Joan Reeves models how art can be one’s life for a lifetime.
I pulled into the well-kept senior living facility in north Seattle, just two miles from the home on 86th and Linden in the Greenwood neighborhood in Seattle, where Jenny and I and our family lived for five years, 1997-2002. Joan met me in the lobby and led me to her apartment. I immediately noticed bright, striking and large watercolor paintings that tell stories from her walls. Her studio was in the room next to her living room, by necessity small but functional. Joan shared with me that the great thing about art was that it could travel with you through your entire life, even through downsizing.
Path into Art
Joan was born in Seattle on June 22, 1932. She has lived in Seattle most of her life. Joan was an only child, which worked fine due to her introverted personality, as did art. She was always drawing, from the very beginning. She was close friends with a neighbor girl, and they were together a lot. But when she was alone, Joan drew. Her parents were very encouraging of her youthful talent. As a girl she rubbed shoulders with artist friends of her folks: Florence Nesbit, one of the founders of the Northwest Watercolor society, and June Nye, and Rudy Bundas, who gave her the first canvas she had to paint on. Before that she just painted on boards.
She started at Lincoln High School in Seattle. Her family moved to Oregon for a couple of her high school years. Joan came back to Seattle for her senior year. She graduated from Roosevelt High School in June, 1950. Joan made the surprising decision to attend art school at the University of Hawaii. Perhaps she chose this distant and exotic location to gain distance and heal from a difficult time in her life; her parents had been divorced and her mother and her returned to Seattle from Oregon alone. Perhaps it was that her aunts lived in Hawaii. Her aunt happened to be close to the president of the university, and she had been talking with her aunt about attending there for some time. Perhaps it because through her aunt’s connections she could get a work and living arrangement that would allow her to attend school. For whatever reason, unusual as it was, Joan enrolled as an art major. “I was brave enough to do that”, Joan says.
It turned out to be a providential decision for Joan. While working at a restaurant while attending school she met a young man named George Reeves. He worked at Castle & Cooke, a large shipping firm next door. The employees there came into Joan’s restaurant for coffee every afternoon. He was a few years older than her, a graduate of the university, a drummer, and he was handsome. He approached Joan and then next thing she knew they were a couple. Joan didn’t finish art school. She got married instead. She hasn’t regretted that at all. They married in 1953.
George and Joan made a life for themselves on the big island for six years. Their first son, David, was born there. They moved back to Seattle in 1957. Michael, their second son was born in Seattle. During the time her sons were small, she didn’t paint much. She kept busy doing decorations for the school PTA, but not personal paintings. A friend from the PTA decided to do a Life Class at Cornish in Seattle, which was then a non-accredited college on Capital Hill. She enjoyed the figure drawing class, and her paintings and drawings prove her gifts of portraying the human figure. All of this took place before Joan discovered her love for watercolor.
A few years later, Joan took up painting more seriously. A friend invited her to paint with her and her sister. Over time they added a couple of more people until there were five, all watercolorists. They met once a week, religiously, and painted all day. They got known in Edmonds as a group of artist friends that painted together. A woman decided they should have a name. She came up with Quintessence. From that time on they exhibited as Quintessence. And even years later people asked Joan about Quintessence. Even though Joan is not outgoing, she thrived with that circle of artists. She has many good memories. We had a lot of fun”, she recalls. “It was a good way to get into painting again.” They were: Crisse Bennett, Ann Rutter, Win Bainbridge, Carolyn Stancik and Joan. There are just two of that circle of artist friends still around.
Joan started with oils. A friend asked her to take a watercolor class taught by Jerry Stitt because she didn’t want to go by herself. That class got Joan started with watercolor. Jerry Stitt is a master watercolorist. He paints loose, sparkling, vibrant watercolors with emotion. For Joan the medium “just felt good” . She liked the paper, and how the paint did its own things. “You can’t control watercolor or paint over your own mistakes”, she says. She liked it so much she never went back to oils. Joan, like many watercolorists in her era, painted on full sheet watercolor paper. She loved to use strong lights and darks, and showing nature juxtaposed with man-made things. She would rather paint the flowerpot, than just the flowers.
The joys and struggles of watercolor for Joan are that it doesn’t always do what you had in mind, which is hard, but it can do something unexpected, which is great.
Over the years Joan found her own artistic voice: “I am drawn to subjects softened by the years and the elements, like weathered wood, old architecture, rusting boats, old brick. The effects of sun and shadow are of special interest to me. Travel in Europe (especially Greece) has inspired many paintings–I savor the timeless quality of these places.” Though Joan has traveled widely in Europe, her favorite subject matter is scenery of Seattle and the Pacific Northwest. The effects of light and shadow are a predominant theme in her paintings.
Joan’s painting advice is: just do it. Paint every day as much as you can. She took a workshop in Oregon. The instructor challenged the students to write in “paint days” in their calendar. For the instructor, painting came first, other things second. This inspired Joan who from that day on calendared painting. Joan took a lot of classes. As an introvert, she acknowledges that you can learn a lot by doing art by yourself. Still she counsels emerging artists to have other artists in your life. “Painting can be a lonely thing. So get attached to some sort of group. Your group can back you up when you are feeling lousy about your work.” One association Joan joined was the Northwest Watercolor Society (NWWS). She joined in 1980, the year after my dad served as president of that organization. Back then the group was smaller; they met in people’s homes. She remembers meeting at Perry Acker’s home. That night he told her that one of her paintings had been picked for the Craftsmen Press Calendar. Joan was so excited she was floating on the clouds and could hardly walk right; when they left Acker’s home, “I fell down the stairs,” she recalls. Perry Acker was one of Joan’s mentors. Another was Chuck Webster. They were people that Joan respected and enjoyed the most.
Joan encourages taking classes and workshops with gifted artists. She’s studied under Perry Acker, John Pellew, Frank Webb, Vernon Nye, Katherine Wengi-O’Connor and Jerry Stitt. Joan’s natural talents plus her hard work and the instruction of these gifted artists had results. Joan never approached a gallery on her own; they always approached her drawn by the excellence of her artwork. She’s been represented at many including Gallery West, in Bellingham and Art Stall Gallery, at the Pike Place Market, Seattle. The first place Joan exhibited work was at the Coop Gallery in Edmonds. She was a member of the Art Stall Gallery for thirty-six years. This group of talented and supportive artist was “the best group I ever joined,” Joan remarks. “You learn things from each other.”
Joan is thankful that she didn’t have to make a living with watercolor. She did want it to be self-sustaining, paying for the materials. It was. Having a supportive spouse is vital, Joan points out. The women Joan painted with would laugh and say we need a wife because their male painter friends had wives that took care of the business end of the work as well as scheduling. George was supportive. He supported her painting through the decade, went with her to delivery paintings galleries, and never begrudged her studio space in their homes. George died when he was 94. “I miss him still,” Joan says.
Joan has had people who bought her paintings say to her they still have joy in viewing it. To provide enduring joy through art is, perhaps, an artists greatest legacy.
Joan doesn’t know how many paintings she has painted over her lifetime. “Not all saw the light of day outside my studio,” Joan points out. They were discarded as not meeting her standards. Yet over her life of art, her paintings have been widely exhibited. They have been showcased at the Frye Art Museum, the Bellevue Art Museum, Missoula Museum of the Arts, and in numerous juried, invitational, and solo exhibitions. Joan participated in many exhibitions including Americas Paperworks, 2009 – 38th Annual, the Bellevue Art Museum Watercolor Invitational, the Lousiana Watercolor International, the Arizona Aqueous, the Northwest Watercolor Society Retrospective at the Frye Museum in Seattle, the San Diego Watercolor International, Watercolor West, 8th Biennial North American Open in Concord, MA, the Watermedia Annual in Montana. She was part of Celebrating Women in the Arts at the Frye Museum, and An Enduring Legacy, hosted by the Women Painters of Washington at the Whatcom Museum of History and Art. As a member of NWWS, her work has been selected in the Northwest Watercolor Society Annual, as well as the Northwest Invitational Miniature Exhibition, and Northwest Marine Art Invitational. Joan has won many awards in those shows; like the Purchase Award, San Diego Invitational, Best of Edmonds, Edmonds Arts Festival, Best of Show, at the Women Painters of Washington Annual, a Silver Award at Watercolor West, a Past Presidents Award at the Northwest Watercolor Society show, and a Gold Award at the Eastern WA Watercolor Annual. Joan is a life member of the Northwest Watercolor Society, a signature member of Watercolor West and the San Diego Watercolor Society. She is also a member of the Women Painters of Washington and a charter member of the National Museum of Women in the Arts.
Joan is pleased that over the years she won several awards. “That feels wonderful.” Still she says that after all that success she still doubted herself. She felt her works wasn’t as good as she would have liked. But in the end, Joan’s art journey has been a joy and strength through her long life. Besides her family, art has been the basis of her life. She’s had to downsize twice now. First when they moved from their home in Lake Forest Park where the whole downstairs was devoted as her art studio to a Condo in Fremont. That was the major downsizing. She had to through many things away. “It was painful, but you do it because you have to,” she says. The second downsizing from the condo to the senior living facility wasn’t as hard, their was less to get rid of. There is less space to. Now a small desk and closet and small room make up her studio. But it is enough. Joan paints there every day. And plans to as long as her eyesight holds up. “I want to paint as much as I can now, just in case.”
Enjoy this sneak peak at Joan’s sketchbook, art and studio apartment.
Art has been a faithful life companion filling magical hours of childhood, strengthening her during some sad days of youth, connecting her to friends and mentors, providing a path of vocational success. It stayed at her side after the devastating loss of her beloved George. And it has traveled with her down through the years as age takes their toll. In a way, it is the perfect life companion for an introvert. The solitude companionship of brush and paint and paper. Painting can be the love of ones life, and a companion of a lifetime. It has been for Joan.
Sunnyshore Studio’s 2020 Vintage Watercolorists of Washington is sponsored by the Northwest Watercolor Society.
- Opens Saturday, March 7th, 10am-5pm
- Join us for our “Meet the Artist” Reception on Saturday, March 7, 3-5pm
- Show continues on March 14 and 21, 10am-5pm
The show is named after the patriarch of our family of artists, Jack Dorsey. Here is Jack’s personal invitation to the 2020 show.