Pivoting late in life, from academic scholar to artist

by Len Lear
Posted 10/26/23

This newspaper has profiled innumerable local artists over the years, most of whom always had a passion for art. Alice Lesnick took a different path.

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Pivoting late in life, from academic scholar to artist


This newspaper has profiled innumerable local artists over the years, most of whom went to art school and knew from the time they were children that they had a passion for art and a flinty determination to make their mark in the art world.

Alice Lesnick, who lives in Erdenheim, took a different path. She spent most of her life as an academic and did not begin painting until the age of 50.

But once she started, it came naturally. 

“Two of my dear friends are painters,” she explained. “One day, I asked one of them if I could join her in her studio to paint. She invited me to browse through some art books, and then to engage in 'visual journaling' – some drawing, sketching, and mark-making in response to what I had seen. I had never done this before, but I have been a lifelong journal writer, so it felt like a natural way to work.”

Next, the same friend introduced her to an easel. 

“She had set up with a canvas and paper plates with acrylics, the primary colors, black and white,” Lesnick explained. “While it was my first time painting at an easel, I found I could start easily, even boldly, as the doorway she created for me was so inviting and thoughtful. 

“I still paint on paper plates,” she continued. “I call myself a paper plate painter. It feels like the home of how I started.”

Lesnick, who graduated the the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education with a doctorate in 1999 and a graduate certificate in Women’s Studies in 2003, has been an academic leader in the office of global engagement at Bryn Mawr College for the last seven years. She attended Germantown Friends School and earned  her undergraduate degree in English from Yale University in 1980. 

At Bryn Mawr, where she has taught for 27 years, she chairs the Education Program, teaches courses in Education Studies and has a long list of articles she has written in academic publications. She has also done extensive work in conflict resolution and co-directs a summer internship and intercultural inquiry program centered on Black Studies for undergraduates in Northern Ghana. 

A 2021 recipient of the McPherson Award for “Excellence in Teaching and Service to the Community,” Lesnick recently completed co-writing a mentoring guide, “Believing Each Other,” with five Bryn Mawr College graduates.

In her art, she treads a line between the figurative and the abstract. 

“I am not painting what I see, and I am not not painting what I see!” she explained. “Sometimes I am painting from feeling, memory or a line of poetry or song. Once I start, I am painting as a process of movement and inquiry, a kind of call and response between what is and what is next.”

Lesnick has been married for 30 years to Rob Goldberg, and they have two daughters, Lily and June, and a dog named Jimmy “who rescued us when we adopted him from the Conshohocken SPCA at the start of COVID.”

Lesnick said the pandemic deepened her commitment to her work because it “laid bare pervasive inequities and injustices in our society and globally.”

When asked “If you could meet and spend time with anyone on earth, living or dead, who would it be and why?” Lesnick replied,

“I knew one of my grandparents, my dear grandma, with whom I was very close and who lived to be 97, who moved to Chestnut Hill to be closer to us at age 94. I would love to meet my other three grandparents, who died before I was born. I would love to greet them, hear their voices and ask them about their lives.”

For more information, visit alicelesnick.com. Len Lear can be reached at lenlear@chestnuthilllocal.com