MATTHEWS – Janet Eskridge might live halfway across the United States, but her artwork is about to hit the core of Matthews.
Eskridge, who currently lives in Nebraska and is known for her unique artwork called “encaustic assemblages,” will display five of her original creations at the McDowell Arts Center beginning Saturday, Oct. 5. The exhibit runs all month.
From an early age, Eskridge was fascinated by art.
“I grew up in a family (that was) very supportive of the arts and very artistic,” she said. “I spent my childhood going to museums and galleries with parents, and taking art classes. I’ve always been around art.”
But Eskridge abandoned the idea of majoring in art to pursue a career she could “make more of a living at,” ultimately choosing to study elementary education. She graduated from St. Andrews College in Laurinburg in 1975 and began her teaching career.
Though Eskridge wasn’t working as an artist, she continued to be inspired artistically as she worked with students. Many of the children came from impoverished situations – some didn’t even own shoes, she said – but they all shared one common thread: creativity.
“They were really creative,” she said. “How kids could be creative in art, that was really impressive to me.”
Inspired by her experience working with children, Eskridge decided to pursue a career in art therapy and earned a master’s degree in art therapy from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, N.Y. She coordinated a creative arts program at a children’s hospital in Omaha, Neb., where she worked with children facing serious health challenges, as well as with their siblings and families.
About five years ago, Eskridge left her position to pursue art full time, focusing on creating encaustic assemblages – small constructions in boxes that incorporate found objects, paper and encaustic wax. Objects she’s used have included old newspapers, fabric, parts of old books, photographs and more.
Eskridge arranges the objects in a specific way to tell some kind of story.
“I just sort of assemble them in a box,” she said. “I start off with a story I want to tell in a particular box and play with the objects until they seem to fit together.”
Eskridge also incorporates encaustic, an ancient art medium dating back to 5 B.C. that uses beeswax and resin, along with pigments to add color.
“It gives kind of a mystical quality to” the work, Eskridge said.
Much of Eskridge’s inspiration stems from her experiences teaching and working in the children’s hospital, as well as from her own children and grandchildren.
“I just think that children are incredibly wise,” she said. “I think of them as little old souls with so much to teach us.”
For instance, one of the pieces she’s entering into the Eskridge Exhibit, “The Last Curious Child,” uses found objects such as a turtle shell and a chair to create a “social commentary” about children losing interest in the outdoors and nature and exchanging it for electronic gadgets.
“I guess my fear is having so much screen time is taking away some of the natural curiosity” children are supposed to have, Eskridge said.
Eskridge, who often displays artwork in galleries across the U.S., was introduced to the McDowell Arts Center by friend Barbara Pederson, who helped coordinate the Eskridge Exhibit. Eskridge is excited to visit Matthews – the town where her husband attended first grade – and talk with residents about her work.
“I just love to be able to travel and show my work,” she said. “I’m really appreciative of the opportunity.”
The Eskridge Exhibit will run from Oct. 5 to Nov. 1, alongside the Golden Palette Art Society’s October painting exhibit, and a reception is planned for Oct. 11, a Friday, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the McDowell Arts Center, 123 McDowell St. Eskridge will give a short presentation about her work around 7:30 p.m. For more information, call the center at 704-321-7275.
Find more information about Eskridge and her exhibit at www.janeteskridge.com.