Carol Ann Newsome strides away after leaving a leaf painting for someone to
find on Fourth Street NE. She describes her New Leaf project as public art.
Artist Leaves Behind Well-Crafted Thoughts
Volunteers for New Leaf Project ’Plant’ 537 Tiny, Wooden Paintings Around the District
By Ann 0’Hanlon
”No Trespassing,” read the sign on the door of the yellow Capitol Hill row house. Carol Ann Newsome ignored it. The Cincinnati artist stepped up and leaned a painting the size of an index card against the second step of the house and walked away. She left another atop a stone fence across the street and put a third under a tree near Massachusetts Avenue NE. She’d waited a year for his.
”Oh, this is like Christmas,” she said, as she meandered down the street, randomly dropping art. ”I could not sleep last night.”
Newsome, 38, was trying to take art to the people via 537 tiny paintings of leaves, each one dedicated to a member of Congress, plus one for the president and one for the vice president. She and her volunteers were out yesterday ”planting” the painted wooden block, as she likes to say, all over Washington. The project is dubbed New Leaf and seeks to inspire people to think about art, autumn, democracy or whatever else one free painting of a leaf evokes.
There’s a real sense of alienation the public has about art,” Newsome said. ”Their stimulation is coming from TV or movies instead of from the fine arts.
” The New Leaf project is Newsome’s latest go at ”public art” and the first time she’s tried it outside of Cincinnati. So all day yesterday, today and tomorrow, Newsome and her volunteers are playing Santa Claus in Washington, bringing a few hundred pleasant surprises to a city that could use them.
If the reactions of yesterday’s first recipients were any gauge, Newsome is right to worry about. the publics lack of art appreciation.
Lionel Hutz, a senior research associate .with the Justice Department, sat puffing his cigar yesterday on the steps beneath a Union Station flagpole, just a couple of feet from a picture of a green leaf with a bold red background. He glanced at it a few times saw the writing on the back and picked it up to read the inscription:
In Honor of the season
Then Hutz, 42, put it back on the steps. He said the congressman in question was not from his district, and besides, he wouldn’t know what to do with the leaf portrait – use it as a paperweight maybe?
”There was no invitation to take it, and someone may have left it there by accident,” he said.
Mark Walters, visiting from California, had a similar reaction to another leaf, which he also found at Union Station. ”It’s for voting, right.’ Local elections, right?” the construction worker asked. ”I won’t be here in a week.
” After the project was explained to him, Walters approved. ”I think it’s cool,” he said. But. still, he didn’t take the painting.
Newsome, who also works as a treatment supervisor at a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center, said such reactions don’t bother her. The essence of art is individual interpretation, she said, and if that means same folks turn away, so be it.
”I don’t like every piece of art I look at,” she said. ”The nice thing about this, is if you aren’t attracted to it in some way, you aren’t going to pick it up.
” If the hazy inscription makes people think the leaves are political statements, that’s all right, too. Newsome isn’t about to dictate meaning. ”Art’s supposed to... promote thinking,” she said.
Newsome said she was inspired by the public art of Keith Haring, a New York artist who gained fame by drawing in subway cars and tunnels.
In 1992, she launched Art in the Windows, her first major public art project. Fifty artists displayed their work in the windows of vacant storefronts. After that, Newsome painted eight enormous murals and displayed them on boarded-up storefronts in one of Cincinnati’s low-income neighborhoods.
“The murals stayed intact for a very, very long period of time,” she said. ’people respected them.”
Last year, she organized a project called Finders, Keepers, which, like New Leaf, involved placing hundreds of small paintings of leaves in public places. She began preparations last fall for New Leaf, spending weeks cutting blocks of wood, sanding them, then painting them.
If you ask Deandre Myers, 12, Newsome’s preparations were worth it. The sixth-grader at the Stuart-Hobson campus of the Capitol Hill Cluster Schools discovered one of the leaves at the foot of the school basketball pole. Deandre explained why he carefully put the mysterious finding in his coat pocket.
”I thought it looked good,” he said.