Janet Turner: Pause and Observe

Spring 2020

The pioneering female printmaker, Janet Turner, was first and foremost a lover of nature.  Her exquisitely intricate prints rely on a keen eye and an intimate connection with the world around her.  In this time of quarantines and sheltering when we are forced to pause, Turners work reminds us to also observe the beauty and the pain - the serenity and the tumultuousness - that surround us.  Her work does more than capture a snapshot of the landscape or wildlife; her work captures the dichotomy that makes up the human experience. Janet Turner reminds us that to be human is to respect our world and engage with our environment.

Video Highlight

Janet Turner in her early years, studying art.She attended Stanford University where she wanted to study biology but was told it was not a field for women at that time. Instead, she studied history and took courses in botany. As a junior she started taking art classes. Her earliest prints were linocuts done at Stanford. She earned a B.A. with distinction in Far Eastern History at Stanford.

After traveling to China, Japan, The Philippines, Manchuria and Korea, she enrolled in the Kansas City Art Institute (1936–1941) where she studied under Thomas Hart Benton and John De Martelly. From 1942 to 1943 she taught history, civics and art at the Girls’ Collegiate School in Claremont, California. She did graduate work at Claremont College where she studied with Henry McFee and Millard Sheets and from which she earned her M.F.A. in 1947. She then went to Stephen F. Austin College in Nacodoches, Texas as an assistant professor in art education.

It was during the next ten years (1948–1958) that Janet established herself in the art world.

In 1950 her tempera painting “Pelicans” was accepted for the 50 Years of American Art exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City. She was elected a member of the Audubon Artists of New York, National Association of Women Artists and American Color Print Society. She was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1952, allowing her to travel to the Gulf Coast to study flora and fauna and experiment with combining serigraphy and linoleum block printing. She was elected an associate lifetime member of the National Academy of Design in New York, an organization of professional artists. New York publishers Rinehart & Company and the Ford Motor Company commissioned Janet to illustrate text and articles in the early 1950’s.

Janet attended Teachers’ College, Columbia University, New York from 1956–1958 to obtain her Ed.D. and served as president of the Nation Serigraph Society from 1957–1959. Her sister Barbara writes about Janet’s life toward the end of its New York chapter:

Despite Janet’s continued successes, she struggled against the critics’ current partiality to Abstract Expressionism.

She decided to commit herself to teaching rather than to pursue recognition in the urban art world. She wanted to return to a warm place, too, because she suffered in cold climates.

In 1959, Janet accepted a position at CSU, Chico where, at that time, art was taught as art education to education majors. Janet was instrumental in developing a fine arts program at the university. She visited graphic workshops, printmakers, museums and galleries throughout the United States and abroad for ideas to upgrade the printmaking facilities at CSU. She served on most of the college’s policy-making committees. In 1975 she was awarded the California State University’s Outstanding Professor Award—the first CSU, Chico faculty member to win this prestigious award. All the while, she continued to teach and inspire her students, to produce and collect fine art prints, and to travel the world when possible. The Janet Turner Print Museum opened in 1981 when Janet was a professor emerita.

Janet Turner in her later years, posing with some of her prints.In 1983 in honor of her retirement, the university exhibited Janet Turner: Selected Works 1948–1983. President Robin Wilson, then CSU, Chico president, wrote the following:

Janet Turner has paused for us and observed for us—with the artist’s eye—the remarkable creations of nature…Nature, after all, is a mirror to us all. We are of nature and yet somehow apart. When Janet Turner captures for us the solemnity of an owl, the fierce predatory eyes of an eagle, the limpid softness of butterflies in dancing flight – we pause and reflect and understand something about ourselves we had not understood before.

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