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Gainesville artist Lennie Kesl dies at 86

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Lennie Kesl spent his days painting.

Lennie Kesl, a local artist and musician died over the weekend.” credit=”Photo illustration by Larry Santucci

Kesl, a noted Gainesville artist, would begin painting at 8 a.m. and wouldn’t stop until 2 or 3 a.m. Anyone who wanted to contact Kesl had to call him early in the morning because he refused to own a cellphone or answering machine.

He was “extremely unusual,” said John Tilton, a close friend and ceramic artist who collaborated with Kesl on projects.

“There will never be another person like this guy,” Tilton said. “Everyone who knew him thought he was a unique person.”

Kesl died Friday night at age 86 after falling on stairs in his house. He was a former art professor at the University of Florida and Santa Fe College.

Kesl studied at L’Atelier Fernand Leger in Paris in 1949 and received his M.A. degree from Michigan State University in 1959, according to the City of Gainesville Cultural Affairs Division.  He taught at UF from 1968 to 1972 and Santa Fe College from 1972 to 1991. His work is included in collections at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art at UF.

Tilton said he and Kesl collaborated on projects for decades. Tilton would complete the ceramic pieces while Kesl painted. They split their finished pieces at the end of the day.

Tilton has seen Kesl the day before he died, and they had planned out future projects.

“We were never thinking these would be the last pieces,” Tilton said. “We were ready to go. We were ready for a new, better phase of our work.”

Kesl is survived by his three children: Diana, Charlotte and Jim.

Memorial services have not been finalized, Tilton said, but he expects the services to be open to the public.

Earlier interviews with Kesl on WUFT-FM:

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  • larry

    There is only one KESL !

  • PONZ

    We’ll miss you Lennie! Thanks for inspiring us all!

  • Michael

    He was my teacher then and now . . .

  • Kathryn

    Thank you Donna, wonderful tribute to a very special artist and friend to us all.

  • Cheryl Hughes

    Lennie was my teacher in 1967 at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. He made my art-identity bloom. Lennie is still in the world! I am so grateful for him.