contemporary collage paintings
the process
Leslie Avon Miller

My life flows when I'm in my art.

Jean De Muzio

Friday, March 19, 2010

Artistic Legacy

This piece is from a series I did called In Lieu of Flowers, I Remember You. It’s about discovering the stories of family I never knew.

If I know a song of Africa, of the giraffe and the African new moon lying on her back, of the plows in the fields and the sweaty faces of the coffee pickers, does Africa know a song of me?

Will the air over the plain quiver with a color that I have had on, or the children invent a game in which my name is, or the full moon throw a shadow over the gravel of the drive that was like me, or will the eagles of the Ngong Hills look out for me? ~Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen) Out of Africa

Karen Blixen, played by Meryl Streep, is so eloquently and poignantly asking if she has created any legacy as she leaves her beloved Africa. Has she made a mark upon the land she so loved? She seems to hope to be remembered in some small way to have been a part of it all.

KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, photo by Robyn Gordon

Legacy goes beyond a set of assets left to our heirs. Legacy is a bit of influence, a mark made, an impact of some kind, or a physical bit of evidence that we were here, and we created.

As artists we create our work, we make a statement, we leave evidence – our art becomes a body of work, our blog posts and artist statements become a record. Have you thought about creating something that reflects and records your creative endeavors? Do you want to be the one to tell your story, or do you want to leave that for others, or do think your work will simply dissipate into the ethers?

Have you yourself received a legacy from a creative relative? Have you found value in learning from artists that have gone before you? Do you have a role model or role models in the artistic sense?

I have spent time interviewing my elder relatives, and recording their stories, and the stories they can tell me of their contemporaries, now passed on. I have written the stories and passed them on to other relatives. I do this out of love – for the stories of the past, for the recording of a life beyond a set of dates. I do this because the story would have been lost. Many people in my family were “makers” working with their hands, creating something useful or beautiful. My work is never done in regard to recording the stories.

Ancestral Voices, carving by Robyn Gordon

It gives me pause to think how my story might be told. And I think I want to have a say in how it is recorded and how I am remembered. I don’t want to be just a line on a family tree record, with dates and kinships being the solitary notation of my existence.

I know artists are using all kinds of new software, and developing books to tell their stories, to share their body of work so far, and to leave a mark on this earth. Blogs can be printed and bound in book form. What else is possible?

I plan on several more decades of creative endeavors, but I certainly could collect a set of images and words, and put together a record to date. (Titled Zen, and the Art of Collage, as suggested by Denise at the blog grrr+dog a while ago)

This piece is another from a series I did called In Lieu of Flowers, I Remember You. It’s about discovering the stories of family I never knew. Each piece contains hidden words I wrote about the feeling of connection I have with the work, and the people I heard stories about all my life, but never knew.

Another part of my legacy will be the encouragement I have given to the creative young people in my family, and for my steadfast belief that creativity is important, it matters and it will continue to be a positive influence in the world. That won’t be something to put in book form, but it is meaningful to me. It is that kind of legacy that Karen Blixen is speaking of when she asks “does Africa know a song of me?”

I’ll just mention that in my upcoming coaching group we will spend some time looking at Artistic Legacy. If you are interested in taking part, send me an email to coach leslie@ (remove the spaces). There are still some spaces open in the group.

Do you think of your work as a legacy? Does it matter to you how you and your work are remembered? What are you doing to create a record of your work? If you decide to write about this on your blog, please let us know by leaving a comment here. I am interested in your thoughts.


  1. Lovely post, Leslie. I love the collages. I have started a collection of recordings from older family members and plan to transcribe them into booklets at some point with photos and mementos. I think many people don't value these unique windows into the past until they lose the people who had lived those times.

  2. Leslie, its unusual to see figures in your work and I love the last piece in patricular.

    Its so important to collect family stories before they are forgotten and I could kick myself for not sitting down with my grandparents and great aunts as well as my parents to record the less dramatic stories. We know many of the dramatic as well as the humerous stories but there were many more that weren't aired at family gatherings. I come from an artistic family but don't know much more than who some of them were. As far as my work as legacy, I'm going to give that a little more thought.

    Karen Blixen is spoken about often here in South Africa. Her name comes up in many of the Africana books that we have in our collection. I think she will be remembered for a while yet.

    I'm honoured that you have shown my work on this excellent post Leslie. Thank you!

  3. this is lovely and I love the questions you ask here. I am passionate about stories and think that by recording and leaving our mark we leave something interesting for others.

    I have just run a workshop (that I got funding for so it was free for participants)today that was for carers/parents of Autistic children and each of us made a piece of art and wrote our story of caring for a child with this disorder.

    It was a good day with some beautiful works created by people who don't normally make art. Our work will be displayed for others to see the stories.


  4. This is very thought provoking Leslie, I have made intermittent efforts to research and record my family history but your post emphasises the need to make a concerted effort. I love the work from your 'In Lieu of Flowers, I remember You' series, I will trawl through your web archive to see if I can find more.

  5. Hi Annie - I'm happy to hear that you are tending to the stories. They are precious.

    Robyn - Isn't that something to know Karen Blixen is remembered in Africa, as she had hoped. I'm honored your work is here to illustrate this story about stories. Thank you!

    Hi Amelia - How beautiful that you were involved with artistic story telling today. Powerful stuff. Thank you!

    Hi Ian - The "In Lieu" series is from pre-blogging days. There is not much of it here. But I am starting to explore another abstract figurative series...I'll see where it takes me.

  6. In some way, to make some sense of my heritage-- and the legacy of my art work-- I went to Kyoto Japan in search of 'myself'- looking for the Japanese half of "me"- I don't know if this makes sense-- I did not know my grandparents very well-- could not speak their language-- and now I am searching for some sort of legacy from the past- to incorporate into my work and pass on to my sons and grandchildren. And OUT OF AFRICA is one of my favorite books and move and love the quote you included here.

  7. Amazing post. Nourishing visually as well as to the soul.
    At times I try to be Buddhist and realize that we will simply all pass through this life and this world and go back to nothing... Other times I'm frantic to somehow leave my mark...

  8. Hello Leslie,
    Very interesting post, Out of Africa is one of my most favorite movies. I wish that I had asked my parents, grandmother and aunt many questions and as I get older I regret it more and more...but, at the time, I guess it was not important and now they are all gone. But actually, I think that I did ask them many things but just don't remember now...hence, the value of diaries and journals, which I never used. I love your pieces, not used to seeing images in your workj (as Ian stated), very interesting. Well, I am rambling...just want to say that I really, really enjoyed your post.
    Thank you, Sondra

  9. A very thought provoking post, both in terms of art but also in terms of identity and family. I will definitely begin to think about legacy in a different way. And can I say that I especially love the second piece you have shown in your series.

  10. Hi Leslie,

    This is a beautiful post and, like the others, love your two pieces; so different and with more colour. The first reminds me particularly of the paving slab image I sent you, although I realise this work is earlier.

    Being totally immodest(!), I have created a small book of some of my poems. You can see it at the foot of my blog page. Your post has produced the (probably fanciful) notion that I should create some sort of collage about my past!

  11. Hello Leslie, such a thoughtful post...perhaps our blogs are part of our legacy. I hear even when they are discontinued they remain in the system somewhere. Artistic legacy is a great topic. I feel my artistic friends living on in my home after their physical and spirit of others continues if we, the living, keep it alive. I am never alone. I continue to renew the energy and spirit as I spill it into my work and breathe in more.

  12. Very thought provoking and inspirational post. Over the years, I have heard stories about my pioneering ancestors, but have not written them down to pass along to my daughter and granddaughter. I think it is time. These collages are very intriguing. I like them very much.

  13. Frustrated by researching a family history that turned up a string of dates and little that brought my ancestors to life, I asked my parents, back in the 1980's, to write a brief biography which I've since passed on to other family members.

    When my mother passed away recently I read part of her biography at her funeral. It is nice to be remembered the way you want, whatever Africa may think of us.

  14. beautiful thoughts and art Leslie. My family are not story tellers. It was like pulling teeth to get my mom to talk about her childhood, parents and life. Maybe that's why I became a storyteller for awhile.

    I have many handcrafted items handed down in/from my family who were crafters and writers on both sides. Mom spent years doing geneology which is just dates not stories.

    Sometimes I feel strongly that I want to leave a legacy. Perhaps my novel is a small one and my artworks. On the other hand sometimes things and life seems so ephemeral that all the legacies left to me slip from my hands and disappear. Three hundred years from now I just can't imagine any sign of my living will remain on the earth. It's all so curious.

  15. Wonderful post and awesome pieces. My mom recently uncovered that our Native American Indian roots go back to the early 1600's. It's a fascinating story that I've posted about.
    Thank you for sharing this post and your beautiful works. I'm always inspired by you.

  16. Oh wow! Where do I begun to sum up my thoughts on such a great post? Your collages...the concept of your series, the title of your series..this is such a deep thought provoking series and I love what you have done. It's fitting to see Robyn's work here and to see figures in your work. I'm really blown away. I also love the africa piece you used, I often think about my heritage but not of my legacy. My artistic fingerprint on this earth and in my family and community. I have recently begun researching my Italian heritage, to see what inspiriation and influence I can draw from it to include in my work. A personal symbol to incorporate. I left it to continue my ICE series but I am re-inspired to continue my exploration, and I will definately be thinking about my legacy!

  17. I'm going to have to link up this post on one of my posts...can I please use an image? Either one:) I would love to spread the word and get others thinking and posting about their legacy.

  18. Lisa - You can use either image you want to. Thanks for asking.

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  20. What wonderful words to read first thing in the morning. The images you have added are perfect in addition to the words. I have, at times, wondered what mark I am making and what will be my legacy. I have never been organized enough to keep good notes although while I am painting, I do make them for myself. I have journeyed through many transitions in my life and with each, all documentation has been lost. Many paintings have been ceremoniously burned at the city dump. I am not sure I am leaving a mark. If even just for my children, I should think more on that. I have however, left many stories in written form that I gave as a Christmas gift to my children about their grandparents and great-grandparents. I agree that we do need to share our stories. I am discovering new things about my family often. Thank you for this Leslie.

  21. Thoughtful post, one that is dear to my heart...legacy. So nice to see Robyn's work and these pieces of yours...beautiful and a departure from your more abstract pieces....all lovely.

  22. Donna – Kyoto – what a great place to seek your heritage – rich with artistic history!

    Jala – I agree with both points of view!

    Seth – thanks Seth. Your blog is such a record of your work. Part of your story is there.

    Derrick – Yes! It does look like the paving slab now that you mention it! I loved those shapes in that photo of yours. I’m going to go look at your poetry and I’m looking forward to seeing your collage. You are a creative soul Derrick!

    Maggie – When we have the art of an artist we know, we do carry a bit of their legacy with us.

    Miki – Its time for all of us to write the stories.

    Barry – I loved reading about your Mom’s life- especially why she became a vegetarian.

    Suki – Yes, your novel is an artistic legacy.

    Manon – I’ll go look for your post. I like those kinds of stories.

    Lisa – It would be great to email you – my address is leslieavonmiller @

    Zappha – Yes, your story needs telling too – and all your beautiful paintings make a great place to start. I’m glad to hear you have written stories of ancestors for your children. They will appreciate I’m sure. I’ve burned paintings too when they were unsuccessful. I hope yours were disposed of for some good reason.

    Mary Ann – we all have stories, and if we are artists we have “evidence” of a specific kind to include in our story.

  23. Leslie, you have chosen one of my favorite lines from 'Out of Africa'. This post was a wonderful reminder of what we hope for as artists, that future generations will look at what we have made and be able to sing our song.

  24. Leslie - I love these pieces: the figures are just sublimely rendered and your colour palette is always just so perfect for the occassion. I feel the ghostliness of these ancestors and the spaces where their stories hide, just waiting to be told....
    Love your references to the land and flesh are one.

  25. Leslie !
    Love your art , I`m so happy
    to have discovered you !
    Congratulations with the new studio !
    Looks so great !

    B. Liv

  26. An amazing post Leslie. Between creating other peoples legacies through my art and my family's, I spend most of my time retracing my family's legacy, travelling the world, piecing together a massive family most of whom did not survive WW2.
    In piecing it all together I am trying to put back the broken chain in order for my kids to know from whence they came. Who we are today has so much to do with the history of ones family and the legacies they left us.
    My work is so hinged in the legacies of those who have passed before me. There are so many lessons to be learned and I am constantly learning as I research.
    I think your pieces of art in this post are pertinent and interesting. Your post and what you are teaching those fortunate enough or wise enough to take your class is so very important. A lesson people only seem to place importance on after it is too late.
    I have the greatest respect and admiration for you for giving of yourself in this way. xx

  27. I love reading the thoughtful manner in which you prompt us to consider where we come from as well as where we're going.

    I am fortunate to come from a family steeped in discovering its roots.
    In my work as painter and scribe I've created 141 illustrated journals, an ongoing discipline since 1968.

    You have given each of us a gift by reminding us that someone is going to gain by knowing the way we walked the earth...who that someone is we cannot know...however we can certainly be about the glorious work of laying down the 'breadcrumb trail' that will nourish them .

    Your studio looks magnificent! How exciting!

  28. Hi Leslie

    Love this idea in your work the recording of something - you recently left a note on my blog to do with collections and I suppose in a way I am using objects as a way of recording something, I think they are really someone elses memories, but they are precious to me, even when they have not come from the family. I suppose we are all story telling in a way, passing on information in the hope that things don't get lost. Whether its saving a precious old book or recording a relatives story - it feels to me that we are all finding a way to prevent things from fading away. Thanks for your comment on my blog - although i think a hicup with blogger may have deleted it?? my apologies if that is the case. - Fiona

  29. Much food for thought here, Leslie. Thank you for talking about the stories that you are keeping alive, for the heartfelt series you did, and ideas on how to leave a legacy.
    The women in my family have all been artists or musicians back to the 1700's. I have a piece of ceramic from my great grandmother made in a kiln she built herself. She did this while living in the wilds of Canada in a primitive log cabin with many children, no husband. I often think about what those women left me.

    As for leaving a legacy,I think that creating with involvement has such a feeling of timelessness that all creators leave their mark on time even after the physical may be long gone. Creating is touching eternity.

  30. Leslie, I loved this post and the issues it addresses has haunted me!
    Every family has its historian, and that is me in mine. I am very at home with the ancestors. I have done family trees, scrap books galore, and poetry collections about my experience and my imaginations of the lives of those who came before me. What is more difficult is my own creative process and how it might impact those I leave behind. Legacy seems to be the initiative and interpretation of survivors.
    I have addressed this issue on my blog and invite you to come by!

  31. Very thought provoking post.
    I love the work from this series,,and the title is just delicious! I'm sure a large part of your legacy will be your words. You use them as beautifully as you use your collage tools.
    As for my legacy,,I don't know. Perhaps it will be enough to be remembered as a good/great mother. Or a true friend, or a kind and honest person.Yes, I feel that would be sufficient.At least for now,,and actually the now is all we have. In this earthly world, anyway.In the next,,,who knows,,,maybe I will be a fantastically gifted artist, painting angel portraits.

  32. Just discovered your lovely blog and I am loving it - added it to my "With My Afternoon Tea" links list, so I'll be sure to visit often. :-)

  33. Leslie, You are a artist and a poet. Thank you for the beautiful pathways you are opening.

  34. Well it's intereseting to knew some of these story's and i think that the piece is absolutely stunning ! i love the color and the sythesis about the shapes :)

  35. Interesting post and art. You've given me food for thought. My boys don't seem too interested in my art now, but I know when I'm gone they'll appreciate anything I pass on.

  36. Leslie, I love these images in your post especially the first one. Thoughtful post.

  37. Leslie, omigoodness, how beautiful!

    My mother is from South Africa, and that quote from Karen Blixen always brings tears to my eyes.

    My mother's heart was always in Africa.

    You are a wonderful artist.

  38. Leslie, your work and your blog are beautiful and fascinating! And what a dream job you have (besides being an artist) to be a life coach for creative people. Lucky you!
    I am so glad I found your blog, I will now spend the next 20 minutes savoring your past posts.

  39. Hi Leslie,

    what a wonderful post this is. It's always nice to know about your roots. Some years ago two nephews of mine gathered stories and photographs from our relatives and grandparents and placed it in a book.
    I love your new pieces a lot. the figures are so moving in their own way.
    Thank you for sharing.

  40. This is such a wonderful post. It is so true. I know I bought my mother a journal so she could write down stories and saying that her mother and her grandmother said.
    Your work always inspires.

  41. Thanks you so much for this post, I am here via Judy at Red Velvet.

    This rings a bell with me because I am at a stage in my life and (new) career where I have a sense of making a difference, and consolidating my own identity. My children are now both adult. I am trying to continue my journey of self-growth, yet remain connected to the many fascinatinbg people oin my life. Trying to sideline with some forgiveness those who have hurt me. Boosting the presence of those who inspire me.

    I have a work in progress of a large-ish art therapy doll, another in a series. I will post it on my blog soon, but have been abit quiet in blogland lately. There are others of my dolls on my blog, along with smaller brooches that are individual art pieces "Wild Women" if you search.

    I am definitely subscribing to your blog! Thanks for the inspiration, and forming a connection.

  42. you are such a great writer: this is an important post. . .validating, leaving the mark. and yes, always 'in lieu of flowers' which is represented beautifully in this series.

  43. It's just occured to me that you may have replied to my request here...Thankyou for being kind enough to let me borrow and image...and thanks again for such a great and inspiring post! I will let you know when I have blogged about this post:)

  44. Hello LEslie

    I thoroughly enjoyed your post and the follow up contributions. It struck me at the end of reading all the notes of appreciation that one of our finest legacies is the mark we leave in the hearts of our families and friends. Your post with the powerful collages and words touched many of us and perhaps moved some of us to consider this notion of legacy further. I know you were implying a physical tangible legacy but I am wondering if the less tangible legacy has greater impact in the long run.

    Happy days

  45. What a thought provoking post. I have spent much time working on creating a family tree with a cousin of mine- going back several generations of relatives from europe. It was such a task getting the documents to just know their names- with so many spellings on each different source- it has been a challenge. But what you've written has struck a deep nerve in me. We should be writing down as much information as we can in our trees. The census documents have the recorded occupation and we can try to indicate so much more on our charts than birth and death dates.
    I will share your post with my cousin and see how we can recreate as much as we can about our relatives. I love this idea- and your words about our legacy and what it means to me is a concept I have thought about- but never connected the term legacy with it. A dear friend made a book for me titled- The voice of JZ. I hope to connect your post with what I have put in this very special treasured book.

  46. The safety pin with that wonderful patina is pefect in this piece, Leslie!

    I love-love-love Meryl Streep quoting Blixen's passage in "Out of Africa". It gives me goosebumps every time I hear it.

    My children are certainly my legacy, but I would like to think that some of my poetry might survive me, as well.

    Excellent post.

  47. What a truly thought provoking post. Such interesting work you do and you win the prize for the most creatively constructed sidebar!! Thank you for putting together a totally creative and inspiring experience.Glad I stumbled in by way of a list of 20 blogs to watch.

  48. Hi Leslie,
    Yes, I found it thought provoking, and love all your have a softness of spirit in all that you do.
    I'm not someone who feels they have to leave anything behind, I feel it might just be a simple human ego thing to think others might even be interested in what they did in their lives.
    But of course many people do get comfort from connection to those gone before....and look at how we revere art through time...
    Love your

  49. Found your blog today, and I love your work. Very rich and inspiring!

  50. Remarkable work, Leslie-
    and yes,
    I do think of my work as a legacy.
    Even as I'm cleaning & organizing my workspace, I find myself gathering pieces of my personal journey together in hopes that one day my grand daughters will one day know a bit about who I was before I was just "the weird grandma."


  51. thankyou for taking that comment on board..

    I am dealing with all sorts of legacy at the moment,

    perhaps I need to be part of this group..

  52. "In lieu of flowers, I remember you." That's such an evocative statement. And the pieces from that series you've posted here are rich with suggestion, and the imagination of remembrance, which may be as good as actual remembrance.

    I have a stack of hand-made quilts passed down from both of my grandmothers, and one quilt from my great-grandmother. It's so satisfying to look at these quilts and see how the spirits of my ancestors informed their work in individual ways. Although I didn't know my paternal grandmother that well, I have a better sense of her when I look at her quilting. I feel blessed by this.


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