Leslie Doolin—1938-2023

The Canyon ChronicleBy The Canyon Chronicle

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Leslie Doolin—1938-2023
Leslie Doolin was born in Melbourne, Australia on June 10th, 1938 to Eileen and Austin Edwards. She was the second of four children, Katy, Leslie, Joce and Allistair. Childhood in Australia was idyllic and they lived a good life in Kew, Melbourne. Leslie spoke fondly of memorable years living with another family, the Hills, in a semi-communal setting with a strong focus on the arts and theater. Her mother was a very highly regarded child psychologist whose work still holds great respect in Australia. Her father was a prominent geologist who traveled a lot between Australia and Europe for work. Her family background was a mix of Welsh, Scottish and English. Sadly Leslie’s father Austin passed away early in her life and this had a big impact on her. When she was a young child there was a smallpox epidemic in Australia and the children were forced to quarantine away from their parents for a few months, and this was a very traumatic experience she recalled. Also World War II was a very big part of her younger years, Australia being a major part of the war.
Leslie graduated from University with a Bachelor of Arts Degree. Then in her early twenties, she decided to leave Australia in 1960. She traveled alone by ship to go meet her sister Katy in Greece. She went to Indonesia, then India, and around to the Arabian Peninsula and up the Red Sea eventually arriving in the Mediterranean two to three months later. She landed in Greece sometime in 1961. She and Katy lived in Rhodes and other parts of Greece for about a year, working in family restaurants and bars to pay for room and board. There were no tourists in Greece at that time so life was very traditional.

While living in Greece Leslie met James Doolin, a travel enthusiast and student of the arts who was in Europe to study and experience all the art and history he could. He would often draw in the streets, doing portraits of the locals. They fell in love and got married in late 1962. It wasn’t long before they were on the move, traveling by Vespa from Greece through Italy and Spain to Western Europe, and eventually on to New York City finding residence somewhere near the East Village. They lived in New York City from early 1963 until about mid-1965 and had two children, Matt born June 1963 and Paul born January 1965. Jim worked as a commercial artist in advertising while also painting as an artist trying to break into the art scene. Meanwhile, Leslie was taking care of the children, while also trying to be as creative as possible and began weaving and working in textile arts. New York City was gritty, but also vibrant and exciting at the time.

For a multitude of reasons, the decision was made to pack it up and move to Australia. Now married and with two kids, it was time for Jim to meet Leslie’s family and there were artistic opportunities to be explored as well. They left NYC in mid-1965 and hit the road in a VW van. Matt was two and Paul was six months old. They stopped in Vermont saying goodbye to Jim’s parents and relatives before heading to California, but only after a two-month detour through Mexico to visit ancient cities and temples, eventually driving up the west coast through California to San Francisco. They boarded a ship to Australia in late 1965 and lived in Melbourne for approximately two-and-a-half years until early 1968. During that time Jim was quite successful in the Australian art scene. Leslie continued weaving and also started sculpting, making beautiful large, colorful papier maché bird sculptures. It was a busy and exciting time that also included camping and family adventures.

As good as it was, the decision was made to return to California for more education, art and work. Leslie took another ocean liner with her kids for a two-month journey across the Pacific, while Jim flew ahead to look for housing. Arriving in San Pedro Harbor in mid-1968 was shocking, and settling into a home in Highland Park was unsettling. Dissatisfied with living near downtown LA, Leslie searched all over LA County before finding Topanga by accident, while just driving through. She felt at home right away and when she saw a sign for lease above the Food Chakra, she signed up and next thing you know, she’s moved the family to Topanga, living above the health food store.

Leslie’s life in Topanga began in late 1968. The adventures began quickly with the winter floods of 1969. Then fires came in 1971, and amidst it all came friends and community. Early years in Topanga were exciting and fun with lots of exploring and making friends and connections with like-minded people. Topanga is where she felt comfortable. In 1973 Leslie initiated the purchase of the Topanga family home by coaxing Jim to buy it now or she wouldn’t return from camping at Jalama Beach with the children. That summer the kids spent two or more months camping out until eventually they were moving in!

Buying the house in 1973 established Leslie’s place in Topanga and she lived out the rest of her life there. This is where Leslie established herself as an artist and created the legacy of tile art she is known for. She was still weaving in 1973 but she really wanted to paint. She had built up quite a little business among locals and at arts and crafts fairs, creating beautiful woven pieces of all sorts, including blankets, spreads, pillows and clothing, from shirts for her husband and kids, to skirts and dresses for the ladies.

This was still not enough to pay the bills so she became a substitute teacher for LAUSD, teaching all over the place. She eventually landed a full-time position at Topanga Elementary. She was a good teacher and the kids liked her. She had a different approach, including using her artistic talents to teach and she really made an impact on her students.

She was still not satisfied as she wanted to paint and make art for a living. She was part of an amazing community of artists, creators and friends who were inspiring and pushing each other to make a living creatively. It was a bohemian lifestyle. At the same time, sadly, her marriage with Jim was dissolving. It was in this environment that through painting and pottery, came the idea for painted tile art as a way to make a living. And so Leslie’s life as a ceramic artist began. She started the tile business with her very close friend Rebecca Andrews in 1978. Touch Stone Tile thrived for several years selling tiles at Walker and Zanger in Beverly Hills until Leslie and Rebecca parted ways and formed two separate companies.

Leslie could draw and paint easily and her art was very intuitive. She was also very inventive structurally and sculpturally. She was a good designer in both 2D and 3D, and was always coming up with new ideas, including lighting and fountains. Her favorite artists were Picasso, Van Gogh, Matisse and Aboriginal artists from Australia including water-color artist Albert Mamantara. She began making ceramic art and murals in 1977 and continued to make incredible art until her early 70s. She established Bahloo Studios in the eighties, which eventually became Topanga Art Tile in the late nineties. Somehow through all this she was able to convince her two sons to work with her and make art tile too, and to stick with it for more than 40 years!

Leslie enjoyed Magnolias and Marijuana. She was interested in world affairs, history and politics and the unknown. She enjoyed travel, including trekking in Nepal and going to England to see the Crop Circles. She visited Hawaii quite often and was fond of the central coast of California, especially Jalama Beach [near Lompoc, CA]. She loved camping in the wild as well as traveling back home to Australia. Her final visit to Australia was in 2018 to revisit The Field Exhibit’s 50th Anniversary that included the art of her former husband James who had been a major part of the original show in 1968.

Leslie as a person was very open. She explored many angles and avenues of thinking and seeing. She liked to look into the mysteries of life and see things through alternative viewpoints. She believed in more holistic methods when it came to health and self-care. In regards to the possibilities of life in other galaxies, she was sure there were other realities and dimensions and that we would meet those that lived there. In fact she already had! She was always exploring the mind through all the various techniques of the times, Yoga, Meditation, Herbs and Spices, maybe even a little Fungus, as well as Sound Therapy.

Music played a big part in her life and early on most of it was coming from Black America. Bessie Smith, Fats’ Waller, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and so many others. She evolved with the times and enjoyed many of the contemporary musical artists of the times as the decades passed from Bob Dylan to Bob Marley and Grace Jones. Like her taste in music she also had many different friends from many different backgrounds through the years and enjoyed the company of them all, learning new things from so many viewpoints. And of course she was very proud of her family and grandkids, Gracie, Bella, Liam and Lila, and being with them and watching them grow. It gave her a lot of joy to share with the next generation. Overall, in life Leslie explored a lot and did a lot. And she did it her way.

Leslie passed away peacefully at home with her family beside her on September 11, 2023.
—Matt Doolin & Paul Doolin, Sons
The Canyon Chronicle

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