Naked truth about life's adventures

Tuesday, December 8, 1998

There are kids' toys and naked people all over the place. I'm standing in the middle of Leeanne Schmidt's house in Fort Thomas. Gaping. I hate to start with the most sensational part of what she does. But it is unavoidable.

On the living room and dining room walls, up the staircase and into the bedrooms are black-and-white photographs of elbows and hips and even more personal parts, all submerged or emerging from water. The bodies belong to young people and old people, men and women.

The toys belong to the artist's grandchildren.

Her new life began when one of her sons asked for a darkroom. So she read a book. Then she took a few photography classes. It became more than a passing interest, more like a passion. This is probably very baffling news to those of you out there who are younger than, say, 40. Or perhaps it is reassuring to know that this is not one of the things you will have to give up in later years.

It has been our little middle-age secret. Passion can strike at any age.

Leeanne got a scholarship to her alma mater. Then, exactly 30 years after her first degree from the University of Cincinnati, one in medical technology, she got another one. Her master of fine arts degree came in 1992.

She has been on an artistic roll ever since.

People pay up to $3,500 for her work, which hangs in more than 150 museums and galleries, including ones in New York and Paris and Denmark. She has traveled the country with a motorcycle gang. She has been a visiting artist in Columbus, Ohio, and Cairo, Egypt. Familiar and exotic.

But lately and most successfully, she has been photographing nudes. And this from a woman who was "so shy as a child that when I went to the circus and the clown's pants fell off, I couldn't look." Now she will go right up to complete strangers and "just ask them to take their clothes off, jump into a big bucket of warm water and let me photograph them."

Last weekend, she traveled to New York City for something called Mazda's Thinking Out of the Box Award. Ms. Tomei and Mr. Rodman were among the judges. They picked somebody else as the winner, but my guess is that what Leeanne won instead is another adventure -- Dennis Rodman in her backyard hot tub maybe?

At her age.

Are you feeling as though you might like to go out for lunch and never come back? Maybe it's not your job. Or your family. Maybe you're just generally bored, thinking life has no more surprises to offer. If this is the case, you may want to think about the woman who discovered she was an artist working as a medical technician. You might want to think about how she had the courage to open her middle-age eyes. It might help you to open your own.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in the Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. E-mail her at laurapulfer@enquirer.com

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