Saturday, October 29, 2016

Florence "Winky" Chesnutt

Covington and Mandevillle are home (and have been home) to hundreds of unique artists working in a variety of media. In the 1970's, Florence "Winky" Chesnutt made quite a name for herself in local art  circles, and although she moved to Missouri many years ago, she remains in the hearts and minds of many here in St. Tammany.  Her artwork graces the walls of many local residences, and she has made a name for herself up there in Missouri as well, written about and photographed for a number of newspaper articles and magazine profiles.
In 1972, she was featured in the Pathways Magazine published in Covington. Here is a copy of that article. 

 Winky Chesnutt: "She walks in beauty " By Edna Duncan

All great artists transcend their work; that is, there is an aura of creativity a-round them which inspires others and assures more treasures from the artist himself. It is as though the work of the artist has emanated from him of its own volition, and will go on emanating until the last spark of life. As one might anti­cipate after viewing some of her work, Florence Walker Chesnutt has this aura.

Although Mrs. Chesnutt (better kn­own as "Winky") says she "grew up drinking linseed oil" since her Mother is an art major, one is not prepared for the diversity or tremendous output of this dynamic artist. After all, she has four children—three of them pre-teen— to look after. This alone would be en­ough to slow down even a rather deter­mined artist, no matter what his field. But Winky has been blessed with the strength to carry out her creative ideas, and the result is apparent not only in her paintings and sculpture, but all through her home where every piece of furniture has a character all its own, but blends inconspicuously with the whole.

On any day Winky may be found doing a commissioned portrait (either in oils or water color), drawing a rug-size unicorn pattern for an ambitious friend, helping a neighbor child research the his­tory of an old brickyard for a thesis, or dashing around Covington to assist in her many civic projects.

Although she is adept in the use of traditional media, Winky is constantly experimenting with new techniques and materials. Some of her most exciting works has been with chemicals on copper —these creations are framed in ornate window frames salvaged from old man­sions or churches.

She is a very aware person, not only of the present, but also the past and fu­ture. As part of her concern that the good of the past may slip through our fingers and out of our knowledge, she is sketching as many of the older homes as are still standing in Covington and re­cording as much of their history as is available to her. Naturally she has the help and approval of many interested citizens in the Parish.

As a very NOW type person, Winky would like to do fashion illustrating, which she has done in larger cities. She could be her own fashion model, as she has the long, loose limbs required for high fashion, plus the good looks of a young Rosalind Russell.

Born and reared in Little Rock, Ark­ansas, she graduated from the Univer­sity of North Carolina, made her debut in Little Rock, then went abroad with her parents for a year in Germany. She was married in England and went to St. Martin's Academy of Art in London for one term. All during her school years she was doing commercial art, illustrat­ing, etc. After her marriage she free­lanced and experimented in many med­iums. She lived in Iowa with her physi­cian husband until about five years ago when they decided it was desirable to move to a less rigorous climate where the children could enjoy the outdoors, and the parents could get them from underfoot more often. Covington has proven ideal for Winky in this and many other respects.

Here she can indulge her passion for preserving the past, while herself being stimulated by association with other artists in the area, both here and in New Orleans. She sells much of her work through The Magi in the French Quarter, the Caesar on Royal Street, and a shop in Lakeside.

Winky tries her hand at everything, including stitchery and the latest inno­vation, welding with copper wiring. No­table among her creations are her copper trees, inspired by the majestic oaks in the area. Oh, yes, and not to forget her Fren­ch Provincial furniture which she carved herself.

Through her determination to hold onto the best of the past while creating new beauty, we and future generations are reaping untold benefits. Thank you, Florence Walker Chesnutt, or Winky— (from her father's pet name for her, Tiddledewinks!).

Just click on the images below to make them larger. 

In his all-encompassing book on the history of St. Tammany Parish, Frederick Stephen "Steve" Ellis gave Winky Chesnutt the credit for persuading him to become a historian in the first place. His historical research, writings and personal lectures have been greatly appreciated by scores of organizations and young people interested in preserving the history of this area.

Bertha Neff and Winky Chesnutt receiving historic preservation plaques. 

Winky Chesnutt's pen & ink sketch of the Tchefuncte River Lighthouse

Winky Chesnutt at exhibit in Arrow Rock, MO, in 1978

An article about Chesnutt from the early 1980's 

Chesnutt Promotes Community Arts In St. Tammany Parish

Florence "Winky" Chesnutt's studio is a reflection of the artist's storehouse of talent and versatility Because of a recent fire which claimed a large number of her originals, the location of her studio in Mandeville is a temporary one.

Typically, Winky finds a positive outcome in the fire; her inventory revealed several items which she will find useful in a current project.

At any given time the visitor to her studio might find her engaged in assorted aspects of the production of her designs. From commercial to Fine art her concepts take shape in a multitude of media, among them watercolor, acrylic, oil. latex, copper and sumi ink, and they translate into as many forms - paintings, sketches, letterheads, business cards, note paper, posters, needlepoint, book covers, murals and banners.

She has also made unusual shop signs from ironing boards, bedsteads and old picture frames. She specifies that, although an artist may work in various media, the color, design and technique involved are all simply parts of drawing.

Her portfolio contains innumerable award winners, and her name is familiar locally for her innovative ideas and her participation in exhibits and organizations which have benefited from her artistic and leadership skills.

A native of little Rock, Arkansas, and a resident of St. Tammany Parish since 1968, Winky came by her aptitude in art as a natural outgrowth of her parents' interests. Her mother painted formal pictures of saddle horses, and her father was a newspaper publisher who during World War II occupied a position in the U.S. State Department, a. post which sent the family abroad to Germany and England.

Her knowledge of art was supplemented in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, in London, New York and the Mid-West. Her education continues as she draws on her memory and experiences, her collection of photographs and newspaper clippings, history, trade journals and copies of old books to thoroughly immerse herself in the research required for a particular protect.

As a past president of the St. Tammany Parish Historical Society, she appreciates the area's relaxed southern atmosphere and the styles of architecture that abound in the Parish, "the beautiful weathered wooden buildings with lush greenery climbing all over them." Her pra­cticed eye perceives that "the air here has a texture, an indistinctness so you don't see things dearly."

Winky's flexibility extends also to her subjects, which include bayou scenes, madonnas, figures, buildings and large-scale single blossoms to mention just a few, and her selections are frequently offered with a commentary by the artist, who seasons her explanations with anecdotes of incidents and colorful personalities.

Several of her pieces express political statements, yet their style remains open to personal interpretation; deceptively innocent, they become powerful observa­tions when defined politically.

Her enthusiasm for technique has increased her awareness of potential areas for her ideas. Always exploring, she is presently considering the possibilities of the combination of color and fiber optics, glass fibers which transmit light impulses.

In the 1970's, Winky began what was to become an ongoing teaching program at the City Hall in Mandeville. When the building was constructed, the blank walls in the lobby presented a challenge to her, and, as its first Art Program Director, she implemented rotating mon­thly shows with tours for school children and demonstrations by the featured artist.

Through her efforts a federal grant was awarded to the program, and the state is justifiably proud of Mandeville's imaginative approach to the enrichment of its residents' art education.

She has taught technique and art appreciation but says that she is able to express herself verbally only up to a point. And that's when her feelings flow best through the brush in her hand. "You paint what moves you at the moment," she says, and the images she produces draw the viewer into sharing the moment that she has captured.

 It may be color, shape, line or the suggestion of movement or texture which attracts the eye and compels the viewer to respond to the sense of visual poetry' which Winky conveys.

Construction will begin shortly on her new studio at a site in Covington's Lee Lane, and despite her busy work schedule she actively supports the local arts and promotes their visibility in the community

Home Portraits from 1974

The Chapman House on America St. in Covington

The old St. Tammany Art Association House on New Hampshire St.

The "Mary Fallon" House on West 17th Street
The "Oldest House in Covington"

The original courthouse building in Claiborne Hill

The Wherli House on New Hampshire Street

The Long Branch Hotel in Abita Springs

The Long Branch Hotel Annex in Abita Springs

The Mackie Home on New Hampshire St. in Covington

The house at the corner of Lakefront and Lamarque in Mandeville

The Old Mandeville School House, Lewisburg

The Segond House on Gibson Street

The Steamboat Gothic house on Rutland St in Covington

In 2018, Ms. Chesnutt received the prestigious ‘McReynolds Award’ by the Missouri Preservation Honor Awards, according to the Booneville (Missouri) Daily News. The event occurred on Thursday, March 22, at the state Capitol in Jefferson City. 

"The award is given each year to someone who has done outstanding work in helping preserve Missouri history," the newspaper article stated. She was nominated by Gary Gene Fuenfheusen, President and Founder of ‘Missouri’s Little Dixie Heritage Foundation’ and Vicki McCarrell, board member, for Mrs. Friedrichs’ 70+ years of advocacy, preservation of Pleasant Green Plantation home, co-founding of the Cooper County Historical Society and countless illustrations for historical books and pamphlets. 

"Winky humbly accepted the award before an audience of over 100 people in the Capitol Rotunda, where many of her friends from Cooper County were in attendance as well as her daughter Sarah Chesnutt Reisman and grandson James from Boulder, CO, and son Jack Chesnutt, Jr. from Denver," the newspaper article concluded. 

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