Local artist Lennie Kesl dies at 86


Well-known local artist Lennie Kesl hugs Rebecca Nagy, director of the Harn Museum of Art, during the “20 Years of the Harn” celebration at the museum on Oct. 10, 2010.

Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun/File
Published: Saturday, November 24, 2012 at 9:25 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, November 24, 2012 at 9:25 p.m.

Noted Gainesville artist Lennie Kesl, whose distinctive and colorful work has been displayed in many shows and public places, died Friday night after falling on stairs in his home, friends and family said.

Kesl, 86, was a former art professor at the University of Florida and Santa Fe College, and was a friend, mentor and partner to other local artists.

“He certainly was one of a kind. Yesterday he was at the studio ... and he was just so incredibly energetic. He was in great spirits and was really, really happy about everything,” said ceramic artist John Tilton, who has collaborated with Kesl for decades. “He lived every day as if it was his last. He was an amazing person. I'm still in absolute shock. I'm just trying to absorb the whole thing.”

Kesl studied at L'Atelier Fernand Lager in Paris in 1949 and at the University of Colorado at Boulder, according to a profile by the city of Gainesville's cultural division. His art is diverse, ranging from ceramics and mixed media to vibrant paintings.

He earned his master's degree from Michigan State University in 1957. After teaching in various places throughout the country, Kesl moved to Gainesville and taught at UF from 1968-72 and at Santa Fe from 1972 until his retirement in 1991.

Nancy Kesl, his former wife, said he is survived by daughters Charlotte and Diana and son Jim.

“Lennie, from the moment we met, has offered deep friendship ... for 25 years,” she said. “I am one of many people who benefited from his capacity for love. I know his mother, Blanche, has been waiting on him because he loved her so much. He came from a beautiful family.”

Satchel Raye, owner of Satchel's Pizza and himself an artist, said he and Kesl collaborated on a joint display of their work in his restaurant on Northeast 23rd Avenue every year in January and February.

Raye said they had started working on the next show, adding that it will go on despite Kesl's death. The two met when Raye was a dishwasher at the restaurant Leonardo's 706 about 15 years ago.

“We were going to meet a week from Monday to plan the show. We'll still be putting up Lennie's stuff. The show will go on — one way or another, we are going to hang a show,” Raye said.

“When I worked at 706,” Raye remembered, “I would always have a show there. Lennie would come every year and talk to me about it. He was really into art and would go to a lot of shows. When I opened (Satchel's) he was so proud of me. When I had a son, he did a piece of artwork right away and gave it to me for my son.”

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