Starting in 1994, I took figure drawing from Jack and watercolor from Sondra at Hollins College (now Hollins University) where they were often visiting artists. They also co-led many workshops and gallery talks about color and composition throughout their residencies at Hollins.
I remember how they drove to campus in a slightly battered red van with a bumper sticker that read, “Practice Random Acts of Kindness and Senseless Beauty.” I was 19 years old at the time and had never seen that sticker before. I wasn’t yet familiar with the concept of having intrinsic morality or with the notion of being kind simply because it adds beauty to the world and enriches our experience. It was not long after I met them that Jack professed they were not members of any denomination—that he and Sondra were humanists. The more he talked, the more he made sense to me. As we got to know each other, I realized that their kindness was authentic and that he and Sondra practiced what they preached.
Jack strove to make the world around him more beautiful, both with his art and with his actions. His big personality swirled around and cradled his students. He lent us his confidence while leading us down pathways into paintings, navigated us through Old Master works while shedding light on the techniques they employed. He cared deeply about creating, recognizing, and replicating beauty. Jack was always completely transparent about the means and methods available to becoming a better artist and, inevitably, a better person.
Ironically, some of the best advice Jack gave me was to “lie, cheat, and steal!” He would explain later that an artist needs to “lie” by creating a believable illusion with his or her art, “cheat” by copying what the old masters did, and “steal” by using other artists’ successful ideas. I also learned the word, “gangbusters” from Jack. From what I can infer about the definition of “gangbusters,” it’s a great word to describe him and his teaching style.
Most importantly, Jack cared for people by sharing himself; his stories, his experiences, his beliefs, his opinions, and his enthusiasm for life. He fashioned his life like his paintings—rich with color and dynamic compositions. For me, it was life changing to have a teacher that was so open and available. He and Sondra invited me to their home and shared the beauty of their farm with me. He identified with my love of horses, cats, and dogs, sharing stories about his animals. He would often find photographs or paintings of horses and share them with me. I have a collection of pictures that Jack sent me of Scoo2er, his Airedale terrier, supposedly saying, “Hi” to my horse, Reggae (as Jack wrote in his card.) He mailed me letters, kept up with me via email and later, Facebook. Jack made me feel worthy. It’s that self-worth that led me to pursue a career in painting and teaching. Because of Jack’s encouragement and guidance, I have the confidence to help others and keep his spirit alive.