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Juanita Leonard

Photo of artist Juanita LeonardWhen we visited Juanita Leonard recently, one of the first questions she asked was, “Do you believe in God?” For Juanita, God is her guide as well as her reason for making art. She says she can produce no art until she receives inspiration and direction from the Lord.

Next to her longtime home in Louisiana, Juanita built two churches with her own hands and a minor amount of help from others. She dressed them inside with her vibrant paintings and sculptures and adorned the yard outside with an eye-catching conglomeration of uncommon artwork. She says she built her art environment to attract people from the highway to come in and partake in the Lord.

Juanita has joy in her heart and receives it every day from her prayers. She makes art with the purpose of reaching out to people to spread the word. She is an ordained minister and listening to her talk could be compared to experiencing an animated sermon during which the volume rises at different points, reflecting her rising spirit as she speaks. She lacks not a whit in the confidence of her convictions.

One of 13 children, Juanita was born near the small town of Monroe, Louisiana. When she was 17, her mother asked her to paint the family car, and she hasn’t stopped painting since. Juanita’s paintings are colorful and energetic depictions of people rejoicing and “doing good” while engaged in the everyday aspects of life. Something as simple as feeding chickens is a favorite theme. Her art style has been compared to that of Clementine Hunter, though Juanita did not originally know of the other great Louisiana folk artist, who died in 1988. When she did learn of Clementine, Juanita decided to visit Melrose Plantation where Clementine had lived. Juanita said she felt an immediate and strong kinship with her.

When asked where she will go from here, Juanita says God will give her the vision and all she needs is the wisdom to go with it.  She would likely punctuate that with an, “Oh, yeah!”

There are two very good videos on YouTube of interviews with Juanita.  This link is to one of them.

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