KESL, LEONARD EDWARD
Gainesville - The Gainesville music and art community was shocked and saddened at the unexpected death of their favorite son, Lennie Kesl, on November 24, 2012.
Lennie fell at the home of his beloved friend and companion, Barbara Harrison, while preparing for his upcoming art show.
Leonard Edward Kesl was born on June 12, 1926, in Edwardsville, Illinois to Blanche and Leonard W. Kesl, where he lived until he enlisted in the Army
at the age of 17. A veteran of World War II
, Lennie served as an infantryman in the Army in African and European theatres of war. He later joined the US Army Band as a drummer and performed in USO shows, where he built personal relationships that solidified the foundation for his love of jazz. He became a jazz singer in the 1940's and was always a source of knowledge about all-things-jazz, not only knowing every song lyric, but who performed, produced it and where and when it was recorded.
Upon being discharged as a decorated veteran of WWII, he returned to Illinois and received his BFA from Wesleyan University, where he met Ella Jones. They were married in 1950 and had two children, James and Diana. He continued his education and obtained an MA from Michigan State University
, and studied at the University of Colorado and L'Atelier Leger in Paris, France.
Before coming to Florida, Lennie taught at numerous institutions in Ohio, Montana and Alaska. He settled in Gainesville in 1968 and was a professor at the University of Florida
and Santa Fe Community College for many years. In 1986 he married Nancy Mitchell Kesl, of Gainesville, and they had a daughter, Charlotte.
As an artist, his distinctive colorful style includes paintings, sculptures, collages and ceramics. Lennie has received numerous national awards and exhibited extensively throughout the country. His paintings are included in the collections of MOMA in New York; Alaska State Museum; St. Louis Art Museum; Cincinnati Art Museum; Evansville, Illinois Art Museum; Farleigh-Dickenson University in Madison, NJ; University of North Carolina; University of South Dakota; Wichita State University; Colby College, Maine; American Federation of Arts Purchase; and in galleries at the University of Florida, Samuel P. Harn Museum; Santa Fe College; and Lewis and Clark College in Godfrey, Illinois.
His love for art was accompanied by his love for jazz throughout his career. He became a charter member of the Gainesville Friends of Jazz when it was formed in the 1980's. After meeting GFOJ jazz aficionado J.W. (William) Hardy, he recorded three LP's on Hardy's Gainesville-based label, Revelation Records. The first release, "Walkin' On Air" was accompanied by Eddie Davis and the Hot Jazz Orchestra. "That Old Feeling", with pianist Alan Broadbent, originally preformed in 1982, was re-released on CD in 2000, entitled "Mood Swings." His third release, "Just Friends", was recorded with guitarist Charlie Bush, one of the many musicians he collaborated with during his years in Gainesville.
Lennie has been the subject of many radio, television and film documentaries including Galen Garwood's award winning 2007 film, "Cadmium Red Light: Lennie Kesl & the Art of Living Life as Art."
Lennie is predeceased by his first wife Ella (Jones) Kesl. He is survived by his former wife, Nancy Kesl ; his sister, Yvonne Hoefert and his brother, James Kesl; his children, James W., Diana, and Charlotte Kesl; his grandchildren, Samuel Leonard, Miranda Lenn, Allison E., Ulanda and Alikai Kesl; four great-grandchildren, Sara and Emily Bell, Zach Matherne and Samantha J. Bobbitt; as well as numerous nieces and nephews.
A Celebration of Life will be held Friday, November 30, 2012 at 12:30 p.m. in Queen of Peace Catholic Church, 10900 SW 24th Avenue. In memory of Lennie, donations may be contributed to Gainesville Friends of Jazz (www.gnvfriendsofjazz.org
) or Shands Arts in Medicine (www.artsinmedicine.ufandshands.org
Arrangements are under the care of WILLIAMS-THOMAS FUNERAL HOME DOWNTOWN, 404 North Main Street.
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