Sunday, December 31, 2000

Leaves of class

Artist uses her grassroots project to make a difference in others' lives

By Jim Knippenberg
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        In the first place, Carol Ann Newsome is not climatologically-challenged. She understands only too well that all the leaves planning to fall this year have already done it.

        But she's determined to see 2,000 more hit the ground come Monday.

        Ms. Newsome, see, is the local artist who founded New Leaf, a project where she turns 4-inch pieces of plywood into leaf shapes. She then sands them, paints one side in a leaf pattern and on the other side writes “You have just turned over a new leaf.”

[photo] Carol Ann Newsome with her leaves
Joseph Fuqua II photo)
| ZOOM |
        Then she puts them in public places for people to find, take home and, if they want, respond to the e-mail address she prints below the message.

        She's left about 2,000 in 25 countries since the project's birth in '96. Monday the project climaxes: The Millennium Leaf Project with hundreds of volunteers, planters she calls them, will drop 2,000 in more than 40 countries, including 200 in Cincinnati.

        Uh, why?

        She has plenty of reasons: It's fun to do something generous for the universe. Give someone a leaf and even people who are intimidated by art feel good about it. It can be a day-brightener. Finding one can be magical for someone.

        And, of huge importance to the artist, it proves that one person, with no funding, can create an international art project.

        Art is important to Ms. Newsome, 43, single and living in Northside. It brought her here in 1984 to work on a master's in fine art at at UC, it kept her here when she got a job in a gallery and it gives her focus now, in her day job as manager of Talbot House's Driver Intervention Program.

        “The people I go after with this art are people who wouldn't think of buying an original painting. Or even going into a gallery. I want them to find it and react.

        “And the thing is, I don't care about their reaction, just so they enjoy it at some level. Goes with the sofa? Great. Stirs up nostalgia? Fine. Cheers someone up on a bad day? Also good. My message speaks to them? Even better.”

        Oh yeah, the message. What is this "turn over a new leaf' business? “It's just an idea. Maybe it's time in your life to do it. It's not for me to say what leaf to turn. That's about your own possibilities, about recognizing your own resources and the abundance already available.”

        Right? And this no funding business?

        “Too many artists have put their futures in the hands of others because of money. Going without funding, I find my own audience and a center for my art outside the gallery.

        “Besides, I have less money tied up than you'd think. The biggest expense is shipping to planters around the world. That's maybe $3,500 or $4,000, no more than the price of one elaborate vacation. You can be very creative with very little money.

        “Finding the time, that's different.”

        Oh yeah, time. As manager of the Driver Intervention Program (the 72-hour residential program first time DUI offenders take), she does the basic 8-to-5 Monday-Friday thing and that's OK: “It's a job that adds depth to what I do as an artist because it keeps me grounded in what's real for people.”

        That leaves weekends for art. “I spend 15 to 20 hours a weekend on it, in between loads of laundry. I sit and paint. That's why I've gained 30 pounds this year.”

        Painting is the last step in the production process. Once she has the panels — a friend cuts them for her — it takes six weekends of sanding and another six of sealing, all done under a big shade tree out in her yard. “Dust and chemicals, you know.”

        When all that's finished she paints — undercoating, two or three layers in shades of green and finally the leaf, which she calls a Carol leaf because it's not specific to any tree.

        On a good weekend when she's really jamming, she can work on 200 leaves, usually to the tune of audio books — Anne Rice, Stephen King, Dean Koontz.

        Fine. But before she grabs her brush again, how about a few questions?

        Everyone needs a leaf because ...

        They don't. They only need one if they want one. I don't expect everyone to love this project.

        Twenty years from now, I want someone to look at a leaf and think ...

       I really like that.

        My favorite leaf feedback ...

        A guy named Kevin who said he found one at a low point in his life and decided to turn around. He now owns his own consulting company. Art is that powerful.

        The best place to plant a leaf ...

        I like really ordinary places people pass every day in the course of life, probably half asleep because it's so routine, and all of a sudden they find a leaf. I like the idea that something special can pop up in the middle of something completely routine.

        If the leaf project accomplishes nothing else, I'd like it to ...

        Make people smile. Or laugh. The kind of really good laugh that boosts the immune system.

        If I have one regret, it's ...

        I'd have to say it would be not taking time to enjoy life enough. One thing I've figured out in the past 10 years is it's not about a push to the future. It's about enjoying now.

        With unlimited leaf funding, I'd ...

        Quit my job and devote full time to the project. I'd make it as big as I could.

        One person who really needs a leaf ...

        You know, that's not something I'd ever say. I think it's too easy to judge people that way. Maybe we should just judge ourselves.


The Year In Review: TV & Radio
The Year In Review: Theater
The Year In Review: Popular Music
The Year In Review: Film
The Year In Review: Dance
The Year In Review: Classical Music
The Year In Review: Visual Art
- Leaves of class
DEMALINE: 13 weeks of theater sets stage for fine winter
An appreciation
Disabled Tristaters moved forward in 2000
Get to it