December 2009: Weed puffs, watercolor and pastels by Randy Krause
Header image: Weed puffs, watercolor and pastels by Randy Krause

Featured Artist: Eugene Jemison

..Eugene Jemison in 1954. Eugene and Soja Jemison in Florida after retirement

At right, Eugene Jemison in 1954. At left, Eugene and Soja Jemison in Florida after retirement.

Solomon Valley Ballads liner notes, by Eugene JemisonThis is the first posthumous “Featured Artist” article we’ve done. At the Art Auction November 14, Eugene Jemison’s large oil painting came up for bid and Tom Lehman, going by notes that we’d given him, spoke of Jemison’s early days as a traveling troubadour. He was interrupted by someone from the audience who said, “No he wasn’t. He was an art teacher at LSSU”. Which he was . . . but we were struck by how little we often know about someone we live near and work with and how we often assume that what we see is the whole picture. Jemison was many things, but he was also a very modest man. He was a singer as well as an artist—a traveling troubadour who sang at colleges and universities across the country. In 1954 he recorded an album titled Solomon Valley Ballads. With them was a series of his prints (not reproductions—hand pulled prints) illustrating the ballads. In 2006 (after his death) the recording was reissued as a CD by the Smithsonian Institution as a Smithsonian Folkways Recording. It is available online. The CD contains a PDF file with Jemison’s original prints that illustrate the ballads as well as information on the artist, written in 1954 (at right, scanned from the liner notes, click for a larger version).

Eugene Jemison came to Lake State from Kansas City Art Institute. He began teaching at the art institute in 1948, becoming Department Chairman (Photography and Printmaking) in 1959, but his career started earlier. In 1943, while he was serving in the U.S. Air, Ground and Service Forces, he was director of the Special Services School of Art in California and Texas. During his service he painted a 320-square-foot historic mural, The Dream of Flight, as well as other military murals in Louisiana and Texas.

Jemison was at Lake State for 17 years, retiring in 1986. One of his students was Mary Demroske, who credits him for her career in art. She writes:

I am an professional Artist because of Professor Jemison. I took a winter night time work shop with him during 1974-1975 with the pushing of my husband. I don't remember how long it went on but it was two nights a week for maybe six weeks. Then I took a summer work shop with him. When the workshop ended, Professor Jemison ask me what were my plans and I didn't have any. He said if I did not come back and take the regular day time classes, I would be throwing away a big talent. I was impressed and with the encouragement of both Al and Professor Jemison I took a year with the regular students and went for grades rather than audit. I know he wanted me to take another year, but Gina was only five and major surgery and other things got in the way. Whenever I saw him at any of the shows, he was always encouraging. As for his teaching I feel he was excellent. He gave us in-depth knowledge on how to plan and produce a work of art. All the fundamentals of what goes into composition. All the necessary composites necessary before you even draw the lines on the canvas. I can't say enough about his influence on me. Mary

After his retirement, Eugene and Soja went to Charlotte Beach, Florida, where he immediately became involved in the Arts Center in Punta Gorda and continued teaching. His resume is reproduced here, as it appeared in the 1990’s. He died before the Smithsonian reissued his recording.

Jemison was quiet and soft spoken but once he knew you he was lively and quick and funny. As his resume reflects, he had many interests. His interest in folklore and folk music dates from his childhood. In Florida, he became fascinated with the career of Thomas Edison and was busily gathering all the information he could on the inventor in the time he could spare from painting, teaching and traveling.

He considered himself primarily a print maker and bemoaned the fact that what are actually reproductions are commonly marketed today as “prints”. With actual prints the original impression is made by the artist and the print hand-pulled by him. By the time he moved to Florida he was doing mostly paintings in oils and watercolors, and drawing (which he considered a complete art in itself), because of all the equipment needed for print making. The work in the album and most of his work that we have in Alberta House (which dates from the 50’s) is abstract. To Jemison, abstraction was a mere redesign of realism and not definitive art. His preference of artistic styles in art went full circle as he aged and developed. He said he “started out in realism, got interested in the modern and impressionistic, but I’ve gone back to realism”. Shortly before he left LSSU he had an exhibit of highly realistic 5 x 7” miniatures—exquisite landscapes of the north country”—in the LSSU Library. He told us he had that exhibit so “people would know that I can see, like everyone else”.

Works by Eugene Jemison
Click on a thumbnail to see a larger version.

Hard Working Couple, by Eugene Jemison

Hard Working Couple

Album Cover, Solomon Valley Ballads, by Eugene Jemison

Album Cover, Solomon Valley Ballads

The Ocean Burial, from the Solomon Valley Ballands liner notes, by Eugene Jemison

From the Solomon Valley Ballads liner notes, illustrating The Ocean Burial (Smithsonian Folkways Archival)

Once I Courted a Handsome Wench, print by Eugene Jemison illustrated in the Kansas City Star

Once I Courted a Handsome Wench, print illustrated in the Kansas City Star

Last updated: December 1, 2009

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