by Maryanna S. Phinn
Artists of all ages find inspiration in many places. When professional artist and elementary school art teacher Leslie “Sunny” Mitchell reflects on her own artistic influences, she describes the advantages of growing up as a young American student in a historic city surrounded by the world’s artistic masters.
“My dad worked for Procter & Gamble and he was transferred to Rome during the 1960s,” recalls Sunny.
“Rome was such an influence on my life,” she notes. “The city attracts creative people who are sculptors, painters, designers and musicians. I was fortunate to attend school from third to ninth grade in Rome,” she explains.
“People who worked at the embassies sent their children to the same school. I went to school with Arabs, Jews, princes and princesses and children of every nationality. Everyone was treated the same way and I quickly made friends. It was a wonderful experience,” Sunny says.
Sunny’s early cultural experiences in Italy turned into a lifetime filled with artistic expression and a devotion to teaching. Today, Sunny is both a professional artist and full time teacher. For the past 16 years, she has instructed kindergarten through eighth grade students at Newtown Friends School in many art forms.
In addition, she creates unique ceramics, tiles and mosaics on commission for private clients, homeowners, businesses and art exhibitions, working from her home art studio in Morrisville. She hand manufactures tile for practical purposes, such as shower stalls or fireplaces, or she creates personalized artwork for her clients’ special occasions.
Sunny trained at the Kansas City Art Institute, majoring in painting and printmaking with elective courses in ceramics. After graduation, she continued her studies in Philadelphia at the Philadelphia College of Art and the University of the Arts.
She also trained at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. After marrying and starting a family, Sunny returned to work as a teacher and started the clay program. She first instructed the faculty and later expanded the art program for the students at Newtown Friends.
“Working with clay is such an equalizer for kids,” notes Sunny, “they all love it and are successful with it. I get a lot out of teaching. Kids are so fresh and inspirational.”
In 2001, Sunny focused her professional work primarily on clay, working out of her “Color and Clay” studio. She exhibits annually at the Moravian Tile Festival at the historic Moravian Pottery and Tile Works in Doylestown. The Tile Festival is a show and sale of handcrafted ceramic tiles by more than 50 artists, dealers and collectors from around the country.
“I’ve been strongly influenced by the Moravian style, but I’ve added my own interpretations with texture and brighter colors,” notes Sunny.
At the 2010 festival, Isaiah and Julia Zagar of Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens took notice of Sunny’s work. Isaiah Zagar is an award-winning mosaic mural artist whose work can be found on over 100 public walls throughout Philadelphia and around the world, as well as permanent collections including the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, and the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C
“Isaiah invited me to show at Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens during the annual Philadelphia Open Studio Tour. It was great fun to have my work hanging in the Magic Gardens and an honor to work with them.”
“Teaching full time and working in my art studio takes a lot of work, but it’s very satisfying and extremely gratifying,” she adds.