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North Idaho lifestyle - Bayview Idaho Artist
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a visit to Leata Judd's Art Studio

  Arriving at Leata Judd’s studio in Bayview is like stepping off the train at Hogwarts; at once you recognize that your former reality has bent and shaped itself into something else. Something amazing.

  Maybe it’s all the friendly faces here at the Judd’s’ 20-acre place called Old Maid’s Clearing -- hundreds of them created from clay or papier-mâché -- that are literally everywhere. The cedar trees next to her brick kiln have terra-cotta smiles. One tree, a female, also has small breasts. Step into the garden
and you nearly step on this squat little fellow on huge hobbit-like feet looking pleasantly skyward.

  Pondering what Harry Potter would do, you apologize and say hello, not feeling a bit silly. By the back door there’s a bird house made in the shape of a happy old man’s face that makes me wonder how the birds feel flying in and out of his mouth or perched on his long, upturned nose.

Leata, 77, and her husband Tom (who says to call him “Mr. Leata”) have lived in this magical place off Salle Creek Road near Farragut State Park for 26 years. Tom, a welder and semi-retired heavy-equipment operator, does metal sculpture during his free time in his machine shop. The colorful dragon perched on the front edge of their home’s roof line is one of his creative contributions to the community of characters with whom they share their home, but this fantastic realm has principally been nurtured by his wife

  Beyond the small creek, at the edge of the deep forest, are enormous clay morel mushrooms that double as friendly woodland gnomes with hats.

  You’re welcomed by an entire village of beings who easily convince you that Leata Judd is no ordinary artist; and, as you enter her studio and home, her smiling presence is like a hummingbird’s, authentic and energetic, earning all of your attention, further evidence that you are in the presence of a mystic, a creator of a much-needed new mythology on life, one where kindness and generosity rule.

  Leata, 77, and her husband Tom (who says to call him “Mr. Leata”) have lived in this magical place off Salle Creek Road near Farragut State Park for 26 years. Tom, a welder and semi-retired heavy-equipment operator, does metal sculpture during his free time in his machine shop. The colorful dragon perched on the front edge of their home’s roof line is one of his creative contributions to the community of characters with whom they share their home, but this fantastic realm has principally been nurtured by his wife.

 

Leata is usually in her spacious studio right after breakfast, daily creating something entirely new or advancing an artistic experiment that requires several stages and days of work. Some of her more intricate sculptures sit on shelves waiting for the winter season to complete when more of her time is spent indoors. Against every wall and next to the entryway steps are rows and rows of shelves to the ceiling. The shelves are filled with creatures of all kinds, and caricatured human faces abound. Leata is usually in her spacious studio right after breakfast, daily creating something entirely new or advancing an artistic experiment that requires several stages and days of work. Some of her more intricate sculptures sit on shelves waiting for the winter season to complete when more of her time is spent indoors. Against every wall and next to the entryway steps are rows and rows of shelves to the ceiling. The shelves are filled with creatures of all kinds, and caricatured human faces abound.

  Some sculptures you might expect to find, like a unicorn; but more often her works will surprise and make you ponder Leata’s unique way of interpreting the world, like a papier-mâché horse sporting airplane wings and a cowboy rider hanging on for dear life.

  Inspired by her artist father, Roger Moore, she has worked with clay for over 30 years and her early creations were mostly pottery (with faces of course) that she sold at the Cedar Street Bridge Market. You could purchase a mug with an amusing mug smiling back at you for your morning coffee. And there were toothbrush holders and, one of my personal favorites, clay-faced doorknobs. Sneaking a cookie out of the cupboard is more fun with some silly big-nosed person grinning at you.

 Then there were clay statues of women with interesting personas and sunny (and moon) faces and faeries as wall hangings. But the challenges of firing the kiln so often and the possibility of cracked or broken artworks are now mostly behind her and her kiln helper, Tom.

  For the past few years, Leata has been working with an easier, far less expensive artistic medium -- papier-mâché. She enjoys exploring the nearly limitless creative possibilities using recycled newspaper (or her favorite: Brown Yoke’s grocery sacks). The medium is a little cleaner than working with clay, she says with a laugh, and then reconsiders; well, maybe not a lot cleaner. And it takes much longer, but for her, working with papier-
mâché is like doing meditation, and she really likes the experience. There are sculptures, wall hangings and even rattles.

  Her latest project is making papier-mâché bottles of various sizes adorned with hand-painted, anthropomorphized frogs. Leata’s frogs are only one of her favorite artistic signatures, and they come in all sizes and in all artistic media from hand-drawn greeting cards to the giant bullfrog that is a joker dealing cards, her first of many of her trademark frog sculptures.

  A few of the sculptures in the studio are actually realistic and life size. There is the clay bust of her husband, still in process on her worktable, and another of her father, who worked with clay into his 80’s.

For the past few years, Leata has been working with an easier, far less expensive artistic medium -- papier-mâché. She enjoys exploring the nearly limitless creative possibilities using recycled newspaper (or her favorite: Brown Yoke’s grocery sacks). The medium is a little cleaner than working with clay, she says with a laugh, and then reconsiders; well, maybe not a lot cleaner. And it takes much longer, but for her, working with papier-

Which is why her work resonates with people from across the region. One of her pieces, a chair sculpted into the shape of a very large hand, will appear in an October group exhibition at Idaho Falls’ Carr Gallery  Unlike the creative gift passed along from father to daughter, none of Leata and Tom’s three sons or one daughter, or their many grandchildren, have carried on the family artistic tradition; but their son Jerry’s wife, Daris, is an artist and the couple live just down the road. Daris and Leata get together and banter about their art and occasionally show their works in the same gallery, like Art Works in Sandpoint.

  At home, Leata wiles away the hours creating and listening to Spokane Public Radio. One can’t help but think that the cheerful, caricatured animal and human faces that she sculpts do more than make you feel so warm and safe inside, or at the very least make you laugh; they are clever and powerful antidotes to the violence and technological headaches of the modern world.

  But Leata’s art isn’t what I’d call fantasy; it’s more mythic, with a depth of life and strong spirit just beneath the surface -- like wondering what’s behind a mask. There is a story in every piece, hers and yours. It’s why all of her work feels so alive and so authentically real, even when it might first appear as strange or silly.

  Which is why her work resonates with people from across the region. One of her pieces, a chair sculpted into the shape of a very large hand, will appear in an October group exhibition at Idaho Falls’ Carr Gallery.

  There are other, large papier-mâché works at 1/4 life-size scale that mesmerize. The gypsy storyteller with the flat-top fedora with little people standing or sitting on and around him, and “Old Grandad”, a cheery fellow leaning back in his chair and smoking a pipe with beer in hand over a rotund belly. Both are made from Yoke’s sacks and are richly colored. They have an Old World feel to them that reminds one of being a kid again, on Grandpa’s lap or with Santa at Christmas. You just know that whatever wish you whisper in either’s carefully crafted paper ear is bound to come true.

  Another sculpture Another sculpture that is mystifying is a work called “Fall Dreams”. A woman’s head is tilted over the sculpture’s towered block papered with fallen leaves. Tree branches like antlers protrude from her scalp and long dreadlocks flow down her back like willow limbs. Her eyes are dreamy and pondering.that is mystifying is a work called “Fall Dreams”. A woman’s head is tilted over the sculpture’s towered block papered with fallen leaves. Tree branches like antlers protrude from her scalp and long dreadlocks flow down her back like willow limbs. Her eyes are dreamy and pondering.

  Like Leata she must be imagining the next artistic move, in love with life and the sheer joy of creation.

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