Painter and poet Jean Sampson has a long history with the building that houses the McGuffey Art Center as she graduated there in 1960 from what was formerly McGuffey Elementary School. She now paints in her studio and teaches two classes: “Gutsy Abstract Oil Painting” on Monday nights and “Beginning Drawing for Chickens” on Tuesday nights. The latter class is for those of us who don’t identify as visual artists, and who may even be afraid to try our hand at it. I took this class several years ago and can testify to the fact that Jean can help even the less visual among us learn how to draw, and how to begin to view objects and the world with the eye of an artist.
You can find a complete list of McGuffey’s class offerings online and can keep up with Jean’s work on her website.
Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from? If not the Charlottesville area, what brought you here?
I am a poet and visual artist/teacher with a studio at McGuffey Art Center, the former McGuffey Elementary School, which was my school back in the ‘50s. My husband, Bill, and I live in the house I grew up in, a few blocks from McGuffey. I walked to school as a child and now I walk to my studio!
Right now, it appears that I am painting a series of seascapes which makes me laugh because I have only been to the ocean four times in my life. Go figure! 🙂 They just started happening, which is how my paintings often come about.
When and why did you become an artist?
I fell in love with art because, as a young woman, I met Morton P. Traylor, the owner/director of Virginia Art Institute, his small, private art school that he had just opened in Charlottesville in the late ‘60s/early ‘70s. “Mr. T,” as we called him, loved art and loved teaching from his amazing knowledge of both art history and the practical aspects of art. His love of art was contagious and I soon fell in love with art, too!
I studied with him at VAI until he had to close the school. After that, I drove out to Sugar Hollow once a week to take classes with several other students in his personal studio that was filled with all of his wonderful paintings and drawings. When he and his wife, Maxine, a wonderful artist, too, moved to Day’s Creek, Oregon, it broke my heart! But the gift that “Mr. T” gave me will be with me forever!
As for the other artists who have inspired me, there is, of course, Van Gogh and O’Keeffe. Also Paul Jenkins, an artist who created beautiful paintings by pouring paint. I LOVE Odilon Redon, a master of color, and Hans Hofmann. I love experimenting with color and paint. The question I always ask myself when I am painting is, “I wonder what would happen if…” For me, it is all about process, the journey and discover, invention. It is hard for me to do a series of paintings because I am always on a new, unexplored path!
What aspects of life excite you, stir your affections, fuel your passions, inspire your art?
When I am not in the studio, I love to walk the fabulous hills of Charlottesville! I am sure that the colors and the light that is all around me on my morning walks makes itself known in my paintings and poems! Sometimes when I paint, I listen to old ‘60s Biblical Spectacular sound tracks such as Ben Hur and King of Kings composed by Miklos Rozsa! I also love to listen to anything by Vaughn-Williams—probably my favorite classical composer. I expect that the energy of the music is encoded in the paint! 🙂
I want people to feel the energy of the color, the passion and the joy that I feel when I paint or write poems.
Finish this sentence. Painting to me is…
…a way of going out onto a limb with a saw and then sawing the limb off so that you will have to grow wings! In fact, I wrote a poem about that.
What does a day in the life of an artist look like from your perspective?
I live a fairly predictable life, at least for right now. I try to have a big hill walk in the morning and then go to the studio in the afternoons to paint. Twice a week I co-facilitate a drawing group at McGuffey for the public to draw from the live model for only a $10 model fee. That takes the place of my walk on Thursdays and Saturdays. On Monday nights, I teach my Gutsy Abstract Oil Painting class—so much fun! And on Tuesday nights, I teach Beginning Drawing for Chickens, which is for self-described non-artists who actually discover that they CAN learn to draw! Both are listed on the McGuffey website.
I just hope to keep on painting and teaching and loving my life at McGuffey.
What showings/events/classes of yours should we look forward to?
Hopefully I will have a future show in the main gallery at McGuffey of the seascapes if they keep happening.
What advice do you have for anyone who wants to pursue a career as an artist?
If I have any advice for young artists hoping for a career in art, it is to get used to rejection and use it to grow! Don’t let anything keep you from painting and drawing and learning. Oh, and find good teachers! After all of that, PRAY! 🙂
What makes Cville special for artists of all forms?
I think what makes Charlottesville such a wonderful town for the arts is that there are so many places to experience various art forms. There is LiveArts, the IX Project, The Bridge, Second Street Gallery, and other galleries around the downtown area. McGuffey is really special because the artists work in studios that are open to the public when they are working and visitors can interact with any artist there. We also do lots of community outreach, give tours to different groups, and have festivals and programs.
Favorite place in Cville to… be creative?
McGuffey is my favorite place to be creative, of course! And my favorite place to see art! 🙂
Favorite place in Cville to… grab a bite?
I love Sticks and Rev Soup! Also Hamilton’s for special occasions, and Monsoon and Now and Zen—I guess I just love good food!
Favorite place in Cville to… get a drink?
I only drink wine and that is mostly at home, so my favorite coffee place is Java Java (and I love Mudhouse, too).
Lastly… Describe yourself in 10 words or less.
A kind woman who loves her friends, painting, words, and walking. And Charlottesville, of course!