Artist earns her PhD at 73

2009-04-15 00:00

MANY look forward to their golden years in retirement, but Pietermaritzburg resident Valerie Leigh is not spending hers in leisure.

At 73, she has achieved a PhD in Art History at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and she will no doubt earn herself a standing ovation when she takes the podium tomorrow along with others less than half her age.

While some may think this is an unusual occurrence, Leigh simply considers it an undertaking for the upliftment of art — no surprise considering she spent the last 42 years contributing to artistic development.

She has worked as a curator for the Tatham Art Gallery in Pietermaritzburg and at the South African National Gallery in Cape Town, and has acted as an arts co-coordinator for the provincial Museum Services. Her art research and her role as art co-ordinator helped the reputation of many artists in South Africa.

At the age of 22, Leigh studied at Montreal Museum of Arts in Canada under the tutorship of Arthur Lismer, a Canadian painter and a member of the Group of Seven, who were famous for their portrayals of the North American wilderness.

She later furthered her studies at the Ecole Des Beaux Arts and Lhote Atelier in Paris, after obtaining her BA at the former University of Natal in 1957.

Her dissertation was on Andries Botha, a well-known South African sculptor.

Leigh’s project took five years to conclude and she admits to feeling a sense of relief it is over as it was “exhausting work”.

“We are given particular gifts and opportunities [by God] to use to the best of our ability to benefit and enrich society … To me art is beauty and through creativity the lives of even the most wretched can be enriched.”

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