Leni Macuso, (1926 - 2018) was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1926, educated there (Brooklyn Museum School), and in Manhattan (The New School, Pratt Institute), but her spirit drove her to remote places, especially to islands. She met her husband, Thomas Barrett, on Monhegan Island; she initiated her fine art career on Deer Isle, and she favored during her most productive time Eagle Island in Penobscot Bay, a place she felt intensely alive. There were also many other places: Achill Island and Inishbofin in Ireland; Paros in the Cyclades, Prince Edward Island, Grand Manan Island, and Nova Scotia, as well as the “isle” of Purbeckin, England. And there was Manhattan — an island of a different nature. She loved its museums, galleries, libraries and theatres; she felt its exhilaration keenly and often regretted the distance from it.
No matter where she was, she enlivened any group, especially youngsters, who responded to her wit and her unforgettable readings of stories and poems. Yet with all her warmth and enthusiasm for the spontaneous, she was nonetheless a perfectionist, not only in her own work but in all aspects of living. Aesthetic imbalance or sloppiness would demand correction. She could abide neither mess, nor hypocrisy, nor dishonesty. If she told people off (no matter how intimately connected), she did humanely but directly; they would know what she meant. This was especially true in her teaching. She called up in her students qualities they were surprised to discover in themselves, qualities that led them to achieve unanticipated levels. Artist Jeffrey Keith, former student of both Leni Mancuso and Thomas Barrett, in a tribute: “My next encounters with Mr. Barrett were actually more peripheral than head-on and came through the great teaching of his wife, Leni Mancuso, a poet, painter and force of nature. Leni Mancuso was the first teacher I ever had who knew simultaneously how to talk sense while getting in your face about the shortcomings of your work. Unfortunately this is a skill rarer among teachers than one might imagine. Leni was strong-willed and nothing if not direct, but most importantly she clearly cared deeply about her work, and if you were even halfway serious she would take you seriously. In a funny way she helped to clear a path to her husband for me through her honesty and forthrightness.”
Several years in an art-oriented advertising agency in New York developed her skill as a graphic designer and spatial manipulator. As consultant to the Hargate Art Gallery at St. Paul’s School in Concord, N.H., she designed notable catalogs and brochures and created innovative ways of installing exhibitions to help excite the visitors’ imagination and understanding.
A loving wife and mother, she encouraged and cajoled both husband and son to exceed their own expectations. Her praise was unstinting but so was her criticism, always delivered in a positive note. She held her nuclear family close, but she reached out to others continually. In her long life, she painted hundreds of caseins and watercolors, exhibited them in a wide range of venues — throughout New England, in Germany, England, Florida, Michigan but especially in New Hampshire and Maine, most recently at Gallery B in Castine, the Turtle Gallery in Deer Isle and the Crumpacker Gallery in Concord, N.H. Her work is represented in numerous public, corporate and private collections here and abroad. Her poetry, on which she concentrated her energies in later years, has been published in the Christian Science Monitor, Beloit Poetry Journal, Paideuma, Trenton Review, Puckerbrush Review and many other literary journals. During the past few years, four of her 12 books have been published: “Window Songs,” “Kaleidoscope Rift,” “Isis Journey” and “Seen and Unseen: Luminaries.” All are available at Lulu.com.
In her work in both paint and words, she pursued a personal vision and voice. Her originality transformed the mundane world into an art of imagination and universality. A full-time resident of Maine since 1989, she and her husband enjoyed two productive decades in Castine. After her husband’s death in 2009, she remained at their home in Castine for five years until moving to assisted living in Bangor and subsequently to Dirigo Pines in Orono.
She is survived by her son Kedron Barrett and grandson Ilya Lorenz Barrett, both of Berlin, Germany.
From 1950 on she has worked primarily in casein and watercolor, exhibiting in a wide range of venues – throughout New England, in Germany, England, Florida, Michigan but especially in New Hampshire and Maine (St Anselm’s College, University of Maine Orono, Maine Coast Artists (CMCA), Currier Gallery of Art, Lamont Gallery, Arnold Klein Gallery, Frost Gully Gallery). Her work is represented in numerous public, corporate and private collections here and abroad. Her poetry, has been published in the Christian Science Monitor, Beloit Poetry Journal, Paideuma, Trenton Review, Puckerbrush Review, and other literary journals. During the past two years, three of twelve books have been published: Kaleidoscope Rift, Isis Journey, and Seen and Unseen: Luminaries. All are available at Lulu.com.