Francesca Hill, Living in Light, Coalition Ingenu

Francesca Hill, 1939 – January 2008, Living in Light, Coalition Ingenu, Philadelphia Art in City Hall

Francesca Hill was born in Augusta, Georgia and started drawing when she was only 3 or 4 years old. She was an only child but was encouraged by teachers and a very close extended family. Her family moved to Philadelphia when she was thirteen years old, where she learned to sew in high school home economics classes. Francesca felt limited by the emphasis on using sewing skills for exclusively practical porposes. Her interest in painting and drawing, combined with her penchant for experimentation with fabric art compelled her to try making dolls using coat-hanger armatures and hand painted textile designs. At 19, Francesca moved to New York to study fashion design. Years later she returned to Philadelphia and studied fine art at the Fleisher Art Memorial. She also studied textile art and rug making at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.” – Coalition Ingenu excerpted statement

Renee Leshner, Coalition Ingenu, Philadelphia Art in City Hall

Renee Leshner, circa 1928 – 2012,  Living in LightCoalition IngenuPhiladelphia Art in City Hall

“Renee Leshner attended Fleisher Art Memorial as a young woman, but stopped going when she started having visions of an “evil eye” following and threatening her. She continued to be plagued by visions of other worldly beings throughout the remaining years of her life. Her interest in drawing became her only refuge – as artwork evolved onto a means of defense against her supernatural persecution.

Renee continued making these drawings for several decades, working mainly in ball-point markers. In the early 1990’s, she started giving some of her drawings to her landlord, who shared them with his wife. The landlord’s wife submitted two pieces to an exhibit for artists over the age of 70, which was co-curated by the director of Coalition Ingenu.”  Coalition Ingenu excerpted statement

Renee Leshner, Coalition Ingenu, Philadelphia Art in City Hall

Renee LeshnerLiving in LightCoalition IngenuPhiladelphia Art in City Hall

“Although the jury rejected the drawings, Coalition Ingenu paid Renee a visit and found her to be a rare visionary talent with hundreds of detailed line drawings of her unique alternate reality: a world of flying coffins and evil houses; of mystical nature, haunted graveyards and evil gardens. A world populated by devils, angels, fairies, ghosts, nymphs, goddesses, ghouls and demons.”  Coalition Ingenu excerpted statement

Dessie Sneed, Coalition Ingenu, Philadelphia Art News Blog

Dessie Sneed, 1944 – 2008, Untitled (Purple Faces)Living in LightCoalition IngenuPhiladelphia Art in City Hall

Dessie Sneed always seemed a little bit angry about something. Tough, opinionated and not willing to stand for any nonsense, she resisted doing anything that wasn’t her idea to begin with. And yet, if you could make her laugh, it would make your day.

She was not especially motivated to make artwork. It was too much like playing for her. There was nothing serious about it. I think she enjoyed it, but had a hard time admitting that she did.” – Coalition Ingenu excerpted statement

Coalition Ingenu works with mental health centers and support systems, homeless shelters, and rehabilitation programs to promote and encourage creativity as a means to psychological and emotional well-being; and to create a complete system for the recognition of creative achievement by self-taught artists marginalized by extraordinary circumstances.

Living in Light memorialized self taught artists in Philadelphia City Hall, a poignant and enchanting show worthy of a post-humous honor for any artist. Robert Bullock of Coalition Ingenu is one of the angels in Renee Leshner’s hallucinations, finding the genius that self-taught artists express with fervor, reasoning with unreasonable anger, bringing calm and certainty to unstable moments in time. And making art shows happen by providing materials, framing and venues for self-taught artists to communicate with the world. Some of the artists Robert coaches, trains and promotes have gone onto fame and recognition. He literally launches art careers. The dream that an artist’s life’s work not be forgotten was made real by show-casing art in honor of the dead, in the halls of the powerful and influential where decisions to help or not are made, is sublime.

The narrative that accompanies the work, excerpted here, is honest and true, shining the light on those who should not be forgotten. Keep art in schools, there is no reason children should be denied the tools of self expression. If Robert Bullock can pull it together to raise up the down trodden so they become self-sustaining entrepreneurs, I can’t see why a big, powerful organization with a big budget can’t upscale the business model to make it even better for everyone.

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Written and photographed by DoN Brewer except where noted.

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