Poems on canvas: ArtSoup winner Jessica Henry Davis seeks the soul of her subjects
by Bruce Strand, Arts editor
A young mother and two toddlers in repose caught Jessica Henry Davis’ eye last summer.
The local painter transformed that placid scene into the oil painting that won the Elk River Arts Alliance member’s show at the ArtSoup festival last Saturday.
“I loved the idea of painting them in a field of mist,” said Davis, who spotted the young family in Cloquet, where the woman’s husband was involved in a Voyageurs re-enactment program. “There is so much poetry to it. The blossoms on the tree were a last-minute idea.”
Just at the moment she snapped a photograph, the little boy in the middle lifted his face to look at Davis, much to her delight.
“The Heart Hath It’s Own Memories,” is the title Davis chose for the painting.
Davis, who grew up on two farms in the Elk River area and lives on one of them with husband Ted and four children aged four to 10, has been a professional artist for 20 years. She feels she may be finding her niche in this genre of painting.
“I have painted all kinds of things. I have found joy in landscapes, still life, horses, and portraits,” said Davis, “and after 20 years, what I love most are painting people — people in landscape settings, people doing something, as opposed to straight-forward portraits.”
Her recent portraits include a Tibetan man and his son, two young sisters, a handsome teen male in a contemplative mood, and a young mother scarred by war.
Making a living this way is not easy, but Davis is too devoted to art to try something else. “I am currently looking for gallery representation,” said Davis, adding she has tried on both the East and West coasts.
“There is a human connection with horses,” she reflects, “and I don’t understand it, but I marvel at it. I try to capture that essense, that look in their eye.”
Davis recently painted her four children with a horse named Hank that was with them 20 years and died of a tumor recently at age 27. Her classmates at Schroeder Studio in Elk River got to see that one develop from the first strokes. It’s a lovely and emotional work, but she didn’t bring it to the show “because it’s still too painful.”
Davis also finds inspiration for her art from poetry and music.
She’s done paintings called High and Dry, All the Lovely Ladies, Early Mornin’ Rain and As Fine as Fine Can Be in tribute to Lightfoot’s music. Her Longfellow-inspired paintings include the one that won ArtSoup, along with The Day is Done. She also painted one for Robert Frost’s Stopping By The Woods.
“These are some that share obvious title lenings towards his (Lightfoot’s) songs, but in subject matter and feeling, I hope to reflect our common connection to mankind, in general,” said Davis. “Which is also, another reason I am drawn to Longfellow. He never spoke over anyone’s heads — his genius was in connection with regular people, yet he did it with such poetry, love and sensitivity, that it will always remain a goal of mine to reach that degree of feeling towards my fellow man.”