New Kent artist has spent a lifetime healing others. Now, she is learning to heal herself through her art.

Em Holter, The Daily Press

Taking a break from her day-to-day routine, Leslie Babbitt-Belcher sits down in her recently renovated garage turned workspace and pauses for a moment — allowing the unusually hot December day to warm her.

The New Kent resident is no stranger to staying busy. In her 40-year-long career, Babbitt-Belcher has made a name for herself as an artist, clothing designer and practicing reflexologist. Presently, she is trying her hand as a yoga instructor.

This year, she had planned to continue the momentum. From hosting charity events, fashion shows and selling her works of art, Babbitt-Belcher looked forward to the year ahead.

But, like most, this year has brought many unexpected twists and turns. For Babbitt-Belcher, this year has proven to be emotionally and financially devastating.

“It’s been a really, really hard year,” Babbitt-Belcher said. “But, I’m doing what I know how and I have a great support system that is there for me and keep me from falling into a black hole and not coming out.”

For years, Babbitt-Belcher’s husband has served as her biggest fan and their marriage has been one of her greatest accomplishments.

While they met later in life, they’ve spent the latter part making up for the years prior, Babbitt-Belcher said.

But, after he was diagnosed with a chronic illness four years ago, Babbitt-Belcher has become his primary caregiver.

Even on her good days, it’s difficult. With the pandemic raging on, she fears if they were to be infected, it would be a death sentence.

Babbitt-Belcher is no stranger to the virus. This month, she lost her sister because of it. At the beginning of the year, she lost her mother.

“I try to stay as healthy and positive as I can,” Babbitt-Belcher said. “That’s the whole trip to life is that your best-laid plans could just be ruined and turn on a dime. So, you just have to take a deep breath, take the leap and stay hopeful. ”

Between taking care of her husband, managing a business and tackling new projects, she said it’s crucial she finds time for herself.

But, with free time, comes unwanted thoughts, so it’s a balancing act. But, she’s found solace in her artwork.

While her works of art often feature joyous motifs with flowers, nature, movement and women, she said they often come from emotional outbursts.

Whenever she is feeling something extraordinarily difficult to process, Babbitt-Belcher said she takes it to the canvas. While she is no stranger to bright colors, she said her most expressive pieces come with an explosion of bright neon colors.

“Every single piece has a story. Every single piece has the feeling of something that has happened to me,” Babbitt-Belcher said. “When I’m finished with it, I feel good. This year, I’ve painted so much. I swear, I was creating colors I never knew.”

This year, she’s had a lot of emotional fuel to create. From her own personal problems to the pandemic to civil unrest, Babbitt-Belcher said she’s taken a lot of her emotions to the canvas.

This year, the ongoing civil unrest, racial tensions, protesters and systemic racism brought to the surface has influenced many of Babbitt-Belcher’s latest creations.

“My art is all about what I see,” Babbitt-Belcher said. “When I get angry or sad or depressed because of the racism I see or feel or experience, I always act kind but, I take that anger to the canvas. When someone tries to dull your spirit, your light, I make it as bright as I can make it.”

As a Black artist, Babbitt-Belcher uses her artwork to showcase Black excellence. Her pieces often highlight culture, livelihood and movement.

When she isn’t painting and designing clothes, she is busy building up her support system.

If it weren’t for her close friends to lean on, to play canasta with or share socially distanced wine, Babbitt-Belcher said she wouldn’t be able to make it through the hard times.

Despite the hardships she’s faced this year, she said she’s remaining positive because that’s all she can do.

“My dad used to tell me all the time when I was a child, he’d say, ‘kid, you could be anything you want, as long as you go in the kingdom every day,’ and I remember saying, ‘Daddy, where’s the kingdom,’ Babbitt-Belcher said pointing to her heart. “Go inside your heart, and thank God.”

Em Holter, emily.holter@virginiamedia.com, 757-256-6657, @EmHolterNews.

We want to hear from you

For many, this year has been one of turmoil and triumph. From the initial shutdowns to quarantine to the introduction of vaccines, folks have watched, learned and grown throughout the pandemic.

As a community, we’ve come together, supported one another and seen firsthand the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak.

We’ve watched as community staples shut their doors for the last time. Likewise, we’ve seen new businesses emerge. We’ve taken the time to look inward. We’ve used our time to discover new hobbies.

We’ve seen firsthand the loss of friends, family and neighbors. We’ve come together to share our condolences and grieve together.

We all have a story to tell. Whether it be a story of loss, growth, learned skills or new beginnings, we would like to hear and share them.

If you are interested in sharing your story, reach out to: Em Holter, emily.holter@virginiamedia.com, at the Tidewater Review.