Fine Art by Duke Windor
When Duke Windsor wakes up in the morning, he can choose who he wants to be that day: a musician, a 4th-degree Black Belt, an artist, an opera singer, an exhibit planner and designer, an art teacher, a U.S. Marine veteran, a student. He can choose because he is all of these and more. An African-American, Windsor was born in 1960 as Lester Colleen Tumblin in Texarkana, Texas, into a poor family with a single mother who eventually had 11 children. “I was the sixth child in the family, with three older brothers and two older sisters. We were so poor that the welfare system could not support the care of one more child,” said Windsor. So, when he was three years old, he was adopted by his aunt and uncle into the Windsor household.
“I vividly remember the judge at the hearing asking me if I wanted to live with them. I later knew and understood that this adoption insured me of a better life. I was never without food or clothing, had new shoes every year, and my Christmas was always full of joy, fun and lots of toys,” said Windsor.
As part of the Windsor family he was free to develop his talents. By the age of five, he was sketching battleships and warplanes. He copied N. C. Wyeth’s paintings from “Treasure Island” and was fascinated by Norman Rockwell’s covers for The Saturday Evening Post. From his family Bible he copied the art in pencil. His favorites were “Daniel in the Lion’s Den,” “Jacob Sacrificing Isaac,” and one he will never forget — “The Destruction of Jerusalem.”
“As a kid, I won many awards in poster contests, art shows, and the Four State Fair. One of my first sculptures was a 36-inch-long, double-mast sailing ship made completely out of toothpicks,” said Windsor. His skill as an artist was recognizable because he mixed his own colors on his first paint-by-number set, finding that what came with the kit was incorrect. In the third grade, he started selling art for extra lunch money to kids who needed it for class projects. This continued into high school, where he was later voted “Most Talented.”
“I never thought of art being a career. It was just something I did. My art teacher tried to get me to see my potential; he was a champion of my work. His wife even bought one of my early acrylic paintings,” said Windsor.
His other love is music. By the age of 10, Windsor was playing the saxophone and was vocal soloist in the choir. In high school he was a Texas All-State Choir finalist tenor. A lifelong student, he’s currently taking classes in blues guitar and still studying the saxophone. He can be seen singing opera while working on a painting in a YouTube video called “Opera Singing Artist Creates Abstract Masterpiece Paintings.”
When high-school hopes fell through for acceptance to Southern Methodist University to study music, Windsor opted for the U.S. Marines, joining at age seventeen in the beginning of his senior year.
“As a low-income kid who wanted to make something of myself, my only other option to get out of Texarkana and do something meaningful was to join the Marines and serve my country. So that’s what I did,” said Windsor. (He later received a two-year offer to study music at Stephen F. Austin University, which he was not available to accept.) Windsor left for boot camp in San Diego the day after graduation, May 1978.During his four-year tour of duty, he was a combat illustrator, having received extensive training in illustration, graphic design, and photography with darkroom work. He graduated at the top of his class. Also, during his life as a Marine, he began training as a martial artist, studying Shito Ryu Karate, and later studying at the American Schools of Shaolin Kempo where he became an assistant instructor.Eventually, he opened his own school, Windsor Kempo Club, and Kickboxing Fitness, in North Park, which he ran until closing it in 2004. He is a 4th-Degree Black Belt in Kempo and is currently studying Aikido.
When Windsor’s Marine brothers saw his last name on his locker they changed “Lester” to “Duke.” When he began marketing his paintings, signing them “Duke,” he accepted his new identity, and in 1995 legally changed his name. In the 1990s, Windsor spent years as a “starving artist” and finally decided he liked having money, food on the table, nice clothes on his back, and a better place to live. So, while he was teaching martial arts in the evening, he took part-time, temporary day jobs working on exhibits at various museums in Balboa Park and continued to work at home on his paintings. In 2007 he took a full-time position as director of exhibits at the USS Midway Museum. During his years as a “starving artist” he lived in North Park (1994–2004) and discovered the beauty of North Park’s alleys and ultimately developed a series, “Alleys of North Park,” now called “Urbanscapes.”
“There’s drama in those alleys that attracted me — a feeling of mystery,” he said. Since doing his alley series he has also created “Men at Work,” “Contemporary Landscapes,” “Jewels” and“Sidewalks.”
Today, Windsor continues to create art in his Mt. Helix “lab” where he experiments with a variety of techniques in unique combinations to create exciting new artworks.
Windsor is a former member of the Fine Art Society Mentor Program (formerly, ART Pulse Gallery). His past mentor, Yoram Gil of Los Angeles, coached him to step out of his comfort zone and get into abstracts. “I was reluctant, but now I’m a lot more confident with abstract painting. I’ve become a braver artist, thanks to Yoram Gil,” said Windsor. “I’m a student of the masters, so I have many favorites for all different reasons. Today it would probably be Jack Whitten, a New York City artist, because he has lived through the period of Abstract Expressionism, POP, and Modern Art, and yet today remained true to his ideals of art. And as an African-American from the south, he has experienced the freedom art has played in his life, as it has in mine.”
Windsor’s mastery of a variety of media including pastels,oils, acrylic, watercolors, clay, linocut block prints, and found objects has propelled him into a respected place as“ “Master Artist” among his peers. Windsor’s ever-popular Urbanscapes “Alleys of North Park Series,” which began in 1999, has received numerous awards from juried shows and invitational museum exhibitions. The paintings have been included in many group shows and corporate venues throughout Southern California. --Originally published in the ‘North Park News,’ December, 2016