Does Leslie Baumhower ever stop dancing? Whew.
Interview by Martin Lanaux and photography by George Fuller
Leslie Baumhower is one of those rare individuals who can wear many hats comfortably and well. She is a wife, a mother, a caregiver for aging parents, a partner in a restaurant business, a painter in oils, a tap dancer, and a teacher of tap dance. I won’t attempt to list the charitable work of which she and her husband, Bob Baumhower, are involved. Of all of her accomplishments, Leslie is proudest of her four grown children: Spencer, Anne, Allie,and Wesley, all of whom followed in their father’s athletic footsteps (University of Alabama and Miami Dolphins football) by playing Division I sports in college. The boys played football at Alabama and the girls played soccer at the University of Southern Mississippi. A lot of Leslie’s energy is directed toward the family restaurant business. There are eleven, soon to be twelve, Baumhower restaurants in Alabama now.
It’s a wonder she finds time to nurture her creative cravings. Leslie, born in Chicago, moved with her family as a child to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Art was a big part of her life in high school, particularly watercolors. In college, she majored in art for one year, but feeling she needed a more lucrative degree, finished in nutrition. Although she began teaching tap dance in the late 1980s, she didn’t take up the brush again until three years ago which one finds hard to believe when they see the beauty of her work. I met with Leslie the rainy morning of January 23 at Refuge Coffee in downtown Fairhope. Over the Refuge’s delicious brew, she gave me a portrait of the artist.
Leslie, you only spent one year in college as an art major but obviously that was enough.
“I love it. It’s always been something I’ve been able to do that I kind of keep in my pocket and whip out when I need it, but I think a few years ago I thought that this is a gift I need to take advantage of and I need to use it and enjoy it. I’ve also had encouragement from my husband. He’s the reason I started oil painting. In designing Dauphin’s, our restaurant in downtown Mobile, he said “I need three paintings like the abstract we have in our den that you painted and they need to be on this wall and I need a dolphin in each of them.” I go, “Okay I can do that.” I like a challenge.”
So, this is the first time you started painting again in earnest?
“That’s how it started. I’ll give you another example. Our logo for Aloha Hospitality is a pineapple he just asked me to sketch. One day he just said, “Hey do me a favor, we need a logo for Aloha,” and I remember getting the kids’ colored pencils and scribbling out this drawing that he loved and that we still have as our logo. He pushes me in areas where I have talent, which is a good thing.”
Now do you paint regularly or only when there is a project?
“I paint regularly. I decided this is something I really enjoy. I have a lot of encouragement from my children now that they’re grown. They tell me, “Mom, you need to keep doing this,” so I’m putting forth more effort. Though it wasn’t always a priority, it was something I always had. It was used in other ways, backdrops for pre-school plays, smock dresses for baby girls, paper mâché seals. Something else that keeps me motivated and painting regularly are the painting classes I take at the Daphne Art Center and the Eastern Shore Art Center.”
You are getting ready to have a show.
“I am. In coordination with Mike Lyons and this interview in Portico I am working towards being ready to show my art at Lyons Share Gallery this spring.”
Are abstracts your favorite?
“I do love abstracts. Painting in oils is my new love.I want to work on it and improve and see where I can take it. I love the flexibility oils give the artist. They give me the ability to move the composition around, to experiment with the subject matter.”
Leslie, I understand that you are not only an artist of canvas and brush but you have another talent that you’ve had since you were a young girl.
“Are you talking about my tap dancing?”
When did that start?
“I started ballet in pre-school. I was pigeon toed, and my foot doctor recommended ballet. When we moved from Chicago to Fort Lauderdale, my grandmother enrolled me in ProAm Dance Studio in Fort Lauderdale. All the instructors were former June Taylor dancers. I studied ballet there but they were really more tap dancers. That is where my love of tap developed with those exciting young women who took us to events all over and even let us wear some of their old costumes. I’m saddened that tap is not as popular now as it used to be, but I think it will come back. I love to watch the old movies with the great tap and soft-shoe dancers, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly.”
You tap danced all through high school, what about college?
“I did in high school but not in college. A year after Bob and I married, probably 1989, I started teaching tap in Tuscaloosa. I needed something different from working in the restaurants and doing the sporting events, a creative outlet, something that was just my own. It is funny that I should say that because I have been teaching tap to all age groups at The Creative Outlet in Fairhope for longer than I can remember. The adult class has some former tap dancers and tends to run the gamut from fun to as one student succinctly put it “taptimidation.” Tap is very good exercise and also good for the mind, considering all those patterns and sounds one has to keep track of. It is great for all ages.”
How have painting and dancing changed the way you view life now?
“Even though I have only been painting again for three years, it has become like a craving. It’s like getting up and having coffee. I’m looking forward to it and I know that I am improving. I am beginning to look at things differently now. I notice color and movement more than I have. That’s been so interesting to see that I’m still learning.”
Painting is a solitary activity whereas teaching is a giving activity. Does the dance teaching exhaust you or replenish you?
“It replenishes me when I see the excitement when I give someone a task and they learn it and they do it well and they come in next week and they say, “Ms. Leslie I can do, this. I practiced!” That’s a joy. I love to see the children and even my older students enthused by what I love as well. It makes me feel good. My grandmother was a kindergarten teacher, and I think a lot of her is in me.”