Wentzell came slowly to art.
Leslie Wentzell bends a small piece of allthread and inserts it back into the belly of a small clay bird.
She uses the threaded metal rod as the base for the bird’s future legs and compares her work with a photo on an Ipad next to her to ensure that the leg positioning is anatomically correct.
Wentzell is working on a piece that involves her clay figures mounted on a piece of driftwood and will be featured in a gallery in Key West.
As an artist and an art instructor, Wentzell says the biggest misconception that people have about art is that it is simple and unplanned.
Wentzell explains that she spends a good portion of her time designing and thinking how to make the finished product appear.
Wentzell came slowly to art.
She took art classes in school growing up in Wisconsin, but never really gave a thought of studying or working in the arts.
When she went away to college, Wentzell began her studies in becoming a teacher, but she met her future husband, got married, and dropped out to help him set up a business.
For years she worked in her family’s silk screen business and though she spent a large portion of her time designing there was something missing.
“My kids grew up and went away and got their degrees,” Wentzell said. “My husband had a degree, but I never finished mine.”
So Wentzell decided to go back to school and get that degree.
The second time around she decided to take something she really enjoyed, so she went after an art degree.
“I had the idea that maybe if I worked hard enough I could make a second career or a retirement career,” Wentzell said.
When Wentzell and her husband moved to Port St. Joe, she made art on the side but still worked in design for the first three years.
Slowly, people began asking for lessons and she was contracted by the Gulf Alliance for Local Arts to host and instruct a children’s art program.
Very organically, Wentzell’s personal workspace quickly became a local hub for the arts and The Artery was born.
Through The Artery, located on Williams Ave., Wentzell offers various classes for a range of age groups and skill levels.
Although much of her time is taken up by The Artery, Wentzell is still a working artist and this summer was featured in her first museum show.
The Gadsden Art Center & Museum recently held an exhibition entitled “Contemporary Art from The Coast,” and Wentzell was chosen to participate.
The exhibition featured artists who used Florida’s coast for inspiration, in a way that didn’t just consist of a coastal landscape.
Wentzell hopes the exhibition will be a turning point for her art career and believes that Port St. Joe offers a great setting for that next step.
“I think there are a lot of artists already down here,” Wentzell said. “They come for the reason that most of us that are transplants came down here, which is they just want to work in their own little space.”
As her career grows, Wentzell is sticking to her work at The Artery and recently opened a small space in the workshop as a permanent gallery.
“It’s been seven years,” Wentzell said. “I am still grinding away, trying to find the right combination for us.”
The fact that she has blended both of her college stints, pursuing teaching and then the arts, into one isn’t lost on the artist.
“A lot of people that sort of started in classes here I’ve loved to watch,” Wentzell said. “To see their work grow and they go on to other galleries, or they start teaching themselves.”
Wentzell also hopes that the community will really embrace art, especially art for the youth.
While noting that Port St. Joe Jr./ Sr. High School had a wonderful arts program, Wentzell added that more can be done to allow children the opportunity to work in the arts.
“Every kid isn’t into sports and they’re looking for things to do,” Wentzell said. “If kids can get the confidence to do it and they can get positive feedback, no matter what they do, it's really a self-esteem kind of growing thing.”
Her students aren’t the only ones who receive when they attend classes, Wentzell said.
She often receives ideas, or the beginning of the of an idea, that she can use in her own work.
With the opening of the St. Joe Arts building on Reid Avenue this year by the Forgotten Coast Cultural Coalition, Wentzell is hopeful that art will only grow in Gulf County.