‘I loved it & I stuck with it’
Northfield artist winnows down 40 years of work for exhibit
Jean Kozlowski and her artwork in her Northfield home
green hat by Jean Kozlowski
1840s farm by Jean Kozlowski
Local artist Jean Kozlowski enlisted the help of friend and fellow artist Louise Minks to help her narrow her 40-year body of work down to 65 paintings for her current show.
“I dug out all of my paintings and started to go through them. I think I had about 400 in all.”
“An Artist’s Journey” is on display at the Leverett Crafts and Arts Center, 13 Montague Road, Leverett Center , from noon to 6 p.m. Friday, and from noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday. In addition to her display pieces, she will have a portfolio of unframed works. Everything’s for sale, with the exception of a couple that are already spoken for.
Kozlowski’s painted prolifically for four decades, after she found her inspiration. “When I moved to Maine was when I got serious about painting,” said Kozlowski. “I had fiddled around with it before, but I really didn’t know what I was doing.”
Kozlowski had dabbled in oil paints before her 1965 move to Maine, but “I wasn’t even an ‘occasional’ painter,” she said.
At the suggestion of a friend, Kozlowski got in touch with professor Lajos Matolcsy, a career painter who came to the U.S. as a refugee from Hungary during World War II.
“He looked at my work, and said ‘You know nothing,’” recalled Kozlowski. “He was absolutely right.”
“He was very tough,” she continued. “He would holler if I did something wrong.”
Though Kozlowski wanted to paint the picturesque Maine scenery, Matolcsy had other ideas.
“We learned how to draw the human body. We had the same model all winter, I remember thinking ‘I think he’s gained two pounds since the last time,’” she said.
Landscapes and paint would have to wait.
“He had me doing nothing but pencil and pen-and-ink drawings for two or three years.”
She did move on to oil paints with Matolcsy, but she eventually left class and struck out on her own.
“I just had to get out and do something myself, from start to finish, whether it was wrong or right,” she said.
Looking back, Kozlowski is grateful for her teacher’s lengthy instruction in the basics.
“I didn’t appreciate it until years later,” she said. “But I got a good foundation in composition, and the use of lights and darks.”
The drawing skills she developed came in handy when she started to paint. Kozlowski starts each of her watercolors with a pen or pencil sketch, laying out the scene before she dips her first brush.
She often works in a sketchbook; she’s got more than 50 of them, filled with everything from quick sketches to finished paintings. Sometimes, she’ll take a page from her sketchbook and use it as the basis for a full-sized painting.
Frequently, she said, she’ll do the same painting as many as 10 times, each time starting anew and hoping to get it just right. Unlike forgiving oil paints, watercolors leave little margin for error and there’s only so much an artist can do to fix errant brush strokes. So, it should be no surprise that she wound up with 400-plus paintings to pick through. And those were just the ones she kept.
“I bet I’ve thrown away 100 paintings,” she said. “It’s easy to tear up a watercolor.”
She also jettisoned several paintings while she was picking pieces for the show, though a few found a new home.
“I had a handyman over and he kept looking at some of the paintings I was going to throw out,” she said. “I asked if he wanted them and he left with four.”
These days, she’s slowed he painting pace a bit, as she spends much of her time visiting her husband, who has been at Charlene Manor Extended Care Facility following an illness.
In her early days as an artist, Kozlowski preferred oil paints. Though she found them easier to use than watercolors, they were much messier.
“I was getting paint all over the garage and the kitchen counter and table and my husband finally said ‘That’s it!’” she recalled. “Then, I fell into watercolors. They’re easy to carry and clean up. I loved it and I stayed with it.”
Though Kozlowski will occasionally snap a photo of a wintery scene so she can paint it later in her heated home, she prefers to set her easel up outdoors and work in nature.
“I feel the best paintings I’ve done were from real life,” she said.
Sometimes, it’s a race against the sun as she tries to capture as much of an outdoor scene as she can before the light changes. A good two hours is enough, she said, to get a good start on an oil painting. Later, she’ll take it inside and further flesh it out.
Many of her paintings are New England vistas and several are from the Pioneer Valley. If you look closely, among the 65 paintings and drawings at the show are houses in Northfield, scenes from Sunderland and the colonial residences of Old Deerfield.
Kozlowski has also painted abroad, trekking to France, Italy, Spain and England, with a group of artists from the Rockport area.
“A lot of them were professionals, much more so than I,” said Kozlowski. “It was a great experience to paint with a group like that.”
Kozlowski has always enjoyed painting in groups.
“A group of us used to rent a cottage in Port Clyde, Maine, for a week every June to paint,” she said. “We would go to sidewalk (art) sales in the Maine cities: Lewiston, Portland, Waterville and Bangor. We would set up right on the sidewalk; we didn’t even have tents, but we really sold!”
Though her paintings were snapped up by tourists, Kozlowski doesn’t do it for the money.
“If you’re painting to sell, you lose something,” she explained. “Painting is really about the feeling and the pleasure that you get from it.”
Maine is one of Kozlowski’s favorite places to paint. Though the busy season is a fine time to sell art, it’s not ideal when it comes to producing it.
“Summer isn’t the best (for painting); there are too many tourists,” she said. “June and September are the best months.”
Though she’s been visiting Maine for most of her life, she always finds new inspiration.
“I never get tired of what there is in Maine, whatever the season or time,” she said.
She especially likes the sparsely populated island of Monhegan, where her grandfather once ran a store. Accessible only by boat, there still isn’t a single automobile on the island.
Though Monhegan has stayed mostly the same, Kozlowski has seen her style progress through the years.
“I look at my earlier works and compare them to what I do now,” she said. “Now, my work is much looser.”
Her body of work runs the gamut. Her more recent paintings, the “loose” ones, focus more on broad strokes than attention to small details. Her earlier work shows a meticulous eye for detail.
“When I was teaching in Maine, the school had me do a painting of the school for the principal’s 25th anniversary,” she said. “I painted every brick on the building.”
Now retired, Kozlowski taught for 35 years, for 10 years in Northfield and Bernardston, two in New Hampshire and the balance in Maine.
“I loved teaching and I was sad to leave, but it was time,” she said.
When she moved from Maine to Northfield in 1996, Kozlowski joined the Old Deerfield Painting Group and she is also a member of the Deerfield Valley Art Association. She also belongs to a smaller group of artists that meet at the United Church of Bernardston.
“It’s a lot of fun,” she said. “There are eight of us. We meet and have lunch. We’re all good friends.”
What’s Kozlowski’s advice to those who want to get into watercolors?
“Drawing is important,” she said. “Although not everyone likes to do it, I think it helps you to know where you’re going (with a painting).”
“You should have good brushes,” she continued. “They cost a lot, but they make a big difference. Good paper is important, too.”
The place you can save, she said, is on the paints.
Even the best art supplies, though, are useless just sitting in a box.
“You have to want to push yourself,” Kozlowski said.
Staff reporter David Rainville has worked at The Recorder since 2011. He covers Bernardston, Leyden, Northfield and Warwick. He can be reached at email@example.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 279.
Staff photographer Paul Franz has worked for The Recorder since 1988. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-772-0261 ext. 266. His website is www.franzphoto.com.