Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Hello, I'm Dr. Lisa Belisle and you are listening to you or watching Radio Maine. Today, it is my pleasure to speak with artist 

Sheep Jones. Good morning, Sheep.

 

Sheep Jones:

Good morning.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

So tell me where you are joining us from.

 

Sheep Jones:

I am in Belfast in my apartment. It’s a beautiful day and I’m glad to be here.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Well, we're really glad to have you because you are a woman who travels quite a bit these days. Texas, California, crisscrossing the United States, and having you back in Maine is really a pleasure.

 

Sheep Jones:

It's  great to go there because I love seeing my boys and my grandkids, but then I miss it. I have siblings here and my art and Belfast, Portland Art Gallery, but I can still do it. I can still walk and go on a plane, I'm still healthy enough to be able to keep doing this, so I'll do this for a while.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Yes. Well, that makes a lot of sense. It's nice to be able to have different vantage points from across the country. And I'm interested in your initial main connection. You  grew up right here in Maine, didn't you?

 

Sheep Jones:

I grew up in Waterville. I met my husband in high school and I always wanted to come back, but we moved a lot because he was a professor and he did a lot of one year positions in college teaching, and then he got his tenure in Virginia. So we stayed there for like 30 years.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Growing up in Waterville you have several brothers and sisters, is that true?

 

Sheep Jones:

True, yes. There were five of us in the family.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

And this at the time, I know that having practiced medicine in Waterville for a few years, I know that it's become an up and coming place to be. Colby College has done great work with their art museum and their campus, but they've moved on to the main street and they've brought in a new restaurant. But what was your experience growing up in Waterville, Maine?

 

Sheep Jones:

We lived on a quiet street, and a farm bordered our street, a horse and cow farm. And so it was very bucolic, lots of apple trees sledding up at this farm. There was a big hill, so we always went sledding down this hill.  we ran around the neighborhood, lots of places to play baseball and climb trees, and we were free. My mother would actually lock us out of the house for the day, my sisters and I, and then ring the bell when it was time for dinner. So we would just run around free. It was great.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

I'm sure that people now would have a hard time understanding the lock it out of the house way of approaching things. However, I will say that when we were on Little Sebago Lake at my grandparents' camp, my mother would actually do the same thing with my brothers and sisters. And I, she would actually just put the little latch down on the screen door because she wanted to keep the carpets clean, but also because she wanted us to be out near the water.

 

Sheep Jones:

Yes, yes. It was great. We had a great childhood.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

So I see a lot in the art that you create that is reflective of that.  I guess that that sense of attachment to the land and, and even beyond kind of this, this connection to the land, it's actually almost growing into the land. Oftentimes you, you have a little bit of a, there's a below the surface thing that you often do with your pieces that I find really fascinating. Tell me about that.

 

Sheep Jones:

Well, I did a lot of oil painting before I had children. Then after that, I went into watercolor. It was safer, more mobile. I took classes and the, and we always had still lives, and a lot of times they were Amarillo narcissists, beautiful flowers all over the place. And I got tired of the flowers and I started concentrating on the bulbs with all the roots. Sometimes they were embedded in rocks and the water level. And so when I went back to oil, I thought, What do I want to paint? I'm tired of having to look at something. I want to use my imagination. I want to branch out. I thought of a bulb. So I started with a bulb and a line, a horizon line or , to separate the dirt from the sky. And then that allowed me to put all kinds of creatures on the earth or sprout from the ground. Not necessarily realistic, right? It could just be anything. So that really was the impetus to start the above ground underground. And then it went into fish in the sea or roof sellers, little jars of pickles and lemons and whatnot under the house. So I try to think of other things, but something always crops up. Either I see a movie or read a book and think, Oh yes, I could do that. I could paint that. So that really was the big breakthrough for me doing my first bulb.  when I went back to my oil painting,

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

The piece that we have in our house is actually one that is behind me in the studio. And this is one that, as you've described, there's an underwater field to it, which I enjoy because every day I get to look at it and I look at the creatures that are below the surface. But I also enjoy it because I think about when I'm out on the water myself, I tend to often be on a boat. So that's sort of above the water. But of course there is this whole other world that is down below that we don't see, but it exists. So there's something really interesting about the way that you've captured this and the piece that I have in my house. And I suspect that maybe part of the reason why your pieces are so popular. I think my understanding from the Portland Art Gallery is that they have a hard time keeping them in stock.

 

Sheep Jones:

That's great. Love it.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Well, I could tell that this is it, it may be hard for you to hear how excellent your work is, how popular your pieces are. Maybe, that's maybe that's what I'm getting out of this, but I'm looking at the piece behind you and it has a figure in it. And I know that this is another element that has drawn people in, is that you often place people in your scenes, and that's not something that every artist does.

 

Sheep Jones:

Yes, I'm interested in the figure, in the narrative that evolves as I paint. I like them dead center facing you.  it just creates a different aura and mystery.  I like putting clothes on them, adoring them from head to toe.  Sometimes I'm in the studio all by myself laughing because I'm just doing something quirky, so I really enjoy them. I'm happy with a lot of the results that I get and the narrative sometimes, or the title evolves and then I think, okay, yes, that's it. Baptism or whatever. 

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

So in the case of the piece that is currently behind you with the figure that seems to be maybe in a field with some purple around, I don't know if it's a him or her.  Tell me what that narrative is.

 

Sheep Jones:

Well he's, he or she, it has a halo and a neck piece. And of course I have all the plants around and insects flying.  It just sort of evolved that way. I didn't really have a plan. I usually don't, but I have a strong Catholic upbringing. So I do bring in nuns and their garb a lot as well. It just is another whole lexicon of imagery that I can pull out and use.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

I can see that.

 

Sheep Jones:

Like with the bees, I started putting a bee in the sky only because it was an empty spot and I liked the stripes, , the design of the bee. And this is when I was at the torpedo factory, and then people kept bringing me articles about colony collapse disorder, and it just propelled me to do more bees. And that opened up a whole world of the queen bee, the drone, the hexagon wax, the hive, their wings, just things like that. It's just wonderful when things like that happen.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

So there's two things that you've just said that I find really interesting and, and one of them is the, the Catholic element of things and almost a little bit of, I don't know, iconography perhaps that is showing up in the work that you're doing.  I think that there's something about growing up Catholic as I also have that kind of stay with you and maybe like many religions I guess, stays with you even if you don't continue to be practicing in that particular faith. Have you carried that? Have you carried elements of your faith into your adulthood?

 

Sheep Jones:

I don't think so. I think it's really just the visuals of halos and gold and requiems. I really just think it's to make the painting better, the garb, the crucifixes. I mean, I do a lot of scarecrows on a cross with crows, and I don't really think of it very much as like a crucifixion of sorts, but people have mentioned that. I'm like, Oh, yes. So I really wasn't thinking about it, but it did come through.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

So that, it's really interesting that you are carrying something forward from your childhood, but not perhaps consciously, but other people are relating to it on a more conscious level.

 

Sheep Jones:

Right. I am, I'm, I mean, I am conscious of it, but not to the extent of well, when I hear people talk about it, I am kind of blown away in thinking, ah, that's, that's kind of funny and true.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

yes. I wouldn't have thought of the scarecrow crucifixion parallel myself.  but now that you're saying it, that actually makes a lot of sense.

 

Sheep Jones:

yes, because there are out, or mine are, and they, and you can see that there's a wooden piece in back of them and he's not smiling it's just interesting.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

So then in, in contrast to that idea of crucifixion and death and perhaps I guess rebirth associated with that, this idea of the bees you have, you became interested in them due to colony collapse disorder, which is obviously very serious and also related to death. But out of that, you again, kind of created life and you put life into these pieces that you've created. Was, was that a conscious decision or was it really, this is the bees look good here and it feels like they Well,

 

Sheep Jones:

No conscious decision. Once I got into it, once people brought me articles, then I would do paintings of a little girl holding a dead bee or some flowers kind of dying because the bees weren't pollinating. Haven't done a lot of those recently, but I did a lot of climate effects of what climate or pesticides are and how they're affecting the bees. yes.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Do you have a garden at your house now or do you have plants that you nurture?

 

Sheep Jones:

Yes, I love us and I love the whole process. It just is so peaceful for me going out there all by myself and yes, it's great. Flowers, fruit, vegetables.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

So this time of year, what types of things are coming out of your garden.

 

Sheep Jones:

Right now? A lot of flowers, tomatoes, cucumbers. Unfortunately, I came back so late from California because my second grandchild was born in June, and so I couldn't really plant anything early enough. It was very late planting, but I thought, Oh, well I'll just plant some flowers and stuff. So it looks great. Very wild. Flowers with vegetables and yes, it's fun.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

So in our garden this year, it does, we have the same kind of thing. We have a lot of tomatoes and we have a lot of very tall flowers. And I've found it interesting year over year to see the relationship between how much rain we get and how much sun we have and what actually grows and what thrives and, and what what doesn't every year. And I think that for me, when I, when I look at this and I see what it also invites into the garden, , for example, are very tall flowers now are bringing in a lot of bees as there were a lot of monarchs for quite a while and there are a lot of birds that come into the garden as well. So even something that can be very static can invite motion into a space as a result of what's going on with the weather, for example.

 

Sheep Jones:

Yes, I have a lot of rogue sunflowers that just came up last year and I have this one metal kind of frame thing that's in the garden that has little peaks on it. And I cut the sunflowers when they're sort of dying in this, put 'em on the peaks and birds come and they peck on them and get all the seeds off. It's beautiful little finches and yes, it's fun to be creative in the garden.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

I love the imagery of the rogue sunflower just from last year. Oh wow somebody didn't plant me here, but this is where my seed fell, I'm just gonna go for it.

 

Sheep Jones:

Yes, there were six of them that came up and they're great. They're huge. So that was a surprise since I came back. Anything that looks like a sunflower I left it and left some reeds in my beds. Well, because they filled out a beautiful space and they attracted butterflies. 

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

When you're in California and when you're with your grandchildren or when you're in Texas how do you indulge yours, your art and your interest in the outdoors and your interest in nature?

 

Sheep Jones:

Well, in California I have a guest room and I always have like maybe 15 paintings that are in different degrees of being done. And I always leave that many. And they live on top of their window. I think it's called a balance. Where there's a little ledge on top of the window, a wooden thing. So they're all pro because they're mostly 12 by 12. They're all propped up on two whole window pacings. My little granddaughter really loves watching me paint and she likes the funny little birds that I do. I get to paint in both places. So I paint in my room in California and my son in Texas is a painter and he has a huge studio and we paint together and critique our work. I can leave things at both places, brushes, paint and unfinished paintings. And if I finish some, then I get more boards and prepare more. Cause I like to have, I like to work on a lot at a time. Like in my studio here, I like to have 40 or so that are in different degrees of being done. That makes me happy. And it's also, it's freeing. I don't have like this one or two paintings that I have to focus on.  just maybe just paint a face on a, on a girl, go on to the next canvas. Sometimes I prepare a beautiful warm gray on my palette. And when I choose the next painting, I have this beautiful color that I think, Oh wow, maybe this would work well in the sky, or it just feels very organic to me.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

So it does, it gives me the sense of this holistic approach. So you're, it's not just one thing that you're focusing on, it's almost like you have a, a whole grouping of things that are evolving at the same time, which

 

Sheep Jones:

Yes, I have this number system where I chalk down my three numbers. The day, which is, if it's the 22nd, 23rd, I add the month, then I add 22 to that second number. So I have these three numbers every day that change, and I just go around the room and I count, and I have to work on that painting. It forces me to work on that painting. And sometimes I'm like, no, I don't want to work on that one. But I start it, I start getting into it and I'm like, Oh my God, I'm having so much fun. It's really working. And then I go to the second number and I just go around the room till I land on that number. That's, that's how I keep going. Otherwise, some paintings that I started,  that I am not interested in. It just doesn't appeal to me to work on that day, but if I choose to, I do something to it. And it's, it's always good.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

I mean, that's a wonderful approach. It's almost like you've created a game out of the work. 

 

Sheep Jones:

Yes.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

And I sense it is something you're raising an interesting point that oftentimes I think as in life as in art, it's not that interesting to sit down and actually focus on something if it doesn't ,call out to you that day.

 

Sheep Jones:

Yes. It works well for me.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

So I know a few years back we bought a painting from your sister Julie here, and she was also like, you a very popular, very beloved artist. Unfortunately she's no longer with us. I think I'm pretty fortunate that we have one of her pieces in our house. And, I also think to myself how hard it must be to have lost your sister and a fellow artist because I have four sisters and I love each of them and can't imagine losing them and knowing that she has pieces that are sort of still out there, kind of representing her. How does that feel to you?

 

Sheep Jones:

That she has pieces out there representing her? I think it's great.  She started later in life. She was a nurse and she was a singer, and then she started painting and I think it's great. I think after she died, her children took most of the paintings that were here in the studio and at the house. And yes, Kevin showed me the piece that you have. I, of course, remember all of them and yes, she had humor and poignancy in her painting. I think it's great. Every time I see one, it's just delightful.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

So for you, it creates happiness that she brought this art into the world and that it has kind of continued on.

 

Sheep Jones:

Yes. Yes. Sometimes I go to somebody's house and they have one. Oh my God, it just kind of hits me. I'm happy and lucky that I have three other siblings and they're all in Maine. So I just feel lucky that I have that.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

The pieces that you have currently in your house, you said that you generally don't keep a lot of your own work, but these are pieces that if your family suggests that you keep, that you do. There's something about them that kind of appeals to your family members. Are they pieces that surprise you? Are they ones that you would look at and think, Oh, I guess I can understand why they'd wanna keep this? 

 

Sheep Jones:

I'm happy to keep them. It's just if I'm painting and I love something that I just did, I don't think, Oh, I should keep that one. Maybe after it sells, I'm like, shit, I should have kept that one. But most of the time I just paint and put them out there.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

So that's an interesting thing about being an artist, is that something that you work on, you put a lot of effort into and a lot of your personal self into that you ultimately need to let go of? It's a little bit like parenting, I would think.

 

Sheep Jones:

Yes. Also my husband died six years ago. My sister died two years ago. It's like, you can't take it with you. I'm trying not to be attached. I have the images of them and, and I give a lot to my children. So when I go to their homes I can see them and that works for me.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

So your granddaughter, you said, who likes to paint with you? How do you do this side by side? Is this something that you bring some pieces to the kitchen table and you work on them together. How does that work out for you?

 

Sheep Jones:

She's not quite three, so I'm sure that will happen. But right now she has a little easel outside. I just talk to her as she's painting. I don't paint with her because she's focused on her piece of paper and her strokes. But she has sat with me while I'm painting. If I had a small painting that I was doing in some detail, she would sit very calmly and not try to take my brush away and just watch me. So that's adorable.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

That's pretty good for a three year old.

 

Sheep Jones:

No, I trained her at first whether she was trying to touch my brush or wanted to get into it, but she just knew that it was important not to touch it because this is oil and it's messy and, but then we'd go do something else. 

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

So you said that your son also paints. Did you yourself have family members that painted besides Julie?

 

Sheep Jones:

Right. Parents didn't paint, my mother's brother did watercolors. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

So what was it when you were growing up that caused you to gravitate toward painting and toward art? Do you remember any specific incident where you were just thinking to yourself.

 

Sheep Jones:

I was always interested in drawing and painting before high school. And that's what I wanted to do. I wanted to study art and my parents wanted me to do something more realistic. So we compromised on art education, but I never got to finish. I never did my student teaching because I was married and we moved. So I just continued to just do art on my own, taking classes every once in a while. I took a class in encaustic and then watercolor and I taught for a while. So it's always been around me.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

So as you're making this big decision about your life as to what you're gonna do next whether it's spend more time in California, more time in Texas, whether it's to kind of firmly root yourself more in Maine, to be near your siblings, what are some of the things that you're considering,

 

Sheep Jones:

I guess being alone, not having my husband anymore in my older years, where am I? Where do I wanna be?  I don't want my children to take care of me, but if they're close, they can come visit me.  Versus here in Maine, my siblings are kind of all my same age. So part of it is, what's the long term plan here? Maybe I shouldn't even be like that I don't know, maybe I shouldn't be thinking quite that negative but I do think about that. Julie and Charlie's death definitely affected me and it makes you reflect on yourself, right? 

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

And how old was Charlie when he passed away?

 

Sheep Jones :

62.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

That's very young. And Julie was very young as well.

 

Sheep Jones:

I think she was 64.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

So that's a lot for you to have to go through in a relatively short period of time.

 

Sheep Jones:

Yes. They were very similar, like at the party, funny, smart, they both did all the cooking and they were just fun to be around. They were like, my book ends. I had my best friends, my best guy friend, and my best girlfriend and yes. So yes, it was a lot. But, I have my art and my kids and my siblings, so I just keep going on with a good attitude. Right.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Well, I know that you'll make the right decision as to your future. I certainly hope that you continue to make all of the wonderful art that is out there, gracing other people's walls, my wall included.  It's been a pleasure to talk with you today, Sheep. I think it's always really fascinating to kind of understand why people choose the subjects that they choose and the approach that they have to making their work. Now every time I look at the piece that I have on my wall, I will be thinking about our conversation and the person behind that piece.

 

Sheep Jones:

It's been a pleasure.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

I've been speaking with Artist Sheep Jones. You can learn more about her work at the Portland Art Gallery through their website or going there in person, and I would certainly recommend that you do so. She has delightful work. She's obviously a delightful person, as you've heard or seen me here today. Thank you for being with me today, Sheep Jones.

 

Sheep Jones:

Thank you.