Cambrian: Opinion

Cambria Center for the Arts Q&A: Jeanette Wolff

This is the sixth in a series of interviews presented by the Cambria Center for the Arts to heighten awareness of artists — and the arts — in our community.

Jeanette Wolff — J’Net — is a Cambria-based multi-media artist known for her bright and compelling canvases and water colors.

Born in Portland, Ore., she moved to Alaska when she was 5, thanks to her adventurous parents. She remembers the somewhat primitive lifestyle of the territory more than a decade before it became a state; she even recalls having genuine gold-miner neighbors who allowed their huskies to eat at the table with them!

From there, the family moved to Santa Ana, Calif., and, although J’Net loved art, her father convinced her that if she might ever need to support herself she should study something else. So she enrolled in Saint Vincent’s College of Nursing in Los Angeles and became an registered nurse, and then took a job at Garden Grove Community Hospital as a maternity nurse.

After getting married and having three children, she left nursing for awhile and began to find time here and there doing art, taking classes and showing her work, first at casual community festivals and later in art shows and galleries. After her kids were older she worked part-time in Juvenile Hall of Orange County and later in maternity nursing when she and her husband, Pete, lived in Ohio. For the last 40 years, she has taught workshops, judged shows and, for the last 25 years, has served as an active member of Cambria Center for the Arts.

Q: When did you first see yourself as an artist?

A: I was coloring with a friend when I was about 5, and I remember comparing my work with hers, and thinking I was WAY better! Then I took a class at the YMCA. I looked at what I did and thought “Hey — I’m really pretty good!” I sold my first painting at a little art show about 50 years ago. I remember being so embarrassed watching people look at the piece — which, by the way, finally sold for $7.

Q: How did you get started?

A: We were living near Laguna Beach and the Festival of the Arts was just beginning. I saw artists “doing their thing” and loved what I saw. It was a challenge, so I bought a Walter Foster book and just started while the kids were in school. I realized there is nothing to be afraid of in art. You just do it. Then I took that first art class at the YMCA and I WAS OFF! 

Q: What media do you use?

A: I usually just use what is going to do the job. I do a lot of collage. I don’t like to get into technique so much. If you stick with one medium it gets too easy. You go too far, too fast.

Q: How would you describe your style?

A: Humoresque. Impressionistic. Lyrical. Satirical.

Q: From where do you get your inspiration?

A: I really feel I’ve been given a gift and I’m just trying to use it. I just want to be sure that I use my talent the way God intended.

Q: What are your biggest challenges?

A: I tend to paint very fast. Once I get going I get very excited; I have a hard time slowing down and often not stopping at the right time.

Q: Is a blank canvas ever daunting?

A: No, it’s exciting.

Q: What advice would you offer an aspiring artist?

A: Don’t compare yourself to anyone else. Study artists you admire, past and present. Just keep doing it. Don’t be afraid.

Q: What does painting do for you?

A: It excites me. Helps me see the humor in things.

I once did a painting back in Ohio of a clown, lying down on the table in surgery. I thought it was very funny. I wanted to see what humor and seriousness, combined with warm and cool colors, would look like. The clown was very bright pink-orange and the surgeons were in their green scrubs. It was totally off the wall. You just had to look at it and think.

So I walked into the hospital where I was working in Ohio (I had been asked to do a show) and hung the painting, right across from the hospital’s four elevators. Almost immediately I got a phone call from administration: “You cannot put this painting here.” So I had to take it down right away. They couldn’t believe I would hang up this painting! So I removed it angrily and later realized how offensive it might have been — not funny at all to some who were having a very serious time in their life! My mother-in-law always wondered why I would ever paint anything like that when I could paint “such beautiful flowers.” But she also never forgot it, and always asked to see it again. I guess my humor is a little strange at times.

Q: What made you come to Cambria?

A: My daughter came through the town on a trip and called me in Ohio, where we were living, and said, “Mom, you’ve got to come to this place; it looks like you!” We eventually drove here, and I remember that as we were approaching Cambria, it was déjà vu; I felt at home, as if I’d been here before. We purchased our house in 1985 and moved here in 1988.

Q: What can participation in Cambria’s art organization, Cambria Center for the Arts (CCA), offer an aspiring or professional artist?

A: I feel so strongly about this place and have such a vision for CCA. This wonderful Old Grammar School has given us room to move around and provide all the arts to our entire community of aspiring artists. Our enchanting little schoolhouse was just right for the time but we have outgrown it. We now have a new grammar school and, as promised when we voted for it, this community center is for all of us — the whole community. We now have a place to meet other artists, talk and listen, learn and then teach the next ones who want to learn about art in all its forms.

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