At 87, Lenore Pepper’s 2nd act as an artist


Bill Motchan , Special to the Jewish Light

The Designing Block gallery in Clayton often showcases emerging artists. It is currently providing space to a talented octogenarian who started painting as a hobby just six months ago.  And while she is something of an expert in home furnishings and design, this is Lenore Pepper’s 2nd act.

Lenore and Eddie

Pepper, 87, and her husband Eddie, are the owners of the venerable design firm Edwin Pepper & Associates and also congregants of Congregation Temple Israel. After nearly a year of COVID-imposed sheltering and reading every book she could find, Pepper was ready for a new challenge. She loves gardening and plants and for years she wanted to learn to draw and paint trees, so she decided to give it a shot. Before applying an initial brushstroke, she accidentally spilled a glob of acrylic paint on a canvas. The idea of throwing it out and starting over seemed too wasteful.

Photo Courtesy of Bill Motchan

“I thought ‘How could I be so sloppy?’” Pepper said. “Then I figured I might be able to do something with it and before I knew it, I had a painting. I looked at it and I thought it might be good. So I started trying different techniques and learning more about brushes and brush strokes.”

Pepper’s grandson Brandon came to visit her and liked her early work, so she gave it to him for his apartment. She continued painting and creating new work—some 46 pieces. Her son Marc, also a design consultant, told her he liked them, so she gave them to him. He’s been selling them for $150 each.


The Idea Is Born

That gave her an idea: to create even more paintings and sell them to raise money for a good cause. She now has a group of recently completed paintings for sale, with 20% of the proceeds going to the Sam and Marilyn Fox-Lenore and Edwin Pepper Friendship Fund for Camp Scholarships.

“Camping is a good experience for kids,” she said “I chose that because it’s something that has always meant a lot to me. It brings kids together and helps them meet lifelong friends. You get connected to the environment, learn how to swim and sail a boat. I went to Camp Hawthorn and my kids did, too.”

Lenore’s husband Eddie refers to her as Picasso, in part because her work is distinctively abstract. Home and commercial design has been the family business for years, so she appreciates the importance of accent pieces to create a mood. She has no formal training as a painter, but it seems to come naturally. She is also comfortable experimenting with new techniques to achieve unique patterns.

“I started taking drinking glasses and putting them in paint, then twisting them on the canvas to make circles,” she said. “Then I looked around the house to find other objects to use. I got a salt shaker that had a design on the bottom, so I stuck it in paint and twisted it on the canvas, too. I just try to see where my hand is going to go and how I can use the brush and mix colors to attract the viewer.”

Experimenting With Techniques

Pepper has also experimented with other techniques, like using Q-tips to create dots. She also is thinking about poking holes in the canvas and applying a gold or silver material underneath to make the painting glitter.

“I have a fan brush and I learned to use it to make trees and I get all these wonderful marks,” she said. “I have a neighbor who is a business psychologist. He said, ‘Lenore, I could psychoanalyze these paintings and tell a lot about you!’”

She pointed to one painting with distinctive fall colors and what seemed to be a plump bird.

“People say this looks like a turkey,” she said. “See how I played with color — sometimes you make a mistake, but I figured out how to expand on it and it turns out to be something. I like color and I like texture so I’m trying to figure out now how to mix textures.”

Susan Block of The Designing Block said Pepper’s work has a “great ethereal quality.”

“I think she’s doing a great job,” said Block. “Her paintings are almost whimsical and have explosions of color.”

Pepper’s son Michael, CEO of Edwin Pepper & Associates, describes her style as asymmetrical abstract and geometric designs with floral and botanical motifs.

“She uses a very wispy brushstroke to create the stem or twig of a plant and then she’ll add bold color to get the floral part that you might see in nature,” he said. “She loves flowers, and spring is a time of rejuvenation when she loves to go out and plant. As long as I can remember, she would get new annuals and perennials. A few years ago, she went from living in a house with a vast property to a condo where she doesn’t have the outlet to plant, so perhaps this is her outlet, to get to springtime planting through her artwork.

Lenore Pepper’s 2nd act

“It was mid-COVID when she got started,” he said. “She was home and getting bored, so she bought some art supplies. She’s always been creative, but I didn’t know realize how many paintings she had done until I went over, and she had 30 or 40 pieces. This ties two things she firmly loves, nature and flowers. She’s able to use creativity for her art and to support her interest in philanthropy.”

Mostly, Lenore Pepper said she enjoys the freedom of creativity. She is already thinking beyond painting to creating mixed media displays using found objects.

“My granddaughter studied sustainability in college and so I’m looking for things that I might have considered throwing away that I can turn it into art,” she said. “I have all these drawers of jewelry and a lot of it I never wear so I took some of them and framed them and sewed them on to fabrics.”

Lenore Pepper’s paintings will be on display and for sale through Sunday, Nov. 28 at The Designing Block, 7735 Clayton Road.


Lenore Pepper’s 2nd Act