James Leedy and Stephanie Leedy

Recorded September 9, 2010 Archived September 9, 2010 01:23:08 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: MBY006910


James Leedy (79) talks to his daughter Stephanie Leedy (50) about James’ life as an artist and art instructor.

Subject Log / Time Code

JL talks about the response he got when starting the Crossroads art district in the Kansas City area.
JL talks about not being able to afford to produce personal, large scale casting art pieces without a commission due to lack of personal funds.
JL talks about riding a motorcycle to pick SL up from school. He thought it was cool, she was embarrassed because her dad was different.
JL talks of being a college professor, connecting with the youth as a professor and growing many friendships from teacher student interaction over the years.
JL talks about his legacy being his artwork.


  • James Leedy
  • Stephanie Leedy

Recording Location

MobileBooth West


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00:01 My name is Stephanie lady. I'm 50 years old, but I'll be 51 and just a couple of days. This is a reminder.

00:12 Today's date is September 9th 2010. We are in Kansas City, Missouri and I am gym lady's daughter and luckily so

00:23 Thank you, darling.

00:26 I am Jim Leedy. I am 79.

00:31 But I'm pushing 80 pretty quick connect. This is September 9th 2010. The location is Kansas City, Missouri. And this is my wonderful daughter whom I don't think I could have gotten through life this far without her.

00:55 Okay, don't make me cry already.

01:00 Well

01:04 I had a hard time.

01:07 Trend up think about what to ask you.

01:13 Because I know you so well and fortunately I've been able to

01:21 Spend probably more years with.

01:25 My father the most kids ever do or are are allowed to great you are my

01:36 Teacher my father my friend.

01:43 The person I told everything to so

01:51 I guess I was thinking about this and

01:55 Thought you've had I know at least I think a really wonderful life you've been able to travel you've been a mentor teacher to probably say thousand. Yeah. Thank you.

02:11 You are able to.

02:13 Amazingly make your art and teach and be a great teacher at the same time.

02:20 And you probably

02:23 More than anything's found a Arts District in downtown Kansas City called The Crossroads.

02:32 By being a brave.

02:36 Baby

02:39 Brave also, maybe a little naive buying a bunch of buildings. It would be if I know but a lot of people wouldn't have done that. No absolutely not they would not have had that.

03:03 The vision to do that effect when I try to get people involved and say things like you'll never get people to come down here. This is a part of the city that people won't come to or

03:18 Maybe if you got in these buildings, we could turn them into a parking space instead of an Arts District. They just didn't have the the vision that I had for since that's very true. Is there anything that you would like to see down there that maybe has happened because as people in Kansas City now.

03:48 When a artist started moving into your buildings

03:54 The coffee shops moved in galleries more Gallery started opening up then the developers moved in and so there's a lot happening down there, but I'm wondering if there's anything that you would it hasn't happened that you would like to see that's a good question before answering. I would like to say one thing to that if I had had $1000000 to choose from I would have chosen you darling. We've had a great life. I agree with you guys the things that we did together like riding our horses and I could tell stories about that. You know how I 3 I looked out the window and when you were three and I looked out the window and I saw this little tiny baby charging by on a horse.

04:55 Oh my God, is that Stephanie and I ran out there to get you and you're already gone. You were racing a car. It was driving up the side of the railroad that went bye-bye art place on your horse and a guy says. Oh, yeah. She makes me out here every morning and racist me up this hill and I was just flabbergasted as I just couldn't believe it and you've been that kind of yourself chance take her in the Explorer.

05:31 All of your life and it's made me have a very very happy to be your father.

05:43 You did it or why you did it. Well, I would say I would sit on my horse and wait because we were at that time. This was in Ohio and

05:52 I would wait for a car to come by and give you a little more visual. I had a pixie haircut more no shirt, maybe head on my shoulder to my red cowboy boots and your feet stuck straight out not down around then or if they weren't long enough sure that they thought I would have cute little boys over there.

06:27 Man pulled horse over make a leap over onto his back her back to him wasn't it Randy? No, no, no Prejudice or gas. That was Lady exactly lady where we've had several horses. It's hard to keep them all straight, but that was indeed a very wonderful and delightful even though it scared me to death and I ask my neighbors I said,

06:59 Have you seen this this so yeah, she's out there every morning racing us up the hill and it was just amazing some but you've been like that. There is all of your life and always a surprise and a pleasure to me. Thank you again it on the horse. Yeah, I think so. I think so. Well, especially better than my brother Keith exactly. Yeah. Yeah brother Keith was several years older than you and any accomplishment that he made you do it. I will try I remember the time when

07:51 He said one and oratory talk in grade school.

07:56 And he gotten first prize. Please please the song when you were several years younger and then when your turn came got that age you've been waiting.

08:09 To compete with Keith no one knew that but you and so you asked me or says Dad. Can you help me write us a speech for my contest a nice this year and we sat down and we

08:26 Wrote this thing and then we went to the contest and it wasn't that speech at all. It was a completely different speech and you won first place just like case you and if you hadn't competed and I said what happened to the speech that we worked on and she said that that was probably more years than mine. And you're very relevant So I says it says a lot about you and about how you've you've lived in how you've had a great impact on me really to have a daughter like that and when I would paint

09:12 Come in and studio and you would hang out with me. And so you would paint to just a little thing and I would look at your painting since I call my God. They were so free and expressive Andre whole kind of show maybe I should be copying her instead of her copying me, you know, so it's been that kind of a relationship and it's been great. Thank you very much.

09:42 Well the night I think then I quickly sort of.

09:48 Change does I realize that that was your weight that that was your art form. Then I went totally in the different and a different direction. So our art the little bit of it. I've made never ended up like yours and I'll never ever once you get through that.

10:12 . Of

10:14 Watching your dad that was an introduction and then you found yourself again as in every case, you know, you can came you came Stephanie and you found who out who you are. And that's what every artist in my opinion should do is never emulate but find out who they are and that's that's often times a difficult thing to do. Nice men when the basis of my teaching over the years to is like a lot of time students will emulate their teacher and I'll let that happen for awhile, you know, cuz there's something to be learned about about that.

11:01 I infected and there was an ancient technique and China have that a student would emulate the master until the students worked looked exactly like the master. You couldn't tell the difference and then the master was say now you're ready to go out and be an artist but never ever paint like me again, and it's sort of the same thing. I would let him to emulate me for a while, but I had to have to have a talk with them then say you don't know if you don't want to be me.

11:40 You want to be you and the hardest thing for an artist or writer or or a scientist is to find out who you are. Go, Inward and discover yourself. Do not be an emulator being inventor in a Creator you so I wonder who's there?

12:07 Any materials any anything that you haven't been able to work with in your art that you would like to have I know you wanted to cast some big pieces Sunday bronze pieces are any of that he is that

12:25 When you're working on a really large scale, I mean it really large scale. You almost have to have have a commission and I feel you know, something pieces, but they were always Commission because I was never

12:42 Wealthy I guess enough to just make those things on my own and the irony again is that I talked casting for years and I made castings on a human scale. But yeah, I've always wanted to do very very large castings and I'm had to take it. It's kind of second.

13:10 Material that can Stila bronzer whatever I would maybe make it in clay or in plaster or in some material that I I could afford and that's how I am and that makes me sad to even say that that I couldn't realize some of my dreams because of the fact that I couldn't do him do them from standpoint of expense.

13:41 I never thought of this before but

13:44 Maybe some of those pieces.

13:47 Will happen even even later. You know that happens. I hope so you think of Dale light we still didn't happen for years later. Well the thing about it is as you know, probably maybe not I have

14:12 A lot of Skechers one way that I got to realize some of those things that I couldn't really do because of scale wish I could draw them and I have sketchbooks full drawings of large pieces that perhaps someday might be made but even if they're not

14:41 That was a way of me realizing it a dream or an idea if I could put it down even in a drawing or a small model. That was good. I can get get it done in my mind and then go on and

15:00 Which brings me around to ask you about your work? You've been very prolific.

15:10 You have work all over the world and museums.

15:16 The work the pieces of haven't been donated or what. Would you like to see happen to your work?

15:28 Well, that is a good question because I am prolific that someone just asked me outside a few minutes ago said Jim. Are you still working? And I said well, I'm still alive. So yes, I'll be working it as long as I can crawl around and do it because that's what my life is about. And so I do have a lot of stuff I just

15:58 I'm having a retrospect that I had a museum in California Los Angeles in November is it and they came and picked up 75 pieces of my work now, generally when you get to be my age in your having a retrospect, you have to collect that work back in the Museum's from galleries from private owners and so on but I've made so much and during the time of making that over the years making my stuff over the years. I have kept pieces out and put them in store rooms as you know, cuz you have to deal with that and

16:46 I want them to eventually go into.

16:52 Important places, you know, that's not an eagle thing. It's just that's what I think any artist wants and and I would also like to see in the Ziti voulkos Art Center.

17:05 That we've created a new event to equally important part of that is that we cut off and it's a big building and we We Rent Out Studios to artists and I'd like to take one floor.

17:25 Over the main gallery and turn it into a gym lady.

17:33 Gallery

17:35 I'm my own work and the works of my friends that I've traded with over the years. That's something I would like to see but you know.

17:44 That's yet to be.

17:47 Hopefully materialize

17:51 Possibly we would have people donating your colleagues and Friends pieces maybe that we don't have on any I have a lot of Peace pieces that I have traded in my collection already.

18:07 Some of it might lost but we have a pretty good pretty good collection already.

18:16 And of course, it wouldn't be my work predominantly. I might say also Stephanie that

18:22 I'd like for you to work to be in that.

18:26 Connection because you know, I've I have Stephanie Levy is in my collection is well and are unique and wonderful and they are you are very few of them. That's partially because I turned the gallery over to you so our years ago and you've been putting your time into running having kids and having children push women always have that dilemma and that's one of the most creative thing any person could do. I just a woman's to have children and you have done a phenomenal job with with those children, you know there now just finished College this past year.

19:13 And one of them's getting married soon. Aaron's getting are a parent's getting married and and they're the best kids and I mean q they're just perfect.

19:33 Growing up

19:37 Artist compared to like your friends and everything how what were some of your favorite memories of growing up with the with the artistic father. Well, I always kind of go back to the story when you grow up with that. You don't think that it's

19:57 Any different than anybody else's family or father, but I think probably somewhere in grade school and we've moved to Lake lotawana and I was just going into second grade.

20:11 And I'm

20:13 Actually dad started teaching art history here at the Art Institute first and then went into the sculpture Department shortly after but

20:23 I would invite my friends over so we were new to the lake few years go by and

20:32 Please kids who would never ever seen.

20:36 We had another was sculpture all over the house as ceramic pieces and with

20:43 Dead animal parts on when I have to go there.

20:54 Guess what? I saw there were a few kids that weren't allowed to come back at least until they got to know who you are and you weren't you weren't some crazy person that their kid was going to spend the night. That's a surprise to me. I didn't really know I didn't realize that but I've always been so think that once they did and then especially on the late 60s early 70s you were just about as cool of a dad as a kid could ever have and I know he thinks that to my son. I remember one stiff wind.

21:48 When I was out, I rode a motorcycle and go by your school and pick you up after school and take you home or we go for a ride in the neighborhood or in the country or something in.

22:05 I asked you after you got grown. I said wasn't that fun when I'd come by and pick you up on the motorcycle at the at your grade school. And you said to me all day and I was so embarrassed that you didn't show it and you know, you were so cool with your dad when you realize that.

22:32 Things are different around a you're your father's got longer hair and a big long beard. Nobody else is 5 years. So I guess that was only

22:48 The only embarrassment.

22:51 Embarrassed

22:53 The way up to also realize the age of the time that was you know, in the 60s and 70s. That was the hippie era was never a real hippie hippie in my own mind. I was a college professor, but we had you known kids coming back from Vietnam and and letting the hair grow while everybody was how the 60s was and instead of being that straight-laced Professor stay at the front of the room. I own always wanted to be

23:35 More related to what the students were about to you know, it's so I dressed like the students but that's a good point.

23:47 You know because you've taught and you've been

23:51 Around pretty much the same age kids anywhere from say 18 to 25 30 through school. You've had to pretty much stay.

24:07 Up on the newest absolute ideas. You always stayed that age along with them because you never really grew old know you still haven't grown old thanks. I tried to give him a retirement party and he was so offended the word retired just and he got up and he gave a speech that you were offended. I guess, you know, that's the wrong word. It was retiring from teaching that don't retire from from making arm, and I was just trying to make that clear, you know some more about

25:05 When you when you when you're teaching.

25:10 And you put yourself on a pedestal you don't get all the way in my opinion through to the student or students. You have to it. It's a it's a strange balance. You have to be on their level yet at the same time respected. I could never become one of them, but I could play guitar with them and I could you know talk on on the same level and do the same things, but I was and that was the real challenge still there teacher and that was I think that might be one of the reasons why I have so many friends today that wore my ex-students in a most wonderful things.

26:01 That can happen to me is to get a call or a letter from a student from 10 or even longer years ago and say I just wanted to call and I was thinking about you and how important you are into my life and no teacher can ever be more pleased you remember all those students? Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. My friends when students would graduate. I am now retired from teaching when my students would he graduate the last thing I would say to them is night.

26:40 Because you graduated doesn't mean that our friendship has ended I'm still here for you.

26:49 And that's in a lot of new naked Vantage of that. Sometimes two times too much to a point like live me.

27:02 But I do think you missed and I think you still miss having that interaction with absolutely absolutely absolutely I am four years until we get so many students that we could I couldn't do it. I put my studio had my studio in the building or a thought and so I worked right along with the students, you know, so that

27:37 They could see me working and we can talk about what I'm doing as well as what they're doing. And I think that's a great way to teach and it certainly worked in our situation.

27:53 That's true when I was in school there and I was your student although I worked a lot with Dale doing my colleague. That was really wonderful thing about that school. Is that all the teachers there at that time or where showing and visiting artists? It wasn't me that was part of the the requirement teach their you had to be producing artist that was unique because I've been in the University system before that and that wasn't required. But in order to teach at the Kansas City Art Institute, I don't know if that's still true today when I would hope so you had to be a producing artist.

28:41 That was a that made all the difference in the world. That's when I was first in invited to come here teach.

28:52 I thought that I don't want to do that. You know, we have a farm. We have a home window and then I came they will come and just visit we have a party. So I did and I saw that every student there was an art major might be in different areas of design are Ceramics or sculpture or painting or whatever, but they were all our students and in the University system. I had you were lucky to really get a good student. Sometimes that student was from used it from another department PE PE or whatever, you know, and then take an art class because they had to and found out that will I really like art?

29:52 What time was like Wow every student here is an art major, you know, and that was that was that's the reason why I made the decision to come here. How do you think if you hadn't of had kids in this is probably a hard question to answer.

30:11 Do you think you would have spent as many years teaching?

30:16 If you had no pad.

30:19 Keep an eye on kids. I mean.

30:26 What do you think your life would have taken a different course it would have.

30:35 You when you're an artist.

30:38 Unless you become bring well-known soon quickly.

30:42 It's not easy to make a living. You have to have a job.

30:48 And I tell my students that you know until you get what well-known enough to make a living from the sell of your art or whatever performances or whatever.

31:00 You still have to live and especially if you have children.

31:05 You have to be after you get a job.

31:08 That that job supports your you're having so to speak as an artist. Well, I figured that out.

31:17 When I was in undergraduate, I had a teacher and musical teacher and I asked him one day I said, can I see your work? I'd love to see your work and he said oh, I don't work anymore. I don't paint anymore. And I thought why not? This is what I get all of my satisfaction from my students works that were what kind of a trap is this? I want no, I don't ever want to get caught up in that at first. I didn't think I would teach and that's why in fact, I went into our history and did graduate work in art history and PhD working or just pay less. I thought well, I could teach art history and that's not directly teaching art and I can make a living.

32:09 I didn't want to drive I drive a taxicab. However be a carpenter whatever I wanted to be an artist so I'll be an artist in our community and I'll teach art history which I love and I think it's the knowledge of our history and teaching art history has influenced my own work over the years, especially my my interest in the Asian art and so on but all of it. And anyway, I thought you know, that guy is not someone I want to be.

32:45 I want to be an artist. I don't want to be satisfied with what my students do is my own satisfaction and I went into teaching and then you guys my son and my daughter came up and I never told you I wanted you to go into art.

33:08 Yeah, that was your choice. I said, well, you know if you want to that's what you should do, and I'll never forget you when you were in high school. I think you were a junior.

33:22 And you were so anxious to get into art school. You didn't want to wait another year.

33:28 And you said you came home one day from school and not announce to me like that. I'm starting art school next year, and I said darling.

33:40 You have a senior year to go through yet. And you said yeah, I know.

33:45 But I'm starting high school next year and I said what how are you going to do that?

33:52 You see what I'm going to take that GED test and I said, yeah sure. Okay. That's what I was thinking. Okay, baby. I never discouraged you and you took that test and you

34:05 Fasted and you were in our school the next year younger student in class right after school started but officially and so I missed out of my Junior and Senior year of high school. Yeah, which was just fine by me when I get to fit the mold while you were just already beyond that you already knew what you were and where you were going and I'm very proud of you stream a proud of you for

34:43 And knowing that you know at the time I was I was concerned. So is she pushing too fast, but you did it and another thing stuff that happened.

34:56 Several years later

34:59 You were talking to someone and I happen to be standing near nearby and they said them.

35:07 Steph why would you want to go to school and study with your father with all these other schools around the world? And you said was why would I go to a school with with the less qualified teachers when I can go to school and study with my dad who is the most qualified of all and that?

35:32 That was impressive and made me feel good cuz I I worried about that myself, but then you went on you went to graduate school. The teachers went to Tyler School of Art at Temple University in.

35:46 You are fine.

35:50 I moved back here had kids and your grandkids. My grandkids raised them help you with the Arts Center, Ohio helping you with your well, that's something I do want to say before. We are in our discussion that that was a dream of mine and people would ask me later. You know, Jim did you ever think this would develop

36:19 As much as it had and I should course. I dreamed it. It was my dream. I fought for it. I work for it. Whatever to make it happen and

36:32 One of the reasons that I can now let go.

36:37 Is you were there?

36:40 You take you've taken it over and you've given me time now to put full time in my studio. You run their Arts Center and you run the studios and and I hope you're happy doing that and hopefully a little physically challenging but I'm trying to move past that did the job but I know it's not an easy job, but I hope that I can pass it on to my kids ignore him to run. So let's hope that Kansas City Lexus. Stay there. Started. Well, they know how important we are to the city. We've been we've been given towards

37:28 You know for saving on building is awards for bringing business back downtown. The heroes award or was and

37:39 The city knows maybe the the county who raises taxes that's not quite aware of what we've contributed but as long as we got the city to support us and understand in fact the present present May or just called the other day and said, you know, you guys are legendary and we we want to support you and hope you will support us, you know, well

38:13 Can I help her help her around for a long time? Because the education I think more than anything that we provided down. There is is extremely important to the city 2.

38:28 You know the surrounding counties and the people that we attract down there and

38:35 But

38:37 It's been it's been very fun interviewing you ask you a question.

38:45 Talkington

38:47 Do you want?

38:48 Artistic Legacy to be you know.

38:53 Bye.

38:56 To be

38:58 What I would hope that my legacy is my work itself, you know, you look at great artists in history and it's not so much that their story. I know the stories are very often times interesting take Van Gogh, for example, you know, he's his famous almost as a as a personality as as an artist, but in the end he is famous for his art a great artist like Rembrandt a Rembrandt van Ryan.

39:33 Was so determined to do his own thing that he got very few commissions later in his life. And he's one of the greatest artists of all times and when he died he was in poverty, but he's work has to it up. We know him not because he was in poverty but because he was true to himself and and we can use one of the great artists of all times. I would hope that my legacy will be my artwork but

40:11 On the other hand to I do want the arts district that we have created to continue to be a valid and viable thing in the city and its head influences on other cities as well. And I do want that to continue and

40:33 And I've got Stephanie ruhle. That for forward I think and I think it also has gained enough momentum that it will go because now

40:46 When we started that we were the only one in town and there's now what 80 galleries in the district and the new performance center that's going in which came there. No doubt because we had established that as an Arts District.

41:06 That Legacy I think we'll go on but in the end the one thing that I want to represent me after I'm gone.

41:17 Is my artwork.

41:20 I think you've done that.

41:23 Thank you. Thank you, baby. Excuse me for calling you that but you are my baby. Thank thank you, darling.