Mary Jane Volkmann
the time she was a young child, Mary Jane Volkmann knew she wanted to
be an artist. She remembers the happiest of times sitting at a small
table in the kitchen with her paper and crayons, inventing and illustrating
stories while her mother cooked. Throughout high school in Cleveland,
Ohio, her spare time was spent on music, writing, volunteer activities
and painting. She undertook several commissions including the illustration
of a biology text book and won several art competitions and awards.
After a semester in Europe she returned to study art education at university.
Mary Jane's adventures continued when she traveled to Africa in 1974.
While living in Swaziland she was commissioned to paint portraits of
King Sobhuza II for his 75th birthday as well as postage stamps for
Swaziland and coin designs for several different countries. Moving to
South West Africa (now Namibia) in 1979, Mary Jane worked as a cartographer,
producing full color maps in various scales and setting up and developing
a cartographic department for the Geological Survey of SWA/Namibia.
Upon winning a national competition to illustrate a traditional tale,
she was commissioned to do paintings for a book of stories for educational
reading books to be used in the school system in Namibia.
In 1992 Mary Jane was invited by Gamsberg Macmillan Publishers to
produce 30 paintings depicting current lifestyles in Namibia among the
traditional peoples of the country. After Namibian Independence development
projects were rapidly changing the face of Namibia and the publishers
wanted to preserve in a body of artwork a historical record of the current
lifestyles of the diverse peoples across the Namibian nation before
they were forever changed or lost. Having traveled quite extensively
throughout the country in her work with the Baha'i Faith and with her
land surveying husband, Mary Jane was ideally suited for this commission.
The book, "Glimpses of Namibian Life: A Moment in Time", which
Mary Jane authored, was published in 1997. A German edition was also
published and the original paintings purchased and hung in a permanent
display at a private museum.
her years in Namibia Mary Jane designed five series of postage stamps.
One of her stamps was voted as 1998's "most popular stamp"
of Namibia by collectors world wide. In 1999, four Namibian stamps designed
that year, including one of Mary Jane's, were awarded the "Most
Beautiful Stamps from Africa and the Middle East" and third place
for the "Most Beautiful Stamps in the World" at the World
Stamp Cup Competition in Paris, France. Again in 2003 at the same competition
Mary Jane's "Traditional Women of Namibia" stamp sheets won
third place for the "World's Most Beautiful Souvenir Stamp Sheets."
Aside from commissioned work, Mary Jane has been actively involved
in education and development work. She was hired by the National Art
Gallery of Namibia to run a workshop for teachers of art in the Kavango
and Caprivi regions of Namibia. She worked to help them find ways to
teach art and inspire students where supplies or finances are limited,
at best. She gave workshops to students at schools, taught art privately
and chaired a community arts initiative. Mary Jane also co-founded the
Tsumeb Arts and Crafts Center in northern Namibia, an educational and
charitable trust with a regional center for the development of the skills
of talented Namibians. The Center's mission is to help artists and crafts
persons develop, promote and market their arts, crafts and skills in
an attempt to provide them with a sustainable income.
In 2002, after 28 years in Africa, Mary Jane, her German/Namibian
husband and their two sons moved to Gainesville, Florida, where they
now reside. Mary Jane now travels the countryside, painting in oils,
acrylics and watercolors the landscapes, people and nature around her.
When weather or inspiration dictate, she can be found working in her
studio on paintings of the diverse people and places she has encountered
in her travels over the years. She has designed murals, undertaken private
painting commissions and given painting lessons and demonstrations.
Her paintings have been shown in group and solo exhibitions at museums,
private galleries and public and corporate venues, and she has been
invited to participate in outdoor painting events such as the annual
"Artists Painting in the Gardens" weekend at the International
Flower and Garden Festival at Epcot. Mary Jane also gives lectures and
audio/visual presentations about her life and adventures in Africa.
When asked to describe the process of her painting, Mary Jane explains:
"When I paint, I immerse myself in the contemplation of beauty.
I strive to explore and uncover the hidden yet manifest harmony and
inter-relatedness which I see existing in the wonderful diversity of
all things, from the tiniest detail to the widest expanse of the sky.
I try and capture the expression which each part of nature or each face
seems to impart."
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All images above copyright Mary Jane Volkmann
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