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Heidi Hensley: Momma, Artist, Loving Activist

Heidi Hensley: Momma, Artist, Loving Activist

Heidi Hensley is known for many things but outside of her family, it is hard to fully declare what she is most passionate about since she seems to fully throw herself into almost everything that she does. Whether she is raising her 6 kids with her wife, Karen, or painting in her professional art studio or volunteering her time, Heidi is one of the kindest, most sincere and talented people you could ever cross paths with.

As a musician on a stage in front of her many fans, Heidi is not afraid to testify about her own experiences and it doesn’t seem like she feels that she needs to hide any part of her genuine Self from anyone else for any reason off the stage, as well. It is so refreshing to be around someone, who is so accepting of others and also a confident warrior in the truest sense.

Hensley, who was born and raised in Ellijay, Georgia, began her most recent career as a widely known and respected painter about 8 years ago when she was in her 30’s. A friend of hers asked her to paint a picture of her mom’s house and though Heidi had only done technical drawings in the past, she agreed to do the project. Hensley picked up a paint brush for the first time and according to Heidi, “It was like the heaven’s opened. It was awesome. I was like, this is what I’m supposed to do.”

Completely self-taught in painting, Heidi studied architecture and interior design at the University of Georgia and owned a business where she created architectural renderings for builders up until the point of the stock market crash in 2008 when a lot of the new housing market came to halt. At that point, Heidi was able to find the best in a potentially bad situation by transforming herself and her career into something that was even more suited for her desired way of working.

“People” is what Heidi says she most loves about performing live on a stage. “I would banter. I would connect to people. Also, part of what I would do is I would tell stories and afterwards people came up to me and said, ‘That happened to me'."  

Hensley went on to say, "The one thing about a piece of art is you sell a piece of art and it can impact somebody everyday of their life in their house but you don’t see that but when you play live music and you connect to a crowd, you’re watching them experience that and that’s so fulfilling.”

I mentioned that it seems she isn’t afraid to expose herself to strangers and fans to which Heidi replied “No, but it took me a long time to get there. It never fails before I walk on stage, I’m like why do I do this. I’m so nervous. Like why do I put myself through this but the minute I get through those first few chords, it’s like home. I can’t explain it. You just kind of melt into it and connect.”

Heidi, who joyously facilitates bringing people’s visions to canvas, said, “For the most part I paint for other people. 90% of what I do is commissions and I feel like it's not about me throwing myself out there. I’m throwing their feelings onto a canvas.”

Hensley who makes a good portion of her living by “painting cities and towns across the U.S.” was recently hired to paint all the official SEC logos during the SEC Championship game in Atlanta this past college football season. When asked if she was passionate about those kind of jobs or just doing what she had to do to make a living as an artist, Hensley replied, “I played basketball for Furman University on a full scholarship until I got injured and then I transferred to UGA. You can ask my kids, I’m viciously competitive. I love sports so much and I am a Bulldawg.”

Heidi, who has successfully built a highly respected reputation as an official artist of the University of Georgia Bulldog Nation, showed me one of her amazing Bulldog paintings that she was inspired to stay up all night creating after Georigia won the 2017 championship football game and said, “A lot of my UGA stuff is very passionate.”

She went on to say, “Anything local in Athens, I’m very passionate about.” When asked what makes her love Athens, Georgia so much, Heidi responded, “Because it’s loved me. It's given me a place to play music and be creative. It's giving me a place to raise children.”

Hensley continued, “Athens really loves its creatives. People go out and they listen to music. The people, who live here, they support the arts. It’s not that people love me, Heidi Hensley, but Athens embraces the arts in a great way and it’s just small enough where you can know people. It’s all about people. I just like to connect to people.”

I asked Heidi, who grew up in a very small southern town, about her transition from the lifestyle of a jock to the one of an artist. Like it seems she comfortably does with anyone or any audience for the right reason, Heidi completely opened up her heart and shared a very personal story that she gave full permission for Good People News to print.

In her own words:

“I felt like one of the only ways I was going to get to College was a basketball scholarship and to make a long story short I had a (high school) coach that was sexually abusive and I did not pursue fighting that as a teenager out of fear but also out of being afraid that I wouldn’t go to college if I rock the boat in some way. I just didn't tell anybody. I didn't tell anybody for many reasons but mostly because I wanted to play college basketball more than anything in the world and then when I went to Furman, he still coached at the high school I graduated from.

Somebody came to visit me and they were saying some moms are concerned about the way the coach is talking to their daughters and I was just like this is going to happen again. I left Furman and I went back to my hometown. I went to the superintendent, who I knew, and said, ‘This is what happened to me in high school. I do not want to carry this around anymore and I don't want it to happen to somebody else. I just need to let you know and then you do with it what you have to do.’

Well, naive 20 year old at the time, he was like, ‘Well you know I have to report it’ and anyway it went to a case. My entire town turned against me, pretty much, because I was the first female basketball player to ever get a full scholarship in my county and since he was a great coach they felt like I was ruining it for their daughters. Also, I'm a lesbian and so they felt like I was making it all up because I was a lesbian and I was jealous, which is Bananagrams.

I did not even want to go forward with the case but I also didn't want another girl to be abused.

So that all happened while I was at Furman. After my sophomore year, I developed bursitis in both hips. Couldn't play. Had 5 cortisone shots. They would not red shirt me. I was the only point guard and I just said I'm not doing this anymore. I felt like I had sold my soul in a way to go to college & play basketball and I just kind of put it down.

I was like, I can't do this anymore and it hasn't been until the last eight years or so that I want to pick it up and play again but that shifted. It's like I wanted to do the antithesis of being a jock. So, I came to UGA. Loved art. Got into the music scene. Didn't play sports. Waited tables. I just wanted to do something so different.

We won that case by the way. I did win the case. He lost his teaching certificate and then when I transferred to UGA, I did have people come to me and want me to write down everything that had happened so that they could take it to a criminal case and at the time I just could not revisit that so I never wrote it down.

My mother has always followed him and he did try to get another teaching job and lied on his application. She knows where he is at all times and contacted the school and said, ‘Let me tell you what happened'. So he never taught again…..Time has healed those wounds….. Coming out of that situation at Furman and not being able to play basketball anymore, I just needed something different and I just happened to fall into who I really am, which, is an artist”.

Heidi, who is the daughter of a Southern Baptist Preacher, says her being a lesbian “is very difficult for my family” so at first she immensely struggled with her sexual identity. Heidi would think to herself, "I cannot do this. I'm not going to be with anybody or I would date guys." 

Heidi continued, "I love men. I mean, I'm not anti-man at all in any way whatsoever. It didn't feel the same. It just didn't work and my parents would struggle with it and talk to me about.... ‘God doesn't want this for you’. At one point they kind of stopped paying for everything and really didn't have a lot to do with me."

“We've moved beyond that into a sense of just not talking about it. They love my children. Very close to my kids and very supportive. Do they accept me and my wife? No.”

“I grew up a Southern Baptist”, Heidi continued.  “Do I believe that Christ lived? Yes, absolutely. Do I think that we should all live in what I call a Christ Consciousness? If we did, we would live in Utopia. Yes, we should, but I don't know how I identify religiously.”

 "A lot of my friends will say, ‘Why don't you just cut them (her family) off. You've got to just stop trying. Stop connecting. They have shut you out. They don't accept you.’

My retort is, ‘How can I ask them to accept me where I am if I'm unwilling to accept them where they are’. At the end of the day isn't that what I call Christ Consciousness?  Is that you love people where they are no matter where they are. So I'm not going to shut my family out because they can't accept me with my partner because then I would have been in essence be doing exactly what I'm asking them not to do.”

Hensley said, “There are times I’ll go visit and hang out because I don't want to have regrets. I love my parents. They raised my sister and I to be strong girls and I appreciate that so much and everything that they have given me. I don't hide Karen and I talk about her.”

”There's a Biblical verse that talks about being the stumbling block to your brother. Stumbling block meaning keeping somebody else away from Christ and I feel like them being around me and my wife is their stumbling block. They feel like that would separate them from God in some way. Where as I feel like if I shunned them, that’s what separates me from God because we’re supposed to love everybody.”

 From Heidi’s perspective her parent’s true stumbling block to Christ is their lack of acceptance and love. “It's so simple. It is the most simple thing in the world if we would all just love one another for who we are.”

Hensley continued, “This is me dealing with my perpetrator, ‘I hate that you
you did this but every one of us has a light in us’. Some people darken that light but do I think that light doesn't exist? No. I think we all come out with this incredible capacity to love and to just connect to people and we blow it.”

When asked why we “blow it” she replied, “Fear of something different. Fear of someone else’s belief. Fear of intimacy. Fear and some sort of entitlement.”

Heidi, who has full time and part time employees working for her company, has painted over 200 cities across the United States. Once she creates the commissioned image, she turns it into other sellable products such as prints, notecards & Christmas ornaments. Hensley is currently in the process of solidifying a huge deal with a nationwide retailer, who has shown major interest in licensing some of her art.

Hensley, who has a large art gallery & another studio opening soon in downtown Athens, is a special celebrity dancer at Project Safe’s 2018 Dancing with the Athens Stars, which annually raises way over $100,000 for victims of domestic abuse.

Heidi helped create a program called “Remember to Love” which among other things helps kids design their own murals to “leave as their legacy to the kids coming up about kindness and love.” Without a doubt in everything she does, Heidi Hensley is leaving her legacy of kindness and love.  

Heidi says that “time changes hearts” and that people from her hometown now buy her art. She feels very comfortable as a parent in a lesbian relationship and says she has never felt any harassment in public some of which she gives credit to raising her kids in Athens and some of it to times changing everywhere. Hensley said, “I think if you act ashamed or upset about something then that translates to other people.”

“Love is love”, Heidi said, but she realizes not everyone has it as easy as she has had it as a gay parent.  Hensley, who does consider herself an activist, says she is very comfortable speaking out. “Whatever actions I’m going to be a part of, it’s going to be because I’m trying to love other people. I sound like the biggest hippy or like that’s so cliché, but I mean it. It is so simple. I tell my kids all the time, ‘If you have a question in life, any question, Should I do something? Should I not? Is it the loving choice?! If it’s the loving choice, then it’s probably right.’”

In regards to spirituality, Heidi, who identifies as a Gnostic, said she believes, “It’s that light inside each of us. We are all part of one unit. We are all of God. Whatever God is. It could be a force. It could be energy. It could be vibration. We are all part of a connective force and vibration."

Hensley continued, "Within each of us through connecting to other people and wholly centering yourself into your own light and vibration, which again I liken to 'just loving'. The most powerful thing that we can do is love. The most powerful thing. It's the only thing in my opinion that changes anything. If you can completely connect to that then that’s a Gnostic belief. You’ve reached a higher consciousness of how we’re really supposed to be."

Heidi Hensley wants people to know, “That I love them. That I will sit down with anybody. Talk. Connect.  Ask my kids what’s the most important resource from the earth & every one of them, I promise you, will tell you, ‘People’.”

Heidi considers herself to be a “voice” more than a “leader”. I told her I thought a leader was also someone who lived their life exactly the way they wanted to. She agreed that she indeed does that.

Heidi is divorced from a lady who shares parenting & biological responsibilities of their 3 kids, who all have the same father, who donated his sperm to both biological moms. Heidi is remarried to a lady who has 3 kids of her own from her 1st marriage with her ex-husband. Heidi's wife's 3 biological kids do not blink an eye about their new stepmom and Heidi says that she, her ex-wife, her new wife, all 6 kids from both marriages, and the father of 3 of the children along with his husband all go on annual family vacations together, which proves beyond a doubt Heidi Hensley and her family live with the unconditional love and acceptance that she preaches so eloquently about. 

Heidi Hensley, who is one of the truest examples of love and acceptance, is also a mirror for anyone brave enough to look into their own heart to see if they, like Heidi, attempt to live with LOVE & ACCEPTANCE in all that they do.

Heidi represents the people of this earth regardless of country, sexuality and/or occupation. She represents victims who have overcome. She represents artists of all types. She stands and speaks up for all of us and especially for those of us that least deserve it.



Heidi Hensley working in one of her art studios (2018)

Heidi Hensley working in one of her art studios (2018)

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