Jean Lake’s love of art inspired today’s festival
Published 3:00 am Saturday, April 23, 2016
Each year, the City of Troy, the Troy Arts Council and the Pike County Chamber of Commerce host TroyFest, one of the premier art and craft festivals in Central Alabama.
The festival honors and pays tribute to the late Jean Lake, a noted Troy folk artist whose work is in private collections all across the country.
TroyFest is rooted in the Jean Lake Art Festival, which began in 1975 as an outgrowth the Troy Art Show, and continues today as TroyFest, which attracts many of the area’s most outstanding artists and crafters. Visitors come from the local area and from long distances in support of TroyFest and in appreciation of the high-quality artwork available at the juried art and craft show the last weekend in April.
Perhaps, many of those who attend TroyFest don’t know about Jean Lake, the local artist, whose influence gave birth to the long-running art and craft festival.
Jean Lake was born in Troy and was a natural artist. Her talent was developed in the solitude of her small kitchen on Orange Street. As she painted, family members and friends would often sit beside her, amazed at her ability to paint with such great feeling the rural South that she knew and loved.
“During her early years, Jean painted on wood,” said Charles Adams, a fellow artist and longtime friend.
“She painted on discarded cabinet doors from a wood shop here in Troy. She would also write little sayings on plaques. Later, she started painting what is now called folk art.”
Adams said Lake’s artwork was very different from many of today’s “folk” artists.
“Jean’s paintings had great detail,” he said. “If she painted a quilt on the clothesline, it had every little square, every little detail on it. And, Jean didn’t paint the usual stuff. She once painted Mr. Baker standing behind a screen door.
“She was quiet a character. She had a painting that two of her friends wanted. Since they couldn’t both have it, Jean just cut the painting in two and gave each one half. She was something else.”
Pat Duke, also an artist friend, said Lake had a magnetic personality.
“She was cute, friendly and outgoing,” Duke said. “Jean was like the rest of us who were exhibiting at art shows way back then. We all had families and were all living on shoestrings, just trying to make ends meet. We all would be happy if we could make enough money at a show to pay the entry fee and make enough money to pay the hotel bill and not go home in debt.”
Duke said the icing on the cake following an art show was to have made enough money to buy more art supplies.
“Jean’s husband, Trigger, made all of her frames and I had a mat cutter so we would cut the mats for the paintings,” Duke said. “At the time, Jean was the only artist around here who was doing primitive art.”
Duke said Jean Lake didn’t paint on cardboard boxes and shingles. And she didn’t take a washrag and paint a circle with two eyes on it and call it a dog.
“She emulated Grandma Moses who really began painting in what is known as the primitive style. Her artwork, like Grandma Moses’ was well thought out and detailed. “Jean was an outstanding artist. She painted what she knew and what she loved.”
The subjects of Lake’s paintings were often black people hanging out clothes on the line, sweeping yards with stick brooms or slicing a watermelon in the front yard. But those who knew Lake knew that she was simply painting what saw.
Trojan Glenda Fayson, a collector of African American art, said Lake painted what she knew.
“I think she wanted to paint things as they were,” Fayson said.
“Those times were passing so she painted those times as people went about their daily lives. The people in her paintings seem to be happy with the simple things of life.”
Duke said Jean Lake captured the times in which she lived in an almost whimsical way.
“Jean was that kind of person,” Duke said. “She looked for the good things in life and she brought a bit of happiness to all of us through her artwork.”