By Jose Diaz
Hollis Jeffcoat began taking art classes at Edison State College with what might have been her first set of art tools in the early 1970s.
In late spring 2018, the supplies she used at the end of her life were brought back to Edison, now FSW, 50 years later in the form of a donation made by her partner, Maureen Watson.
“These materials will serve as a catalyst for these students to think like a mature artist,” said Dana Roes, FSW humanities and arts professor.
Born in 1952, the critically-acclaimed abstract expressionist artist’s works are permanently held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Brooklyn Museum, the Morgan Library, and The Contemporary Museums of Art in Montreal and Quebec. She held over 20 solo and almost 50 group exhibitions across the US, Canada, and France before she died in Fort Myers on April 28, 2018.
“[Those museums] all own a piece of her work,” Watson stated. “Oh, it’s true! Don’t slouch on Hollis Jeffcoat!”
With so many of her works being inspired by the unique wetlands and wildlife of South Florida, she held a deep love and fascination for her birthplace, as a third-generation Fort Myers native.
She especially loved Sanibel Island.
“Sanibel was her favorite place in the whole world, and she was pretty well travelled,” said Maureen Watson, Hollis’ partner of 16 years. “I believe that she made some of her best paintings there, too.”
Watson is the owner and director of the Watson McRae Gallery on Sanibel Island, where she exhibits contemporary artwork, fine art, and contemporary crafts. She and Jeffcoat opened the gallery in 2008, deciding to move back to Sanibel after years of international travel.
At the end of last spring, Watson made a donation full of Jeffcoat’s personal collection of art supplies to the FSW Visual Arts Program. Oil sticks, oil paints, linens, and canvas were among the supplies donated.
“Just before she died we talked about what she wanted to do. And she loved Edison [State College], just loved Edison,” said Watson. “In fact, I think she was chosen as her generation’s or decade’s person of the year.”
Jeffcoat blossomed as an artist in FSW’s art classes and the Fort Myers area.
At 16, Jeffcoat began private art lessons from a local artist, Gail Bennett, until graduating from Fort Myers High School. She then taught art under Bennet while attending Edison State College, before leaving for the Kansas City Art Institute. Afterwards, she went on to attend the New York Studio School in New York City, where she studied with renowned artists, such as Mercedes Matter, the founder of the school, as well as Philip Guston, George McNeil, Andrew Forge, and Jack Tworkov.
In 1973, Jeffcoat worked in France as an apprentice under Joan Mitchell, the famous abstract expressionist, and stayed until 1976.
“Hollis, from the very beginning, got to use great art supplies because Joan [Mitchell] had money and bought the best,” Watson said. “She realized what a difference good supplies makes to a painter, and of course, knowing that art students don’t have money to be able to buy the very best, or most of them don’t [buy at all].”
Jeffcoat taught art her whole life, from when she was 18 years old under Gail Bennet until the end of her life. She even taught a bit at Edison in the early 2000s.
“She loved her students. She decided that she wanted to give all of her supplies and, you know, they were excellent supplies; some were from France.” recalled Watson. “She only bought the best and [wanted to] give the supplies to the art department.”
Dana Roes believes that the valuable art supplies will teach her students the value of using expensive art materials.
“Students would never have access to such materials and know ‘what’s the difference if you spend $5 on a tube [of oil paint] versus $50,’” said Roes, “but when they have access to materials like this, a whole new level of work gets conceived. When you see what these materials can do, you begin to think differently.”
“I think that good art supplies were so important to her because Hollis believed in the importance and value in painting and the impact it could make on the individual as well as society,” said Watson. “She believed in high quality and she had very high standards, so she wanted to give everybody the same benefits she had starting out by this donation.”