do with monuments and how in our lives and society, we build big, stone, solid structures to events that have happened in the past, and they are immoveable,” she said. “Instead of looking at monuments personally that way, you should look at building monuments to the future, look forward and set milestones and celebrate moving forward in your life.”

Mathis visualized that idea while painting and said it relates to her experience of being a mother. Her son helps with creativity and inspiration, and he models for many of her works.

“Having kids is a life experience,” she said. “Being somebody’s mother gives you a direction to go in.”