An Artist is Born in His 60s
April 2022 Issue
By Cynthia Robinson
Photography by Mike Force Photography
When DeLeon Peacock returned to the Golden Isles after careers in the military, real estate and long-haul trucking, he wasn’t looking to start a brand-new career. “I returned at 50 to retire here. That was my long-term plan.” But fate intervened and now DeLeon is a published author and celebrated abstract artist who recently launched his own line of wearable art.
The unlikely road that brought him to this point began when he was 10 years old. He and his older brother John were brought to what is now Morningstar Family and Children’s Services in Glynn County to live. The boys’ father wasn’t around, and his mentally ill mother was deemed unfit to care for them. “It was Boys’ Estate Georgia then. I was fortunate when I was brought there. It was the first order and discipline I had in my life,” said DeLeon.
DeLeon spent four years at the home, before moving around various foster homes. “The majority were good people,” he said, smiling. He left Georgia after high school. “After four years in the Navy, I was in real estate, then I spent 16 years traveling all over the United States. I saw all these famous sites, but it wasn’t a vacation,” DeLeon laughed. “Any time I came through this area on I-95, I felt this yearning, and I knew one day I wanted to return.”
He did return in 2007 and eventually decided he wanted to write a book on the history of Boys’ Estate. “I wanted to see if that beautiful place was still there, and if so, if there was some way I could give back.” He discovered the home still existed, just under a new name. But his research into the Estate’s history was limited because he couldn’t visit without special permission. That all changed when DeLeon was introduced to St. Simons artist, gallery owner and former model, Millie Wilcox.
“I knew who Millie was and felt drawn to her for some time,” he said. DeLeon soon found why he was drawn to her—both Millie and her late mother, artist Mildred Nix Huie had made significant contributions to Boys’ Estate for years, and DeLeon remembered visits from a “very kind lady who was always really loving to the boys.” That lady was Mildred Nix Huie.
“I was sitting next to my old friend Rhonda Carmichael at a funeral, and she said she would introduce me to Millie. Meeting Millie was like a spiritual experience,” he said with a big smile. “It wasn’t easy to meet her, because she has a following wherever she goes,” DeLeon chuckled. “But when we walked up to her, she stopped the conversation she was having, looked at me and said, ‘I’m supposed to meet you, aren’t I?’ I told her, ‘You know I’m one of your Mama’s boys from Boys’ Estate?’ She then answered, ‘What do you need from me?’”
What he needed was access to Morningstar to research his book, and meeting Millie paved the way. She immediately arranged for him to accompany her on the first of many visits to the former Boys’ Estate and access to all the research materials he would ever need, including a scrapbook about the Estate kept by the original founders. “That scrapbook had 52 pages of newspaper articles from the AJC, Brunswick News, The Darien News—there were over 350 articles.” He also met Morningstar’s then CEO and CFO. “The now deceased Wells Kilgore, the COO, became a very dear friend.”
After being worried he wouldn’t have enough material for his book, DeLeon said, “I got overwhelmed. I had to walk away from the book for a while and separate myself from it.” DeLeon took a month off the project to visit friends in Budapest, Hungary. When he returned, he finished the book, Boys’ Estate, Georgia’s Town Just for Boys, which was published in 2017. “It really was a labor of love,” he said.
During this same timeframe, DeLeon, who had always admired art from afar, was introduced to the thriving local art community by Millie and other close friends, including retired college professor Mary Freeman who lives on St. Simons Island. “I lived with Mary for years, and she opened the world to me.” Mary wanted to take him to see Michelangelo’s David. “When I asked her where he was, she said, ‘Florence.’ Now this is how ignorant I was. I said, ‘Oh, that’s not bad. We’ll just head straight up 95,’” DeLeon said, breaking into laughter. That trip to Italy became just the first of many the pair would take, including a river cruise through Germany. “Mary and I travel really well together.”
His bonds with the local art community continued to grow, with local artists stepping up and donating their works for a silent auction fundraiser on the 70th anniversary of Boys’ Estate in 2016. “We had 37 local artists give their original pieces, and all of the money benefited the children of Morningstar.” Even though Tropical Storm Hermine lashed the Golden Isles the weekend of the event, local art venues, including Lynda Dalton Gallagher’s Art Downtown, and the Ritz Theatre opened their doors for him so the event could go on.
With the inspiration of his artist friends and a famous German abstract artist, Gerhard Richter, DeLeon finally decided to try his hand at creating art in 2020. He was hooked. “I aways wanted to paint. I love realism, but I can’t do realism because I have nervous tremors. Abstract is personal. Every person sees something different.”
DeLeon watched Richter’s YouTube videos and said, “I think I can use this process to paint. I took his process, built on it and made it my own.” He produced an astounding 280 paintings that first year. “I couldn’t stop. It just poured out of me.” But as the first year of the pandemic came to an end, he decided he needed to stretch himself.
“I started researching the possibility of making wearable art.” He found a vendor that provides the women’s clothing silhouettes, including reversible dresses, scarves, shawls and more, and his artwork is printed on the clothing. He debuted his wearable art in a fashion show at the Ritz Theatre in October 2021. The fashions will be available at david, a new boutique opening this month in Redfern Village next to Edward’s on Saint Simons. He said, “Within the next three to four months I’ll launch my website—wearableartbydeleon.net. There will be 180 to 300 articles of clothing available. Eventually, you’ll be able to customize your piece by selecting the painting and applying it to the silhouette you choose.”
While DeLeon continues to make art at his current space in The Brunswick Artery, he can still be found some days mowing the grounds of his old childhood home. He’s decided his future fashion shows will be used as fundraisers for Morningstar each year. “I feel so blessed to have the opportunity to participate in making my childhood home a better place for children today.”
Music Man: Has sung with four different Southern gospel groups. Also won a Navy-wide talent contest by singing, “To God be the Glory.”
Art Media: Mostly acrylics, but also India ink and chalk. “I use charcoal to bring action to a painting.”
Creative Framing: “Lucy Brous (of Creative Frameworks), framed close to 60 pieces for the (Morningstar) 2016 homecoming for me at cost. I’m really indebted to her.”
Reclaiming His Name: “Everyone called me Leon for the first 40 years of my life. I never did like that name for myself, and so when I determined I was going to live my authenticity, I started going by the name on my birth certificate, DeLeon. Say what you will, I think when a person comes to a place in life when they choose to embrace their whole truth, they can experience the fullness of who they are as a person.”