Jill Leonard always knew she was a creative person and art was her passion from her earliest years. Her father wanted her to pursue writing; a desire that changed after seeing the pictures of Disney characters Leonard drew one night while babysitting her nieces. Thus began the journey that has brought local public art studio known, Jillybeans, to Leesville, LA.
Usually when someone speaks of a local art studio, images of burgeoning and professional artists selling and practicing their craft flit through the mind. The “public” that enters does so to view and possibly purchase another’s work, but no more. Those images and ideas will be forgotten once you walk in to Jillybeans because this art studio is a “working” studio like none other. The customer and artist are one in the same! You have the chance to make the art you are purchasing, whether it is ceramics, canvases, or any other medium one can paint.
It is here at JIllybeans that people come to find friendship, fun, and even perhaps some therapy. “Art goes deep” Leonard said. It is through art that many have found healing. She tells the story of a local woman who shut down after losing her mother, but was able to finally experience and heal from the grief of her loss through painting. “You can love this and it can love you back” no matter your current circumstances, Leonard says, “I don’t consider myself an artist. I’m somebody to inspire others to find their inner artist.”
Jillybeans is in many ways a lifetime of Leonard’s hopes, dreams, and experiences finding a place to call home. After that fateful night when her father recognized her talent was not writing, Leonard began studying with a local artist turned art teacher. Within months she was moved into an art class for adult women, despite being a young teenager and it was there that she found a group of mentors who would become lifelong friends. After high school, Leonard attended Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, LA where she majored in Psychology.
It would be many years before the dream of owning a studio would finally be realized. Jill was working for the housing office at Fort Polk when she received a call from a local realtor asking if she was still interested in opening a studio. “It was like God pointing a finger in my face saying ‘Your life is about to change’”, Jill told me.
This October will be one year since Jillybeans grand opening, and it has been a year that has far surpassed her expectations. Public support and interest has put her Jillybeans 15 months ahead of its business plan as well as acquired a new, unexpected, but deeply treasured volunteer employee named Amber Adkins. Adkins first came to the studio just to check the place out, but has fallen in love and can be found there nearly every day either painting, helping others with their artwork or simply putting together Lego sets with the kids.
“She’s that something special for us” Leonard tells me, and says she doesn’t know what she would do without her newfound friendship with Adkins. Like so many others Adkins has become a part of the Jillybeans family. And that is at its basis what Jillybeans is about. It is a place for your family; a place to find a family and a place where families of all types, sizes, and ages, will always be welcome.