Jul 22, 2019

From Fresno to Florence, Italy

Former CSU Summer Arts student studies across the country to pursue her dream

Article by Alaia Howells, Luke Shaffer and Sergio Robles

The California State University Summer Arts program is an annual event hosted by Fresno State.

Former CSU Summer Arts student Leslie Batty has her work in several galleries across California. She said she has come a long way since her days studying in Florence, Italy.

“I’ve always known I was an artist deep down, but I never thought I’d make a career out of it,” Batty said. “I didn’t want to be a starving artist.”

As the assistant community relations specialist for the Summer Arts program, Batty does outreach — encouraging students to apply for the program. She provides personal testimony of how the experience has contributed to her success as an artist.

Batty worked an office job after high school, and she was told that the only way she would be able to advance was to go back to school and pursue a degree.

Batty enrolled at Fresno City College where she planned to major in business.

“I decided that to be an artist was a hobby and I didn’t want to have to depend on anybody,” she said.

At this point, Batty had already married and had her first child, but as soft-spoken as she sounded, she admitted that she was one of those “women of the ‘80s,” insistent in asserting her independence as the quintessential shoulder pad-wearing working woman.

However, as Batty began taking general education courses, she realized that she couldn’t resist taking extra literature and art classes. 
This seemed to be a trend in Batty’s life. She recalled when she was eight years old; her family visited her grandmother in Oregon to help repaint her house.

“I had this overwhelming urge to have a paintbrush in my hand,” Batty said, remembering how upset she was when told she was too young to help.

“I was always drawing and painting when I was young,” she said. “Paint isn’t easy to come by, so I would draw often.”

By the time she transferred from Fresno City College to Fresno State, Batty decided she wanted to study what she loved — English and art.

Nancy Youdelman, a studio art professor at Fresno State, met Batty in the fall of 2001 as her instructor in art design. Youdelman recalled Batty’s first semester as a mother of a 3-month-old child.

Batty occasionally came to class late, but always made sure to get there nonetheless.

“Leslie was one of the best students and had a lot of talent,” Youdelman said.

Batty attended school part time while raising her two kids and graduated in 2006. She received a Dean’s Medalist nomination from the Department of Art and Design. She was awarded a scholarship for CSU Summer Arts and left the country for the first time in her life to study painting and drawing in Florence.

“The stuff we’ve seen in history books, we now got to experience,” Batty said. “Walking in Florence feels like you’re in ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ at Disneyland, but with mopeds.”

Batty recalled every minute detail of that experience, from the stone-paved streets to the countless hours working on oil paintings to the opportunity to work with models reminiscent of those used in the works of Sandro Botticelli.

Domenic Cretara was Batty’s instructor at Summer Arts in 2006. The retired Long Beach State professor remembers Batty as an excellent student.

“Leslie is indeed enthusiastic and energetic,” Cretara said. “It seems to me those qualities are essential for any one trying to excel in any field of endeavor.”

Cretara said that Leslie quickly grasped the artistic problems that were presented, and she applied them to her work in her own personal way.

Batty returned to the Florence program again in 2010, this time as a graduate student. Her work won numerous awards and was showcased at the CSU Chancellor’s Office.

“It seemed all these doors of opportunities opened up,” Batty said. “It’s an amazing resource for culture, especially for those who are economically compromised.”

Batty is starting to find some success as a studio artist. Her work is currently exhibited throughout California at the College of the Sequoias in Visalia, the Corridor 2122 Gallery in downtown Fresno and El Camino College Art Gallery in Torrance.

“Leslie has a married life, a family life, and an art career, and it’s what a lot of women strive for,” Youdelman said.

She has remained close friends with Batty.

Youdelman was responsible for recommending her for the El Camino College Art Gallery that opened Monday, March 28.

According to Youdelman, the “unCommon threads” exhibition showcases artists whose work features clothing, patterns and sewing.

While Batty has not taken any of the Summer Arts classes held on the Fresno State campus, she encourages students interested in any of the fields taught at the program to take advantage of the opportunity.

“It seems like this out-of-this-world experience where you can launch your career and your life,” Batty said.

Cretara, who has taught and coordinated courses in both Florence as well as Fresno, said that Fresno’s relative isolation and lack of big-city distractions gives students the opportunity to really focus on their studies.

“They learn an amazing amount in a very short time,” Cretara said. “It is rigorous, demanding and exhilarating, and I have seen it change people’s lives.”

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