Leona Sophocles Brownson, Artist
I grew up in Yardville, New Jersey, a small town near Princeton and almost equidistant to New York City and Philadelphia. This proximity to culture was well used by our loving parents who often took my brother and me to Broadway Shows and art museums. European adventures, and summers exploring Greece were a big part of our formative years yet always returning to the serenity of the surrounding forests and farm land that was our neighborhood. Rural yet cosmopolitan, perhaps, the best of both worlds.
As a first generation Greek, I grew up gazing at saints and angels in gilded frescos and mosaics swirling overhead in the Greek Orthodox Church. On top of all these fortunate circumstances we were raised by a wonderful and nurturing French woman. Our Nanny, a war bride from Paris, married a GI, raised her family and then came to help our parents, who were both doctors .She arrived six weeks before I was born and stayed until she died, 30 some years later. She was the daughter of a seamstress for the Follies Bergere who grew up in Montmartre, in a home whose table was shared with the artists of that time. She and my mother got me going in more arts and crafts projects than I could recite, but, most important, they gave me the confidence of creativity. All of these fortunate circumstances, as well as recognition from my teachers, put me on the path, and gave me the desire, to become an artist.
The college years provided me with broad and varied exposures to art and artists past and present. I spent a year in Greece at College Year in Athens which was truly a valuable, total immersion into the history and culture that is Greece. After that, began my formal “art education”. I received a BFA from a combined program of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and University of Pennsylvania and later on an MFA again from the University of Pennsylvania, all in Philadelphia. Those precious years trained and taught me how to focus. It also put me in contact with some of the great artists of that time; my most valuable mentor being Neil Welliver. What I learned from him was to paint what you most care about, and are most passionate about. The Academy offered a classical education. From Welliver, I developed a style known as “painterly realism”. Other artist/instructors/critics that strongly influenced me were Rudi Burkhart, Hitoshi Nakazato, Susan Shatter, Richard Bozeman, Marshal Glazier, Will Barnet and Hobson Pitman to name a few.
After college, I moved to Colorado and began life as an art teacher working first for the Denver Public School system, then at Kent Denver Country Day School . After getting my Master’s Degree I taught at Colorado Mountain College in Breckenridge as an adjunct professor, where I taught for 18 years. Twentyfour years as an art educator and a life time as an artist.
Highlights of my career have included multiple one and two person shows, as well as, numerous group shows, including one in Spain as part of a gallery exchange program between Denver and Barcelona. I received a grant from the U.S. Department of the Interior to be an Artist in Residence in Rocky Mountain National Park, in Estes Park, Colorado. Paintings from that traveled to various states and one of them became part of the permanent collection of the Department of the Interior. During President Clinton’s Administration my art was part of the Artist in Embassies program where my painting were hung in the Embassies of Cyprus, where my father was born, Saudi Arabia and Ukraine. I was honored in Washington D.C. at a reception for the participating artists at the U.S. Department of State. We were wined and dined in the most amazing, gilded reception hall with eight huge crystal chandeliers overhead. That truly was a highlight.
Other honors have included receiving the Outstanding Faculty award in Fine Arts during my tenure at Colorado Mountain College in Breckenridge, Colorado where I have resided since 1980 and having a seat on the Breckenridge Public Arts Commission for five years.
I have my family to thank for their love and support as I believe that my life would not be complete without them. My husband Jon, fortunately loves and supports my creativity and is always there when I need his input. We have been through countless museums and galleries together throughout our travels often combining alpine skiing and car races with art appreciation. During the early years with Jon, he competed as a professional speed skier and for the last fifteen years he has raced cars. It has been, at times, life in the fast lane. We have one amazing daughter, Athena Sophocles Brownson, whom, I believe, is our piece de resistance. Enough said. My family and my art are my life and my passion.