Barbara Lawlor, Nederland. The months prior to the butchering of her pig, Ward artist Jean Pless had twinges of remorse. Did she really want to do this?
She had gone to Jacob Springs where she bought her chicken food when she saw that the farm also sold pigs and thought her husband RC might like fresh pork.
“They took to the field and introduced me to the piglets, Heritage pork that would be raised all summer and I ordered one. All summer I thought about the pig, about the happiness of a pig, and the painting came to me, an abstract work of pink, the pig on its back with its feet in the air. I also did a painting of the butchered pig.”
A first look at Jean’s paintings on the west side of the Nederland Community Library wall would not reveal the pig story, but with a little information, one can see the pig in the colors and it is indeed a happy pig. Now it is an immortalized pig, its life forever captured by Jean’s brush.
The library walls have become a perfect place to display work by local artists, and Jean is delighted by the opportunity to hang her oil paintings for mountain residents to see. Last Friday night, Jean welcomed library patrons and art lovers to a reception introducing her to the public.
Appetizers and sparkling apple juice were served as Jean talked about her life as an artist. She was born in Tennessee and grew up in Mississippi until she was 21 years old. She says her first painting experience occurred on the stage of a local ballet dance recital company. Her mother painted the backdrop for the theater and worked on still lifes.
“I grew up with the smell of oil paint. My first painting, however, was a pastel angel placed in the center of the page when I was seven. I’ll never forget that angel.”
At that time, Jean owned a sketch pad and a box of pastels. She had big feet and narrow shoulders and she made the angel with tiny feet and broad shoulders.
She also worked on still lifes. When a substitute teacher gave the class an assignment to create a still life painting, Jean put together an array of bell peppers, focusing on the strong light and resulting shadows. When she took the painting to school, the substitute teacher looked at it and said, “I can tell that your mother painted that.” She was proud and angry at the same time.
She said that her favorite medium as a child was actually mud pies and mud cakes. In high school, she was lucky to have an art teacher whom she loved and who had a huge influence on her work. She often snuck out of the house to visit the teacher who had a big old house and offered Jean coffee she drank out of jars.
“Her shades had people painted on them. She painted more about feelings than reality,” says Jean.
She attended the Mississippi State College for Women until she ran away with a friend to San Francisco in 1968. They hitch-hiked cross country and she worked at a series of different jobs and took art classes. Her friend went back to Mississippi, and a couple years later they decided to meet in Boulder, and she realized she was in a place she wanted to be.
In 1972, Jean was one of the first people to become a granola maker at the Bread Shop. She moved to Ward where she lived in a cabin and ended up working at Shark’s Lithography, where she set up a printing place and studied print making. At this time, she was rock climbing and painted the Mayan Movie Theater in Denver. The connections she made there led her to be offered the job of restoring the historic Oriental Theater in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
She then had a daughter and shared her time between an apartment in Boulder and the Ward cabin. She also had a studio which was made from a redwood water tank, and later became a teahouse.
Over the years she became a member of a group art studio in Boulder. She is now working on an abstract mountain scene in Boulder which is 15 feet long. She shows her work mostly in a gallery in Denver.
Jean says she likes to use enough paint to be able to push it around and be free with her strokes.
She says, “A lot of times I am influenced by what’s around me. I did a six-painting series about the feeling of wildness about it.
“A year ago, my friend and fellow artist, Carol Jenkins said I should show my work here, that it would liven things up. I make my own frames, having once earned a living being a frame maker for large, oversized art.”
Jean says she loves having her work hanging in the library, loves the light in the building and had a great time hanging her work with Roberta’s help.
One of the paintings at the library is an abstract she painted after the 2013 flood, an image of black umbrellas flowing down the painting, as if they are being pummeled by torrents of rain.
Jean’s work will be on display for the next couple of months.