Solo and in community CoverArtist: From fashion design and theater, to nursing and medical research, Leisa Luis-Grill incorporates her interests in her art
"Solo" (top, left), Leisa Luis-Grill (top, right), and "Madeline in August" (below)
"I loved the concentration on her face. She looked like she was one with her instrument. I hoped to show her deep involvement with an art she obviously loved." - Leisa Luis-Grill
by Norma Smith Olson
Acting as a patient in a zombie teaching scenario for a hospital in Rochester is just one of Leisa Luis-Grill's recent jobs - one that drew on her skills from her theater, medical and art experiences.
"I have too many things I'm interested in," she says. "They all dovetail and influence one another. Art influences the medicine. I think it's good for an artist to have a lot of different experiences."
Set the stage
Luis-Grill didn't set out to be an artist or a nurse or an actor, all skills that she can claim today. After high school in Colorado, she was interested in a career in fashion design. She was accepted into the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, but after a year there she determined that wasn't quite the right fit.
She returned to Colorado and took a chance. She had been active in her high school's theater activities, so she applied for a performance scholarship at the University of Northern Colorado. She received a full-ride in the school's theater department.
"It was fabulous," she says. It was acting, costume and stage design, plus commercial art - creating playbills and brochures.
It was the draw of the theater community in the Twin Cities that brought Luis-Grill to Minnesota after she finished her degree. She acted in shows and commercials, and painted sets and made props for the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres, the Cricket Theatre and the Illusion Theater. Gradually, though, she wanted something more stable than the life of a freelance actor and commercial artist.
"I loved anatomy, so I decided to go to nursing school," she says of her decision to enroll at Minneapolis Community and Technical College. "You can't always wait for the phone call saying 'I have a commercial for you.' "
While in school, she worked with developmentally disabled adults as a live-in caregiver and volunteered in a hospice setting. She then worked at a nursing home facility with adults with brain damage and later at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in the neurology unit.
When she met her future husband - after responding to an ad in the Star Tribune for a lunch date (this was the era before computer dating) - she took the risk to move to Rochester, where he worked at the Olmsted Medical Center.
"I thought, what the heck, there are a lot of nursing jobs in Rochester," she says.
In Rochester, Luis-Grill has been able to integrate her nursing, theater and artistic interests. While working part-time as a medical researcher and later - while coordinating and acting in fake zombie teaching scenarios for medical students - she took painting workshops and has sought out mentors to help her develop her own artistic style.
"I've really found the place in myself that I want to paint from. I'm inspired by the Impressionists - that era and genre of painting excites me," she says.
During a rehearsal of a choral-arts ensemble of which her husband is a member, Luis-Grill had taken a photograph of a woman violinist who was accompanying the group.
"I loved the concentration on her face," she says. "She looked like she was one with her instrument."
"Solo," her painting shown on the cover of the July magazine, is the oil painting she created from that photo for an exhibit sponsored by the choral-arts ensemble. "I hoped to show her deep involvement with an art she obviously loved," she says.
Luis-Grill is active in many of Rochester's community art projects. For the "Goose is Loose" project - similar to the "Peanuts on Parade" project in St. Paul - she created a "Shakespeare" goose for the public library. For the "Chair Affair," she created chairs that looked like Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones.
She has shown her artwork at the Crossings Gallery in Zumbrota and the Lanesboro Gallery. She recently created a mural for the interior of the Lanesboro Public Library, working with volunteer painters from the community. She's currently working on a proect for the Commonweal Theatre Company in Lanesboro.
Her advice for other artists?
"Find a mentor, someone you want to study with," Luis-Grill says. "I was always able to draw, I knew I had the abilities, but at this stage in my life, I found that others can help you find the tools you need."
What's on her playlist? When Luis-Grill is painting, she listens to classical music - Bach, violin concertos. ("It's soothing, but not intrusive, it's more meditative," she says.) But generally her playlist is "pretty eclectic. I love jazz - Ella Fitzgerald. Eva Cassidy. The Roches. I love the Rolling Stones. Tom Waits. Warren Zevon. I love their offbeat nature."