Resilient artist inspires youth in Oliver

Resilient artist inspires youth in Oliver

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Well-known artist and photographer Leza Macdonald practically lives in an art gallery full of many interesting characters . . . including herself. (Photo by Lyonel Doherty)

By Lyonel Doherty

The things we didn’t know about Leza Macdonald. The things we never asked.

Pouring over fashion magazines with her cat sitting on the table, you are suddenly drawn to one photograph of her modeling a spring outfit. This must be an old photo because she looks beautiful at 22, but you’re shocked to learn she was actually 50-something when that picture was taken. She’s 62 now.

Her small home on McGowan Road is an art gallery, literally, with so many interesting characters who look like they could jump off the canvas to strike up a conversation with you. Including that naughty little penguin who has a habit of looking up women’s skirts with a mirror.

A steampunk girl in the hallway gives you a look that says “keep your distance.” But you can’t because she’s a bad girl . . . just like Macdonald used to be in Vancouver’s East End.

Leza Macdonald a bad girl? Damn right! She used to street race her 1965 Mustang on the Lougheed Highway.

“I beat a 1968 Corvette once,” she says proudly.

Macdonald also has no shame in admitting she grew up as a foster child when her parents made “mistakes.” The only thing she could relate to with her parents was art because they were artists. And that was the best thing that rubbed off on her.

At the age of six, people used to ask her if she traced all of her impressive drawings. They were shocked to learn that she didn’t.

Her cat with the Egyptian face is content, despite the bite marks on one ear following a recent street fight. It likes the stranger taking notes at the table, as long as the massage continues.

At the age of 10, Macdonald’s first social worker was, get this . . . a 22-year-old Marion Boyd from Oliver.

“She was the one who had faith in me. All it takes is one person to have faith in you,” Macdonald says, showing her smile for the millionth time.

Unexpectedly, she notes that being a foster child was the best thing that ever happened to her.

“I have made really good choices,” she says, reminiscing about her photography and art career.

She opens a thick photo album and quickly thumbs through its pages. There’s Bill Gates, whom she learned likes Coca Cola for breakfast. There’s astronaut Roberta Bondar and actors Michael Moriarty and Cloris Leachman.

Macdonald was the official photographer for the APEC CEO summit in Vancouver, where she took a portrait of China’s president. She was also flown to Mexico to take photographs of The Beach Boys and boxer George Foreman. And in Hawaii, she took pictures of Howie Mandel.

Macdonald found herself basking in the glow of the world’s movers and shakers, but learned that the more successful she became as a photographer, the farther away she was getting from her dreams – pursuing art and inspiring children.

Then one day the world stopped when she witnessed two young people die from gunshot wounds during a squabble in Gastown. She remembers closing her curtains, at which point her life changed.

“I didn’t need to be an A-list photographer (anymore). I wanted a simpler, smaller life because Vancouver was violent and I wanted out.”

The cat disappeared from the table, probably miffed that she was being ignored. A mannequin decked out in frilly fashions stood near the picture window. If only she could talk.

“My best work isn’t done yet,” Macdonald says, breaking the silence.

She’s asked what’s up with the penguin trying to peek up women’s skirts. She only chuckles.

“From foster homes to photographing presidents, if I can inspire someone else, I will,” she says with conviction.

Another conversation thread reveals that she has never been married and has never had children of her own. And no regrets there.

“I never wanted to be anybody’s wife or anybody’s mother,” she states emphatically. “But I’m glad I had a long affair with Bob Parker.” (No, not the Price is Right guy – his name is Bob Barker.)

One has to wonder if Macdonald ever gets mad . . . really mad. Funny you should ask this because she got “spitting mad” recently after her pending deal to purchase Oliver Daily News fell through.

“I thought I could make a difference by buying it and promoting local people and the youth who are doing great stuff.”

But unfortunately it didn’t work out and something in her mind said it wasn’t the right thing to do anyway. So she followed the advice of friends who encouraged her to establish her own online presence at www.oliveronline.ca.

Macdonald calls it her gossip site, but is quick to note that it’s the good kind, not the hurtful stuff. She describes it as a fun website that promotes the Town of Oliver and gives people a chance to chat about art, wine, cars, culture and farming.

“We don’t have enough respect for farmers. Without farmers we wouldn’t have athletes and movie stars.”

Macdonald says the “frivolous” site won’t be competing for hard news. “I’ve always wanted a ‘good news’ paper . . . I’m going to turn our town into stars. That’s my goal.”

In September, Macdonald will also be opening her own art gallery in Beyond Bliss on Main Street. She plans to feature guest artists, too, and hopes this is where she can inspire youth.

1 COMMENT

  1. We are very lucky to have such an upbeat person reporting about our lovely little town of Oliver! Keep up the good work Leza!!!

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