Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Jeanne Raffer Beck - Alchemy for the Spirit

Relic 4
Mixed Media - 48" x 43.5"

Not too long after I began blogging, I sponsored a project called Compositional Conversation that involved 12 artists working progressively on one artwork. A large part of this project was to be not only the "conversation" between the artists as they worked on the art but also conversation via the blog as each version of the work was posted. The public was invited to join in and that is how I met Jeanne Raffer Beck. Jeanne contributed astute comments and raised good questions all along the way.

Those comments were my first introduction to Jeanne. Fast forward many months and on a trip to teach a workshop at the beautiful studio of Marcia DeCamp in Palmyra, NY, I had the opportunity to meet the articulate contributor to my project, Jeanne, and share some face to face conversation. Jeanne is committed to her studio and shares her experiences and thoughts as an artist at Art by Jeanne Beck.

Interview with Jeanne Raffer Beck
The first three questions are questions I am asking each artist this year.

Terry: At what point in your life did you know at your core that you are an artist?

Jeanne: In my childhood, creative hobbies weren't encouraged in our pristine household. Living in a rural, small town offered little exposure to art, except for one incredible visit to Albright Knox to see a Van Gogh exhibition when I was 13. Our high school discouraged the better students from taking art; in the guidance counselor's words, art classes were for vocational, not for college-bound students.

The imagined worlds I traveled and inhabited while growing up were primarily through books and movies. I read perpetually and started writing short stories when I was 12. Through most of my adult life, being a writer supported me professionally and stimulated me creatively. Yet I yearned to find a visual medium.

By the time I began exploring visual art as an artistic expression, I was in my early 40's. Talk about pent up creative energy - and it doesn't seem to abate. With each decade that passes, I find art making more and more a kind of alchemy for the spirit, transforming raw materials and ideas into limitless expressions.

Relic 5
Mixed Media - 64" x 53"

Terry: Do you ever get into an artistic slump and if so, how do you rejuvenate yourself?

Jeanne: In 2007, my mother died quietly in her bed, succumbing to Parkinson's Disease; just hours later my brother and sister were struck and killed instantly by a speeding passenger train colliding with her car. That type of traumatic loss strips away the nonessentials. I just don't have TIME to dwell on fears about my worth or compare my progress to others; indulging those trains of thought is toxic and debilitating. I choose to engage in a practice based on what is life-affirming and meaningful. We all seem to have individual themes that run through our lives; mine is committing to actualizing my creative potential.

For me, choosing to invest time and passion in a creative practice also infuses goodness into the world. You can't truly tap into your creative spirit without generating a positive energy that multiplies with others to create a transformational force in the world.

Terry: Please describe your studio activity...your work habit.

Jeanne: My sketchbooks and notebooks are always with me and ideas, resolutions to problems and insights flow almost continuously. Recording them is essential.

I've found I ebb and flow creatively with the moon, even more so now that I'm past my childbearing years; creative process is my new "reproductive" cycle. I fill and empty out artistically in rhythmic ebbs and flows, but there is never a time when my sensors aren't observing or being stimulated creatively on multiple levels. When we allow ourselves to open to our creativity, synchronicities begin to attract amazing resources and stimuli that feed, fuel and inform our work.

To translate energy into action, I set long term and short term goals in writing and create weekly action plans. This planning process is totally flexible, so I can revise or delete certain items on my action list, but keeping one helps to ground that expansive creative energy and gives me the ability to applaud myself for each small step that I accomplish toward reaching those sometimes seemingly mountainous major goals. Inertia is far more debilitating creatively than making bad art!

My sewing studio is in our home in the country and my surface design studio is in a separate space in an old refurbished factory building in the city. Each day I am working in one of those spaces. My husband is a project person, too, so we both are always busy and engaged. By evening, the couch and easy chairs look very inviting!

Relic 6
Mixed Media - 57" x 31"

Terry: What are you currently exploring in your work?

Jeanne: No matter how many artist statements I write, this question is never easy to answer. For a long time I was happy just exploring texture and pattern but my interest shifted to content.

The awareness of my preference for meaning-based art launched a strong desire to develop more concept-driven works. Words have always held power for me. So have personal histories and the stories of every-day people. I began to see a connection between handwriting and personal and cultural stories in 2006 and have been working with language imagery ever since.

This fascination with gestural handwriting shows no signs of diminishing. I'm less interested in actual words that can be read than the gestural beauty of handwritten marks and the uniqueness of each person's handwriting. Throughout time, fragments of handwriting have outlived individuals and entire cultures. They offer clues to but seldom reveal the full stories of those who came before us.

Letter Rhymes
20" x 20" - Silks; screenprinted, painted and layered;
on stretcher
canvas frame.

Terry: How do you interact with other artists?

Jeanne: Two parts of me are equally strong - one is a hermit side that loves solitude and contemplation and daily practice. The other side is very social and loves to laugh and explore and talk about art and process with others. When I was taking and teaching workshops, the interactions definitely were satisfying and stimulating. Now that I spend most of my time working in my studio, developing stimulating associations with other working artists requires a bit more effort.

One of the new goals I set for this year is to be more intentional about seeking out and enjoying other creative people. Interestingly, once I created this intention, I was invited to apply and was accepted into the Arena Art Group in Rochester, so I am looking forward to this association.

Also, the artists in my studio building work together to hold semi-annual studio open houses, so that's an ongoing resource for interaction with all kinds of other artists. I'm also a member of an area fiber art group as well as the state rep for the Surface Design Association; both help keep me connected to other fiber artists.

Terry: Who is your number #1 art hero and why?

Jeanne: This is like asking a mother to name her favorite child; impossible. But here's an honest, although possibly evasive answer! My art heroes are all pre-kindergarten children five years old and under. I have created complex worlds with a four-year old on a blacktop driveway with a box of colored chalk and our imaginations. I've stretched out on the floor with a three year old and nothing but an old Scrabble game and we've turned it into roads and cities and houses and furniture and people and stories and silly giggling. Childhood curiosity and imagination seem to homogenize once children start institutionalized learning and are exposed to mass media, but yes, give me those raw imaginations and wonderfully playful, curious little souls any day over any famous artist that has ever lived.

That being said, I am ever researching and learning about artists in various mediums. I identify strongly with Paul Klee's spirit of play. I'm currently learning more about Mira Schendel's paintings and sculptural works and American artist Jessica Diamond. I am intrigued by contemporary gestural calligraphy as well as calligraphic artists that include Thomas Ingmire, Monica Dengo and Yves Letterme.

Jeanne in her studio.


I was born in Pittsburgh, PA in 1949 and lived there until my family relocated to East Aurora, NY in 1960. My grandparents, Herman and Helen Haupt, owned the H & H Dairy Barn in Knoxville and I spent many happy childhood days working behind the counter, waiting on the "regulars", a diverse assortment of customers that stopped by for a breakfast of eggs and coffee or burgers and a slice of homemade pie for lunch.

I attended the State University of New York at Buffalo and graduated from Empire State College with a degree in communications. I completed and MFA in creative writing at Goddard College. Rather than continue to pursue writing fiction, however, I soon became interested in fiber art, drawing and painting.

My second husband, Bob, and I live on 14 acres in Canandaigua, NY, one of the Finger Lakes. Together we have five adult children and two grandchildren from three blended families.

One of my language pieces, "Seeds of Compassion," is touring with FiberArt International 2010. Another piece, "Etruscan Relic," is traveling through Australia through 2011 as part of the international invitational, "Art Cloth: Engaging New Visions," curated by Marie-Therese Wisniowski.

During June and July of this year my work was featured in a solo exhibition, "Entwining Alphabets", at the Adirondack Center for the Arts.

In addition to these activities, Jeanne is coordinating the Northeast Contemporary Fiber Exhibition for the Surface Design Association; an exciting opportunity for fiber art to be exhibited in a contemporary gallery setting at the same time FiberArt International 2010 will be on display at the Memorial Art Gallery. If you live in the Northeast United States, you are invited to enter. The prospectus is available online at the SDA website.


My sincere thanks to Jeanne for sharing her work and her insights. You can see more work at: and

Thank you for spending time at
Studio 24-7!
I love hearing from you and Remember,
Commenting is FREE!!


  1. Wonderful work Jeanne; you are living proof that it is never too late to begin making art. I find you're combination of text and surface to be very intriguing, particularly since you come from a literary background. I would love to see these in person someday. Great interview once again, Terry.

  2. Thank you Tom. I know so many people who, like Jeanne, have a longing to make art and she is indeed a wonderful example of someone who has pursued that dream and has made it a reality. Thank you for commenting.

  3. I remember Jeanne! What a great interview, Terry, and her work is to die for, thanks for bringing us this glimpse!

  4. Thank you Judi! I love the way she works the surface and then punches it with text! Thank you for commenting!!

  5. I count Jeanne among my favorite SDA friends. I love her and love her work. That being said, your interview brought new insights of Jeanne, the artist. Thanks for sharing this.

  6. Thank you Gerrie for your comment. I always learn something from artists interviews that give me more insight into the person and into the artist.

  7. And one of the pieces pictured in your interview , (Letter Rhymes), now lives with me!
    It's even more beautiful in person, so yes Tom, I thoroughly recommend seeing Jeanne's work in person if you get the chance. The subtlety of the layering, and the delicacy and precision of the craftsmanship can only be hinted at on the internet.

    Plus, it led to a very welcome and deeply thoughtful discussion about process and goals, internal and external, that has given me lots of things to chew on and ponder in the run-up to my current show. I love Jeanne's generosity and the openness with which she shares her insights, both here and on her blog.
    Thanks so much, Terry, for another great interview. You are such a great resource of intelligent and thoughtful artists, in addition to being an inspiration yourself.

  8. Thank you Nikki for your wonderful comment and LUCKY you! I just saw one of Jeanne's pieces recently and it was as you describe. I appreciate your interest.

  9. Great conversation between the two of you. I have just been getting to know Jeanne and her work within the past year. Insightful look into the life experience that creates the depth of Jeanne and her work.
    Many thanks and best wishes for a very creative day to both of you. Carol

  10. Thank you Cariceraff for your supportive comment. Jeanne brings a unique voice to her work and is someone "to watch". My best.