Africa and Jamaica inspire self-taught Leslie Anne Hansley

Leslie Anne Hansley with some of her art. Photo by David Terrelonge

Ask Leslie Anne Hansley about her life and her art — she’s a self-taught painter — and she replies, “I’m a lucky person. A lucky, lucky, lucky person.”

Now 77, she began painting just four years ago, after a lifelong business career, first as an owner of a clothing factory in Jamaica and then as a CPA in the Montgomery County region. After all those years behind a desk, painting came naturally for the Silver Spring resident.

If unexpectedly.

“I’m creative, but I’m not schooled in art,” she admitted. “I decided when I retired that I was going to do some volunteer work,” but something shifted and she ended up reinventing herself as a painter.

“Growing up in Jamaica, I realized I had always been drawn to Afrocentric art … My husband worked a lot in Africa, and brought back a lot of African art, African masks, African furniture, fabrics. I became interested, but just from a point of view of being an onlooker.

“Then I woke up one morning and said, ‘I’m going to start painting, and I’m going to paint an Afrocentric look,’” she continued. “I never took [an art] class.”

But she has created numerous canvases — both abstract and representational filled with vivid Caribbean colors and evocative mask-like faces or quilt-like patterns. Hansley signs her works “Lesan,” and calls her style “boho ethnic art.”

To learn to paint she turned to Google, watched a few videos then went to Michael’s in search of canvases, brushes and paints.

“I didn’t know how to buy a paint brush! I asked them about brushes and what paints would I use,” Hansley said. “There are a lot of brushes — different ones for different strokes or finishes.

“Then I just started. When people came to my house and saw [my work] they said, ‘This is good.’”

After just six months, Hansley was invited to show her work at the Anthony Bowen YMCA gallery in Washington, D.C., along with a Jamaican photographer. “We had 150 people attend our opening,” she said, still surprised by her early success.

“I’m inspired,” she added, “by African and Jamaican culture, especially the African symbols and the bright colors of the Caribbean.”

Jamaican Roots

Growing up in St. Andrew, a suburb of Kingston, Hansley attended Catholic school and immediately after graduation she moved to Canada: “I was 18 at the time … and moving to Canada is a very common thing for Jamaicans to do.”

Splitting her time between Toronto and Montreal, she studied computer programming. When she heard about a World Bank program offering start-up loans for women-owned businesses, she took the leap. “I come from a big family and I would always make dresses and clothes for my family,” Hansley said. “So, I applied for and received a loan to start a garment factory in Jamaica. We made ladies outerwear — dresses, blouses, dress pants …. It was quite successful. We exported internationally. I had a very good life in Jamaica.”

Love intervened when she met an American, James Hansley. Soon married and resettled in Maryland, Leslie received a degree in accounting from University of Maryland, College Park and spent 25 years as a CPA for various area corporations, while her husband traveled throughout Africa and Europe for his work with OPIC.

A Studio of Her Own

Until recently, Hansley painted on her kitchen table, which meant that her canvases were mostly on the smaller side — typically 24” x 36”. Just this past month she converted the home office into a studio.

“My new studio has a huge table so I can do bigger paintings. The table is big enough that I can have a friend come over and paint with me.”

With large windows and plenty of natural light streaming in, plus a pair of relaxing chairs, Hansley calls her new painting space “beautiful.”

And her paintings draw from her love of the African art her husband collected, along with the vibrant colors of her Jamaican homeland —melon orange, turquoise, sunny yellows, fiery reds and deep browns and blacks.

“All of my paintings have a name that symbolizes a person or a situation in Jamaica. I have a whole list of names,” she said, explaining some from her Jamaican patois. “Dawta,” a lady or a girlfriend, derives from daughter, while “wheel an’ tun” [wheel and turn] derives from a Jamaican popular folk song and dance where the male partner turns the female.

Hansley has found success at local galleries, including the Wheaton Arts Parade Gallery, as well as online with her Etsy shop and Instagram page where both original canvases and prints sell well, and her customers can order her designs on products like tote bags, mugs and posters.

Occasionally people ask Hansley to teach. She shakes her head and says no. “I don’t know the rules of art, so I wouldn’t be a good teacher …. I’m self-taught but I’m very goal oriented,” she said, adding, “Nothing puts me off.”

For more on Leslie Anne Hansley, visit Lesan Creates on etsy and Instagram.



  1. I loved her story, she is very talented. I love Jamaica & thinking about living there next year. It is very unique place to visit. I am learning the patois language.


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