Monday, May 06, 2013

The Limelight ... Reading my essay in public!

(Above:  Reading my essay from The Limelight:  A Compendium of Contemporary Columbia Artists.  Click on any image in this post to enlarge.)

During the last week of February, Muddy Ford Press released The Limelight:  A Compendium of Contemporary Columbia Artists.  I was totally thrilled to announce this on my blog because ... well ... my essay called "The Ultimate Mentor" is included!  Wow!  I'm published.  Yet, I really didn't blog much about it ... until now!  Why?  Well, I was asked to read my essay last Tuesday evening ... in front of people.  I was even asked to autograph several copies!  It was fun.  It was also a bit scary.  I don't think I've had to read anything verbatim since before the eighth grade ... probably a Robert Frost poem from memory which I likely botched.

(Above:  The cover of The Limelight.)

I was also not exactly sure if I was allowed to blog any of the published words.  I simply waited.  One of the professional writers, however, did blog an excerpt from her essay.  I was able to ask and granted the same permission ... so ... now I'd like to share the start of my essay on my mentor, Stephen Chesley.

The Ultimate Mentor
by Susan Lenz
(excerpt from the beginning)

Bastille Day 2001, personal date of independence.  I fire my head mat cutter and cannot do his work and mine; the two jobs total twenty-five hours per day.  My custom picture framing business must be forcibly downsized.  I must admit the reason for such a drastic action:  I want to be an artist.

This is ridiculous, of course.  I have no training, no experience, no academic background.  My last art class was in the eighth grade.  I don’t even paint.  There’s just this silly notion, a dream.  Maybe, just maybe … pulling thread through fabric might constitute art making. 

No one kills a wildly successful business for a pipe dream.  Art is a fantasy and I must be crazy.  People will undoubtedly laugh.  Others will think me more insane than ever before.  I need someone to talk to.  I need advise, a sounding board, direction, hope … I need a mentor.

That coming Monday morning, my utility van almost drove itself to Prentice Avenue, to the home of a client, a self-supporting landscape oil painter, Stephen Chesley.

Stephen Chesley has talent in spades.  His brushstrokes tell stories of atmospheric conditions on sun soaked afternoons and fire fly evenings.  Smoke vapors rise from red primed surfaces and reflections of dawn ripple across inlet coves.  Chesley’s oils are magic.  Chesley’s pastels ooze with the sensation of mud between barefooted toes that creep across relic sand on twilight lit beaches.  Chesley is an artist, the kind of artist I longed to be on that Monday morning.

He made tea.  I cried, self-pitying tears of fear and doubt.  What would he think of this hair-brained idea of mine … me, setting off to be an artist, thinking I might one day be a peer, gambling with my family’s entire income, doing something totally irrational?

“I want to be an artist.”
“You already are one.  Now … just go do the work.”

For two hours the conversation meandered through the details of a creative existence.  He talked about juried exhibitions, portfolios, resumes, labeling slides, charity events, daily commitment, greed, talent, skill, gallery representation, and how to keep an inventory book.  He never laughed.  Lastly, he reiterated, “Now … just go do the work.”

The van seemed to know its way back home.  Good thing.  My mind wasn’t on the traffic.  It was trying to absorb more practical information than most studio art majors hear in four years of college.  Stephen promised that a career in art was simple.  He said, “Here’s a pencil.  Here’s a piece of paper.  All you have to do is go out and make a living.”  He wasn’t trying to change my mind.  None of his statements were issued as a warning.  He knew just what to say and how to say it … straightforward, almost blunt, totally honest.  “Now … just go do the work.”

(The rest of the essay can be read by purchasing a copy of The Limelight!  Just $18 and packed with insights, inspiration, and quality essays!)
(Above:  A hired crew moving a giant Stephen Chesley oil to a client's house!  Now this is one big painting!)

The Limelight, published by Muddy Ford Press, LLC, is the first volume in a serialized collection of 18 first-person, narrative essays written by professional Columbia authors and artists about professional Columbia authors and artists. It is the sixth book to be published by Muddy Ford Press since February 2012.  Below are the writers and artists involved:
Janna McMahan on Pat Conroy
Michael Miller on Chris Potter
Ed Madden on James Dickey
Aida Rogers on Gil Petroff
Ray McManus on Terrance Hayes
Cassie Premo Steele on Philip Mullen
Susan Lenz on Stephen Chesley
Don McCallister on Robert Lamb
Chad Henderson on Robert Richmond
Colina Corbett on Nikky Finney
Robbie Robertson on Vicky Saye Henderson
Cynthia Boiter on Blue Sky
Kristine Hartvigsen on Marjory Wentworth
Kyle Petersen on Danielle Howle
Alex Smith on Greg Leevy
August Krickel on Kay and Jim Thigpen
Bonnie Boiter-Jolley on Stacey Calvert
Jeffrey Day on James Busby

(Above:  Steve Chesley taking phone photos of his painting being moved to a truck.)

For more information, please go to  Books are also available at and You may contact the publisher, Dr. Robert Jolley, at or the editor, Cynthia Boiter, at or 803-622-6606.  Also, The Limelight is available directly from Muddy Ford Press ... HERE.  

(Above:  The giant oil painting going into the truck!)

In my essay I talk about Stephen Chesley's good advise, his constant work, his studio, his inventory ledger, and more!  I snapped some of these photos last December when Chesley's largest work sold to a local client.  The others, below, were a couple years ago ....

... when Chesley's studio wasn't quite as crowded as it is now.  Believe me, it has significantly changed because there's a lot more artwork in this crammed studio today.

Also, Stephen Chesley's inventory book is a work of art ... and I think he's well into the next one now!  It was a total pleasure to write about this incredibly talented and generous artist.  What's more, it is an honor for him to consider me a peer. 

Another plus ... I've been asked to write another essay for the next The Limelight issue and my reading in public was well received!  Applause!

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