Her truest selfJul 08, 2015 10:16AM ● By J. Chambless
Hockessin resident Leah Awitan and her daughters, Marlena and Ava.
By Richard L. Gaw
The story of Leah Awitan is really your story, because somewhere in your home there is a painting easel you haven't touched since you were 18. Or maybe there's the crumbling clay of a sculpture that you gave up on. Somewhere in your home there is a notebook filled with short stories and poems you wrote and plans you made for yourself when you were in your early twenties.
In the notebook, the words were the absolute truth, written at a time when the expression of yourself was not just a passing fancy but the very thing that defined you.
You know what happened. You are climbing the ladder of expectations. You are a parent. You make decisions that affect so many others – co-workers, clients, your family. You are a commuter on a fast track that you have carefully programmed for yourself. You are defined now by that which you have orchestrated, and those words you wrote in a notebook now read like a painful bloodletting.
But you know that, deep down inside, those words were the closest you ever got to the absolute truth of who you really are.
From the time she was old enough to realize it, Leah Awitan saw her truest self as a creative person, the kind of individual who not only acknowledged the six variations of the color white in clouds, but stopped to count them. She wanted to be a dancer, or maybe an artist, but unfortunately, pursuing a life in art seemed unreachable for her. Money was tight, so instead of time spent head-down in concentration over an easel or at a dance recital, she spent most of her teenage years working. After high school, she put herself through college.
"There was always a necessity in my family to get a real job," she said. "I took art classes and dance classes, but I never thought I could make my way in the world through those means. My creativity felt stifled for the longest time."
Fast-forward several years. She moved around a lot with her husband, Brian, through his job in fashion -- rarely staying in one place long enough to establish a foothold into the local arts scene of wherever she called home. To her, the creative world was something that was now relegated to the occasional visit to a gallery or museum. She was a visitor in a world that she desperately wanted to touch, but never could.
Yet it was the birth of her two daughters -- Ava, now 15, and Marlena, now 12 -- that pulled Awitan back to that far-off dream.
"The thought of living my life as an expression of my creativity I thought was over. But then I experienced the wonder of having children and watching them express themselves," she said. "I saw them in dance classes, learning to play music, performing, singing, in creating ... I thought, 'Why am I not doing this?' It just opened up something in me, and everything came flooding out."
Several times a week, Awitan and a musician friend venture down to the basement of her home in Hockessin, and create the music that had been lodged in her mind for what seemed like forever. It is all coming out now, through her piano, her voice and her writing. Although she is in the very beginning stages of pursuing music seriously, Awitan is inspired by the work of her musician friends, many of whom have made recordings and regularly perform throughout the Delaware Valley.
Her daughter Ava has already gotten notice for her musical talents, and has begun performing her songs in live shows. Marlena is also a budding singer/songwriter, as well as a dancer.
"I'm surrounded by so many creative people in my life," she said. "It's hard to watch others be able to express themselves and not be able to express myself."
Her camera, she said, is just another conduit for her creativity.
"I am a hobby photographer with a passion," she said. "I see so much beauty in the world, and I want to try to get that into a photograph. I fail miserably a lot, but occasionally I get a get a few great shots."
Awitan readily admits that the photographs she takes is purely a trial-and-error process -- she has had no formal training -- but she has found herself drawn to the camera as if it is a creative extremity.
"My camera is my voice, along with my music," Awitan said. "A photographer friend recently told me, 'Whether or not it's exactly what you saw when you took the picture, that's your art.'"