Leading Central MA: Teaching Artist + Painter Jen Swan
Monday, September 30, 2013
A conversation with Jen Swan
SW: How did your career begin and where?
JS: I have always loved art, even as a child, and my family and friends have been very supportive of me. As a young adult, I was an assistant teacher for art classes at the Worcester Art Museum and worked at various community centers teaching art. After studying Fine Art and Painting at RISD, I returned to the Worcester area and began teaching at the Museum and the Worcester Center for Crafts. This has opened up so many job opportunities for me, from art lessons to commissioned paintings and murals.
SW: What led you to your current career path?
JS: I am so thankful to have art as my primary career. My involvement in the community has led to so many wonderful creative endeavors. I work with young children, teens and adults in a variety of settings such as public schools, larger organizations, youth centers, homeschool groups and private lessons to create a full time job. This has happened organically over time, mostly by people’s referrals and my openness to travel and experience new groups and situations. I enjoy working with people and find inspiration in the creative dialog and unique visions of other artists. Teaching challenges me to try new mediums and stretch my own comfort zone in art in order to diversify and inspire my students. I am often making creative connections with art and other subjects as a Cultural Partner in the public schools and in my Art and Science classes with the Worcester Think Tank at the Ecotarium. The hard part is finding the balance between creating my own artwork as a plein air landscape artist and my work in the community.
SW: You received a Kinnicutt grant and traveled to India where you completed a series of illustrations on Tibetan medicinal plants for publication in the Trans-Himalayan Journal. How did that come about?
JS: Traveling to India was one of the best experiences of my life for being immersed in another culture taught me so much about who I am and the beauty of the world we live in. Painting in the Himalayas, I sensed the power and timeless wisdom of the earth. My interest in Naturopathic Medicine led me to the Nomadic Amchi Organization that is located in Ladakh where I created a series of illustrations of their medicinal plants. Receiving a Kinnicutt Grant made this experience possible.
SW: Can you describe one day in the life of Jen Swan?
JS: One day in the life of Jen Swan begins with a healthy breakfast and the packing up of multiple boxes of art supplies and driving all over the state to teach art classes. My husband jokes that I should have an “art bus”. I switch modes from adults to toddlers to teens, homes to schools and country to city, hoping all the time that I have remembered all that I need for the day.
SW: You have been very active in the community. What accomplishments are you the most proud of and what are you working on now?
JS: I am proud of my work with the Youth Reach urban teen programs I am involved in. Funded by a grant from the MCC, teens from the Worcester Youth Center come to the Worcester Art Museum twice a week as part of Youth Reach Arts, a participatory, experiential youth arts program developed to engage urban adolescents in neighborhood problem-solving and planning. After teaching the students basic skills in drawing, painting and sculpture during the first half of the year, they choose an issue which is a problem within the Worcester community and brainstorm on ways of visually exploring the negative effects it has on their community and ways to promote hope and positive change. Our exhibit last year titled “Addicted” was at the Davis Gallery and many people from the community who struggle with this issue attended. As their art instructor, I am there to inspire them to develop their ideas to a deeper level and give them the materials and skills they need to manifest them. This year I will also be working with a teen group in a program called “I’m About This Life” which promotes positive lifestyle and change in the community in addition to volunteering with Ivy Child International in an exciting new mindfulness program at Claremont Academy. I am proud of these programs that use art as a powerful medium of personal growth and social change. I also just completed a large exterior mural on Main St. in Worcester for the new National Grid Sustainability Hub that was designed by students from Claremont Academy. Located in the Clark University community, this colorful mural maps out connections in our community and promotes responsible energy use.
SW: What is the something that few people know about you?
JS: Few people realize that I tend to stay up really late working in my studio. Some of my best ideas come to me at night when it is calm and quiet and most people are sleeping. I have an art studio in the top floor of my refinished barn at my home in Barre, Ma.
SW: Who has been your greatest influence?
JS: Mother Nature! I am constantly in awe of how beautiful the landscape is around me. Nature has always been a great source of inspiration for my artwork. The opposing forces of fragility and strength in our environment create an energy and pulse. With a focus on landscape painting, I strive to create a space for contemplation, insight and self-reflection. Finding time to do my own artwork keeps me happy and balanced and is my fuel for the sometimes difficult days of teaching.
SW: What would you like most to communicate to young men and women in Central MA considering a career in art?
JS: Do what you love! If you are passionate and truly excited about what you do, that positive energy will bring about job opportunities, for employers will see your dedication and skill. Art is a way of life, a way of understanding the world and expressing your personal vision. It can also be a profession. Art is in so much of our culture; our schools, businesses, homes, clothes, cars, computers, food, music. Creative thinking is what keeps society engaged and interested. Don’t take your skills for granted, keep learning and trying new things. Study at schools and art programs with teachers who challenge you. Don’t be afraid to take creative risks and make mistakes, for that is how you grow as an artist.
SW: Any special plans for the future?
JS: I hope to spend more time in my studio and paint at some beautiful places in nature I have recently discovered to create a new body of work for an exhibit. I am also going to develop an art blog to showcase my paintings, murals and community artwork. I hope to continue painting and teaching along with community partners to help make Worcester a more vibrant and creative place to be.
“There is nothing so powerful as a new idea in the hands of a first class entrepreneur.” With more than 25 years of leadership experience, Susan Wagner has been known for driving events, initiatives, launches, and openings through her company SusanWagner PR. In this challenging economy, she has begun a new division to offer affordable start-up packages to new and emerging small businesses and non-profit organizations that include professional writing services, websites, collateral, marketing, social media grassroots outreach and regional PR campaigns.
- Leading Central MA: American Red Cross Regional CEO Lisa Piehler
- Leading Central MA: Millbury Police Chief Kenny Howell
- Women Leading Central MA: Beechwood Hotel Co-Owner Janet Birbara
- Women Leading Central Mass.: Musician/Trauma Survivor Robin Lane
- Women Leading Central Mass: Worcester City Councilor Kate Toomey
- Leading In Central MA: Hospitality Entrepreneur Michael Covino
- Leading Investment Publication Questions JetBlue to Worcester
- Leading in Central MA: Activist/Philanthropist Mary DeFeudis
- Leading in Central MA: Artist + Executive Helen Sheldon Beaumont
- Leading in Central MA: Audio Journal’s Vince Lombardi
- Leading in Central MA: Bay State Savings’ Diane Giampa
- Leading in Central MA: Girls, Inc. CEO Victoria Waterman