Artist seeks to awaken people to nature


When the last spark of the setting sun turns the trees and hills to radiance, Leslie Williams Cain captures the moment with her art.

Trees, hills and shadows all glow with the respect and love Cain has for the land. This developed in her early childhood, while shuffling back and forth between the family farm and a house in town. Not the most gregarious person, she often kept to herself in her years growing up and going to school.

"I was the kid drawing horses in the corner. I wasn't shy so much, I just wanted to step back and observe rather than step in and participate. It becomes a habit, stepping back. It works as an artist, to be an observer," she said.

Recording her observations through her drawings and art was natural, but it needed nurturing.

"When I was four years old, my mother knew they needed to keep materials in front of me. So I had scraps of paper and art supplies when we could get them." Her talent grew as she took classes from Dale Steindorf, her first art teacher. From him, she learned how to stretch canvas and paint in oils. Also a mentor, Dick Rasmussen, helped her learn about shapes and composition.

During While in college, two years at Whitman College and and then two years at the University of Washington, she expanded her art to include painting theater backdrops. She worked a variety of jobs, most related to creativity and artistry, while her own drawings simmered on a back burner.

She ended up in Seattle, making cabinets, where she met her future husband, Terry Cain. They moved back here and worked on cabinets, antique restoration and repair. Inspiration for her art returned and soon she was drawing again. She and her husband did an exhibit at Carnegie Art Center featuring work by couples., Ttheir combination of furniture and drawings was a big success.

Presently, Cain is in transition. In the time since her husband passed away, she's back where she lived in her earlier years and their cabinet shop is being transformed into her new studio. Although she said she never felt qualified to teach, now she holds workshops, very small classes or one-on-one sessions.

Art is the vehicle to inspire others to create on their own. It's a big part of her spiritual purpose. "This is why I'm here on the planet," she said. "I love hooking people up with their creative source. It's a natural purging and healing process, pain, fear, anger and everything else. Let go of the things that hold you back and make you feel heavy... Why drag that crap around with you?"

Like the world, her work is a balance of dark and light. "I use a lot of black in my pastels, most people don't. There are beautiful colors in the shadows. You don't see one without the other."

Cain loves the country and finds her sense of peace in a rural environment. "I don't do cities, can hardly wait to get back home. Just to ground and get away from that jacked-up energy. I have a camera, a truck. My brother gave me a Rand McNally Road Atlas." Jumping in the truck and taking off to go look around comes naturally to her. Exploring the countryside was a big part of her early life.

"My dad was a fisherman. We used to drive around, grab some things and head up into the mountains. So I know all of these roads. When the creative flow gets a little plugged up, I just jump in the rig."

She processes better if she's moving: walking, driving, or hiking in the countryside.

"The electrons have to move through us ... ... some people just can't stay stationary. I just get in the truck."

Not the conventional plein aire artist, she doesn't paint on site anymore., Nnow she takes photos of places that inspire her and works from those back in her studio.

"I can come back here and compose without the distraction of being at the location," she said. Composition includes building the painting out of the things that are not the main subject.

The last 15 years she has mostly worked in pastels, which are more difficult to cover and ship. Since most of her work is large, they are very difficult to cover in glass and shipping is precarious.

Now she is considering more work in oils.

"Oils talk to me and acrylics don't," she said.

Many of her works are commissions, and these are the only works in which sheof hers that includes people, if desired.

For the commissions, "I need to see the site if at all possible. I want to feel the energy there--is it going to make a painting?" She needs to get the raw impressions so she can put it together to create a work of art.

Balancing social time and alone time, she also has explored Reiki healing and yoga. Her creative meditations include "getting out of fear habits, gaining a different perspective and doing something about it."

Cain wants to wake people up to their environment, the soil, the radiant light, hills and trees, all of it. Both the light and the dark are used, it's reality, everything is made up of light and dark, she said.

"Whatever pulls you into these places. I'm providing people a window," she said. "These are places that are very strong for me. The window gets you there, to places where you can be healed.

Karlene Ponti can be reached by calling 509-526-8324 or by e-mail at

To see more

Willow of Walla Walla currently has Leslie Cain's work on display. New shows will be opening in April; April 8 at WaterWorks Gallery in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, and locally at 7-Hills Gallery, through August.


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