Reflecting on JoAnne's Legacy

by Ken Otterbourg

I remember the first time I walked into JoAnne’s house on Hutton Street. It was the spring of 2006, our second date, and I was picking her up for a drive in the country. She was upstairs getting ready, and I paced around the downstairs, trying to make sense of all that I saw and what it meant.  There was art everywhere. It wasn’t the genteel art that I was used to, the pretty stuff that just hung there. It was bolder and more personal. More expressive and — yes — more sensual.  It was, I would learn, pure JoAnne. It was art that told a story, and I couldn’t wait to hear it.

Almost from the time JoAnne came to Winston-Salem in the early 1980s, she began collecting art. As we all know, she had a marvelous eye for talent, for both the offbeat and the quirky, for the obviously beautiful and for  beauty that revealed itself over time. She bought art that made her happy and that spoke to her. If it spoke to others, all the better. She understood that art was a calling and a business, and that artists needed to earn a living. She invested in them and their careers, and she treasured their professional successes — not as a way to boast about her foresight but as a way to honor their perseverance and vision.

JoAnne was trained as a metalsmith at Syracuse and Virginia Commonwealth universities. If you ever saw her wield a paintbrush or sew a curtain or wield a caulking gun, you understood that her hand-eye coordination was impeccable. She understood balance and color, and she dared to get right up to — but never crossed — that wonderful line where just enough met too much.

Unfortunately for all of us, JoAnne didn’t keep much of her own work, but the pieces here show a consistency from her own work to the work by other that she prized: Craftsmanship was vital; the female form was to be celebrated; and not all artwork needed an explanation. Art could just exist. That was enough. More than enough.

I learned a lot about art from JoAnne. Most of us did. She knew what she liked and what she didn’t, and she could explain the difference. She could disagree without being disagreeable. Everybody was entitled, she would say, to their own aesthetic. What I think she understood is that art — like life — was about taking chances. What she told me once was this: “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.”

JoAnne taught at Sawtooth School in the 1980s, helped run Piedmont Craftsmen’s gift shop and then years later made her way to becoming president of its board. She loved PCI’s annual fair, loved meeting — and feeding — the artists and drawing strength from their creative energy. In 2012, she returned to Sawtooth as its executive director. She had just finished chemotherapy. Her cancer was said to be in remission, and JoAnne was so elated to embark on this new professional adventure in the job she soon realized she had been preparing for her whole life.

She embraced both organizations, their shared history, and the ways they were constantly reinventing and challenging themselves to remain vibrant. And she would be so pleased to know that her collection was finding a new purpose, as Sawtooth and Piedmont Craftsmen help artists of all skills and ages learn, grow and create.

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An exhibition of their JoAnne and Ken’s work will run from May 18th through June 28th in the Davis Gallery. The opening night for the exhibition will include an auction of JoAnne’s art collection. Click here to see the art collection catalog. The sale of the artwork will benefit both Piedmont Craftsmen & Sawtooth School for Visual Art.

Learn more about this event. Reservations are required by May 13th. Tickets are $50 per person. Purchase your ticket online OR call Piedmont Craftsmen at (336) 725-1516.