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Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Gainesville artist remembered for his passion

<p>Gainesville artist Lennie Kesl’s friends described him as energetic, friendly and passionate about art.</p>

Gainesville artist Lennie Kesl’s friends described him as energetic, friendly and passionate about art.

Lennie Kesl could find art in almost anything.

He would often scoop up rusted bolts or rocks on his way to John Tilton’s studio and present them to his friend with unfettered enthusiasm.

“He painted these little faces on rocks he found,” Tilton said. “They would be treasures to him.”

Kesl, a well-known Gainesville artist and former art teacher at UF and Santa Fe College, died this weekend after falling down a flight of stairs.

Friends remember the 86-year-old as energetic, friendly and passionate about his work.

Tilton would sculpt ceramics and pottery that would be painted by Kesl, who often included oddly colored women with large, triangular noses.

Tilton said Kesl never needed to wait for inspiration.

“When he got here, he was ready to work,” Tilton said. “It was just go, go, go.”

This was symptomatic of Kesl’s energetic personality.

Though his energy was focused when he was working, Tilton said Kesl would practically bounce off the walls.

When Kesl was in his 60s, he used to ride his bike 12 miles one-way to Tilton’s studio.

“He had the energy of someone in his 20s,” Tilton said. “I couldn’t keep up with him, and I’m 18 years younger than he is.”

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Kesl shared his energy and enthusiasm with his UF and Santa Fe College students during his time as an art professor.

Richard Heipp, director of UF’s school of art and art history, said though Kesl was aging, he rarely missed an art exhibition or showing.

“At 86, he certainly hadn’t slowed down,” Heipp said. “He was also a very talented musician. He had a Louis Armstrong kind of voice.”

Heipp said Kesl was a staple of the Gainesville art scene, appearing at almost every art showing and gallery opening in Alachua County.

Kesl seemed to be in his element at art shows, Heipp said.

Tilton said Kesl would talk to anyone within earshot and often walk away with a new friend.

“He would talk to you like he was your best friend,” Tilton said, “but he didn’t know your name.”

His friendliness earned him the distinction as a Gainesville art icon and won him many friends, like Satchel Raye, the owner of Satchel’s Pizza.

Raye will display some of Kesl’s work alongside his own at Satchel’s Pizza from Tuesday until Jan. 2.

“It’ll be fun to put his stuff up,” Raye said. “But it’ll be hard to think about him and realize that he’s gone.”

Contact Shelby Webb at

Gainesville artist Lennie Kesl’s friends described him as energetic, friendly and passionate about art.

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