The co-founder of a new art and vocation institute in South Carolina aims to address the intersection of faith, family, creativity, and calling.
This summer, the Leaf Institute of Art and Vocation, a nonprofit aimed at integrating art education, vocational formation, and the Christian faith, opened its doors in Greenville, South Carolina. Located in the growing arts district of this mid-sized Southern town, Leaf’s faith-driven mission sets it apart from surrounding studios. Its co-founder, Michelle B. Radford, is an educator and studio artist, as well as a mother to young children.
Instead of viewing motherhood as a barrier to her artistic calling, Radford has learned to embrace the inherent tension between the work of raising a family and the work of creating fine art—a tension that in many ways undergirds the vocational focus of Leaf Institute itself. CT spoke with Radford about the vision behind her new project, the struggle between community and creation, and the subterranean logic of her multiple callings.
What’s the significance of the name, and what do you hope to accomplish with the organization?
We have a two-part focus: We are providing classes, workshops, and one-on-one coaching for those who want serious training in drawing and painting and art and design. And then we also are holding events and discussions, trying to provide resources for those who want to integrate their faith and their work.
The name “Leaf Institute” comes from J. R. R. Tolkien’s short story “Leaf by Niggle.” Niggle is a painter, but he has a hard time completing a large painting of a tree because he is distracted by his neighbors, his civic responsibilities, and his own idleness. He ends up not finishing the painting, and in the afterlife, he’s ushered into a world that contains a tree, a real tree, just like the one he had imagined …
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