As the youngest of three daughters of sculptor Don Drumm and textile artist Lisa Drumm, the career path should have seemed obvious for their daughter, Leandra.
Her earliest childhood memories reflect a life immersed in art. Leandra watched her parents hone their craft and rub elbows with fellow artists, and she remembers childhood summers spent at the prestigious Penland School of Craft in North Carolina, where Don and Lisa taught as artists-in-residence every summer for a decade.
Still, by the time Leandra got to high school, she felt herself rebelling against anything to do with art.
A career in engineering made more sense. Or so she thought.
“I was pretty good at math at that time,” Leandra recalls. “I decided to sign up for an engineering course; I was enamored with being a female engineer.”
But all it took was one day of a hands-on learning session with real-life engineers for her artistic sensibilities to bubble back up to the surface.
“We spent half the day with a structural engineer and the second half with an architectural engineer,” Leandra says. “I remember I was sitting in the office of one of the engineers and there were drop ceilings and fluorescent lights. It occurred to me that there was no art on the walls and no color.”
In that moment, she knew where she belonged, and it wasn’t behind an engineer’s desk.
Today, Leandra has her own studio within the Crouse Street campus of Don Drumm Studios and Gallery in University Park. She has made a name for herself as an award-winning artist, creating etched glass and pewter designs under her brand, Leandra Drumm Designs.
“I would say that my number-one influence was that both my parents taught at Penland School every summer since I was a baby in a basket,” Leandra says. “It was such an incredible experience because artists came from all over the country to teach there.”
Her memories of being at Penland include being on the periphery of the many summer parties that her parents attended and collecting pieces of discarded blown glass turned to marble that artists threw into a sand pit to cool.
“We were the rugrats of that time,” she says. “I was never old enough to take full-fledged classes there. But the camp made me feel that art was play time. For me, it was a form of play and creativity.”
While at Central Hower High School, Leandra took a drawing class from Professor Mark Soppeland, and she credits him with shedding light on the notion that art was more than just something you create.
“He opened my eyes that art was not only a craft you learned, there is an academic component to it as well. He taught me the history of it. And that made me realize I wanted to study art in some capacity.”
Next, she pursued a degree in graphic design from Kent State University, a path she chose for its blending of engineering and art. As she chipped away at her degree, she could not escape the desire she felt to make things.
“During that time at college, my dirty little secret was that I had a black market of crafts that I would sell to fellow students,” she says. “I was doing that without realizing it — it just came as second nature.”
Before pursuing her art full-time, a short stint as a graphic designer after college brought an epiphany that further cemented her direction:
“With graphic design, you are working for a client to implement their vision. With a craft, I implement my vision and hope it speaks to an audience.”
In addition to making art, Leandra has been a creative force in the Akron arts community, organizing such notable events as the Light-Up Lantern Festival, a street event that featured music, artists and vendors that ran for four years from 2009 to 2012 in University Park near the Drumm galleries.
“It was all about outreach and connection with the community,” Leandra says of the Lantern Festival. “The whole idea was to introduce arts and music to people and having so many friends in the arts community, we were able to create this event that stretched across so many boundaries. I would barter with everyone to be a part of this.”
Having the Drumm name also probably helped open some doors, but Leandra’s talent, passion for all things creative and her personable nature are uniquely hers, making her a perfect ambassador for the Akron arts scene.
And speaking of her sculptor father — who is now 85 and arguably one of the most well-known artists to come out of Akron — Leandra clearly adores him.
“He is the star of the show in my family,” Leandra acknowledges. “In my opinion, there is no competing with him. I only can hope to one day be at his level. We compete with each other, but in a healthy way.”
In fact, Leandra said that she and her father had a competition last year before the Christmas buying season to see who could create the most ornaments to sell.
“He told my mom he was going to try and beat me and then he announced one day that he won,” she recalls, laughing.
Leandra and her two sisters have been very protective of their aging parents during the pandemic, trying to keep them home as much as possible. And like other small business owners, they have had to adjust and reinvent their approaches to their art and their business.
She acknowledges that she and husband, Tim Benninghoff, will take over the management of the Drumm family business one day and feels fortunate that the studios have been able to survive the pandemic through online sales, curbside pick-up and socially distanced shopping hours. Keeping up with demand has not been easy, however, since all pieces are handmade.
As a thank-you and a show of support to frontline workers, Leandra and Don last fall decided to create themed ornaments and donate a portion of the proceeds to the Covid Relief Fund.
Among the creations were Leandra’s etched glass soap and sanitizer containers, which sold out quickly, as did ornaments featuring teachers, firefighters and health care workers.
The artwork even caught the attention of American Craft Week, an event that takes place every October, where Leandra garnered the grand prize for Art Therapy in the time of Covid-19.
“We decided to take our energy and emotions and create a series that expressed our gratitude to the heroes in our community,” Leandra says. “The response was overwhelming and it gave our work purpose and hope, but more importantly, we were able to give back.”
Plans for the future include expanding the network of artists featured at the studio and enhancing online sales of artwork, Leandra says.
“A lot of gallery owners we see are aging out of the business,” she says. “Many rent space and the cost has increased and they are deciding to retire. My husband and I will inherit Don Drumm Studios and plan on running it well into the future. I’m fascinated and very interested in ways to highlight artists in the community and throughout the nation so the gallery is a viable space for them to sell.”
Leandra has collaborated with other local artists throughout her career — for example, working with Laurie Carter of folk band Hey Mavis in 2018. Their collaboration created a hardcover book and CD of historical fiction, titled Silver Ribbon Dreams – Songs and Stories of the Ohio & Erie Canal. The book features Leandra’s illustrations which, along with the music, help tell the story of an important part of local history.
As of February, the artwork from those illustrations can also be viewed in the old O’Neil’s storefront windows in downtown Akron as part of the Curated Storefront project funded by a 2016 Knight Foundation Arts Challenge grant.
“They asked if we could enlarge the artwork for the windows, which I thought was really exciting,” Leandra says. “I love that it’s more of Akron’s history being shared and hopefully it will encourage people to come in and rent in the building.”
Besides contributing her own artwork for the good of the community, Leandra is nurturing the next generation of artists right under her own roof. Her daughter, Andra, is following the family’s artistic legacy while her son, Logan, is double-majoring in math and physics at the University of Akron.
“He escaped and wants to be a particle physicist,” she says.
Andra attends Firestone High School’s Akron School for the Arts program and has already been recognized with a National Scholastics Award for her writing. She currently does social media marketing and takes photographs for the family business and Leandra is making sure her daughter understands an important aspect of being a successful artist.
“One lesson I teach in this household is to value your art and not give it away,” she says. “I always tell my kids to value what you do. I like creating for people. I do tend to undersell my work, too, but if we want art to continue, then we have to have other people understand its value.”
With any luck, generations of the Drumm family will be bringing their passion, talent and sense of community to the Akron arts scene for decades to come.
Photos: Used with permission from Leandra Drumm.
Susan Pappas is a writer, editor and longtime Akron-area resident. She loves meeting interesting people and bringing them to life with her words and photographs. In her spare time, she dreams of new ways to be creative, and one of her next projects will focus on turning the hilarity and hijinks of her two wiener dogs, Kiki and Carly, into a children’s book series.