Doris “Doc” Leeper (1929-2000) was an internationally recognized abstract painter and sculptor. Originally from North Carolina, she first took up painting in the 1950s. During this time, she primarily focused on oil painting in a style that was characteristic of the modernist movement. In the mid-1950s she began experimenting with textured surfaces and gradually started emphasizing more simplified, geometric forms.
In 1961, Leeper moved to Eldora, Florida, just south of New Smyrna Beach along the Indian River Lagoon to focus on her art career full time. During this period and into the 1970s, her paintings shifted away from representational subject matter altogether. This pure abstraction carried over to the modern plastic and metallic three-dimensional sculptures for which she became known. Her work was shown nationally and regionally during this period, with significant solo exhibitions at the Hunter Museum of American Art in Chattanooga, Tennessee and the Mint Museum of Art in Charlotte, North Carolina, amongst others.
Throughout her career, Doris continued to experiment with a range of mediums and materials but never veered far from the strong geometric shapes and spherical forms that became characteristic of her style. In the 1980s, her work briefly became more relaxed and she created compositions with softer lines and colors and allowing for accidental elements to take form. In the 1990s, she began incorporating more natural grain and wood patina forms, which was a stark contrast to the steel, plastics and industrial elements that were prevalent in previous work.
In addition to her career as an artist, Leeper was an environmentalist and avid supporter of the arts. In the early 1960s, she became active in Florida’s environmental movement, with her efforts leading to the creation of the Canaveral National Seashore in 1975. Then, in 1977, she founded the Atlantic Center for the Arts, envisioning it as a Florida artist-in-residence program where artists of all disciplines could work with prominent artists in a supportive and creative environment. Leeper saw the potential for an artist’s residency as a place for ideas to be shared and realized. She received individual artist fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the State of Florida and was also the recipient of an artist in residence fellowship from the Rockefeller Foundation. In 1996, she went on to found Arts on Douglas with artist/benefactor Ed Harris as a commercial gallery dedicated to the promotion of professional Florida artists. The following year she received honorary doctorate degrees, a Doctor of Humanities from Stetson University and Doctor of Fine Arts from her alma mater Duke University before being inducted into Florida Artists Hall of Fame in 1999.