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A lifetime of memories on canvas

by Keith Barber

Artist Leigh Rodenbough stands beside an oil painting of Guilford Battleground as part of his exhibit Timeless Reflections. (photo by Shelley Butela)

Stanley Leigh Rodenbough III, or “Leigh” as he likes to be called, slowly made his way through Ambleside Gallery in downtown Greensboro earlier this week to talk about his current exhibit of oil and pastel paintings, Timeless Reflections.

Rodenbough paused to explain the inspiration for one of the many seascapes in the exhibit. Rodenbough’s love of sailing and fascination with the sea was borne out of his time serving on a Navy destroyer in the Pacific during World War II. Rodenbough, 87, said he’s never forgotten his time on board the destroyer, especially the rare moments of solitude on deck.

“Watching the sea, feeling the sea and being part of it kind of got in my system and I couldn’t get it out,” Rodenbough said. “It’s the recollection that keeps coming back.”

Later in life, Rodenbough sailed thistles competitively on the North Carolina coast, further stoking his love of the sea.

His earliest recollections of painting go back to the age of three.

Rodenbough’s father encouraged his interest in art but discouraged him from attempting to make a career out of it, so he became a lawyer.

After practicing law for 53 years in Rockingham County, Rodenbough retired in his early 80s and began painting full time.

Rodenbough uses his own photographs to create his oil and pastel works.

“Photography gives artists an opportunity to catch things in action and things change so quickly — light and weather constantly changes and you have to take opportunities to catch impressions of different things,” Rodenbough said.

Rodenbough’s aesthetic is impressionism and he cited painters Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent, Richard Schmid, Kevin MacPherson and Claude Monet as major influences on his style. Rodenbough also greatly admires legendary North Carolina photographer Hugh Morton as well as the iconic Ansel Adams.

Of the 54 paintings in the Timeless Reflections exhibit, a good number of the works were inspired by Rodenbough’s visits to

Guilford Courthouse National Military Park. Rodenbough’s ability to manipulate light and perspective give his Guilford Battleground series of oil and pastel paintings a remarkable depth of feel.

“The best compliments are people who say, ‘I feel like I could walk into your painting,’” Rodenbough said. “I like to get a three-dimensional feel in the viewer.”

Rodenbough still routinely goes on photography expeditions to gather inspiration for his paintings.

“Chatooga Headwaters,” was inspired by a photograph Rodenbough took near Highlands. He explained it’s the same river made famous in the 1972 John Boorman film, Deliverance.

In his Highlands series, Rodenbough makes use of light and reflection on the water’s surface to create a distinct feeling in the viewer.

“That was Monet’s big thing and I think so many artists, like I do, believe light sculpts the forms of what you find attractive,” he said.

As an octogenarian, painting has been an inspiration for Rodenbough to get out of bed each morning and to overcome problems that come with aging. Last year, Rodenbough underwent major surgery, and the boredom of recuperation was almost too much to bear, he said.

“When I came out of there and got a palette out, paintbrushes and canvas, it was glory,” Rodenbough said with his trademark grin. “It’s mysterious how your hand seems to work as an independent organ — a lifetime of memories gushing all over, waiting to be painted.”

Rodenbough said his father was right: It’s tough to earn a living as an artist. But at his age, he’s philosophical about his legacy.

“I look at it this way, if I have a bank of art that passes on to my children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, it’s here to stay,” he said. “It’s like dropping a pebble in a pool and the ripples go out.”

wanna go?

Timeless Reflections will be on display at Ambleside Gallery, 528 S. Elm St. in downtown Greensboro, through Jan. 31. To order a copy of Leigh’s book, visit: Mortonartsmedia.com.

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